Sydney’s Second Annual Irish Film Festival Wraps With ‘Lost In The Living’

 

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Glen Falkenstein interviews Lost in the Living director Robert Manson at Sydney’s Irish Film Festival.

Sydney’s second annual Irish Film Festival concluded  at The Chauvel Cinema in Sydney’s Paddington following four days of screenings, closing with the Australian premiere of Lost In The Living, which chronicles an Irish musician’s (Tadgh Murphy from Vikings and Black Sails) weekend in Berlin, a whirlwind romance, and an introduction to the city’s unique nightlife. The film’s director, Robert Manson, flew out from Dublin for the Australian premiere, and sat down with Glen Falkenstein to discuss the film and the growth of Irish cinema. “This is a love letter to Berlin,” says Manson. “I created this project from memories, from experiences, from friends and other people that I met, from observations, chance happenings, things I read, and things that I overheard on trains. I wanted to put it all together in one constructed piece so that I could take it out of my brain and then maybe go to another city and do something else or just go and explore another culture, but Berlin just didn’t let me go.”

A low-budget production, Manson sometimes had to adopt guerrilla filmmaking tactics to get the film made at the authentic Berlin locations that he wanted, shooting quickly and completing principal photography in a matter of weeks. “There’s a lot of space, and great big city streets and parks that aren’t crowded, so you can find a little corner to shoot in,” the director says. “Small independent films don’t really get shot there. I was told to just go and shoot it, and just do it. I was told to just get this one permission slip which is a general permit for having a camera in the city. It’s 100 euros, and then you just go and do it. No one will even notice; so we did, and nobody did. They have a no camera policy in clubs, so we shot in one of the dirtiest little clubs called The Golden Gate. When we were asking for permission, everyone said that there was no chance in hell that we could get to film there, but we told them what we were doing, and they liked the idea and they liked the project, so they invited us to come and shoot it. Authenticity is a big thing in Berlin, so choosing locations for clubs and pubs and things like that is very important.”

With Irish filmmakers expanding their projects to a number of countries including Australia, Manson also shared his thoughts on the development of Irish cinema and the prospects for follow-ups to Lost In The Living. “The diaspora of Ireland is so gigantic,” he says. “People are moving around and sharing their stories. They’re working on songs or projects, and they’re writing theatre, dance, film, and everything together. There are those little Irish communities in places like Sydney and in Berlin, where there’s a huge community now. Those old notions of what Ireland used to be are changing. When I fly into Sydney, I get a very fresh opinion of Ireland, because it’s from people who’ve been here for a long time, and it’s a twist on what I would recognise from being there or living there; it’s a new perspective, with new ideas. It always helps something resonate or grow, and it’s exciting to film in Ireland at the minute or in many of the cities that Irish people inhabit.

“I want to do a trilogy of Irish perspectives from and in Berlin, so Dublin and Berlin – for the first one, Lost in The Living, it’s a newcomer’s touristic perspective with fresh eyes in a new place and culture, there’s alienation, new ideas and possibilities, there’s a freshness of a new city. The second film is about living in the city a number of years, getting into the culture, bedding down and finding a new home and then how that is reflected in being away from Ireland for a long period of time, and then the third part would be returning to Ireland after being in Berlin for a long time.”

Supported by The Irish Film Board and the Consulate-General of Ireland in Sydney, this year’s festival featured a special focus on the centenary of the 1916 revolution and its continuing effects, including 2016: The Irish Rebellion, a documentary narrated by Liam Neeson. Opening with Glassland, focused on the world of human trafficking and starring Jack Reynor (Transformers: Age Of Extinction) and Toni Collette, the festival also featured a showing of the Irish animation, Song Of The Sea, which screened at last year’s Sydney Film Festival.

 

A version of this article originally appeared on FilmInk

Glen writes film reviews, features, commentary and covers local festivals and events. Glen lives in Sydney. He tweets @GlenFalkenstein

The Irish Film Festival took place in Sydney 7  – 10 April 2016

You can read Ruth Hogan’s report from the festival here

 

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Review of Irish Film at Galway Film Fleadh: Song of the Sea

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Song of the Sea had its Irish premiere earlier this evening at the Galway Film Fleadh. Glen Falkenstein sent us this review from the film’s Australian premiere at this year’s Sydney Film Festival.

 

Films routinely transport us to another world, another place; somewhere different and sometimes so enthralling that you can’t rip your eyes away. Tomm Moore’s Song of the Sea, set in modern Ireland, does just that, weaving a very rich tapestry of Celtic folklore around a world we know, rendering a laudable achievement in both technical and literal storytelling just that much more fascinating.

Conor (Brendan Gleeson) shares an isolated lighthouse with his wife Bronagh and their son Ben, who is expecting a little brother or sister. A very pregnant Bronagh disappears one night after putting her son to bed, with Ben waking up to find a despondent dad and a baby girl, Saoirse. Fast-forward six years and Ben’s entrenched dislike of Saoirse has only grown, his sister yet to utter a word, his closest companion his scruffy sheepdog Cu.

Saoirse discovers a shell in Ben’s possession, left to him by their mother, which whenever she plays it produces magical properties and summons a flock of fairies. After a late-night adventure by Saoirse into the sea to explore these new-found wonders, her grandma decides the lighthouse is no safe place for children and takes them away to live with her, with Ben and Saoirse determined to remain by the ocean with their father.

Expertly integrating aspects of Irish mythology and a modern-day setting and characters, Song of the Sea is throughout its run an engaging and visually enchanting story. Screening as part of this year’s Sydney Film Festival, elements of Celtic mythology unfamiliar to the many who view the Oscar-nominated animated feature are rendered all that more engaging for both their vivid portrayal and demonstrated relevance and fusion within a current setting.

Tumbling down a rabbit hole of folklore, Ben encounters many magical, skilfully drawn creatures as he attempts to reunite himself and his sister with the ocean; both he and his father discovering the mythical secrets of their own family and home. The well-chosen style of animation is both descriptive and colourful but not overly complicated, creating images that are instantly charming as well as graphically striking when deployed for the more exuberant characters Ben meets along the way.

A memorable and endearing animated entry at this year’s festival, Song of the Sea sets itself above countless other children’s films by ably appealing to both kids and much older cinema-goers on so many wonderful levels at once.

Song of the Sea screened as part of this year’s Sydney Film Festival and The Galway Film Fleadh

Glen Falkenstein writes film reviews, features, commentary and covers local festivals and events. Glen lives in Sydney. He tweets @Glenfalkenstein

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Sydney Film Festival: ‘Strangerland’ Review

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Glen Falkenstein reports from Sydney’s Irish Film Festival (3 – 14 June), which screened the Irish co-production Strangerland, coscripted by Irish screenwriter Michael Kinirons and starring Nicole Kidman.

 

“I was interested in the theme of how we deal with life when crisis hits us… What happens when you move to a remote place and your kids go missing, every parent’s nightmare.”

Strangerland director Kim Farrant addressed a crowd of fans following a sold-out screening at this year’s Sydney Film Festival. An Irish-Australian co-production, Farrant explains Strangerland’s “Irish connection,” was crucial in getting the film off the ground.

Staying in Berlin, a friend told Farrant to pitch the script to an acquaintance who later became one of the film’s co-producers, telling her “I know this Irish guy he’d really like it.” That producer sent the treatment on to the Irish Film Board who “loved it,” the producer later telling an ecstatic Farrant, “Ireland wants to fund your film.”

A landmark co-production between the two countries, Strangerland benefited from a diverse crew, with several co-producers and key filmmakers drawn from both Ireland and Australia.

“We had this foreign element which attracted P.J. Dillon who shot the landscape from the perspective of a stranger,” said Farrant, commenting on the film’s award-winning cinematographer. According to Farrant, Dillon was incredibly unusual and talented,” just the right DOP to shoot the film about two parents, who, having recently moved to a small town, are confronted with the land’s devastating challenges, a production heavily underscored with themes of isolation and unfamiliarity. “He was able to see the light in this country and photograph it in a different way, as a stranger.”

Set and filmed entirely in a rural Australian town, Strangerland follows the search of parents Catherine and Matthew Parker (Nicole Kidman and Joseph Fiennes) for their two children when they disappear and a massive dust storm hits. Detective David Rae (Hugo Weaving) is charged with investigating the case, impacting many of the residents of the small town as tensions mount between the parents. Suspicions are raised, driving both Catherine and Matthew to cope with the fall-out in very different ways.

Farrant’s focus on Catherine’s feelings of grief and hopelessness drove much of Strangerland, resulting in an eerie, disquieting and all-round consuming tale of two estranged parents coping with the loss of their children. The performances from Weaving and Kidman in particular were practiced and immediately impactful. As the characters steepen into fear, panic and at times hysteria, the very visceral racial and sexual tensions between the characters came to the forefront, resulting in several tense and confronting sequences. No small part of the film, the relationship of both Indigenous Australians and the recent arrivals to the land played a crucial role, driving much of the dramatic tension.

“I realised I don’t know my land, I’m a white Australian,” said Farrant. “I wasn’t taught growing up to tune into the land, to listen to it… We spoke with Aboriginal elders… We started getting an understanding of the land and its original owners.”

For the Parkers, their lack of familiarity with the land, and fear of it, proved devastating when their children went missing. “Let’s put them in a place where they’ll fear the land,” Farrant commented. “Its unknown to them.

Following the screening, Farrant drew on her own experiences, including the death of a loved one at the age of 22, to explain how grief and loss can often drive the desire and pursuit of sex, a central theme in the film. “Sex is a very primal act and in the face of loss… when you make love and have sex you feel very alive. It’s a fascinating polarity, feeling alive when you feel like dying.”

Farrant explained that “She (Catherine) was a character in her own right with her own needs and backstory and she went on a massive arc… she was exposed, skinless, she couldn’t cover so much of herself up and Nicole (Kidman) loved that.”

Ultimately, Farrant admitted, it was [the desire to] “look at the darker side of our psyches, our tragic flaws”, that she wanted to explore.

Strangerland took 13 years to complete from inception; a stellar first feature for Farrant, who managed to secure a number of A-listers over its long production-run, in spite of it being her first feature-length film.

A taut and thoroughly engaging thriller, Strangerland screened as part of this year’s Sydney Film Festival.

 

Glen writes film reviews, features, commentary and covers local festivals and events. Glen lives in Sydney. He tweets @GlenFalkenstein

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Festival Report: Irish Film Festival, Sydney

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The inaugural Irish Film Festival took place in Sydney 26 – 29 March 2015 with several Australian premieres. Glen Falkenstein sat down with the festival’s director, Dr Enda Murray, on the closing night to go behind the scenes.

 

Working in conjunction with the local Irish community to export some home-grown cinema that otherwise would never have been screened in Australia the director of the Irish Film Festival, Dr Enda Murray, is in good form on the closing night of the festival, delighted that the festival has gone really well. “We had a great opening night, we had lots of people come to different films… I wanted to mix up the programming and have some films which are popular but I also wanted to bring over films from Ireland that I knew would never get a theatrical release here.”

The festival focused on “youth and music,” featuring contemporary films depicting the punk scene in 1970s Belfast [Good Vibrations], a history of Irish pubs that have been passed down through families for generations [The Irish Pub] and the identity of Irish Indigenous Australians [An Dubh ina Gheal] . With the growth of Australia’s Irish community and diaspora communities worldwide, the films chosen chronicle the impact of emigration from Ireland on different cultures and on Ireland itself.

 

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Living in a Coded Land (above) was the first of the films to screen on Sunday and an Australian premiere. Told through interviews, stills and documented footage, it followed the ‘wheel of time’ in Ireland over decades, large emigrations to the United States, the growth of the modern nation and the traditions in Ireland that don’t change.

“It managed to mix up politics and history and art… it was a very visual essay and a lot of the meaning was in the pictures which I think is quite unusual for films,” said Murray. “It was a great use of archive and I loved the way Pat Collins juxtaposed the different images to make sense and to sometimes confuse us a little.”

The film opens with the comment “the mould is broken,” describing how changing industry and modern necessities impacted decades old mentalities, contributing to a modern Ireland that still maintains its strong connection to history. Jumping between famous battles, rulers, sport, poverty and business, Collins paints an affectionate, patchwork tale of Ireland’s political economy, covering many topics in small detail through his collection of images, never really settling on themes long enough to truly flesh some of them out. Living in a Coded Land is an evocative visual collage of the evolution of Ireland where, as the narrator states, “the wheels keep turning.”

 

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Out of Here (above), also an Australian premiere, is the story of Ciaran (Fionn Walton), returning to contemporary Dublin after the trip of a lifetime, navigating friendships, love and finding a job. Said Murray: “The film revolved around a young guy coming back after backpacking through Australia and Asia… quite a few films, they finish where they bring the main character to the airport or the harbour and they emigrate and that’s the end of the story for Irish audiences in Ireland, whereas for us over here that’s really the beginning of it so it’s nice to see a story of somebody coming back and picking up the pieces.”

Shot on location in iconic Dublin, the city will be as alien to many viewers as it is for Ciaran, dealing with the changing attitudes of class-mates, family and Dublin itself. Following Ciaran as he wanders aimlessly, with lingering shots on locals and city life, the film is as much about Dublin as it is about Ciaran, depicting the challenges of young people in Ireland struggling with economic pressures and simply growing up. Out of Here ends abruptly and much as it started, focusing on mateship, navigating the unknown and starting over.

With important local support from the Australian Irish community for the inaugural event, hosted by the Chauvel Cinema in Paddington, the festival has strong prospects for becoming a regular fixture in Sydney.

“We’ve had great support from the Irish community, both the Consulate and cultural organisations… certainly there was that feeling that the Irish community were getting behind it and that was nice,” said Murray.

“People have come up to us and said it’s fantastic to have an Irish Film Festival in Sydney and it means a lot to them… we’ve built the framework so it will be a shame not to do another one. I’d say at this point it looks like we’ll certainly do another one.”

 

Glen Falkenstein is a film and media writer based in Sydney. He tweets @GlenFalkenstein

Originally published in Filmink

 

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