Local Films for Local People – Archive Screenings at Thoor Ballylee @ Galway Film Fleadh

 

Deirdre de Grae reports from the IFI Local Films for Local People event screening at Thoor Ballylee, which took place as part of the 30th Galway Film Fleadh. The films screened were ‘Coole Park and Ballylee’, Queens University Belfast; ‘The Workhouse Ward’, dir. Ria Mooney; and ‘Cradle of Genius’, dir. Paul Rotha.

 

Entitled ‘Local Films for Local People’, a special screening of IFI archive films was presented at Thoor Ballylee, Co. Galway, a former summer home of W.B. Yeats. The curated selection celebrated the work of Yeats’ friend and co-founder of Ireland’s national theatre, Lady Isabella Augusta Gregory, who owned the nearby Coole Park estate. After her husband, Sir. William’s death in 1892, Lady Gregory welcomed many artists and writers to Coole, including: Yeats, Shaw, Synge, Hyde, and O’Casey. Together they created a renaissance of Irish literary, artistic and political thinking and action.

 

28-year-old Isabella Augusta Persse (Lady Gregory) on her wedding day (image from Coolepark.ie)

 

I was drawn to this film event because of a long standing romantic and nostalgic connection with Thoor Ballylee (and the neighbouring Coole Park estate). This fairy-tale tower, situated on a small rivulet, was – to my dramatic teenage self – visually and aesthetically straight out of a pre-Raphaelite painting (think Ophelia) and echoed lines to me from ‘The Lady of Shallot’. As a pre-teen in the late ’80s, I was assigned to complete a ‘research project’ on the tower, of which I remember little except detailed drawings (and swans). Sadly, the tower became inaccessible to the public for years following flood damage in 1995 and 2009-2010, but it has been renovated and is now re-opened to the public, thanks to the Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society. I had not been in many years and was delighted to be able to attend this event screening by the IFI here.

It was an intimate gathering of about 15-20 people and the highlights were the eloquent introductions given by Lelia Doolan (former Artistic Director of the Abbey Theatre and board member of Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society) and the ever informative Sunniva O’Flynn (head of Irish film programming at the IFI), who has a deep knowledge of Irish archive film, and is generous with sharing that knowledge. It would be fantastic to have had longer time allocated to Sunniva, I would love to hear her give an entire lecture at a screening.

A downfall was that the films were shown on (quite a small) TV screen, which was a disappointment given that it was part of the Film Fleadh. A more pleasant experience would have been to watch the films in a cinemobile parked at the tower, and to visit the tower itself afterwards. Invasions and distractions were provided by the many video cameras (including an RTÉ news crew) who filmed before and during the screening (once retrieving a forgotten microphone left in front of the TV mid-film). It did feel like there were more people documenting the event than audience attending, maybe due to lack of transport to the location from Galway city.

I commend the Film Fleadh’s efforts to bring the festival to the county of Galway. An idea for realising this in future years could potentially use Element’s cinemobile – a ‘repeat screening’ of the most popular films the week after the Film Fleadh, in neighbouring rural locations. Another solution would be to use the already established film clubs in, say, Athenry and Gort, and screen the most popular films there, as an extension of the Film Fleadh.

 

Thoor Ballylee (Ballylee Castle)

 

Coole Park and Ballylee (1976), Producer: Queen’s University Belfast

The first film shown in Thoor Ballylee was the twenty-minute documentary Coole Park and Ballylee, made in 1976 by a crew from Queen’s. The film is a collage of Coole Park nature images, with a voiceover reading the poem by Yeats, ‘Coole Park and Ballylee’. It was an incredibly relaxing experience to simply watch the 1970’s bright Kodak colour images, while listening to the poem being read. The style of the camera work was wonderfully representative of the era, with high colour saturation and contrast and some gorgeous circular lens flares from the sun – and all actual film artefacts, not added on ‘in post’, as per J.J. Abrams!

This film was different than the others in the collection, being in colour and without actors, but it was the one I enjoyed the most. As children we used to climb in the ancient trees of Coole Park, so the place holds some memories for me. Lady Gregory is quoted as saying: ‘These woods have been well loved, well tended by some who came before me, and my affection has been no less than theirs. The generations of trees have been my care, my comforters. Their companionship has often brought me peace.’ (Coolepark.ie)

 

The Workhouse Ward’(1950), dir. Ria Mooney.
The second film screened was The Workhouse Ward, a 1950 adaptation of the eponymous one-act play written by Lady Gregory and starring cast from the Abbey Theatre Players.

The dialogue and writing is incredibly witty, capturing a certain type of cantankerous personality who would rather stick with the misery they know than have the courage to move to a better life. The outcome is exasperating, but all too familiar, and makes one wonder where Lady Gregory got her inspiration from. The observation and investigation of the two male characters (useless, inert) is both insightful and witty. The play was first staged in the Abbey in 1908, ahead of its time (or lost in time), preceding similar themed work such as Waiting for Godot, which was not staged until 1953. Lady Gregory wrote comedy, as well as tragedies and histories. Her prison-escape play The Rising of the Moon, first staged in the Abbey in 1907, was also later adapted for a John Ford film in 1957.

The Workhouse Ward, is available to watch free online, on three separate charming film reels, thanks to the British Pathé archive: https://www.britishpathe.com/video/the-workhouse-ward-reel-1

 

‘The Workhouse Ward’

 

Cradle of Genius (1959), dir. Paul Rotha

The final film screened was Paul Rotha’s Cradle of Genius, which was nominated for an Oscar in 1962 as the ‘Best Short Documentary’ for Plough Productions, produced by the late Tom Hayes. Hayes, feted as an ‘ingenious filmmaker and tireless advocate for the Irish film industry’ by the Irish Times, made his name as the producer of this film, in a time before Irish Film Board funding existed. The film was well received in Ireland and the US, with Irish distribution undertaken by the Rank Organisation.

This 42-minute scripted documentary, written by Frank O’Connor, features some famous Abbey actors, all draped in wonderful tweeds, with R.P. accents straight from BBC radio, and the deportment of Hollywood stars – despite their Irish origins. The adaptation of regional accents on arrival in Dublin is still a phenomenon today, but it did make me wonder if the cast reverted to their native tones when they left the Pale!

The documentary was filmed in the Abbey theatre, after a fire destroyed the building in 1951, and comprises monologues and conversations of famous Abbey performers, reminiscing about the theatre. The cast include: Barry Fitzgerald, Siobhán McKenna, Harry Brogan, May Craig, Ria Mooney, Shelagh Richards, Sean O’Casey and Ernest Blyth.

Cradle of Genius

 

If you are lucky enough to live or work in Dublin city, the IFI frequently screens films from their archive at lunchtime in their Temple Bar cinema, which are free to attend. More details here: https://ifi.ie/archive-at-lunchtime/

Otherwise, a huge array of archive films can be viewed online for free using the IFI Archive Player: https://ifiplayer.ie/browse/

 

Local Films for Local People – Archive screenings at Thor Ballylee took place on Thursday, 12th July 2018 as part of the Galway Film Fleadh (10 – 15 July)

 

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Review of Irish Film @ Galway Film Fleadh: Song of Granite

Deirdre de Grae sings along to Song of Granite, Pat Collins’ portrait of the life of the great traditional singer, Joe Heaney, which screened at the 29th Galway Film Fleadh.

 

Song of Granite, was the opening film at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh. The film was introduced by the producer, Alan Maher (of Marcie Films), and the director, Pat Collins, who reminisced about his time as the Fleadh programmer in the 1990s. As this was the opening film, it screened to a full house, including cast and crew, as well as the featured musicians Lisa O’Neill and Damien Dempsey.

The black and white, lán Gaeilge, Song of Granite is a portrait of the sean-nós singer, Joe Heaney.  It is difficult to define the film, and perhaps there is no need to try to do so – to fit it into clearly labelled folders of ‘genre’ and ‘format’. But there is a human tendency to desire classification, and an unfortunate necessity for entering film festivals, marketing and distribution. Although it was in competition with the feature films in the Galway Film Fleadh, it could just as easily be labelled as a documentary.

The dramatic portions of the film could be termed reconstructions, common in drama-documentary. The film also incorporates archive film and audio footage, so in this way, it could be billed either as feature documentary or a feature film. The archive footage of Irish emigrants in Glasgow and the reconstructions of the lives of Irish-speaking men in the UK reminded me of two previous screenings: the documentary, Men of Arlington (dir. Enda Hughes) and the feature film, Kings (dir. Tom Collins). Both of these films address the lonely, lost lives of single Irish men who find themselves turning to drink while living in London. In Song of Granite, the images of sad urban lives in the UK contrasted with the freedom and open air of Connemara. There is a physical feeling of relief to get back to Connemara and breathe the open air again, after watching the pub interiors, and the UK.

The 13-year-old Colm Seoighe gave an impressive performance playing the young Joe Heaney, and reminded me of both a young Domhnall Gleeson and Cillian Murphy: Domhnall Gleeson in his colouring and his screen presence, and Cillian Murphy in his eyes and expression. Colm did not appear to be fazed by the camera and crew, perhaps due to the small crew size, but also likely a testament to the director’s skills in putting him at his ease. He is a fantastic young actor and I hope that he is encouraged to pursue acting as he gets older.

The most notable aspect of this film was the soundscape – the sound recording team and the sound editing team need to be commended. As is evidenced in Pat Collins’ previous film, Silence, sound is intrinsic to his work and sound design is key to Song of Granite also. There is a wealth of atmospheric and ambient sounds used, with the focus on the sea, nature and song – whereas dialogue is kept minimal. By suppressing the visual elements (dark scenes, suppression of light, monochrome), the senses are focussed on sound instead.

At the same time, this is a highly cinematic, photographic film, deservedly winning an award for cinematography at the Fleadh this year for Richard Kendrick. There is a dream-like quality to this film: it is beautifully shot, there is a wonderful atmosphere, it is restful – you can get carried along with the film with your imagination and drift away – however, there isn’t a narrative, in the traditional sense of a feature drama film. The viewer would nearly need to know the story of Joe Heaney before watching, to understand what’s going on. The reconstructions are particulate and bitty, they don’t string together in a narrative structure – they are isolated reconstructed dramatisations. If you are a person who likes to watch a film for story, this might frustrate you. However, for me, the impressive acting of Colm Seoighe, the beautiful cinematography and the wonderful soundscape made this an enjoyable experience, and rose above the lack of a traditional narrative structure.

While I imagine the previous screenings at Karlovy Vary and SXSW took on an ethnographic-cultural tone (for example, the filmmakers had to explain what sean-nós was in U.S. interviews), in Galway, there was very much a sense of the film ‘coming home’. The Irish language was not a barrier to this audience, comprising of the film crew, Connemara-based cast and a who’s-who of the film and television industry in the west – with whom the landscape and lives portrayed resonated. The crowd was very responsive to the traditional music ‘sessions’ on screen, and some older audience members around me sang along to ‘The Galway Shawl’, which was a very sweet moment. After one long sean-nós session, the cinema audience applauded along with the on-screen audience, as they felt intimate with the scene.

Pat Collins’ Song of Granite transcends genre and strict, static definitions. I hope that he, as an Irish auteur, will be included in the canon of Irish filmmakers, and to see his work in ‘Irish film’ courses across Ireland and internationally.
 
Song of Granite screened on Tuesday, 11th July 2017, as part of the Galway Film Fleadh (11 – 16 July).
 
Song of Granite will be released in Irish cinemas on 24th Nov 2017.
 

 

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Review of Irish Film @ Galway Film Fleadh • New Irish Shorts 7: IFB World Premiere Shorts

Deirdre de Grae finds a lot to admire at the Irish Film Board World Premiere Short Films programme at the 29th Galway Film Fleadh.

 

The Galway Film Fleadh is an important platform for Irish short film. Hundreds of short filmmaking crews and cast attend the festival each year, helping to create the unique Fleadh buzz. There is a symbiotic relationship between festival and short film, if one portion is removed, the other will not thrive. The Irish Film Board had the Fleadh shorts equivalent of a ‘prime time’ slot – 12 noon on Saturday – and the atmosphere was phenomenal. The world premieres screened to a full house, including excited cast and crew of the short films. Although the IFB shorts premiere is always busy, this year seemed more popular than ever, with tickets selling out weeks before the screening date. Potential audience members crowded the steps and foyer of the Town Hall Theatre, hoping to acquire last-minute cancellation tickets for the sold-out programme. Those of us who were lucky enough to have a ticket were kept entertained for the packed programme: eleven shorts were shown, comprising six animations and five live-actions films. The short films screened were funded from three Irish Film Board schemes: Short Stories (live action or animation, max. budget of €20,000), Frameworks (animation only, max. budget of €46,000), and Focus Shorts (replacing the Signatures fund, max. budget of €50,000). This year, the theme given for the ‘Short Stories’ fund was ‘Tribes’ – filmmakers were asked to create films exploring the type of tribe that fascinated them the most. The short films were introduced by James Hickey, Chief Executive of the IFB, who later announced their commitment to supporting female writers and directors in the film industry – read more here

 

Although the shorts in this programme were impressive overall, two films stood out and lingered long after the screenings were over:  Time Traveller, written and directed by Steve Kenny, and Late Afternoon, written and directed by Louise Bagnall, which was awarded ‘Best Animated Sequence in a Short Film’.

Late Afternoon, written and directed by Louise Bagnall (an animator on Song of the Sea), captures some very honest moments and emotions that are familiar to anyone who has an elderly relative. In this way, although located in Ireland, the film is absolutely universal. In her film, Louise allows us an insight into the memories of an elderly lady, ‘Emily’, acted wonderfully by Fionnula Flanagan. She shows us those moments when an elderly person may forget their age and once again relive their younger days, which often happens in the days before passing away. The memories represented are the gleeful moments Emily spent as a young girl, playing on the shore, falling in love – and the audience is swept into this joy with her. These memories are counteracted by the sadness of her current relationship with her daughter, who she no longer recognises. Louise’s film is definitely a ‘tear-jerker’ – possibly the most moving film I had seen all week, and I regretted wearing mascara that day!

Late Afternoon was produced by Nuala González Blanco at Cartoon Saloon.

 

 

Time Traveller, the first film funded under the new ‘Focus Shorts’ Irish Film Board scheme, was written and directed by Steve Kenny.

This was the best acting performance of the festival so far, that I had seen, by Tom Doran playing ‘Martin’, a young traveller boy.  Although billed as starring the excellent and convincing Barry Ward, newcomer Tom Doran as Martin steals the show. Martin is obsessed with Back to the Future and has built an impressive DeLorean replica (for a small boy) using scraps and an old banger. There are some hilarious moments when Martin, armed with a hammer, whacks the car gleefully and very convincingly – I suspect young Tom enjoyed shooting those scenes. The comedic timing and visuals are excellent in Time Traveller, there seems to be the happy mixture of a good script, great cast and fantastic editing, all coming together to make a great short film.  A lot of praise is due to the editor, Colin Campbell, who also edited Michael Inside and The Young Offenders (for which he was nominated for an IFTA) as well as many short films. The film has some more serious moments, involving an eviction, and touching on the inevitability of change and leaving things behind in life.  In this way, the film is both heartbreaking and heart warming.

Time Traveller was produced by Forty Foot Pictures

Short films screened in this programme:

Macarooned (dir. Alan Short & Seamus Malone), Neon (dir. Rioghnach Ní Ghrioghair), Where is Eva Hipsey (dir. Orla McHardy), An Island (dir. Rory Byrne), Nice Night for It (dir. Rachel Carey), Late Afternoon (dir. Louise Bagnall), A Different Kind of Day (dir. Maria Doyle Kennedy), Bellwether (dir. Caroline Campbell), Departure (dir. Aoife Doyle), Deposits (dir. Trevor Courtney), and Time Traveller (dir. Steve Kenny).

 

 

Awards:

Late Afternoon (dir. Louise Bagnall) won Best Animated Sequence in a Short Film. An Island (dir. Rory Byrne) won the James Horgan Award for Best Animation

 

 

 

New Irish Shorts 7: IFB World Premiere Shorts screened on Saturday, 15th July 2017, as part of the 29th Galway Film Fleadh (11–16 July 2017).

 

 

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Review of Irish Film @ Galway Film Fleadh • New Irish Shorts: Animation

Deirdre de Grae found a lot to love in the animated shorts programme at the 29th Galway Film Fleadh.

 

The animated shorts programme is always a personal festival highlight of the Galway Film Fleadh, for me. It’s the ideal Sunday morning cure following a hectic week of film screenings and post-film partying – nerves are calmed and eyes are soothed during this perfectly-timetabled programme of Irish short animations. As usual, there was a large audience attendance, including cast and crew.

The competition for entry into the programme is typically tough, resulting in an excellent showcase of Irish animation. This year’s hopeful entrants were up against some well-funded and seasoned filmmakers, so to be selected for this programme is a prize in itself. Not as many student films were included as in previous years, and I missed their creativity and energy. The films curated included animated shorts from a current student and new graduate, as well as established industry professionals. Further animations were screened as part of the Irish Film Board’s showcase on Saturday 15th July 2017, and are reviewed as part of that programme.

The stand-out animated shorts from this programme are An Béal Bocht/The Poor Mouth (winner of Best First Short Animation and The Don Quijote Award for Best Animated Short Film), directed by Tom Collins, and ‘Sorry I Drowned‘, directed by David Habchy and Hussein Nakhal.

An Béal Bocht / The Poor Mouth (dir. Tom Collins), is an adaptation of the novel by Flann O’Brien (A.K.A. Myles na gCopaleen/Brian O’ Nolan), of whom I am a huge fan. The absurdist, satirical comedy is realised incredibly well by the director, Tom Collins, and talented principal animator, John McCloskey. As with any favourite book adaptation, I was nervous to see if it matched my imagined world. However, I had no need for fear, and was delighted to see some hilarious elements retained, such as the never-ending rain, which sometimes seems an accurate portrayal of life in the west of Ireland. And I am happy to report that the pig fart jokes went down very well with the kids in the audience. The casting is particularly on-point, and I can imagine there was some fun in the sound recording booth with, for example, Bob Quinn as ‘The President’, Tommy Tiernan as ‘Ó Bánasa’, and Mícheál Ó Meallaigh as ‘the Drunken Pig’. The animated film was realised using the original Irish version of the novel and cleverly used Flann O’Brien’s own English translations for the subtitles, thus retaining the original wit.

The animation was a co-production of Raw Nerve Productions (Pearse Moore) and De Facto Films, and was animated at the Nerve Centre in Derry. It was funded by Northern Irish Screen (Irish Language Broadcast Fund), TG4 and the BAI.  The cast includes: Owen McDonnell ,Tommy Tiernan, Donncha Crowley, Bob Quinn, Seán Mistéal and Mícheál Ó Meallaigh.

Sorry I Drowned

Sorry I Drowned‘ (dir. David Habchy and Hussein Nakhal) is a monochrome animation, using Arabic voice recordings, inspired by a letter purportedly found on a drowned person fleeing war. The animation was commissioned by Medicins Sans Frontiers and produced by Studio Kawakeb, Lebanon.

The style and content are reminiscent of both Persepolis (black and white / female voice) and Waltz with Bashir (video footage / war themes). Visuals of pixellated, 1980’s computer-graphics delivered in stark monochrome, serve as the foreground to the Arabic words, spoken by a woman. Ideally, the eyes and mind could rest on the images while the words are spoken, but due to my lack of Arabic, I had to rely on the (too-small) subtitles, which distracted from the fast-moving visual images. It is a fantastic, moving animation, but was screened out of competition as it is not an Irish production.

Blackout

Dylan Nevin’s Blackout was the only student animation shown, and the team deserve kudos for that. This is a dystopian, futuristic, short animation from the perspective of an art student, who rebels. Dylan Nevin is studying animation with the Ballyfermot College of Further Education (BCFE). His work can be seen at www.bcfe.ie

The Line

Dillon Brannick, A recent graduate of Dún Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology (IADT),  directed ‘The Line’, which explores the dynamics between parent and child, during mourning. In his animation, the baby and father switch places, with the large adult-sized baby taking care of the tiny father.  The result is a gentle portrait of loss and grief. Dillon’s work can be seen at dillonbrannick.com

Wooden Child

Wooden Child, directed by Joe Loftus, is a disturbing examination of death, to a Country and Western soundtrack. Joe works as an animator at Boulder Media and is a graduate of the IADT animation degree programme. His work can be seen at  vimeo.com/joeloftus

 

Animated short films screened in this programme:

Wooden Child (dir. Joe Loftus), Coranna (dir. Steve Woods), The Line (dir. Dillon Brannick), Dreaming of Sleep (dir. Leon Butler), Blackout (dir. Dylan Nevin), Sorry I Drowned (dir. David Habchy & Hussein Nakhal), Cyber (dir. Diarmuid Hayes & Sarah Whicker), Tete a Tete (dir. Natasha Tonkin), An Béal Bocht/The Poor Mouth (dir. Tom Collins).

 

 

New Irish Shorts: Animation were screened on Sunday 16th July 2017, as part of the 29th Galway Film Fleadh (11–16 July 2017).

 

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