8 Irish Film Festivals Sign Pledge for Gender Parity and Inclusion

Women in Film and Television Ireland (wft.ie) a chapter of Women in Film and Television International, has announced that to date 8 Irish Film festivals have accepted their invitation to sign up to the 5050×2020 Gender Parity and Inclusion Pledge which was launched by Cannes Festival chiefs at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival.

These are: Animation Dingle, Cork Film Festival, Dublin Feminist Film Festival, Galway Film Fleadh, GAZE LGBT Film Festival, Kerry Film Festival, Still Voices Short Film Festival and Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival.
Founded in 2003, the Dublin International Film Festival sets the agenda of the year with its programme of outstanding Irish and international film.

The official Irish festival signing was held yesterday at The Lighthouse Cinema with John Rice (Co-Founder & Director Animation Dingle), Aoife O’Toole (Director Dublin Feminist Film Festival), Fiona Clark (Producer & CEO Cork Film Festival), Ronan O’ Toole (Director Still Voices Short Film Festival) and Gráinne Humphreys (Festival Director Dublin International Film Festival) in attendance alongside Dr. Susan Liddy, (Chair of Women in Film & Television Ireland).

 

Dr Susan Liddy Chair of Women in Film and Television Ireland, Fiona Clark Producer & CEO Cork Film Festival, Aoife O’ Toole Director Dublin Feminist Film Festival, Grainne Humphreys Festival Director Dublin International Film Festival, John Rice Founder Animation Dingle and Ronan O Toole Director Still Voices Short Film Festival. Photo: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland.

It’s heartening that so many Irish film festivals have joined forces with us to formally commit to the principle of gender parity and inclusion in festivals. We warmly welcome their enthusiasm and solidarity and we hope this initiative will mark the beginning of a supportive partnership between us. We need more women in the film industry at every level. While girls’ and women’s voices are not heard and their stories are not told, our culture is the poorer for it. Film festivals are a hugely important part of any conversation about equality. They are an important link in the journey of a film and filmmaker. This is why we need greater transparency about what films are submitted, what films are selected and who is making the decisions. As with anything, information must be the starting point and we commend these festivals for agreeing to track that. This is an initiative that WFT Ireland will be building on over the coming months and we call on other festivals to join with us and embrace the challenge.
Dr. Susan Liddy, Chair – Women in Film & Television Ireland

Initiated by the 5050 Pour 2020 Collective, a charter was signed in 2018 by Cannes’ festival chiefs to work towards gender parity and inclusion.

The charter invites film festivals across the world to make the following commitment to gender parity and inclusion:

  • To compile statistics of gender of the directors of all the films submitted to selection (and when possible, to also compile statistics of the cast and crew when mentioned in the registration process).
  • To make public the gender of the members of selection committees, programmers and programming consultants.
    To make public the gender of executive boards and/or boards of directors and/or to commit to a schedule to achieve parity in these bodies.
    All Irish festival signatories have committed to giving a full update to Women in Film & Television Ireland, who will make public their progress during their respective 2020 festivals.
  • Women in Film & Television Ireland will also update the 5050 Pour 2020 Collective about the new signatories in time for the 2019 Cannes Film Festival.

As Ireland’s first and largest film festival, Cork Film Festival (CFF) is pleased to join WFTV in partnering with the 5050×2020 Cannes Collective to pledge our commitment to the 5050×2020 Charter, alongside the first Irish signatories. CFF supports increased transparency and gender-focused change across the Irish film landscape. CFF actively advocates for equality and inclusion in our industry by creating opportunities for meaningful public and sector dialogue as part of the Festival and by monitoring gender parity across our programme, submissions, jurors, panelists, programmers, staff, Board and volunteers.

The 63rd edition of the Festival in 2018 demonstrated that the Festival is actively making steps towards achieving its gender parity commitment. For example, 42% of our Shorts Programme was directed, co-directed and/or produced by women and 72% of our award-winning films were directed, co-directed and/or produced by women, with 47% female awards jurors. While this demonstrates CFF’s commitment to achieving greater representation for women in our programme, we recognise the need to focus our collective energy on advocating for gender equality in the sector. We welcome the opportunity to participate in the 5050×2020 Cannes Collective to strive for equal representation for women’s voices in film.
Fiona Clark, Producer & CEO – Cork Film Festival

Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival is proud to be part of the first group of signatories to the 5050×2020 Charter. The festival puts the films and filmmakers at its heart and understands the importance of nurturing new and experienced talent alike.

In 2019, of the over 100 feature length films screened at the festival, we are glad to say that 59% had women producers and 30% were produced by people of colour. However, the Festival is not complacent about its progress to date, and recognises that there is more work to be done to achieve diversity in all of its activities.

This partnership between the festival, WIFT and Cannes is another important step in proactively changing the power dynamics and creative output of the Irish film industry for the better.
Gráinne Humphreys, Festival Director – Dublin International Film Festival

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Interview with Miwako van Weyenberg

Gabrielle Ulubay introduces Belgium filmmaker Miwako van Weyenberg and talks to her about her film Summer Rain, which screened at the 2018 Cork Film Festival.

Miwako van Weyenberg is a filmmaker from Belgium who has so far produced three masterful shorts: Hitorikko (2014), Il Faisait Noir (2015), and Zomerregen (2017). Her protagonists find themselves in emotionally challenging situations which often lead to personal growth, greater emotional intelligence, or an altered sense of identity. Having grown up at the crux of multiple cultures, van Weyenberg has a particularly astute sensitivity to these issues and to the minute details of life that often change our relationships, our outlooks, and even the way we see ourselves. Hitorikko (or Only Child) , for instance, gives audiences insight into the psyche of a young boy who discovers that his divorced father has since taken up a new girlfriend, re-situating the boy as an older brother rather than the only child he has always been. Il Faisait Noir (or It Was Still Dark), on the other hand, explores the world of two twin brothers, along with the psychological effects on one twin when tragedy strikes them.

Zomerregen (Summer Rain), van Weyenberg’s most recent film, focuses on a ten-day period of time in which a young boy with mixed-race identity stays with his grandparents. The grandfather is faced with his own prejudices, and this tension heightens when the two are left alone for a length of the child’s stay. After seeing this film at the Cork International Film Festival, I had the opportunity to speak with van Weyenberg about her film.

 

Your film Summer Rain addresses all sorts of relevant issues like prejudice, multiculturalism within families, and diversity. Could you talk about your process in making the film.

So first of all, while I wouldn’t say Summer Rain is an autobiographical film, of course many elements of it come from a personal space – like the main character, I am half Japanese and half Belgian myself. I wanted to make something that’s really personal, but I also think that the subject is something that’s really universal.”

 

Would you be able to expand on that subject?

The subject is identity, and the search for identity in many different ways. I think that on one hand, it’s in a family, but on the other hand it’s in the idea of double nationality, where people have this ideas about what you are and what you should be.I think that’s something that can complicate the search for identity, and the search for identity in a family is complicated anyway. You have your father and your mother, and you came out of those two people, but you always look for yourself in that mix. I think when you also have that aspect of culture, that also complicates the search.

 

 

Speaking of the parents, and the idea that each of us are half of each, a choice in the film that I found really interesting is that the audience never sees the parents. We hear the father’s voice, but there isn’t much elaborated on in terms of the mother and father. I appreciated that detail, and have my own thoughts about why that’s a fitting and appropriate choice, but could you expand on what your intentions were in leaving those characters so vague?

For me, the story is just about the relationship between the child and his grandfather, so that is what I focused on. I think that in short film, it’s tempting to want to say everything, but it’s impossible because it’s a short film. So I really wanted to focus on that relationship. Also, he’s dropped there for ten days, nearly two weeks, so he doesn’t have access to his parents. His mom is in Japan, so he can only talk to her on the phone, but then there is still a time difference. So he’s really isolated in this countryside environment in Belgium, which he’s not used to because he’s from Brussels. I wanted him to be really out of his comfort zone, and I think that his parents are the comfort that he has, so I wanted to eliminate that. The grandmother is also a source of comfort, but then she ends up being taken out of the picture. So I really wanted to focus on the relationship between the grandfather and the grandson, and what happens when they are forced to live together and have no other option.

 

I appreciated that, and I also really enjoyed how you used the claustrophobic, isolated space of the home, along with the symbolism of planes in the film. I am glad that there were planes chosen specifically in the film for the child to fold, because there’s that stereotype around Japanese children that they will be folding paper cranes.

[laughs]

 

I think the choice of planes really subverts those problematic expectations. On the one hand, the little boy also likes planes because that’s a very normal thing for a child to be preoccupied with, but I also think that in the context of Summer Rain, the planes symbolize freedom. Could you talk about the choice of using planes in the film, and what that symbol meant to you?


It started from a point of planes being an obsession of a typical little boy, but it has more meaning when he finds himself stuck in a really isolated place. Also, his grandfather being a retired pilot, and discovering that connection, adds symbolism. So for me, the planes have a lot of meaning in a lot of different ways, but it starts from a really innocent obsession with things on wheels, and can fly, and go fast.

 

Right, and I feel like we go on that journey as we’re watching the film: It starts out as an adorable obsession of a little boy, and then the grandmother says, ‘look, he likes planes just like his grandfather,” and it becomes loaded with all this familial significance. It’s not just a plane, just this thing that flies and goes fast, anymore.

It’s not just the object anymore, by the end. I think the plane is the symbol of that relationship between the child and his grandfather.

 

I definitely appreciated that. Could you also talk about the process of casting the film? The little boy was excellent, and it can be very difficult to find child actors, yet you discovered this young boy who demonstrates such depth. Children are inclined to pantomime rather dramatically when they think of acting, but his performance was marked by incredible subtlety.

Right. I always work with children as main characters – this is my third short with children as main characters. For me, the acting process for a child is something that I’m used to. I did casting in Belgium, and I prefer working with children that have no acting experience at all. I did castings for half Japanese, half Belgian kids, and it was a difficult process because they needed to be able to speak Japanese but also French or Dutch, or they needed to at least be bilingual. But the boy, whose name is Kazuki, walked into the room and I knew after one second that he was the boy. And I did second rounds and the whole casting process to be sure, but I was convinced from the moment I saw him. It was an interesting process, because he brought so much to the character, and he became the character.

 

He really did. Did he understand the issues that the film was touching on? Because I think that children are exposed to those daily microaggressions and understand that they are being treated differently on a certain level, but on the other hand, you and I were talking earlier about how children who experience discrimination don’t necessarily understand why they are being treated badly or differently. So did that prompt any conversations with the boy? How do you think his age impacted the language and behavior used around these issues on set?

I think that children don’t really understand discrimination, because it makes no sense, but they do understand that it happens. They understand the concept of it, and of course him being half Japanese, and living in Brussels -that’s how I grow up. A lot of the scenes and the comments made in the film are also things that he gets on a daily basis, because I worked based on what I experienced. He’s an incredibly smart kid, and I never had to explain anything. Actually, I never give the screenplay to actors in advance. We just do it on set. But I read the screenplay together with him, we talked about the story, but we didn’t read the entire script as a dialogue. So we talked about the subject and how he experiences living in Belgium as a half-Japanese kid, but I didn’t have to explain anything. He felt a bit like a small version of myself, wherein he just understood what I wanted to say. He’s an amazing kid.

 

Yes, I can tell. That’s something that we can see an as audience: He embodies this duality between innocence and quiet, knowing observation. Every time someone is subject to discrimination or some microaggression, it’s like the incident is noted and filed away. It adds to this bank of somewhat unfortunate wisdom, and we can see this happening with the child in Summer Rain. Considering the rise of right-wingism, particularly in Western Europe, and the idea of being able to say whatever one wants to minorities without those words mattering, what has the reception been like for the film so far?

It’s really interesting, and a huge compliment, that what I hear a lot is that this film is something we need right now, and that this film needed to be made right now. Obviously it’s a compliment, but it’s not just something that’s needed right now. It’s been my story for my entire life, and it’s been other people’s story for their entire lives. So I think it feels more universal at this point, because people can relate it to what’s happening in the world right now.

 

Right, because it’s just that right now there’s a lot of visibility around those issues.

Yes. There’s more of a clear link between the film and things that are happening right now. It’s nice to hear that people link the story to themselves or things that they’ve heard, because it’s such a personal story for me and it’s nice to hear that such a personal story has resonated. It’s a personal story, but a universal impact.

 

I like the way you put that. I mean, there was a really interesting moment in the beginning when his grandparents think they’re doing something nice by giving him a pair of chopsticks. It was a great moment, because it’s so relatable. As a Latina, I can relate that to people presenting me with something like maracas and saying, ‘Here you go. This is your thing, isn’t it?’ And when the boy asks for a fork instead of chopsticks, the parents clearly think he’s being rude or ungrateful, though in reality it’s just that they don’t understand. So yes, it’s a film that we need now, but that’s because we’ve always needed it.

Yes, exactly.

 

So what made you use chopsticks for that moment in the film? It was such a subtle, poignant image.

Yes, because I think that the moments when I experienced that strangely naive racism – because I do like to call it naive racism – I get it through those small moments. It’s not people screaming at me on the streets like, ‘You’re Asian,’ it’s more like, ‘Here are some chopsticks. I’m sorry we don’t have rice. Is it okay if you have bread?’ [laughs], It’s more of those subtle things that are so naively racist, because it’s such a misconception but so funny at the same time. It’s just absurd, and to them it’s a nice gesture, even though it makes no sense. That’s why I chose the chopsticks, because it’s so racist yet so funny at the same time.

 

I also like that about the film, because it’s not too serious all of the time. That’s not to say that serious films are invalid, because in truth they can be excellent, but sometimes films about racism can be so heart-wrenching and emotionally traumatic that they’re largely inaccessible. This film, on the other hand, has comedy built into it, and it’s also very touching and hopeful, whereas many shorts tend to end violently.”

Yes, yes.

 

There’s also that movement within the filmmaking community that happy endings in films are overrated, but I like that Summer Rain ends on a note of hope. Of course it’s not that traditional, classical Hollywood, Singin’ in the Rain type of ending, but it’s still a positive one. What led you to end the film in that the way?

For me, it was important to have some kind of closure, because those two weeks at his grandparents’ house do something to him, of course. But I also didn’t want to make a full circle, and for me it was important for the audience to know that this was the end of those two weeks at house, but it was the beginning of a whole new relationship with his grandfather that would be even more complex. Then, of course, the hospitalization of the grandmother isn’t explained, and you know that will be a big part of his life from that point on. So, for me it was important to end on the beginning of a new thing.

 

Right, because there was a moment I really liked with the actress who played the grandmother, in which the child asks if she’s going to be home soon and she says yes, but there’s a hesitation in her voice that adults can certainly pick up on. And then the doctor is so kind to the child, but then asks the grandfather to step outside. It’s very jarring for a child to be in a hospital and see tubes spilling out of someone he cares for, but the grandmother tries her best to comfort him very subtly. Is that someone that you directed the actress to do?

 

Yes, for me, in the script and in the way I directed it, it’s very clear that it’s not going well with the grandmother in the film, and I think that’s the habit of adults trying to save a child from the truth. But a child is smart, and they sense these things.

 

Right. I love the line where he says, ‘I’m not stupid.’

Yes [laughs]. I think it’s just that adults like to believe they know more than children, and they may have more knowledge but children sense things in a purer way than adults, I think, because they’re not relying on all of the facts and information. They just sense what’s happening.

 

Exactly. So to start to wrap things up, I think that the medium of short film is overlooked within the realm of film-going. Filmmakers often seem to appreciate and seek out shorts, because they’ve often made them before, but shorts are not promulgated to the rest of society to the same degree that feature are. So, having made three short films, could you talk about the medium of short film and why you find it valuable and more appropriate for certain stories? It’d be great if you could talk about that within the context of your past work and any projects you’re working on moving forward.

I love the short film medium. I think that you can be very direct and that you can get to the point in shorts, because you don’t have the time to go around the story. You just show what’s happening, and you have all the backstory that you need within those 15 minutes.

 

Right, it needs to be very tight.

Yes, and that’s what I love about short films. But of course, like I said, I want to believe that I am make very personal and intimate stories that can reach a universal audience, and to reach a universal audience, short film is a difficult medium. That is why now I’m writing my first feature film, and I feel that it’s just a different form of art, so it doesn’t feel like a feature film is a long short film and short film is a short feature film. It’s just two different things and two different ways of expressing something.

 

It’s like the difference between a novel and a short story – completely different mediums and ways of telling stories. People accept that, but I do think it’s an indication that audiences have yet to fully take film art seriously. Film has been considered art for a long time, of course, but I think many people are stuck in the mindset that films are mindless entertainment, as opposed to writing. So people are less inclined to see divisions within the medium of film art, and are more likely to see shorts and features simply as variations of each other.”

Yes, exactly.

 

Finally, what’s the common thread that runs through your work? What do you tend to focus on?

For me, it’s the search for identity, in many different ways. Of course, they are all coming of age, but I don’t really like the term ‘coming of age,’ because I don’t think it fits. In a way, the search for identity is a coming of age story, but I think that a search for identity can happen in so many different ways, and then it will just so happen to be the story of a child, or a child who grew up in different cultures. I do keep coming back to those search for identity stories.


Summer Rain (Zomerregen)
Miwako Van Weyenberg / Belgium / 2017 / 20 mins / Subtitled
Keita, an 8-year-old boy from a Belgian-Japanese family, has a difficult relationship with his grandfather.
Producer: Antonino Lombardo


Summer Rain screened on 12th November, 2018 as part of the International Shorts 3 programme at the Cork Film Festival.

 

 

 

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Irish Film Review @ Cork Film Festival: One Million American Dreams

Loretta Goff discovers the secrets of New York’s mass graves in Brendan Byrne’s One Million American Dreams.

Brendan Byrne’s One Million American Dreams brings into focus the often unnoticed Hart Island, a small New York City island that is used as a burial ground for the city’s unclaimed dead, and for those whose families cannot afford burial expenses. Byrne’s documentary takes a personal approach to the subject matter, following the stories of four families with members buried here. In doing so, he removes the anonymity of the Hart Island cemetery, reinscribing it with the narratives of these individuals and providing a sort of commemoration for them that is not fully offered on the island itself.

Introducing the film at the 63rd Cork Film Festival, Byrne commented on his own relationship with New York City, from his first visit at age 17, when he was in complete awe, to his multiple returns that have also revealed the city’s tougher edge. When he was made aware of a two-minute recorded news piece on Hart Island he realised it deserved more attention and that he could make a whole film about it. This led to One Million American Dreams, which he describes as “a difficult love letter to the place I’ve had a longstanding love affair with” that takes a “deeper look into the soul” of the city.

Several animated segments in the documentary, along with narration by Sam Rockwell, provide viewers with the necessary historical details of Hart Island, which are expanded upon in interviews with scholars, journalists and politicians. We learn that burials began there in 1869, with over one million individuals laid to rest on the island to date, that it was also used as a Union Civil War camp (amongst other things) and that it is currently run by the Department of Correction, with inmates employed to bury the bodies and no access to the general public. These details are made more visceral with the striking animations that accompany them. One of these, in particular, stands out; it shows layers upon layers of nameless coffins piling up below the island, forming it, but also giving shape to a human head, reminding us that each coffin contains an individual that had a part to play in the story of New York City, and that those who are marginalised should not be forgotten or cast away.

Our attention is turned to some of these marginalised individuals through the stories of the families affected by loved ones’ burials on Hart Island. We meet an African-American Vietnam War Vet whose baby daughter was buried there while he was away, a Cuban family whose father died alone with dementia in the city, a Puerto Rican woman whose stillborn child was due to be buried on Hart Island and the family of a man suffering from drug and alcohol addiction who ultimately ended up there without his family’s knowledge. Through their stories, not only is Hart Island personalised, but we are confronted with the deeper underlying issues affecting New York City and contemporary American culture more broadly—racism, immigration, substance abuse and poverty.

Commenting on his film in a Q&A after the screening, Byrne noted that he used the cemetery on Hart Island, and the stories that emerged from it, as a “frame to confront issues that still face America”, which are threaded throughout the film. We see this in the stories of the individuals that the documentary follows, but also through the film’s carefully crafted cinematography. This captures the beauty of New York City—in the bright lights of Time’s Square, the skyline and diverse groups of people—but also its struggles and darker sides, focusing attention on the homeless sitting overlooked on busy streets and those that exist in the fringes. A particularly striking image follows the ferry travelling out to Hart Island as it, and the island are engulfed in fog. This offers a skillful visual depiction of the islands shrouded nature, cast into the shadows of the dazzling city.

Discussing the process of making the film, Byrne noted that the project as a whole took between three and four years (with 18 months of filming). He commented that it was a process to get the stories of the individuals, but that “without their stories we wouldn’t have the film”. It is the honesty of these that resonates with the audience, offering the documentary’s powerful social commentary.

One Million American Dreams is a timely, well-crafted, poignantly shot and animated documentary that speaks to a number of contemporary social issues neatly encapsulated by Hart Island—the story of which is remarkable in itself.

 

One Million American Dreams screened on Saturday, 17th November 2018 as part of the Cork Film Festival   (9 – 18 November)

 

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Irish Film Review @ Cork Film Festival: The Belly of the Whale

Cian Griffin enters The Belly of the Whale which screened at this year’s Cork Film Festival.

The Belly of the Whale is the debut film from Irish director Morgan Bushe and stars veteran Irish comedy star Pat Shortt and up-and-coming Scottish actor Lewis McDougall. The film tells the story of recovering alcoholic Ronald (Shortt) and his relationship with young misfit Joe Moody (McDougall) as they plot to steal from local politician Gits Hegarty.

The main strengths of the film are its characters and the performances. The two main characters are extremely relatable but tragically flawed at the same time. Both Shortt and McDougall turn in great performances that make you laugh out loud while also pulling at your heartstrings. Shortt’s performance is especially moving as he departs from his typical over-the-top comedic roots and delivers a surprisingly nuanced and layered performance as a man struggling to come to terms with the blows that life has dealt him. Michael Smiley (known for his work in Luther, The Lobster and Rogue One) also turns in a memorable performance as local politician Gits Hegarty. He is extremely menacing and threatening while also chewing the scenery in every single scene, providing most of the laughs in the film. The cast as a whole are great with strong supporting performances from Game of Thrones star Art Parkinson and young Irish actress Lauren Kinsella as Moody’s friends Lanks and Sinead.

However, the film suffers a bit from some pacing issues. The film takes too long to get to the actual plot, spending the majority of the runtime setting up the characters and their circumstances and at times drags, spending a lot of time wallowing in the misery of the characters. In contrast then, the ending of the film is a bit rushed and clumsy, culminating in a finale that lacks the emotional payoff we have been building up to throughout the film.

In saying that, for a first-time director, Bushe (who also co-wrote the script) manages to find a great balance between humour and tragedy to make a film that is bursting with heart. On top of this, he makes some great artistic choices and the film is quite beautiful, creating a vivid and realistic picture of rural Ireland. Based on his first film, I can’t wait to see what he does next.

Overall, The Belly of the Whale is a charming and endearing film that tells a poignant and at times, heartbreaking story of two flawed characters coming to terms with the challenges in their lives. It’s a touching story of love, loss and friendship bolstered by a great director and strong performances and while it’s not perfect, it is sure to delight audiences while also making them cry.

 

The Belly of the Whale screened on Friday, 16th November 2018 as part of the Cork Film Festival    (9 – 18 November)

Opens in Irish cinemas 7th December 2018.

 

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Irish Film Review @ Cork Film Festival: Maeve

Jack O’Dwyer gets caught up in the fractured narrative of Pat Murphy’s seminal Irish film Maeve, which screened at this year’s Cork Film Festival.

 

In an attempt to describe her state of mind as an artist during the appalling years of the Irish troubles, feminist filmmaker Pat Murphy has posited that the North suffered primarily from everyone trying to shoehorn it to fit snugly into their own system of beliefs. This is a clear starting point in an analysis of her seminal 1981 film Maeve, co-directed with John Davies, which depicts the problematic ways in which personal and political beliefs can coexist within a troubled nation, often leading to layers of conflict which act as further barriers to peaceful resolution. At its core the film portrays a sort of uprising through inaction, a tentative method by which an individual may behave if they feel that they are excluded from the promised land which lays at the end of the revolutionary road. Through its radical aesthetics and characterisation, the film offers a unique perspective on one of the darkest periods in the island’s turbulent history.

The driving force of Murphy’s film is the titular Maeve, seen in both present day 1981 and also in recurring flashbacks to unspecified times in the past. In the present day, she returns home to Belfast from bohemian London, fully embodying the stringent lifestyle of a feminist ideologue. In the past, with these nascent ideals starting to take shape in her mind, she is seen as a young adult who vows to escape from the hostile community which stifles her. Maeve, played with skilful restraint by Mary Jackson, is often a difficult character for the audience to relate to, likely a reflection of Murphy’s acknowledged debt to Bertolt Brecht and the so-called ‘’distancing effect’’ which he utilized in his theatre. Much of her dialogue is heady and intellectual, delivered as a series of feminist mantras which refer to metaphysical ‘’Woman’’ rather than earthly, anecdotal ‘’women’’. Traditional womanhood, devout Catholicism, revolutionary insurrection; Maeve chooses to shun all of these potential paths in an effort to gain her own autonomy and identity. In one scene, Maeve and her schoolmates are being forced to rote-learn a religious commemoration to the victims of the local conflict. Maeve instead stares out the window, demonstrating a conscious decision to shun the milieu in which her peers are enmeshed.

Acting as a traditional counterpoint to Maeve’s personal protest is her sister, Roisin, played by Brid Brennan. One masterful aspect of Murphy’s screenplay is the heightened importance placed upon storytelling, particularly in relation to how it enlightens the characters who take up the role of storyteller. Roisin tells a number of stories throughout the film, usually depicting some form of tyranny inflicted upon the population by the armed British guards who patrol the streets. One such story implies that Roisin and her friend were the victims of an attempted rape by an intruding soldier, but the nonchalance and humour with which it is told does little to convey the potential severity of the situation. Moments such as these subtly paint Roisin as a character who is caught in the flux, unwilling to critically examine her role as a traditional, oppressed, catholic woman. Despite her sister’s warning that marriage ‘’only keeps woman down’’, there is never the suggestion that she will follow in Maeve’s non-committal footsteps. Even further alienated from Maeve is their mother, Eileen, played by Trudy Kelly. A quiet well of frustration with little dialogue in the film, she is a helpless bystander to the rampaging tide of patriarchal nationalism in her nation, serving as the outdated archetype to which Maeve internally revolts. Perhaps the film’s most emotional scene takes place in a room filled with religious relics, designed by Eileen as a place devoted to her daughter’s future courting. Such a traditional fantasy comes off as absurd given the nature of Maeve’s character, with the scene soon devolving into a heart-breaking monologue from mother to daughter recounting the first time that Maeve boarded the plane as she left to London – ‘’You never looked back once to say goodbye’’. Tragically, this marks the only point in the film at which Eileen is given an extended opportunity to speak, with each word driving a further nail into the coffin that is their incompatible relationship.

The most articulate challenger to Maeve’s unique vision of nationalism comes in the form of her boyfriend/ex-boyfriend, Liam, played by John Keegan. Murphy has expressed the importance within feminist fiction of creating authentic, coherent male characters so as to create an equal playing field of debate. In this regard, the character of Liam is a triumph. A committed republican, he matches Maeve both in the strength of his personal convictions and the fierceness of his debate. The film’s philosophical assertions are founded upon a masterful series of scenes in which the two debate each other in various locations, their rival viewpoints clashing together in a captivating stream of insights and insults. Murphy’s idea for these scenes was that the two would cease to be characters for the duration of these debates, instead transforming into unfiltered mouthpieces for their espoused ideologies; a clear admission of her Brechtian and Godardian influences. The first of their debates happens upon Cave Hill, as they gaze upon a deceptively serene-looking Belfast in the distance. Maeve is first triggered into stating her defiant viewpoint as a response to Liam’s praise of lifelong nationalists, those passionate men who have ‘’been able to keep that image together through all the madness’’. Her issue lies in the fact that the romantic image of Ireland which has guided nationalism thus far excludes her as a woman, it leaves no space for her, she is ‘’remembered out of existence’’ as part of its clause. Next, in her rented apartment in London, Maeve speaks of her decision to ‘’withdraw from it’’, to distance herself from the ‘’country’s neuroses’’. To this, an apoplectic Liam castigates the cowardliness of her actions, pointing to the fact that those who have fought and died for the cause have not had the luxury of her aloofness and free speech, warning that ‘’you’re going to have to come back’’. Virtually every line of their gripping debates could and should be isolated and unpacked by viewers of the film; rarely has such a testament to the efficacy of the Socratic method appeared on screen.  Their intellectual sparring culminates near the film’s end as they saunter gloomily through Clifton Street Cemetery, mutually accusing each other of copping out of their ideals. At the argument’s climax, Maeve compares Britain’s treatment of Ireland to man’s treatment of woman, warning that, if Liam and his counterparts should someday be successful in their struggles, then women will ‘’recognize you as the next stage in their struggle’’. In a film which thrives upon exploring the intersection between nationalism and feminism, this stands as perhaps its most radical political expression.

The film’s challenging subject matter is reflected in the austere visual style which Murphy and director of photography Robert Smith choose to adopt. Considering that the film is set in an environment which features constant, often unexpected intrusions into the daily life of Belfast’s citizens, the cagey 4:3 aspect ratio feels suitably oppressive when viewed on a large screen, as if the characters must struggle in order to escape beyond the borders of the frame. This is further enhanced by the usage of a number of internal framing devices, often doorways, which further squash the characters in to fit their surroundings.  During the tense night-time scenes, the camera creeps behind characters or flits about from left to right, suggestive of the widespread paranoia which haunts the streets. Maeve’s increasingly disillusioned father, Martin, played by Mark Mulholland, returns in a series of scenes throughout the film during which he generally tells a story involving the local population, and these are among the film’s most intriguing moments from a visual perspective. In the first such instance, the camera suddenly wheels around to Martin as he interrupts his wife during a story, and frames him in the middle of the boxy screen staring directly into the camera as he completes a long, thickly-accented monologue. These scenes which feature Martin staring into the camera increasingly come to feel as if he is breaking the fourth wall and addressing the audience directly. The subtle increase in intensity each time this occurs reinforces a sense of desperation and fear which has creeped into his character, culminating in the heart-breaking, quietly fearful words which he tells himself at the film’s closure. The film therefore arises from the lineage of European modernist cinema not only in its bold subject matter, but also in the way it creatively manipulates the filmic tools to give rise to new modes of artistic expression.

Maeve is comparable to Seamus Heaney’s famous ‘’bog poems’’ in the sense that it holds an abstract mirror up to this unspeakable Irish tragedy in a way which seems to shed cognitive and emotional light upon the subject without offering any form of trite solution to what is an endlessly thorny situation. The film is a whirlpool of ideas, of narratives, of memories, described by Murphy as a ‘’political document rather than a film’’. It feels like a political document not only during the war of words and ideologies at its core, but also in its harrowing evocation of a city where children play in the presence of armed soldiers, and searchlights cut through the dark streets like knives. One of the nation’s finest films, Maeve is a brave, important film, whose intellectual honesty and defiant spirit ought to inspire generations of Irish filmmakers.

 

 

Maeve screened on Thursday, 15th November 2018 as part of the Cork Film Festival (9 – 18 November)

 

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Irish Film Review @ Cork Film Festival: Town of Strangers

 

Loretta Goff meet the locals in the County Galway town of Gort, in Treasa O’Brien’s Town of Strangers, with a diverse cast, including young Irish Travellers, English New Age hippies, Brazilian factory workers and Syrian refugees.

 

Before the screening of Treasa O’Brien’s new documentary, Town of Strangers, at the 63rd Cork Film Festival, her short The Blow-In (2016) was played. Both feature the town of Gort in County Galway, and those newer residents to the town, considered “blow-ins” or “strangers”. The Blow In is narrated by a French woman who we meet at the start of the film, cleverly framed with an uprooted tree by O’Brien. This woman’s voiceover explains that, as a result of moving around a lot during her youth, she often felt like an outsider and developed a habit of observing people through her windows. This is used as a thread throughout this short documentary as she “looks in” on the lives of several of Gort’s residents.

A narrative thread similarly runs through Town of Strangers, but this time it is the director herself, who interweaves elements of her own life with those of the individuals she interviews in the film, notably drawing together similarities between them. The premise behind this documentary was an open-call film audition O’Brien held in Gort, from which emerged several stories that she felt compelled to follow. In the Q&A following the film, the director explained that she initially had the idea of making an experimental film based off of a script she was working on located in Gort, tackling the subject of changing Ireland and what that meant to a small town. However, she was “very surprised and really moved” by the stories people shared and her experimental film turned into a documentary.

In Town of Strangers we meet individuals from around the world—Afghanistan, Brazil, England, Ireland and Syria—who have all come to call Gort home. As these individuals open up about their lives we are invited to learn about their different backgrounds and unique stories, but what stands out are the commonalities between them (and ourselves) at basic emotional levels. Answering questions about what “home” means to them, about their families and about their dreams, the participants in this documentary reveal their fears, insecurities, hopes and strengths both through what they say and what they don’t. O’Brien subtly catches the whole range of emotions in quiet moments where the camera lingers on individuals’ faces, allowing the audience to read, and connect with, them. Discussing the film, O’Brien said that she was “trying to show empathy in a cinematic way”, and she certainly does.

All of the individuals are presented as different types of “outsiders”—with immigrants, hippies and Travellers among them. However, what emerges throughout the film more than a sense of living between two cultures, though that is evident, is what O’Brien notes as “displacement from the family”. It is through O’Brien’s exploration of this, along with its associated loneliness, that she is able to connect her audience with these “strangers”. Portraying them with empathy and understanding, rather than looking away from difficult stories, reveals just how familiar these individuals really are.

Speaking after the screening, O’Brien said that she “wanted to make a film for our times”. She went on to note the rise in right-wing politics and the fear that is developed by not fully understanding large events, explaining that, with this film, she wanted to bring things back to the personal and focus on connection. Ultimately, she hopes that this documentary contributes to a “shift in your consciousness [in terms of] how you might perceive people”.

Town of Strangers visually challenges perceptions—juxtaposing shots of the Gort Show (agricultural, baking and animal events) with rappers and dancers and Brazilian shops—in order to open up our understanding of rural Ireland, and reinforces this with its interwoven narrative of deeply moving, personal stories. All in all, the documentary offers a sensitive and engaging depiction of human connection, with all its fragilities, and, in doing so, beautifully reflects on contemporary rural Ireland.

 

Town of Strangers screened on Tuesday, 13th November 2018 as part of the Cork Film Festival (9 – 18 November)

 

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Irish Film Review @ Cork Film Festival: The Curious Works of Roger Doyle

 

Loretta Goff goes on a journey through The Curious Works of Roger Doyle, Brian Lally’s documentary about Roger Doyle who, over the course of five decades, has created an impressive body of work ranging from minimalist piano and electronic pieces to orchestral works.

Preceding the screening of The Curious Works of Roger Doyle at the 63rd Cork Film Festival, Roger Doyle himself performed live on the piano. Doyle synched this performance with footage of himself in concert in Beijing six years earlier (in 2012), material that was cut from the documentary. As the onscreen Doyle plays, he is superimposed with images of and from a moving train, visually mirroring the motion of his fast-paced music. This synchronicity was echoed through Doyle’s live performance, creating a synergy between the digital and the human, as well as the old and the new—something that pervades both Doyle’s work and Brian Lally’s documentary about the composer.

The Curious Works of Roger Doyle is framed around Doyle’s 2016 electronic opera, “Heresy”, performed at Dublin’s Project Arts Centre, but covers five decades of his career. This intertwining of the current and the previous reflects Doyle’s style as a composer, bringing together classical forms and instruments (e.g. opera and the piano) with electronic technology to create his own style. Interspersed with footage of his opera—from the early stages of its approval and rehearsals to its live performances—are interviews with Doyle’s collaborators over the years, archival footage and several of his past performances. Though dubbed the “Godfather of Irish Electronica”, Doyle’s music has taken him across the world and we see that in the film.

Lally gives space to the music in this documentary, setting aside several sections for Doyle’s performances to play out onscreen. These are often combined with corresponding images that help tell the story of the songs to the audience. For instance, as Doyle plays his song “Chalant” in Paris, shots of the city and its people at night populate the screen. As new faces appear with each beat, a whimsical portrait of the city unfolds. While this shapes our perspective of the song, each musical break in the documentary primarily focuses on the music itself, allowing the audience to become immersed in it and reflect. Doyle’s music invites its listeners to take part in an experience and Lally’s documentary allows for this.

At the same time, we learn about the methods and motives behind the music from both Doyle and his collaborators. Doyle describes the influences behind several of his songs and his use of technology, explaining: “I revise, that’s my process”. Olwen Fouéré, who formed Operating Theatre with him, describes his music as “from the mothership”, noting how their unique styles connected in such a way that allowed them to create musical theatre pieces together for several years.

Equally, several of Ireland’s prominent filmmakers in the 1970s were drawn to Doyle’s music. In fact, Bob Quinn, who collaborated with Doyle several times, also used the composer as a subject of a 1978 documentary for RTÉ. Joe Comerford, who grew up with Doyle, explains that they worked in parallel on the short experimental film Emptigon, simultaneously developing a language of film and composition. A similar sentiment is expressed by Cathal Black, who explains that music creates “a sort of invisible story” in film and Doyle’s was able to perfectly match the film’s narrative in Pigs.

In Lally’s impressive documentary, the story of the music is much more visible and, during the Q&A following the screening, the director expressed that, though he did most of the work on the film, he had Windmill Lane work on the sound mix as that was “quite important” for this project. Equally it was Doyle’s music that inspired the project. Lally became aware of Doyle’s work in the early 1990s but started the documentary in 2005 when he saw Doyle playing goldfish bowls at Whelan’s in Dublin and thought: “this is remarkable, someone should be filming this.”

Describing Doyle as an “avant-garde” composer, Lally explained: “the more I delved into it, the more fascinated I became”, noting that, particularly when he struggled to find funding for the project, “there were certainly points when the music kept me going.” Screen Ireland funding eventually saw the documentary through to completion and the result is a thoughtful exploration of Roger Doyle’s music and career. As Doyle expressed in the Q&A: “I am constantly curious and constantly looking for new ways of doing things.” The Curious Works of Roger Doyle expresses just that, bringing the audience along for the journey.

 

The Curious Works of Roger Doyle screened on Sunday, 11th November 2018 as part of the Cork Film Festival (9 – 18 November)

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Irish Film Review @ Cork Film Festival: Sooner or Later

 

Jack O’Dwyer finds much to like in Sooner or Later, Luke Morgan’s no-budget feature from Galway filmmaking collective Project Spatula.

 

Luke Morgan, standing before a full crowd in the Gate cinema, proclaims that, in years to come, ‘’we’re gonna remember this day when our little film screened in Cork.’’ He is there to introduce his feature-length debut, entitled Sooner or Later, the latest project by an artistic collective from Galway known as ‘’Project Spatula’’, described by Morgan as a ‘’rock band, except for films’’, which is loosely comprised of 30-40 members who move fluidly from film to film, churning out shorts, features and other projects in spite of the complete absence of any solid budget or sponsorship. This film should rightfully mark the point at which Morgan and his band of dedicated players move from obscurity to celebrity; for while the film may be self-described by Morgan as ‘’rough around the edges’’, it is also brave, exuberant and comedically potent throughout the majority of its 95-minute runtime.

At the core of the film are Thaddeus and Sally, two strikingly original Irish characters played brilliantly by real-life husband and wife pairing Aeneas and Anna O’Donnell. Thaddeus is a truly ineffable character, part folkloric hero in the vein of Oisín and part cantankerous lout in the vein of Father Jack Hackett, with a spindly gait like Nosferatu and a leathered face like Mick Jagger. Matching his eccentricity perfectly is Sally, scatter-brained and prone to getting caught up in fads, yet wholly capable of delivering razor-sharp wit in a way reminiscent of the late Carrie Fisher. As an elderly pair who yearn to escape the confines of their retirement home and elope to Kerry in order to commit suicide on their own terms, the couple’s seasoned chemistry bursts off the screen from the first frame. Indeed, the film’s opening scene is an absurdly comedic bathtub sequence, lit primarily by candlelight, depicting an intimate moment between the two lovers being rudely interrupted by a Nurse Ratched-like member of staff at the care home. Featuring full-frontal nudity, hysterical one-liners, and a Lynchian debate about the spelling of a suicide note, the film’s opening is a stunning introduction to a film fuelled by exuberant, darkly comedic brilliance.

Acting as the foil to the mischievous duo is Alice, Thaddeus’s granddaughter, played by Muireann NÍ Raghaillach. She cares deeply for her erratic grandfather, and has remained weary of Sally’s role in his life for the duration of the couple’s six-month long relationship. It is her care and concern for Thaddeus which leads to her being duped into driving the pair to the old family home in Kerry, despite the fact that the residents have no permission to leave the care facility. Once at the family home, Alice discovers the pair’s suicide pact after a commemorative urn is delivered three days early to the house – just one example of how the film’s plot is structured upon well-executed dark comedy set-pieces. From this point in the film, Alice has a troubled scowl upon her face, not aided by the arrival of her hapless ex-boyfriend Nigel, a man ‘’easier to push over than a cereal box’’, played by co-writer Peter Shine. Alice as a character is not as memorable or engaging as Thaddeus or Sally, which is understandable given the difficulty of playing it straight in a world defined by comedic madness. The relative weakness of Alice’s scenes within the film does not reflect upon the talents of Ní Raghaillach, who performs capably in a challenging, emotional role.

Morgan, as well as engaging in all aspects of filmmaking, is also a poet and novelist, noting in the past the similarities between writing a poem and writing a screenplay, due to the exactitude and economy of language that is needed to be effective in both. The script, written by Conor Quinlan and Peter Shine, is infused with this ethos, with great attention paid to the clever turn-of-phrase and cutting, precise punchline. This is particularly relevant in the case of Thaddeus, who speaks in a sort of impactful lilt, sometimes humorous and sometimes empathetic; each line of dialogue, no matter how inane or bizarre, falls from his lips in natural, poetic fashion, which is testament to the quality of the script. After the film’s screening, Morgan explained the unique way in which the script was assembled. The director provided the actors with certain situations and told them to improvise based on their own knowledge of their characters. These interactions were livestreamed to a team of ten or so writers in a different room, who listened intently and took down the most memorable phrases, working them into future drafts of the script. This approach leads to an abundance of memorable lines. “Last time I met my girlfriend’s family, the Soviet Union was still going strong”, “I want to remain a human…not drugged up to me eyeballs in a care home’’, and Thaddeus’s oft-repeated insult “shut up bonehead!”. In addition to such quotable lines, the script contains numerous self-contained scenes of well-plotted, escalating humour. The hilarity reaches its peak during a night-time scene which somehow brings together a daddy long legs, an erection, and a misinterpreted suicide attempt to form a feat of sustained comic brilliance which compelled the entire Cork audience to uproarious laughter. 

As Morgan himself admirably admits, the film is slightly bumpy from a technical perspective. It is far too easy to dwell upon unavoidable faults which plague the film such as inconsistent lighting, uneven sound design, and a conventional mischievous soundtrack which repeats awkwardly throughout the film’s first act. Given the virtual absence of any budget at all, these are easily ignored, especially in light of the inarguable directorial vision and ambition which pervade the film. Morgan’s compositions often convey the tone of a scene before any words are spoken. This is the case in a gloriously mundane scene between Sally and Nigel, wherein the actors’ postures communicate their mutual discomfort more effectively than words ever could. Similarly, a tragicomic shot of a melancholy Thaddeus sitting among party decorations (which he himself had put up in celebration of his own death) is perhaps the most affecting in the entire film. The film’s rural Kerry setting, which also includes locations shot in Galway and West Cork, is evoked vividly throughout the film, especially during two poignant scenes between Thaddeus and Alice that take place on a beach which plays a symbolic role in the family’s identity.

Redolent of Dylan Thomas’s famous poem ‘’Do not go gentle into that good night’’, the film is a courageous portrayal of dying on one’s own terms rather than simply fading away in conventional fashion. This mature subject matter is, in Morgan’s own words, Project Spatula’s latest attempt ‘’to shout as loud as we can’’ until the industry takes notice. If the standard set by Sooner or Later is maintained or surpassed with future efforts, then it cannot be long until the Galway collective’s calls are heard; the film is a sparkling paean to life, death, and all the love and hardships in between.

 

 

Sooner or Later screened on Saturday, 10th November 2018 as part of the Cork Film Festival (9 – 18 November)

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