John Collins spoke to Tony Cranstoun, editor of A Date for Mad Mary and The Farthest, which closed this year’s Capital Irish Film Festival in Washington D.C. John was good enough to send us on his recording of their conversation.
The Farthest chronicles NASA’s 1977 launch of twin space probes, sent to capture images of remote planets and bear messages from Earth.
Set over a long bank holiday weekend, misfit teenager, Joey Moody, returns to his home town in a bid to reopen his family’s crumbling caravan park and salvage his friendship with his best friend, Lanks. Meanwhile, on a mission to find the money to cover his wife’s medical expenses, Ronald Tanner, a fractured soul, risks his meagre life savings on a get rich quick scheme that ends in abject failure and humiliation at the hands of local big shot Gits Hegarty, pushing Ronald over the edge and off the wagon. After Joey accidentally burns down Ronald’s camper van and is forced to find the cash to repay him, the strange pair find themselves bonded together in misfortune. In an effort to change their shabby circumstances they concoct a plan to rob the Pleasurama, the local amusement arcade, and the domain of the iniquitous Gits.
Gemma Creagh chats to Morgan Bushe about The Belly of the Whale, his debut feature as a director and Lewis MacDougall about his role as Joey.
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)
The 63rd Cork Film Festival, running from 9-18 November, is jam-packed with a range of fabulous Irish and international films.
Below we take a peek at the Irish films screening at this year’s festival, including Carmel Winters’ highly anticipated and award-winning second feature Float like a Butterfly, the Irish premiere of Yorgos Lanthimos’ feminist comedy The Favourite and The Dig.
Float Like a Butterfly (Carmel Winters)
09/11/2018 – 19:30 & 10/11/2018 – 16:00
In rural Ireland during the 1960s, Frances is a teenage Traveller who has coped with tragedy from a young age. With her father Michael in prison, she has learnt to fend for herself and her devotion to Muhammad Ali has inspired a passion for boxing. When Michael is released, though, he has forthright opinions about how a young woman should behave. As Michael decides to uproot his family and go roaming, fiery Frances begins her own journey of discovery.
With the unwitting assistance of his granddaughter Alice, the roguish and cantankerous Thaddeus and his girlfriend Sally escape from their nursing home to carry out their plan in a coastal hideaway. It’s unusual for a debut director to focus in on themes of death and ageing, albeit in a comic drama, but it is to Morgan and his leads’ credit that they do so with little vanity.
Cast: Aeneas O’Donnell, Muireann Ní Raghaillagh, Anna O’Donnell, Peter Shine
England, 1704, and Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) heads a country at war. While her army battles the French, there are squabbles in her parliament between the hawkish Whigs and the landowning Tories. In poor health, Anne relies heavily on confidante Lady Marlborough (Rachel Weisz), though when poor relation Abigail (Emma Stone) starts gaining influence at court a dual of wit begins, with the queen’s affections dangled as a prize.
Russian teen Denis lives in an orphanage where he and his friends play at testing how much pain Denis can withstand, and Denis just happens to have an almost superhuman resistance to pain. One day, to Denis’ delight, his mother Oksana arrives to take him out of the orphanage to live with her. However, will Oksana’s ulterior motives for springing Denis from the orphanage threaten their relationship?
Cast: Vilma Kutaviciute, Anna Slyu, Daniil Steklov
Known as ‘The Godfather of Irish Electronica,’ Roger Doyle has, over the course of five decades, created an impressive body of work ranging from minimalist piano and electronic pieces to orchestral works. Doyle might have been alone in his chosen field but he has always surrounded himself with remarkable creative types, forming Operating Theatre with Olwen Fouéré as well as providing distinctive soundtracks for the exciting wave of late 70s Irish filmmakers such as Bob Quinn, Cathal Black and Joe Comerford. And here he is captured embarking on Ireland’s first electronic opera.
Aidie doesn’t know who or where she is. As she searches for a baby that she may or may not have had, and who may have been taken from her, she struggles to decipher her past by repeatedly re-visiting it: dancing with her lover Aidan, visiting her artist mother, escaping from the unmarried mothers’ home and being in various stages of pregnancy, childbirth and searching for her child. Constantly at sea but tantalisingly close to the truth, revelation comes in a surprising and poignant ending that provides a fragile anchor for Aidie, through an exploration of love regained and loss re-lived.
Using the device of an open-call film audition to meet the locals in the County Galway town of Gort, this documentary encounters a diverse cast, including young Irish Travellers, English New Age hippies, Brazilian factory workers and Syrian refugees and asks them to share their dreams and stories.
Five Red Roses – One for Every Syllable of Your Name (Cathal Black)
14/11/2018 – 18:30
Máirín de Burca’s name may only be familiar to a certain generation but, in the current era of social justice and women’s rights activism this documentary is nothing if not timely. An imposing figure, de Burca held the post of Sinn Fein Secretary General before turning her focus on social action and feminist causes in the 70s and founding the Irish Women’s Liberation Movement.
Pat Murphy, Film Artist in Residence at UCC and one of Ireland’s most radical filmmakers, best describes her debut feature: ‘Maeve was asking how does a woman position herself against the background of what was going on in the North and within the history of republicanism and memory and landscape. At the time, people were pushing competing narratives. But my experience was that there was no clear narrative, only a fractured one. I was influenced by Godard and Brecht. But, more than that, with Maeve, anytime I sat down and tried to create a straightforward film with a beginning, middle and end, it just wouldn’t work.’
In the Tohill brothers’ tense drama, Callahan returns to his abandoned family farm-home having served 15 years for murder. His plan to sell up and move on is thwarted by the presence of the victim’s father on his land. Convinced that Callahan buried his daughter in the bog land, the father has spent every day of the previous 15 years digging it patch by patch. Knowing the only way he’ll get him off his land, and perhaps satisfy his own alcohol-shot recollection of events, Callahan joins him in the grim task. Dark secrets eventually surface.
Cast: Moe Dunford, Emily Taaffe, Francis Magee and Lorcan Cranitch
Having been sent away from his home following a tragedy some years before, 15-year-old Joey Moody returns to the now-derelict caravan park his parents once ran in rural Ireland. With a notion to revive the place, though lacking the wherewithal to do it, he finds himself committed to an unlikely partnership with Ronald Tanner, a recovering alcoholic struggling to raise funds to help his sick wife. Resentment for corrupt arcade owner and aspiring politician Gits unites the pair
Cast: Art Parkinson, Michael Smiley, Lewis MacDougall
When a grandfather offers his shabby old overcoat as a Christmas present to his disappointed granddaughter it reminds him of a story he was told from the old country, Russia, about Akaky, a lowly and lonely office worker whose purchase of an extravagant overcoat makes him the centre of attention. But then, fate takes a ghostly hand…
Cast: Cillian Murphy, Alfred Molina, Michael McElhatton, Fiona O’Shaughnessy
Though Hart Island has been mythicized by New Yorkers for over two centuries, for the over one million people who are buried here, there has been no eulogy. Laying claim to the unclaimed dead, they are interred in trenches; without memorial or ritual. Through the vignettes of four families reconciling the plight of their kin buried on the island, One Million American Dreams captures the alienation and anonymity of the city of New York through honest reflections on the rich tapestry of lives of those who find their final resting place here.
An exciting new programme of short films from the collections of the IFI Irish Film Archive. The programme features a wide range of films about Cork city and county and includes: silent films of Patrick St. and Cork Harbour in 1902; local newsreels by the Horgan Brothers from Youghal (1910s); the charming Oscar®-nominated Three Kisses about a young Cork hurler (1955); a lively canoeing film, Blackwater Holiday (1964); the elegiac Irish Village about Crookhaven in 1959; and a series of Amharc Éireann newsreels from the 1960s. The silent element of the programme will be accompanied by pianist Morgan Cooke.
DIR: Rebecca Daly • WRI: Rebecca Daly, Glenn Montgomery • DOP: Tibor Dingelstad • ED: Tony Cranstoun • PRO: Conor Barry, John Keville, Benoit Roland • MUS: Rutger Reinders • CAST: Vincent Romeo, Lars Brygmann, Clara Rugaard
From its stark opening shot of a looming column of trees, foreboding and seemingly impenetrable, Rebecca Daly’s Good Favour establishes itself as a film that is both visually striking and unsettling in tone.
It is from these woods that a young man (Vincent Romeo), emerges like a spectre, gaunt and malnourished. He staggers his way into a small, rural settlement which appears to be abandoned but, as he soon discovers, is home to a deeply-Christian farming community who take him in as a requirement of their faith. We learn that the young man’s name is Tom, but his past is unknown. Whether he simply doesn’t remember or doesn’t wish to speak about it, is unclear, and this only adds to the mysterious, enigmatic aura that surrounds him. He is met with both distrust and fascination by the members of the community, chief among whom are religious leader Mikkel (Lars Brygmann), his brother Hans (Alexandre Willaume), Hans’s wife Maria (Victoria Mayer), and their eldest daughter, Shosanna (Clara Rugaard).
Mikkel is quick to welcome Tom into the community, and Maria seems content to follow his example. Hans, however, is outwardly suspicious of the stranger in their midst and treats him with reservation. It is thus unsurprising that the thread of ‘otherness’ runs strongly throughout the film, with Tom as its origin. His sudden presence in this close-knit, secluded community, along with his often intense gaze and subdued way of speaking, mark him as peculiar.
Despite skepticism, Tom is able to make steps to integrate himself into the community. The children in particular are enthralled with this newcomer, and we see in their acceptance of him a comment on the ability of the young to look beyond damaging prejudices. Tom also forms a friendship with Shosanna, and their developing relationship eventually shows itself to have its own startling consequences. The first third or so of the film deals with Tom’s struggle to adjust from his isolation to this codependent, intimate way of life, and his presence inevitably disturbs the rhythm of the community. Quite literally, at one point, when the sounds of his hammering to split a tree trunk disrupt and distract the choir practicing in the nearby schoolroom.
This disturbance is underlain by the suggestion that the community may have its own share of secrets. We are given mention of a young boy named Isaac who disappeared in the woods, and Mikkel’s own mother is gravely ill, but he refuses to take her to the hospital despite the wishes of his father. Using this sense of ambivalence, Daly paints the community in such murky colors that its true nature remains unclear. Is it a simple farming settlement content to keep itself to itself? Or are its people more prisoners than inhabitants?
Adding to this uncertainty are startling images of violence and death that are used to great effect. The body of a stillborn calf being tossed into a container of rotting meat, the corpse of a stag that has been struck by a vehicle, even the invasion of bees into Mikkel’s mother’s sickroom, all highlight a grim clash between nature and settlement, and one begins to wonder at the constant misfortune that the community is struck by.
Noteworthy also is how utterly quiet the film is. There is little to no soundtrack, and the backdrop of silence gives the impression of the film holding its breath, which is well-suited to its tones of suspense and unease. The rare occurrences of background music usually accompany a moment of closeness or intimacy between Tom and one of the principal characters, illustrating the significance of his arrival into their lives. But even Tom’s ultimate role is unclear. Did he simply stumble upon the town or was he brought to it? Will the community have saved him, or will he find a way to save them?
Similar to Daly’s film The Other Side of Sleep, Good Favour is not necessarily concerned with providing answers, content to let the audience speculate, assume, and be startled. The film’s undeniably slow pace is not to its detriment; rather it allows the audience an intimate look into the secluded lives of its characters and their tribulations, interspersed with stunning shots of the landscape that surrounds them. A lone tree in a field at sunset or a cliff-top view of untamable woods become as integral to the narrative as the characters themselves.
Aided by strong performances from the main cast (in particular the strikingly expressive Vincent Romeo), Good Favour is a powerful and gripping film that explores the deep complexities of faith and its consequences, particularly in the face of crisis.
In the autumn of 1960, Father Thomas Riley and Father John Thornton were sent by the Vatican to investigate a miraculous event in an Irish home for “fallen women”, They uncovered something much more horrific however, as their attention turned to a 16-year-old pregnant girl exhibiting signs of demonic possession.
Ahead of its screening at this year’s IFI Horrorthon, David Prendeville spoke to director Aislinn Clarke about her debut feature, The Devil’s Doorway.
How did the idea come about to make a film set in the Magdalene laundries and then how did it come about that it would be a found footage film?
In the initial stage the producer came to me. There was no script or anything at that point. He had an idea and he gave me a page-long pitch which was to do a modern-day horror partly set in an abandoned Magdalene laundry and shot on mostly GoPro so it would have been more like something like Grave Encounters. My feeling was that I didn’t think that was the film that I wanted to make but I felt there was something interesting to be done with the Magdalene laundries. I thought if you’re going to do a film about the Magdalene laundries you should go back to the ’60s, when there was the most people there and get into the heart of the human drama of those places rather than having the girls as spectres now as a kind of afterthought. I think all good horror has in its heart real human drama. I think it shouldn’t come afterwards, it should be the primary concern. If you look at something like Hereditary, it started out like a family drama and then came in the horror elements, not the other way around so I felt that would be the strongest way to do it. I’m a big horror fan, I watch everything. I know how much found footage there is out there and I know how much of it is really bad. Some of it is really good but even the really good stuff gets lost because there’s so much of it and so much of it so similar. I felt if you’re going to do one it needs to feel totally different. It needs to be bringing something new to that subgenre. So I thought you do something that found footage films don’t normally do, which is make it about something. It’s not just about how scary it is. I enjoy films like those too, I enjoyed Grave Encounters, Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity. I enjoyed those films but I felt this needed to be about something and I felt it was very obvious what it needs to be about. Then if we set it in the 1960s then we have to shoot on 16mm film because that’s how they would’ve done it.
How difficult was it to convince people that it needed to be shot on 16mm?
Really hard. Myself and the DoP Ryan Kernaghan had both shot on film previously together and separately so we’re both pretty used to that process. We shot some test stuff on different formats to illustrate how aesthetically different they were. To illustrate how much a film filter doesn’t trick you into feeling like its real film and if you’re selling something as found footage it needs to feel like an authentic document. You can’t just put a filter on top because they’re repetitive. They’re not organic. Subconsciously you can tell it doesn’t feel right. It will have repetitive flaws that would never happen on real film so we were able to convince them that this has such a nice aesthetic that was separate to everything else that we should do that. The concession we had in the end was that we would shoot anything that needed VFX digitally and match it up in the grade. That was in case there might be flaws on the film that would prevent us doing the VFX or that certainly would’ve made it harder and much more expensive to do. So that’s what we did. Ryan also got a good deal. He got a bunch of stock somewhere, really cheap. Some of the stock we used was expired. We used that for stuff we knew we didn’t need for the story but that was nice scene setting stuff. Some of it made into the finished film and it actually looks really good.
Did you feel as director that working within the found footage genre allowed in some ways for more creativity in how you approached certain scenes? I’m thinking of the birthing scene in particular here. It really stands out as being very powerful in the way that it utilises the found footage element to render the scene differently to the way it would be in other films.
It’s funny because it’s simultaneously limiting and freeing to have the constraints of found footage. You’ve only got a single camera so you can’t do things like get coverage for a scene. For the birthing scene in particular that suited me because I always knew how I wanted to do that scene. I always wanted it to be just her face. I was thinking of Dreyer’s Joan of Arc or Godard’s Vivre sa Vie. I was thinking also that there’s a tendency in modern films to show too much and there’s a weirdly prosaic effect. People are so used to being shown everything when it comes to gore and violence and all the rest that it has no effect. It just kind of washes over. But there’s something very uncomfortable about just watching a human face for an extended period of time. Also, what you do in your mind is going to be a lot more powerful than what you are seeing. There were conversations about coverage but I was adamant that that was how I wanted to shoot it. It also wouldn’t make sense within the story for it to be shot as if the priests were shooting it, as neither of them would do that. Neither of them could be in this room while that’s happening. This was the best way to do it. It’s my favourite scene in the film and I had to fight for it. I think it works. So yes, in a way found footage does have that thing that there are constraints but that the constraints are weirdly freeing. We also have conversations that are like monologues to camera with Father Thomas in particular. If that was shot in a more conventional way you would have reverses and show the other character and that takes a lot longer to film so that helped us film more quickly, as well as having done a lot of rehearsals before stepping on set. I think there’s a lot to be said for just a still camera. People move around a lot these days and there’s a lot of frenetic editing that’s fashionable. I like to just let a performance happen.
I understand you had three locations for the film? I also heard that the roof fell down in one of them the day after filming?
(Laughs) Yeah, that’s right. So the location we used for the church was actually the dining hall in a lovely mansion house in Belfast, formerly belonging to Lord Craigavon. Nobody had lived in it since the ’30s though it had been used as a hospital during the war. The day after we left the roof fell in. The house was kind of falling apart anyway. But it was kind of strange, if you wanted to read into things. People ask me about ghosts but I don’t really believe in ghosts. I wish I did, I think it’s a lot fun but I don’t. I think there was something else about one of the insurance documents had 666 engraved in it or something like that. There were theories flying around about a curse but, touch wood, I don’t think so.
The film has excellent performances in it as well. Could you tell me a bit about the casting process?
We auditioned everybody, particularly because the two executive producers were in LA. They wanted to see tapes. Helena, who plays the Mother Superior, I already knew and had my eye on. My husband and I both work in the theatre and he had worked with Helena there. I’d seen her in a few things. I had my eye on her but we did audition other people as well. Ciaran, who plays Father John, again I had my eye on him from theatre. We auditioned very widely. In the first round the producers were unsure about him but I knew he was right for the role. I think his first audition was a self-tape because he was in London or somewhere at the time. When I finally got him to come into the room with me, he nailed it. Then Lalor fell slightly outside of the age group that the casting director, Carla Strong, had for the role. Just you know you pick an age range and he happened to be slightly out of it. So he wasn’t in the first net we hauled in. But he heard about the project from a friend of his. He got in touch with me saying he’d really like to audition for this. It just struck something. So he came on down to my office. Again we had seen loads of people for that role and nobody was quite right. We had seen loads of people that were really good but not quite right. Lalor came down and just knocked it out of the park instantly. He was brilliant. Then in relation to Lauren who plays Kathleen, we had a different actor cast originally but due to scheduling problems she had to drop out during the shoot. We were literally already shooting when Lauren came down to audition. She auditioned on the set and that’s how she got the role. We shot the whole thing in 16 days and shot Lauren’s stuff in the second week.
Are there any films that particularly influenced you for the project?
Yeah that’s an interesting one. People assume that I’d be looking at stuff like The Blair Witch Project for something like this because it’s found footage but actually that’s not how I approach films anyway. Then you’re just repeating yourself or repeating somebody else. This is not really like that. It’s found footage but it’s no more like it than any other genre film. I was really thinking about the time, the mode of shooting, those sort of things so I was looking at a lot of documentaries from the early ’60s. In particular I was looking at The Maysles Brothers, cinema verite documentaries, stuff like Salesman because even the way you handle the camera, all of that, is going to effect the aesthetic of a film like this and it’s going to be totally different to how they handle the camera in Blair Witch. Its different equipment and of course they have the audio equipment too. Father John in the film doesn’t know he’s making a found-footage horror film, he thinks he’s making a documentary so that was the style I was trying to emulate.
What do you plan for your next film?
I have a couple of things in the works so, with different producers, so it’s just about seeing what comes together first in terms of financing. I’m working on a film with Fantastic Films so we’ll see where that goes. It’s in the horror genre again, I tend to gravitate toward horror or if it’s not horror, thriller or something dark. I’m attached also to direct a story that I haven’t written that’s a Bloody Mary origin story. I also have a folk-horror in development with a producer in London.
Lenny Abrahamson’s new film The Little Stranger tells the story of Dr. Faraday (Domhnall Gleeson), the son of a housemaid, who has built a life of quiet respectability as a country doctor. During the long hot summer of 1948, he is called to a patient at Hundreds Hall, where his mother once worked. The Hall has been home to the Ayres family for more than two centuries. But it is now in decline and its inhabitants – Mrs. Ayres (Charlotte Rampling), Roderick Ayres (Will Poulter) and Caroline Ayres (Ruth Wilson) – are haunted by something more ominous than a dying way of life. When he takes on his new patient, Faraday has no idea how closely, and how disturbingly, the family’s story is about to become entwined with his own.
Gemma Creagh was at the European premiere at the Light House cinema in Dublin and talked to Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter, Lenny Abrahamson and Ruth Wilson.
I, Dolours presents one woman’s story of life and death in the IRA, for whom the Good Friday Agreement brought no peace of mind. A member of a crack, secret IRA unit run by Gerry Adams, Dolours Price led the first team to bomb the centre of London in 1973. Before this, she was a central figure in one of the most notorious and controversial IRA operations of The Troubles: the murder and dumping into unmarked graves of people whose violent deaths the IRA wished to keep secret – the so-called ‘disappeared’.
Gemma Creagh talks to Maurice Sweeney about his documentary, based on lengthy interviews with Dolours Price and extensive reconstructions. I Dolours tells the anguished story of one of the few women who dedicated her life to the IRA only to be haunted by memories of what she had done and the realisation that it had all been for naught.
There have been a number of feature documentaries recently focusing on The Troubles. Is it getting easier to deal with living history?
Yes. I think it’s getting easier. It’s no accident that this year and last year we’ve had No Stone Unturned, I Dolours, A Mother Brings Her Son to be Shot, Bobby Sands: 66 Days. These are screening and being understood by Irish and international audiences. It’s not the usual Prime Time Investigates – these films are about bigger stories and bigger themes. Maybe we’re achieving that distance where we are being able to talk about it.
For me, I, Dolours felt very timely, because it was a great analogy of the North. I think filmmakers in Ireland and the new generation want to tackle those subjects on the bigger screen. Also, I would argue that there has been amazing work that hasn’t been given prominence because it was on TV. There has been an element of snobbishness to a certain extent with films released on the bigger screen garnishing more praise. These are things that have been explored on TV but they are being treated as themes and stories rather than political investigations, which I think is important. I think also it’s a sign of a generation of Irish filmmakers maturing.
Regardless of that snobbery though the shift in distribution platforms and the international hunger that there is for these true life stories – that’s the future, is it not?
It is and they are coming around to it. The demand for content has never been so high. Maybe 7 years ago we were all worried that with all the content production, values were going to go down. People got that wrong. So there’s a call for really well produced, intelligent content. Obviously, there’s a lot of bad true life stuff out there – but that’s the nature of the beast.
Structure is changing. Filmmakers are also thinking about something in four parts now. It doesn’t have to be contained within 90 minutes. It’s going to be interesting for documentary filmmakers in particular as to how they choose to tell a story and what type of stories they decide tell – there’s scope to think bigger and still get those nuggets of human experience in those films.
It’s interesting you say that because after watching this film I was imagining it as series – there’s a strong female anti-hero who’s been pushed to the edge and pressured into extreme action. Breaking Bad meets The Americans.
As a drama, certainly you could imagine that – thanks – I’ll go back and write that now and I’ll use that tagline!
I noted that you had been trying to get the project together for a while. How did it eventually come into fruition?
It came on the back of a failure in getting of another project off the ground with Ed Moloney, the journalist. We were trying to do a programme on the collusion in the murder of Pat Finucane with producer Nuala Cunningham. It didn’t happen. After it never came to fruition, we spoke about the possibility of using Ed’s 2010 interview with Dolours Price. So I read part of the transcript. I was amazed and enthralled by the story. I thought this is really powerful. I knew that this inside-story of uncomfortable truths was something special.
We got development money of the Film Board and eventually got to the phase where we had production funding before we asked ourselves what we were going to do with it.From my background, I was treating it as an historical doc. I had never met the woman. I had that removal which served the end product well because I could see it from a bird’s eye, from a different angle, from my point of view as a director. To be honest, we actually struggled a lot deciding how to make it initially. We had discussed different ways and I had even thought about shooting the interview again with an actress. I almost thought you could do this as a full drama from an interview given by the woman who was in the IRA. I kept thinking about how to do that. In fairness, Mick Mahon, the editor, kept saying – “look you have the interview, use it.” I don’t why I was reluctant initially to be honest with you, it was a form I had always wanted to try. So then I sat down with Mick and looked at the interview. We saw how brilliant and really powerful it was and from then on we decided that we were just using her voice. The film became more glued into shape then. It took shape in our minds.
That shape is quite interesting in the different forms you use to tell the story and achieve the overall effect.
It was about using three forms of filmmaking: archive, straight sit-down interviews and enactments, which is what I would see as her visual memory, they would interweave together. The enactments were important because we knew wanted to tell a strong visual story, and they add that sense of drama alongside the archive footage and interviews.
It was clear in my head when we went to shoot eventually. There was a lot of time to plan so we almost had the film edited to a certain extent in our heads to where the important points from the interview were.
The shoot itself was about 11 or 12 days. The edit was 15 weeks.
The film is an emotional rollercoaster and Dolours is such a complex character for the audience – how was it for you as a filmmaker?
The audience has to go through the same thing we went through. We were conflicted by listening to her and how we felt about her. There are certain scenes that really bring about that conflict and show this young woman who made decisions but who would ultimately suffered for them. We didn’t want to be too apologetic. You couldn’t agree with what she did, but I think you could understand. Also we didn’t want to shy away from showing the damage that she caused. You’re treading that line.
I thought Lorna Larkin was amazing as Dolours in the reenactments. She brings a real gutsiness to the role. How did she come on board?
I had other actors lined up who were great and one in particular who I think got scared of the project about doing something about the IRA and other reasons, so things were getting quite tight. I came across Lorna and I thought she had that sparkle in her eye and would really own Dolours. When we met, she was just so up for it – she wasn’t phased about it at all. We’re dealing with very tricky issues here IRA, killings, Hunger strikes… very contentious stuff. She was very brave in her approach. We did some tests with her in costume and she was great and she’s able to pull off different looks. I think having an unknown was important – she becomes more Dolours.
How was the film received and did you get any kind of feedback from people who were involved?
We did – and there were certain people who were saying we shouldn’t be making this film. Some people are surprised when they see it that it’s not a ‘Let’s Get Sinn Fein’ job. It’s not about that. When we showed it in Canada at Hot Docs, people got the emotional story of it. When we showed it in Britain, it was all about the political. Then when we showed it in Belfast, which is almost like returning to the scene of the crime, I was very nervous about that. It was a packed cinema with ex-IRA members in the audience. They questioned certain things but a lot of them were very positive about it. They thought it showed that this is what it was like. This is what the committed part of the IRA does and also the cruelty of it. A lot of the time when I see the film with audiences, it’s amazing, they are just silent at the end – I’ll take that as a compliment!