Grace Corry attended Spotlight at the IFI, a day dedicated to focusing on Irish film and television; reviewing the past year and considering current trends in production, distribution and consumption of new work.
Every year at the IFI, bands of filmmakers, film lovers and film academics gather together to take a look back at the year in film and television, picking apart and analysing all that went into making our indigenous industry tick the way it did. The focus this year drew on the huge disparities between men and women working in film and television, and although gender inequality has been a hot topic in the last number of years, particularly in the Arts, the statistics never cease to amaze.
Kicking off the day with a retrospective, Dr. Roddy Flynn (DCU) returned for another session with collaborator Dr. Tony Tracy (Huston, NUIG) to examine evolving trends in Irish cinema. Together they have written extensively on the history of cinema in Ireland and are primarily concerned with policy, lending this knowledge and research to the exploration of common themes which were not previously considered essential to Irish film. This change, they argue, has allowed Irish films to travel and to revel on the international stage. In its new found plurality, Irish cinema has become unconcerned with regionally based storytelling, stepping away from the common themes of history, family and criminality towards the glimmer of transnationality, centering “on the now”. That is, films that work for everyone but are “not necessarily trying to fit”, argued Tracy, “they just do”.
Also under consideration by the pair was national identity; how, in the light of all this change, can Irish film be identified as Irish? To be financially viable, film production requires international collaboration and the product needs to be able to travel. Room had Canada, Mammal had Luxemburg, Viva had Cuba. Even most of our biggest names like Fassbender and Aiden Gillen have become international characters – Brooklyn was the coveted Saoirse Ronan’s first Irish film, a fact that demonstrates and ties into Tracy’s final point in which he invokes Benedict Anderson’s theory of imagined communities, that we are letting go of what was previously considered definitive and embracing a deep, human imaginative curiosity.
Beginning the days gender-focused talks in the later morning session was esteemed guest Francine Raveney, the head and founder of the European Women’s Audio-Visual Network (EWA) to talk through some of the measures being taken by the organisation to address the gender imbalances in indigenous industries across the continent, working with Eurimage (Council of Europe Cinema Support Fund) to promote gender mainstreaming and encourage reflection on stereotypical gender assignments, such as those working in technical posts. Several countries, including France, Germany and Sweden, took part in both qualitative and quantitative research into how many women were working in their respective industries, and also reviewed responses from over 900 professionals working in these countries about their experiences. The EWA also acts as a watchdog and works with these countries to implement models like those adopted in Sweden (50/50 quota policy) and Norway (Moviement) – strategies for achieving this included offering targeted training courses, providing network opportunities and carrying out research and follow on advocacy work.
The pan-European research for policy change spearheaded by Raveney found that many countries were unaware of any inequality (94% of Germans), as low as 12% of targeted funds go to first-time directors where only half of the 44% of female graduates were working. Women just aren’t trusted to do the job, a myth that was echoed throughout the day’s presentations. There is a brighter side; the EWA and Eurimage have announced a new strategic policy for 2016/17 which includes new studies, new prizes awarded to female directors only and masterclasses designed to cater to working mothers, for example.
An energetic panel discussion between script consultant Mary Kate O’Flanagan, Dr. Annie Doona of the IFB, Dr. Susan Liddy of UL, Francene Raveney, and chaired by Siobhan Bourke of the Abbey filled the afternoon slot, each taking to the podium to raise issues stemming from the ‘unconscious bias’ that plagues the industry. Coming from various places in the industry, it was a heated, informative and maddening analysis of what has been happening across Europe. Susan Liddy presented responses she had collected from women who had applied to the Irish Film Board, ranging from anger to shear disappointment. One wrote about how she was simply ignored by the IFB, another felt that the notes she received back from the reader were diabolical and personally offensive, and others wrote about lip service and the lack of leadership, summarising with a simple question: what are the IFB doing differently to implement their six-point plan? Dr. Doona, acting chair of the IFB, stood firm in defence but was well tested by the other panellists, as well as fending off questions from the roving mic where attendees put forward their own issues, ageism being a big one as well as the gender imbalance of the IFB readers. The absence of others bodies was also noted – until recently the BAI didn’t even acknowledge that there was an issue. It goes without saying that it was like watching five old friends back and forth over a topic that had compelled the people in IFI’s cinema 2 to gather. After listening intently for over an hour, I can safely say that any despair I felt for missing that sacred day in the Abbey last November had lifted.
Lunch was followed by a screening of Where My Ladies?, a DIT documentary by female graduates, where interviews with women working in the Arts helped to cast a further light on the issues of the day. Amongst others, Maureen Hughes and Dearbhla Walsh talked about their own entries into the industry, as well as what had kept them there and the issues currently facing young women. Joy McKeon, one of the filmmakers, stressed that aim of their film was not to point blame or to exclude, they hope for as much of a male audience as female, and a collaborative effort between the sexes in creating awareness. The film will be hitting the festival circuit.
Ireland’s longest standing female director, Pat Murphy, took the soap box in an address that was, as expected, the cherry. Spanning back to her work as part of the first wave of Irish filmmakers, she spoke about her current work teaching in Singapore, and traced her career, turning each of the ups and downs into a point of encouragement, points warmly welcomed to those aspiring to someday be successful in their own right.
Wrapping up the day was the newest addition to the annual event, In the Pipeline, where producer Katie Holly (Queen of Ireland) and documentarian Ken Wardrop (His and Hers) talked about their upcoming films, their own industry backgrounds and the best ways to get into the business (which naturally opened up some contentious comments from the floor), and, most notably, spoke about the breakdown in the dividing factors between policy and cultural influences and the propagation of gender mainstreaming.
The day can only be described as a big success. It was, as always, efficiently facilitated by Sunniva O’Flynn and her team, and it will be a day that is repeatedly referred to in the ongoing battle for equality.
Grace Corry talks to the IFI’s Head of Irish Film Programming, Sunniva O’Flynn, about the upcoming IFI annual event Spotlight – a day dedicated to focusing on Irish film and television; reviewing the past year and considering current trends in production, distribution and consumption of new work. This year there will be a particular focus on women in the Irish film and television industry and an examination of moves towards creation of gender equality in the sector.
In February, the IFI hosted a comprehensive retrospective of the work of Cathal Black.
Sunniva O’Flynn Head of Irish Film Programming at the IFI writes “Part of Ireland’s ‘First Wave’ of independent filmmakers in the 1970s and ‘80s, Black began to explore the contradictions, problems and preoccupations within Irish society in a way which hadn’t before been attempted in film. He wanted to “make Irish films for Irish audiences, pictures that are recognisably Irish but stand up to European notions of style . . . to be truthful to our own visual interpretation of this country and reach Irish audiences our way.”
Black’s narratives of distinctly drawn and wholly sympathetic individuals are often bleak but leavened by dark humour, or historical and enlivened by ingrained and powerful passions. He burrows into the national psyche to find unsettling tales of unease – of alienation, homosexuality, prostitution, emigration, poverty and despair. His characters fight to escape the shibboleths of Ireland’s heroic past and the injustices of its present.
His early films are wrought in a stark, social-realist tone. His later, more generously budgeted 35mm features employ more traditional narrative modes to tell powerful, character-driven period tales. His feature documentaries explore the lives of determinedly off-beat individuals in features that are handsome and revealing. His latest film, Butterfly (in its theatrical premiere), returns to fictional form in a finely acted psychological drama about a young woman avoiding demons from her past.
Cathal Black, activist, Aosdána member and filmmaker, has sustained a visionary cinematic practise for almost 40 years – long may he continue to unsettle and engage.”
Grace Corry glides through Claire Dix’s portrait of Joan Denise Moriarty, who fought to bring ballet to all corners of Ireland. We Are Moving: Memories of Miss Moriarty screened at the Audi Dublin International Film Festival.
There are several culturally expressive art forms unique to Ireland, art forms that tell tales of our past, inspired by everything from mythology to politics, past and present, their methods and disciplines tied to definitive historical tradition. In its aspirations, Irish dancing was one such practise, created and performed by peasants, its style ancient and ritualistic, coveted by the people for centuries.
Ballet, however, had no such gravity in Irish. Ballet, far outside the parameters of a conservatism which dominated the artistic landscape of twentieth century Ireland, communicated a freedom of sexuality, in its inherent celebration of the human body, performed in scenes of love and life which were alien to a young, new State. Not forgetting, it was an art with all the appearance of the ruling class, decadent in its style, movements and gestures, all of which led to a general feeling of hostility upon its introduction, from not only the Irish dancing community but the whole country. The enigmatic subject of Claire Dix’s latest film sought the redefinition of dance in Ireland by bringing a new form of expression, and controversially, by fusing Irish dance and with this strange thing that was ballet.
We Are Moving: Memories of Miss Moriarty tells the story of Joan Denise Moriarty, a radical and prolific figure in the dancing community who sought to revolutionise the Irish dancing tradition that she had been so devoted to. After studying at the Rambert School of Ballet in London, she returned for a holiday to Mallow in Cork, a place she considered home, with her dream of introducing ballet in tow. After a chance meeting with an old friend and sceptic, her dream was prompted into action. “I can’t stand it!” he told her, “Well, what is it? A man chasing a woman around the stage”. From there it was decided. “I remember thinking – I’ll make you eat those words yet. I’m going to one day come back home and I’m going to start a ballet school and a ballet company and you’ll all accept it”. So it began.
What is noted quite early in the film is the economic state of Ireland at the time. WW11 was still in the air, and for the first six months she had not one single student. Undeterred and with curiosity growing in Cork, things were soon underway in a city where there was little to do for idle hands. One by one, young girls and grown men came, her school becoming both a place of learning and a place to escape the realities of unemployment. Revered and feared in equal measure by those she taught, the most important lesson to Miss Moriarty (as she is referred to throughout the film) was teaching the joy of movement, survived by each of the students that shared their memories, and shared some moves. “I’ll die dancing” laughed one eighty two year old friend, twirling around a studio.
Against the odds, Moriarty continued the pursuit of her dream and eventually brought ballet to every corner of Ireland, including the North during times of trouble. The school became the Cork Ballet Company, and with enough members became Cork Ballet Troupe, Moriarty collaborating extensively with Irish composer Aloys Fleischmann and touring the country. This improbability eventually landed the troupe New York with an interpretation of Playboy of the Western World, accompanied by The Chieftains. But this great success, sadly, marked the beginning of the end for Moriarty. On a world stage, her teachings came into question. The Brinson Report, commissioned by the Arts Council in 1985 concluded that her training was not as substantial as she had claimed. After calls for her resignation from the company she had founded, Moriarty reluctantly conceded, falling into a deep depression and all but vanishing from the scene. She died in 1992, having led a life shrouded in mystery, with no evidence of where she really came from, what year she was born, or of any family save her mother, although it is believed she was born illegitimately. Suggested years for her birth have been 1912, 1916 (which her driver’s license says) and 1920 (according to her passport). She never married despite plenty of opportunities, dedicating her whole life to her work, a fragmented lonely life epitomised by her dying will which stipulated that none of her dances ever be performed again, having never properly said goodbye to those who danced them.
Director Claire Dix makes great use of montage in this film, layering music, old show footage and tape recordings of interviews with Moriarty, footed by recollections and dance routines performed by the aged troupe in great humour, brought together by good memories. There is little to no footage of she who taught herself to play the war pipes, an element which serves Dix’s intension of allowing each visual and audio match to “wash over” the spectator, as a memory might. It is a sorry story about an eccentric who gave everything to her craft and to those whom she mentored whose memory has been carefully picked. If you’d like to know more, Ruth Fleischmann, daughter to Aloys, is writing a biography. I would think it’s equally worth checking out.
Atlantic is the latest film from the makers of the multi-award-winning documentary, The Pipe (2010). Directed by Risteard O’Domhnaill and edited by Nigel O’Regan, the film follows the fortunes of three small fishing communities – in Ireland, Norway and Newfoundland – which are at turns united and divided by the Atlantic Ocean.
Grace Corry sat down with director Risteard O’Domhnaill ahead of the film’s screening at the Audi Dublin International Film Festival to discuss the mounting challenges the communities face within their own industries.
DIR:Tom McCarthy • WRI: Josh Singer, Tom McCarthy • PRO: Blye Pagon Faust, Steve Golin, Michael Sugar • DOP: Masanobu Takayanagi • ED: Tom McArdle • DES: Stephen H. Carter • MUS: Howard Shore • CAST: Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, Mark Ruffalo
Modern history has been forever dirtied, tarnished by organised, uniformed mortal sin. Fifteen years of worldwide media coverage has revealed the horrific experiences of what is understood to be hundreds of thousands of victims of clerical abuse, inflicted by members of the Catholic Church. And now, one of the world’s most powerful institutions, bewildered and suspended in the spotlight, finds itself a very uncomfortable position. In spite of the many words humans use to apologize, the Church’s reluctance to admit any wrongdoing has served to underscore how alien it has become to modern culture, and in turn, this is how our culture has come to represent it. As frozen out Florida priest John Gallagher poignantly pointed out this week, they are an organisation “so far behind that they think they’re ahead”.
These phenomenal events of the past number of decades have been captured before in cinema: The Magdalene Sisters, Song for a Raggy Boy, more recently in Amy Berg’s shocking documentary Deliver Us from Evil and Alex Gibney’s Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God is to name but a few. Cinema has been a medium used to honour these victims; by listening to their stories it has offered empathy and compassion where there was none, and a culturally truthful response to something that originated in hurt and deceit.
That is one of the most prominent features of Tom McCarthy’s latest bidding, Spotlight. Joined by acclaimed ‘real-life to screen’ writer Josh Singer, the film tells the remarkable true story of a team of investigative journalists at the Boston Globe newspaper known as ‘Spotlight’, who broke the story on clerical abuse in the Boston diocese in 2001. The opening scene, set in 1976 in a Boston police precinct is glimpse at what was to come: a priest has been brought in on allegations of abuse, the victim and their mother are cajoled, arrangements are made for secrecy, said priest is collected by his superior who sweeps while the judiciaries hold the rug. This was the process, until a number of these stories reluctantly found their way onto the pages of the Globe newspaper, only to disappear again, almost unnoticed.
Fast forward to 2001 when a new editor Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) arrives at the paper and almost overnight the disappeared stories of reported abuse are back on the table. Encouraged by the first non-Bostonian editor in chief, the Spotlight team comprising of Walter ‘Robby’ Robinson (Keaton), Mike Rezendes (Ruffalo), Sasha Pfeiffer (Mc Adams) and Matt Carroll (D’Arcy James) start to dig, and with the surface barely scratched, cases of abuse, payoffs, smear campaigns, stolen documents and cover-ups begin to emerge. As the investigation quickly progresses, the sheer scale of what had happened in the Boston diocese became apparent – with the help of senior Catholic officials, in both the US and the Vatican, the most devoutly Catholic city in North America had been plagued by paedophile priest for decades, a sum of over 90 in total, whom had knowingly been shipped from parish to parish, given predatory free-reign and a thumbs up to sexually and spiritually abuse at will.
Visually, the films authenticity is marked by the somewhat non-descript decor, having shot much of the office scenes at the Boston Globe. Great efforts were made to ensure the production design and costume were reflective of the time, and succeed in being unobtrusive – you wouldn’t necessarily imagine a film set in 2001 as being a period piece but alas, ‘the times, they are a changin’.
The four leads have been hailed by their real life counter-parts for their adopted characterisations – dozens of trips were made by cast and crew to Boston to meet with victims, journalists and lawyers involved and it is apparent throughout, authentic to the bone. The ensemble is formidable and above all, the performances and McCarthy’s direction convey the importance of investigative journalism which is all but obsolete in a world of bloggers, and the vitality of a free press whose fundamental action is to keep our institutions in check. From a decidedly disadvantaged position, they took on world’s oldest government – whose corruption is unique to itself – and won. Before the credits roll, presented on screen are over two hundred countries which have had cases of a similar scale, ensuring we know the ugliest phenomenon imaginable is actually bigger than we can imagine.
Definitely worth catching, this one, even if you just want to kick back from a place of knowing and relish in the excavation of damning truth, which by now we are all familiar with. A harrowing story has been recounted here, and you’ll probably be pissed off for most of it but you’ll leave feeling a little ping of triumph, a pride in humanity, and maybe even a little further compelled in the great divide between the Catholic Church and everyone else.
P.s. It’s never graphic so the faint-hearted are catered for.
Grace Corry talks to Tom McCarthy, the director of the Oscar-nominated film Spotlight, the riveting true story of the team of Boston Globe reporters and editors that uncovered an unimaginable conspiracy to cover up clergy child abuse.
You can listen/download to the audio version of the interview: