Glassland – Review of Irish Film at the Galway Film Fleadh

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David Gorman checks out Glassland, Gerard Barrett’s highly anticipated follow up to Pilgrim Hill. Glassland screened at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.

The atmosphere in the Town Hall Theatre, the epicentre of the Galway Film Fleadh, had an air of eagerness and excitement about it on Friday night. Two years ago, in the same venue, a young unknown filmmaker was about to emerge on to the Irish film scene with his debut feature, Pilgrim Hill.

Pilgrim Hill (2012) evoked critical acclaim from Ireland and abroad was the most talked about film of that year, resulting in writer/director Gerard Barrett winning Rising Star Award at the IFTAs.  So the excitement and anticipation at this year’s Fleadh for Barrett’s second feature, Glassland, was justified. Barrett, who also wrote both films, is a self-proclaimed proud Kerry man, who was compared to the great Irish playwright John. B Keane when the film was being introduced by the former Minister of Arts.  The irony of both of his films premiering in a theatre and not a cinema was not lost on me.

Barrett says about his second feature, “I come from a close family and I have never known anything else, but the reality is that there are plenty of broken families in Ireland and I wanted to explore that.” It is never easy to follow a successful debut and the pressure that goes with that can distract the best of filmmakers. However, there is an air of confidence about Barrett and it is refreshing to see a young man (Barrett is still only 27) with such passion about storytelling and I am glad that he chose the medium of cinema to convey those stories and not the stage like the comparative Keane.

Glassland progresses at a slow pace and there is a certain amount of patience required, but it is well worth it. Jean (Toni Collette) is slowing killing herself with alcohol and John (Jack Reynor), her son, is her only hope of survival but he is on the verge of a breakdown himself. Reynor’s character is obviously under strain and his family situation is making him sacrifice not only living his life, but possibly putting it at risk also. Reynor has a strong screen presence and can hold the attention of the viewer in long scenes without dialogue or a manipulating score. Toni Collette is unflinchingly raw, almost unrecognisable from the glamour of Hollywood that some might relate her to. She is 100% believable in the role. The strong, believable performances from the lead characters engage the viewer and there is an honesty and sincerity that pervades the film. The writing/dialogue is at times brutally frank but then this frankness is juxtaposed with moments of comedy that resulted in laugh-out-loud moments in the packed theatre.

There are certainly similarities with Pilgrim Hill, the sense of ‘anywhere’ shows why these films are so relatable, the only indication that both films are based in Ireland are the accents, brilliantly pulled off in Glassland by Australian Toni Collette and Will Poulter from England who plays John’s friend. Poulter is responsible for the comedic elements that ease the palpable tension among the audience at times. There is an honesty about Glassland and, again, like Pilgrim Hill, Barrett is certainly not afraid to depict the harsh truth of life in modern Ireland. Another clear similarity between the two films is that the viewer is completely immersed in the main character’s world, which in both cases are claustrophobic, repetitive and mundane.

This film is the type that grows on you as time passes; it dominated the conversation over breakfast the next morning. We need more films like this that explore the prevalent issues in contemporary Irish life –  addiction, emigration, and a sense of isolation from mainstream society. It is fair to say that not everyone might enjoy the pace or visual style over a dialogue-driven narrative. Nevertheless, these are stories that need to be told in Ireland by Irish filmmakers and Barrett is telling them with compassion, subtlety and refreshing honesty. A well-made mature second feature.

Click here for our coverage of Irish Film at the 26th Galway Film Fleadh  (8 – 13 July, 2014)

 

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It Came from Connemara!! – Review of Irish Film at the Galway Film Fleadh

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David Gorman shlocks his way through Brian Reddin’s It Came from Connemara!!, a fascinating documentary about the production studio that low-budget, B-movie legend Roger Corman established in Galway.

The first time I heard Roger Corman’s name, in an interview with Martin Scorsese discussing the influence he had on his career. I remember that I thought Scorsese said, in his fast New York accent, ‘Roger Gorman’. So with a similar surname to myself, I searched into some of his films on IMBD. I was a little surprised for two reasons: firstly, he did not have the same surname (listen to Scorsese say his name and you can excuse my mistake); and secondly, his filmography consisted of names like The Beast with a Million Eyes (1955) Monster from the Ocean Floor (1954) and Candy Stripe Nurses (1974). I was surprised, and wondered why one of my favourite directors was speaking so highly of this B-movie filmmaker.

As I read further into the career of this man I soon realised that the admiration came not only from Scorsese but from some of American cinema’s biggest names. Avoiding a long list of familiar names that are easily recognisable to anyone reading this, it is suffice to say that Roger Corman has an entry in the film lexicon of many filmmakers in America and especially those from the New Hollywood era.

Fast forward about eight years after my first hearing of Roger Corman in a YouTube interview with Martin Scorsese – I am in the Town Hall Theatre Galway watching a documentary about his production studio located just a few miles from where I am sitting.

It Came from Connemara!! is a documentary by director Brian Reddin about the production studio that Roger Corman established in Galway, where in the 1990s for five years an Irish crew manufactured about twenty films. I say manufactured because you get the sense that it was like a machine going from one film to another, covering genres such as horror, sci-fi, action and romance.

From the beginning of the documentary there are hilarious anecdotes conveying stories of a filmmaking regime that will possibly never be imitated again. It is a great insight into a time when inexperienced Irish crews might one day be in the make-up department and the next, be assistant director. Make no mistake, Corman did not want his director spending time worrying about every aspect of a scene or have pleasing aesthetics in mind, it was pure commerce.

The footage from the films made at that time are a great addition to the documentary and much to Reddin’s relief, Corman, who is notorious for being frugal, kindly let them use the footage free of charge. There is something surreal about seeing a huge shoot out in the middle of Shop Street, or a car exploding outside a small garage in Spiddal, and as someone who lives in Galway I am now very keen to see them.

As Ireland introduced higher wages and theatrical releases for the type of B-Movies Corman was putting out decreased, his time in Ireland came to an unavoidable end. You can sense Corman has a genuine affection for that time in his career, he reminisces with a hint of pride “It was the Irish branch of what was known as The Corman Film School”.

His legacy in Ireland might not be as widely known as his American one, nevertheless, similar to the way Corman started the careers of so many accomplished American filmmakers, he achieved the same in Ireland. Many of the people who worked on the Irish branch of the Corman Film School now have significant and accomplished careers. This film is about more than Corman’s studio in the West of Ireland, a sense of nostalgia permeates this documentary looking back at an era that might never be replicated again. For any film fans out there this a great watch.

Click here for our coverage of Irish Film at the 26th Galway Film Fleadh  (8 – 13 July, 2014)

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