James Farrell lives in Rathnally Co. Meath. He’s a farmer and shares his house with his cats. Ciarán Deeney’s 2008 film, God and Napoleon, is a portrait of James, a religious man and an outsider in his community.
Speaking to Film Ireland about his short film, Ciarán said:
“God and Napoleon is a few years old. It came about through a chance meeting with a cattle dealer in County Meath who introduced me to Jimmy, the subject of the film. The big picture was that I was researching a documentary about farmers who lived on their own. Unfortunately that big picture project never came about but happily God and Napoleon became the smaller picture.
“Once I was introduced to James, I knew he had an interesting voice and decided to spend a few days with him on his farm. It was very pressure-free, just me, him and a camera, nice and simple. We just chatted and I observed. I recorded directly to a laptop (cards were out of my budget back in those heady days) and I think that feeds into the sort of unmanned feel which I liked.
“As with all documentaries, the footage lay on a hard-drive for a while as I figured it out in my head. I did suggest to James that I come down with a bigger crew and do something a bit more ambitious but he was having none of that. He had said his bit and that was that which I understood.
“The film was edited quite quickly once it was decided that there would be no more filming. I put it out there into festivals with no great goal of conquering the world, just finding a few ears. It has connected with people, mostly Irish people, and there’s been some got some really great feedback from it, which has been warming.
“I haven’t heard from Jimmy in a while now but he did ring me out of the blue maybe a year or two after finishing the film. He was wondering if he could come over to my place for Christmas dinner. I was on the spot and on reflection I think he sort of was testing me, seeing if I was a real friend perhaps. It crushed me to say no as it just wasn’t possible. I think subjects of documentaries tend to be passing friends unfortunately, people to enjoy in the moment and that’s that.”