‘Here Was Cuba’ Nominated for Grierson Award

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Emer Reynolds and John Murray’s documentary on the Cuban Missile Crisis, Here Was Cuba, has been nominated for a Grierson Award.

Here Was Cuba tells the inside story of the Cuban Missile Crisis, exploring how in October 1962 the earth teetered on the very brink of nuclear holocaust. In the first major feature documentary on the subject, the film brings to life the three central characters Kennedy, Castro and Khrushchev and explores how the world’s most powerful men fell into an abyss of their own making and what courage and luck it took to climb out again. With nuclear brinkmanship high on the international agenda today, the events of October 1962 hold invaluable lessons for a generation too young to remember just how close we came to the end.

The Grierson Awards recognise and celebrate documentaries from Britain and abroad that have made a significant contribution to the genre and that demonstrate quality, integrity, creativity, originality and overall excellence.

Here Was Cuba is up for the Best Historical Documentary Award.

Here Was Cuba was produced in association with the Irish Film Board, America’s Public Broadcasting System PBS and Section 481 Irish Government Tax Incentive.

Click here for an interview with co-director Emer Reynolds

Review of Here Was Cuba

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Irish Documentary ‘Here Was Cuba’ Screens on More 4

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Screening on More 4 this Saturday, 16th November at 9pm, Here Was Cuba is a landmark documentary exploring what happened over 13 days in October 1962 when the fate of the world lay ultimately in the hands of just three men.

The documentary screens as part of More4’s  season of films around the JFK Assassination. The film is listed as Kennedy’s Nuclear Nightmare.

Directed by Emer Reynolds and John Murray, the doc tells the inside story of the Cuban Missile Crisis, delves into how, in October 1962, the earth teetered on the very brink of nuclear holocaust. In the first major feature documentary on the subject, the film brings to life the three central characters Kennedy, Castro and Khrushchev and explores how the world’s most powerful men fell into an abyss of their own making and what courage and luck it took to climb out again. With nuclear brinkmanship high on the international agenda today, the events of October 1962 hold invaluable lessons for a generation too young to remember just how close we came to the end.

 

Click here for an interview with Emer Reynolds, one of the film’s directors

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A Look Back at IFI Stranger Than Fiction 2013

IFI Stranger Than Fiction (26 – 29 Sep, 2013)

Matt Micucci looks back at some of the highlights from this year’s IFI Stranger Than Fiction film festival.

Smash & Grab: The Story of the Pink Panther

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Havana Marking takes us right into the world of one of the most impressive organised gang of jewel thieves of all times, the Pink Panthers. Through its clever and hip mixtures of elements from real life surveillance footage to a fascinating use of animation, this film is an original look at organised crime with a modern and exciting feel. Yet, there is more than an impressive and creative visual style to the Smash and Grab experience. Apart from the enriching and pricelessly insightful interviews with real members of the Pink Panthers, Marking also offers an interesting and original viewpoint on the figure of the criminal by digging deep within their personalities, their cultural background and even their place in history, exposing them as flawed and as vulnerable as any other human being.

 

After Tiller

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In a debate that is usually embittered by preconceptions, it’s easy to forget that there are human beings with human feelings, emotions and connection behind each individual abortion. Martha Shane and Lana Wilson with their intense work tell the difficult but real story of third-trimester abortions by following the work of the few doctors who carry out such procedures and its starting point is the murder of one of the few such doctors, George Tiller. According to its subject, this documentary should come across as controversial, especially because of its one-sided approach in a two-sided debate. Yet, it’s hard to ignore its honest and convincing portrayal of real feelings and human warmth that alone make a convincing case. It’s also more than admirable that a film like this should be so refreshingly soft spoken, in this fierce debate about life where aggressiveness and hatred are aplenty.

Where the Blue Flowers Grow
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First time filmmaker Isolda Healey followed the Irish Wicklow band The Cujo Family for three years, along with their trials and triumphs, their trip to New York for a series of gigs and the band’s different lineups. Where the Blue Flowers Grow is an exhilarating piece of guerrilla documentary filmmaking that also feels like a purifying experience within the music documentary genre, which is often plagued by a self-gratifying type of snobbery. It’s a work of authenticity that is succesful at capturing the genuine hopes, dreams, friendships and ambitions of a band with an inevitable genuine hint of nostalgia. Its imperfections add to its authenticity. In fact, it seems right to find some unwritten bond between the evolution of the band and the improvement of the technology employed. 

Here Was Cuba

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It happened more than fifty years ago, yet the story is still as bone chillingly shocking as ever. Emer Reynolds and John Murray’s careful examination of the infamous Cuban Missile Crisis event, which took place during the Cold War, offers perhaps the most complete and insightful look at the time when the world came closest to self-destruction. Not only is it oustandingly insightful thanks to the interviews of men who had a direct link with or played a part in the crisis, but also because of its use of primary source material such as archive video, audio and documentations – some making a ‘feature film debut’ – that reveal more haunting and intimate sides to the story. In addition, Here Was Cuba also draws up some troubling parallels with present times by making observations on to the fragility and dangers of the trust we place upon the leaders of the world. However, be warned! This is no textbook history lesson, and thanks to an exciting rhythm as well as a fair share of intensity and suspense, this documentary is as entertaining and gripping as a great fictional Cold War thriller.

 

Dragon Girls

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A respectful and tender look at the lives of the young female students at the Shaolin Kung Fu school which is regarded as the birthplace of kung fu. Unsurprisingly, considering Westmeier’s acclaimed background as a cinematographer, the film is of a rare beauty. It comes across as an intimate and reverential look at a different culture, but also at the school itself and its inhabitants, whether it is when filming the 35,000 students lined up as disciplined soldiers or the face of a girl forcefully restraining the tears overcome with the stress induced by the hard training and the sadness of being so far from home – not to mention that the camera moves as smoothly as brushstrokes on a canvas in the scenes where the girls reveal their amazing martial arts skills through exhibitions that could easily be defined as nothing short of poetic. It is also amazing to see how close Westmeier was able to get to the girls, whose childish warmth cannot be concealed by the tough training and hard lives they must endure. Yet, the enjoyment and gratification of Dragon Girls also comes down to his great choice of respecting the foreign Shaolin tradition by not giving into facile judgemental viewpoints and conclusions dictated by Western world ethics.

Matt Micucci

 

 

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Preview of Irish Film at IFI Stranger Than Fiction: Here Was Cuba

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IFI Stranger Than Fiction (26 – 29 Sep, 2013)

Here Was Cuba

Sunday, 29th July

18.15

Directed by Emer Reynolds and John Murray, Here Was Cuba tells the inside story of the Cuban Missile Crisis, exploring how in October 1962 the earth teetered on the very brink of nuclear holocaust. In the first major feature documentary on the subject, the film brings to life the three central characters Kennedy, Castro and Khrushchev and explores how the world’s most powerful men fell into an abyss of their own making and what courage and luck it took to climb out again. With nuclear brinkmanship high on the international agenda today, the events of October 1962 hold invaluable lessons for a generation too young to remember just how close we came to the end.

Emer Reynolds told Film Ireland: “We are thrilled to be screening Here Was Cuba at the wonderful, eclectic and educational Stranger than Fiction Festival. It’s the film’s first outing in Dublin, and we are very excited to be showing it to an audience of documentary-lovers.”

 

There will be a post-screening Q&A hosted by Alan Maher with directors Emer Reynolds and John Murray.

 

Tickets for all IFI Stranger Than Fiction films and panel discussions are on sale NOW at the IFI Box Office on 01 679 3477 and can also be booked on www.ifi.ie/stf where you can find out full details for all the films and events in IFI Stranger than Fiction.

 

You can read an interview with Emer Reynolds here

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Report: Galway Film Fleadh 2013

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Matt Miccuci looks back over his 7 days following Irish film in the sweltering heat of Galway for the Fleadh’s 25th anniversary.

“We borrowed the weather from Cannes,” was this year’s joke at the Fleadh.

Indeed, this could easily be remembered as the ‘hottest’  edition of the festival on account of the weather alone. It was hot, very hot, and the unventilated Town Hall Theatre often felt like one big oven. Yet, the programme was too stimulating to give into the call of the beach and strange urges to build a sand castle.

Of course, the people who decided to spend the hottest days Galway has possibly ever seen locked in a theatre were widely rewarded. Just like every year since its birth twenty-five years ago, the festival showcased some of the best home-grown productions today which in turn represented the good health and ambition of Irish cinema.

Things kicked off to a crowd pleasing start with Roger Gual’s Tasting Menu, a very charming comedy of errors telling the story of intertwining lives at the closing night of a Catalonian restaurant, regarded as the best restaurant in the world. Its theatrical approach aided by a good pace and great timing recalled the works of great names from Robert Altman to none other than William Shakespeare! Just as impressively, it closed with the introverted and reflective drama The Sea, in which director Stephen Brown skilfully made the task of turning the famous John Banville novel based on memory and regret look easy in a compact production complete with refined visual touches and compellingly withdrawn performances by Ciarán Hinds and Charlotte Rampling.

There were many different stories told and a wide assortment of styles and genres presented, but the recession inevitably came out as the prevailing theme. Two films in particular, though very different, represented it directly.

Lance Daly’s Life’s a Breeze, billed as a feelgood recession comedy, saw the return of the working class comedy à la Ealing Studios of Passport to Pimlico. This film is quite entertaining and commercially appealing – this is also the reason why it will probably be among the most successful films shown at the Fleadh during its domestic cinema run.

Alternatively, Out of Here used a much more direct and though-provoking approach to capture the essence of the everyday urban monotony and frustration of the life of a young Dubliner. Donal Foreman’s film is nothing short of praiseworthy for its passive anger and realist approach, as well as a visual style that is beautiful in its simplicity. Foreman also represented the kind of independent filmmaking that Irish cinema should thrive on for the way in which he brought Out of Here together through crowd-funding but also through determination, passion and a will to go out there and really make it happen.

The influence of the recession in the new Irish films could also be seen by the vulnerability of a lot of the lead characters, particularly the male characters. In fact, many aspects of masculinity were revealed in original ways. An excellent example is found in Joe Lawlor and Christine Molloy’s hypnotic modern noir Mister John with its wonderfully unconventional character study of a man – played by Aiden Gillen in what is hands down one of this year’s most enchanting and haunting performances – whose troubled family life and misery lead him to re-invent himself as his dead brother’s alter ego in Singapore. The film is driven by a unique brand of mystery, with a hypnotic flow and stunning 35mm photography that enrich the experience and take full advantage of the naturally sinister beauty of a humid Singapore.

Similarly, in the documentary Coming Home, Viko Nikci captures the life of Angel Cordero, a man incarcerated for thirteen years for a crime he did not commit and chooses to examine the man rather than the case by focusing on his struggles as he reconnects with the outside world and his estranged daughter. Nikci’s use of narrative filmmaking photography and Angel’s own genuine magnetism as well as a desire to open up to the camera eye made this film very popular and without a doubt the most touching film of this year’s Fleadh. Indeed Nikci’s film was justly rewarded at Galway, picking up the Best Irish Documentary prize at Sunday’s award ceremony.

One could even read a specific viewpoint on masculine stubbornness and how it threatened to end the world in the gripping documentary, Here Was Cuba by John Murray and Emer Reynolds. Muldowney’s beautifully bizarre Love Eternal, on the other hand, is about a necrophiliac – in fact it may well be the sweetest film that could possibly ever be made about necrophilia.

The horror genre was well represented with Rossella de Ventuo’s Irish Italian production House of Shadows, a film which carries many new ideas and a genuine dramatic depth – both things lacking in the vast majority of today’s horror films – as well as an absorbing performance by Fiona Glascott.

My greatest personal regret is that I didn’t get to see the best Irish feature prize by Academy Award nominee Steph Green Run & Jump, though the positive feedback it received will have me rushing to the cinema as soon as it hits the screens. I also regret missing films like Discoverdale and Hill Street. Yet, in the end it didn’t matter that much, as I felt highly rewarded for the time I dedicated to following this year’s festival and highly rewarded by the quality of the many premieres I attended. So, I think it’s fair to congratulate everyone involved on the organising team who was responsible for yet another exciting Fleadh. But maybe let’s get some air conditioning for the Town Hall Theatre for next year, yeah?

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Irish Film at the Galway Film Fleadh preview: Here Was Cuba

Here Was Cuba

The 25th Galway Film Fleadh (9 – 14 July, 2013)

Here Was Cuba

Thursday, 11th July

Town Hall Theatre

17.00

Emer Reynolds and John Murray’s documentary, Here Was Cuba, screens tomorrow, 11th July, at the 25th Galway Film Fleadh. It is the first major feature documentary on the Cuban Missile Crisis.

On screening the documentary at the festival, the Dublin-based director and triple IFTA winning editor Emer Reynolds told Film Ireland, ‘We are looking forward very much to screening Here Was Cuba at the Fleadh. It’ll be our first screening here in Ireland, and we are very much looking forward to hearing the home-crowd response. The audience in Galway are always very receptive, enthusiastic and vocal, and it’s very exciting to be able to present the film there. ‘

Here Was Cuba explores how in October 1962 the earth teetered on the very brink of nuclear holocaust. The documentary brings to life the three central characters Kennedy, Castro and Khrushchev and explores how the world’s most powerful men fell into an abyss of their own making and what courage and luck it took to climb out again. Featuring revealing interviews with key witnesses and experts, including Sergei Khrushchev, son of the former Soviet Premier, and, in one of his last-ever interviews, Kennedy’s trusted advisor Ted Sorensen, Here was Cuba is an edge-of-your seat tale of espionage and intrigue at the highest level, offering a fascinating perspective on one of the most harrowing times in modern history. With nuclear brinkmanship high on the international agenda today, the events of October 1962 hold invaluable lessons for a generation too young to remember just how close we came to the end.

Tickets are available to book from the Town Hall Theatre on 091 569777 or at www.tht.ie.

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Interview: Emer Reynolds, ‘Here Was Cuba’ co-director

 

Here Was Cuba has its world premiere at the Sheffield Doc/Film Festival.

Directed by Emer Reynolds and John Murray, Here Was Cuba tells the inside story of the Cuban Missile Crisis, exploring how in October 1962 the earth teetered on the very brink of nuclear holocaust. In the first major feature documentary on the subject, the film brings to life the three central characters Kennedy, Castro and Khrushchev and explores how the world’s most powerful men fell into an abyss of their own making and what courage and luck it took to climb out again. With nuclear brinkmanship high on the international agenda today, the events of October 1962 hold invaluable lessons for a generation too young to remember just how close we came to the end.

Steven Galvin got to chat with co-director Emer Reynolds about this landmark documentary

I was surprised to learn that this is the first major feature documentary on the subject. How did the project come about for you?

We were surprised too, that there had never been a major feature documentary on the subject. Happy and surprised! Both John [Reynolds, co-director] and I are kind of obsessed with the Crisis, and as the 50th Anniversary drew closer we kept talking about what an amazing moment in history it was, how dramatic and utterly scary, and how frighteningly prescient it is for today in terms of current nuclear brinksmanship. We approached the Irish Film Board and PBS and began the research phase in 2010. We filmed many interviews for research at that stage including Ted Sorensen, who was Kennedy’s key advisor during the crisis, and that proved so fortunate as he sadly died shortly afterwards. We were so lucky to have his first hand account of events from deep inside the White House. That set the tone of how we would approach the rest of the filming  we would try to hear and tell the story through personal experience and in doing so perhaps be able to tell the events as though happening live.

There’s a quote in the film: “The world almost came to an end in 1962. It’s not fiction. It’s not speculation. It almost happened and in terms of probability, it should have happened” – That’s quite a chilling statement…

There is no doubt in my mind that had a nuclear weapon been launched, ANY weapon, from any side, all out Nuclear War would have unfolded. The were enough nuclear weapons at that time to wipe out humankind many times over. Still are.

That’s the unique thing about Nuclear Weapons  their potential for utter devastation. I love the quote at the end where one of our contributors says,” It comes down to a question of our willingness to end civilisation.” It is chilling when you think how we dice with this unique fragile planet and our existence. And when you think just how close we came to the unthinkable during the Missile Crisis; a mere matter of hours, and how in the end it really came down to personality and individual choices; it’s doubly chilling.

Can you tell us a little about gathering such an impressive array of archive, both visual and aural.

We had two amazing researchers, Zlata Filipovic and Aoife Carey, who along with producer, Siobhán Ward, went on a major archive hunt for a whole range of archive – from actual material during the crisis (news reports, etc.) to all kinds of weaponry, submarine footage, radio broadcasts, etc., from the US, Russia and Cuba. I wanted to approach the archive in quite a visceral way  not as general background imagery but to use it as drama footage; to cut it, in particular, as though we were watching the drama unfolding in real time. This approach in the film I think (I hope) is one of the reasons the film feels so frightening- for although we, as the audience, know the outcome (the world didn’t end) we are able to experience the events unfolding in front of our eyes and almost forget how it turned out. The other archive element that is very strong in the film are the Kennedy tapes, the secret recordings Kennedy made of the Excomm meetings where they deliberated the US response (from immediate Airstrike to diplomacy and all avenues in between). Evesdropping on the various personalities arguing the toss  a.k.a. fate of the world  is gripping.

The film contains interviews with key witnesses and experts including Sergei Khrushchev, son of the former Soviet premier and, as you mentioned earlier, in one of his last ever interviews, Kennedy’s trusted advisor Ted Sorensen.

We were privileged to interview Ted Sorensen shortly before he died which was extraordinary; his recollections are truly wonderful and insightful. Hearing Sergei Khrushchev, son of Nikita Khrushchev, who was just a young man at the time, tell of walking with his father as he wrestled with events, was momentous. Hearing a personal memory recounted, of a major moment from the history books… and suddenly History becomes real. Equally, interviewing so many people from all three sides of the conflict, who were personally involved, was humbling and we felt honoured to be able to listen to such amazing first-hand accounts. I was particularly moved by Alexay Ryapenko, who was just a young soviet soldier at the time, who happened, as he put it, “to be at the end of a chain” in being the person who was ordered to fire the missile that killed the only casualty of the crisis, the US U2 pilot, Rudy Anderson. Seeing the lingering effects of that death on his face now, more than 50 years later, was a deeply moving moment.

The music plays an important role in the film.

Ray Harman, our tremendously talented composer, wrote a fabulous, tense, thrilling and very modern score for the film. It played such an important role in making the events seem to unfold in real time, not in the dusty old past! We have collaborated with Ray many times and feel he brought an incredible amount of tension, poetry and emotion to the story.

We also used some songs as part of the narrative, for example Ane Brun singing “It all starts with one” as the missiles turn their sights on each other, and late on used a song that is commonly thought of as a Christmas song ” Do you hear what I hear?”, but which had actually been written during the crisis, as it’s authors Noel Regney and Gloria Shayne frighteningly felt they faced the imminent end of the world ..

The other key creative element in the film is the impact cinematographer Kate McCullough had on the storytelling. We were very keen to explore Moscow, Havana and Washington in fresh ways and also explore imagery to illustrate and play with ideas of espionage/being watched/ not being clear about the other side’s hand/satellite images recording our lives, and Kate brought a very iconic visual dynamic to the film.

All feeding into, I feel, the hopeful visceral impact of the film.

I know you were also involved in the editing process, I’m sure that took up alot of time.

The editing of the film was fun but intense! We filmed and also sourced archive over many many months so material was flowing in constantly, and we were endlessly redefining how we might approach the story. As co-director and also editor, I would take some weeks alone in a dark room wrestling with the narrative and archive, and John, my co-director, was able to act as very fresh eyes and pull me back from the brink! It was a very fruitful and collaborative process.

The film goes beyond its historical narrative to explore the impact a Nuclear War would have on the Earth and, with recent developments in India, Pakistan, North Korea and Iran, posits the threat it still holds.

We wanted to explore the impact a Nuclear War would wreak on this fragile planet, and to shine a light of debate on the threat posed today, where along with the substantial nuclear arsenals of the ‘traditional’ countries, there are so many disturbing nuclear developments in India, Pakistan, Israel, North Korea, Iran… In just this past April, Fidel Castro wrote to Kim Jong-un, urging North Korea to remember it’s duties to others, saying the tensions on the peninsula posed one of the gravest risks for nuclear holocaust since the Cuban Missile Crisis. The lessons of the Crisis are that mankind is infallible. We can’t afford to be complacent. This is not a threat that has passed. We wanted the film to sound a loud warning bell. However, disarmament is obviously still very current and complex issue. As Sergei Khrushchev says ” First we have to change human nature… and I don’t think we can change human nature…”

But maybe if we really listen to lessons from history we can change? In the words of George Bernard Shaw: “If history repeats itself, and the unexpected always happens, how incapable must Man be of learning from experience?”

 

Here Was Cuba receives its world premiere screening at the Sheffield Doc/Film Festival (12 – 16 June). Screening on Fri, 14th June at 12:45 in Showroom 3 and again on Sun, 16th June at  18:15 in Showroom 4.

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Irish Documentaries at Sheffield Doc Fest

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Two Irish documentaries, Here Was Cuba and The Summit will screen at  Sheffield Doc Fest, the UK’s leading documentary festival and market which takes place from June 12-16th.

The screening will be the World Premiere of the new Irish feature documentary Here Was Cuba, the directorial debut feature from multi award winning editor Emer Reynolds, co-directed by John Murray. The film tells the inside story of the Cuban Missile Crisis exploring how in October 1962 the earth teetered on the very brink of nuclear holocaust. Here Was Cuba is produced by Crossing the Line Productions, with the support of Bord Scannán na hÉireann/the Irish Film Board and PBS in the US.

Featuring dramatic interviews with key witnesses and experts including Sergei Khrushchev, son of the former Soviet premier and, in one of his last ever interviews, John F Kennedy’s trusted advisor – Ted Sorensen – Here Was Cuba is an edge-of-your seat tale of espionage and intrigue at the highest level, offering a fascinating perspective on one of the most harrowing times in modern history.

Speaking about the world premiere at Sheffield, director Emer Reynolds says “John and I are so thrilled that our film Here Was Cuba will screen at Sheffield Doc/Fest, one of the major festivals in the world for documentary. It’s an honour to be able to premiere our film to such a documentary-loving audience, especially on the occasion of Sheffield’s 20th Anniversary. We are really looking forward to screening the film there and hearing the response.”

Meanwhile Nick Ryan’s film The Summit, the story of the most dangerous and deadly mountaineering mission on K2, hailed as the climbing film of the year, will have a special screening at High Peak Cavern, Castleton, as the festival transforms the cave into a cinema for a very unique screening experience.

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