IFI Ireland on Sunday Interview: Johnny Gogan, director of ‘Generate The State/Gineador An Stait’

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Generate The State/Gineador An Stait documents the ambitious building of the Shannon Scheme in the newly established Irish Free State of the 1920s that revolutionised electricity production and supply in Ireland. The scheme involved the construction of the hydro-electric power station Ardnacrusha at a cost of IR£5m, one fifth of the Irish state’s annual budget – and at a time of tremendous economic difficulties. Constructed by the German company Siemens-Schuckert, the plant was completed in 1929 and provided the base for the construction of a national power grid while also symbolising a determined forward-thinking independent nation.

 

The film’s director Johnny Gogan explains what brought him to the project. “On one level, the Ardnacrusha story is a typical Ireland’s Own story, a tale of derring-do from a rose-tinted glorious past. I wanted to rescue the story from that fate, peel back the wall-paper to reveal it once more to current generations who know nothing about the scale and the ambition of the project. It is a particularly relevant story for today in that we are failing so abysmally as a country – Society and Government – to address the transition from fossil fuels. The Government recently announced that we would not meet our 2020 Carbon emissions targets. Government has hidden behind the Financial Crisis when in truth the Financial Crisis was the perfect opportunity to change direction. The Shannon Scheme is the living embodiment of that opportunistic ambition.”

 

In 1923 , Dr T.A. McLaughlin proposed the idea of the Shannon Scheme, which came in for criticism at the time as it gathered momentum garnering a few opponents. Johnny says, “I heard a comment recently from the writer Terence de Vere White describing how Ireland experienced a Renaissance – that ran from the end of the 19th century with the Celtic Revival through to the end of the 1920s. The Censorship of Publications Act (1929) represented a symbolic end to this epoque. We need to see Ardnacrusha in the context of that ferment. One of the things that was not allowed to happen was for big ideas not to be quashed and for vested interests not to hold sway. We now know that for most of our history of independence vested interests have been able to hold sway over public policy. One area where vested interest may have held sway was with the powerful farmer – or “rancher” – element in the body politic. Workers were not to be paid in excess of the Agricultural Labour rate, which was incredibly low for this kind of work.”

 

Around 1,000 German and 4,000 Irish workers were involved in the construction phase between 1925 and 1929. The documentary recounts a fascinating part of the process that involved The Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union going head to head with Siemens over the workers’ conditions and wages. Siemens appointed Joseph McGrath, the former  Minister for Industry and Coinmerce, as Director of Labour. A ruthless man, McGrath was brought in as a means to oppose the Unions and avert strikes. His victory in doing so would result in injuries and deaths as many underskilled workers were put in dangerous working conditions. Johnny explains howthis post Civil War society was a brutalised place and McGrath symbolised that. He is at once a fascinating and scary individual who subsequently went toe to toe with the Mafia in the U.S. over his promotion of the Irish Sweepstakes. But yes there were many deaths which had to do with the vast industrial nature of the project. It wasn’t that there was no awareness of Health and Safety. The Germans were complaining to the Irish Government about the lack of suitability of the Irish workers who were mainly from agricultural backgrounds.”

 
Nevertheless, the Shannon scheme itself was a major success story. Indeed, the magnitude of the scheme had it dubbed “the Eighth Wonder of the World. ” Yes, it was massive,” Johnny says, “not just in Irish terms, but in European terms. It happened in a brief window between the First World War and the Wall Street Crash of 1929. Once again it has relevance today. For example, it is strongly argued that one very proactive way in which Europe could break its current economic stagnation is to adopt a very determined Europe-wide transition to Renewables – solar in the South of Europe and Wind and Ocean Energy in the North – and to construct a Europe wide grid for Renewables. We don’t have the space to go into this in the film, but we do interview one of the main proponents of this approach the Irish engineer Eddie O’Connor, founder of Airtricity.”

 

As Johnny is at pains to point out this piece of Ireland’s history has a lot to say about contemporary Ireland and the lessons we can learn, an indeed the lessons we failed to learn. “The promoters of Irish Water could have taken a leaf out of that Government’s book in how to successfully set up a public utility. The ESB – set up on the back of the Shannon Scheme – canvassed and enlisted communities when setting up the distribution system that was the less vaunted but equally massive task involved in Rural Electrification. The Shannon Scheme also tells us as a country that you can’t use a financial crisis as an excuse for not thinking and planning for the future. In fact, within every crisis lies an opportunity to change direction. As we surface from our recent economic nightmare can we really say that we have changed direction? I don’t think so.”

 
 
Generate The State/Gineador An Stait screens on Sunday, 22nd November 2015 at 13.00 at the IFI as part of its Ireland on Sunday monthly showcase for new Irish film.

 
Director Johnny Gogan will participate in a post-screening Q&A.
 
 
Tickets for Generate The State/Gineador An Stait are available now from the IFI Box Office on 01 679 3477 or online at www.ifi.ie
 
 
Johnny Gogan was founding editor for Filmbase of Film Ireland in 1987. His films include the feature films The Last Bus Home (1997), Mapmaker (2002), Black Ice (2012). He is currently working on the feature documentary Hubert Butler Witness To The Future, which will premiere at DIFF 2016.
 
 
Generate The State/Gineador An Stait screens at Limerick’s Belltable Arts Centre 13th January in advance of its TG4 broadcast.

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IFI Ireland on Sunday Interview: Clare Delargy, director of ‘Mercedes Gleitze: The Spirit of a New Age’

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Clare Delargy’s documentary Mercedes Gleitze: The Spirit of a New Age, tells the extraordinary tale of British swimmer Mercedes Gleitze. In a career that spanned from 1921-1932, Mercedes became the first European female to swim the English Channel, the first swimmer to complete the Straits of Gibraltar and completed 51 endurance swims, with half of them lasting longer than 26 hours. Mercedes’ incredible journey was to make her one of the first international sporting celebrities of the modern age.

Filmmaker Clare Delargy explains her own journey into the documentary. “I first heard of Mercedes Gleitze some years ago on a visit to my husband’s family in Cushendun. My mother-in-law happened to mention her name in passing and spoke about the excitement surrounding her visit to the village when Mercedes attempted to swim from Scotland to Ireland. Her family had a real involvement in the matter because her uncle and cousin had been on the pilot boat that accompanied Mercedes on at least one of the attempted North Channel crossings. The story intrigued me and later I came across a reference to Mercedes and her English Channel success in a Sunday newspaper and then I needed to find out more.”

Mercedes’ success was built on her early dreams of becoming a professional swimmer while working as a stenographer in London. Her determined spirit is evident early on in life in her escape attempt from Germany as a 17 year old after her family’s repatriation during the First World War. Clare points out that “to leave her  home in Bavaria and make her way across Europe in chaos just as the war was ending in the hope of making it back to England was extraordinary. Furthermore, in then attempting to swim the English Channel Mercedes may have revealed the innocence of youth but her strength of character and fearlessness were truly awesome.”

This strength of character and a “will to want to succeed” was to play its part in what became known as Mercedes’ Vindication Swim. After successfully swimming the Channel on 7th October 1927, there were those who questioned the validity of her achievement. Indeed, the English Channel Swimming Association refused to recognize her record as legitimate. Mercedes refused to let the doubters negate her achievement and repeated the feat. In doing so, she garnered a new wave of admirers who were in awe of her courage and determination in the face of adversity.

The documenatry combines newsreel with a wealth of personal archive to tell the story of Mercedes’ amazing life. Clare tells how “after Mercedes died her family came across her books of cuttings and photographs in the attic. As Doloranda and Fergus, two of her children explained to me, before then they knew virtually nothing about Mercedes’s life as a young swimmer, her achievements and her celebrity. As Doloranda began to read through her mother’s records she was becoming acquainted with a young woman whom she had never known and a life filled with surprises and achievements. It was a privileged moment when I first went to meet Doloranda and see all her mother’s press cuttings and photographs. Subsequently I contacted various archive agencies worldwide to establish if any other still or moving images existed of her and the responses that came back were just amazing.”

As the title of the films attests to, Mercedes embodied the spirit of a new age. “Mercedes Gleitze was a fearless pioneer, “Clare says, “swimming many of the most challenging stretches of water in the world including the English Channel, Straits of Gibraltar, Cape Town to Robben Island, the Hellespont. And bear in mind too that she was not just the first woman but the first person in history to swim the Straits of Gibraltar. But ultimately she was a wonderful role model for a new generation of young women challenging the status quo and taking on the old order.”

Since completing the documentary Clare began to develop Mercedes’ story for cinema. With the support of Northern Ireland Screen, Delargy Productions have now produced a screenplay based around Mercedes’ Vindication Swim on the English Channel and her subsequent attempt to become the first person ever to swim from Europe to Africa which she succeeded in achieving in 1929. The first draft has been written by Daisy Waugh, granddaughter of Evelyn Waugh.

Mercedes Gleitze: The Spirit of a New Age screens on Sunday, 20th September 2015 at 13.00 at the IFI as part of its Ireland on Sunday monthly showcase for new Irish film.

Tickets for Mercedes Gleitze: The Spirit of a New Age are available now from the IFI Box Office on 01 679 3477 or online at www.ifi.ie

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IFI Ireland on Sunday Interview: Tadhg O’Sullivan

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To coincide with the release of his documentary The Great Wall, Tadhg O’Sullivan, in conversation with Michael Ryan, will present two of his previous works, Bow Street [2010] and What Remains [2013], together with an excerpt from Terminal, a work in progress. The idea behind the screenings is to show and talk about the work that developed a lot of the styles that O’Sullivan brought to bear on The Great Wall. O’Sullivan explains that “these three films have aspects of different filmmaking approaches that are used in The Great Wall. So there’s a kind of evolutionary arc in it. It’s not that one leads to the other but just different approaches and different styles I have used over the years.”

All the works are very much infused with a sense of people and place. With Bow Street one single street becomes a theatre awash with human lives. O’Sullivan tells me that there were two starting points for the film. “One was the idea of relationship between people and place. The built environment and urban architecture and how people relate to that and how sometimes real people can get lost in the milieu around urban architecture. We tend, in an urban environment, not to see real people and the idea of the film was just to stop and shoot over the course of a month and explore that idea by slowing down and looking and watching and meeting people in a way that explores the relationship between the built environment and the human lives that operate within it.

“The other starting point for the film was for myself. As a filmmaker who hadn’t made many films, I had lots of ideas about exploring these kinds of ideas in exotic places like Palestine and West Africa. Part of me just felt that if I couldn’t make a film on a single street then I was wasting my time. So it was a challenge to me  almost taking Lars von Trier’s The Five Obstructions and using that idea of giving yourself a set of rules and exploring your own abilities as a filmmaker. The simple rule was shoot everything outside on one street and see if I could make something that is engaging and interesting and human and actually manages to explore those bigger ideas of the relationship between people and place and urban architecture.”

In the film people wander in and out of the narrative rather than ever becoming the focus of the narrative itself, something that reflects O’Sullivan’s interest in how the content of film can explore the ideas behind it. “The idea behind the film is the anonymity of life in an urban context, in a public urban context, and the anonymity of people just passing through and fleetingly meeting each other. That is very much manifest in the film. People come, people go, people are introduced, they leave and they are never seen again. We don’t find out their names. We don’t find out really much about them but we have these kind of exchanges and engagements with them. That’s a way of representing and exploring that aspect of urban life  where it is all about temporary fleeting moments with people. The city remains the same; the people move within it.”

What Remains, co-directed with Pat Collins, uses a selection of IFI archive material from the personal collections of Irish families to create an evocative examination of memory. According to O’Sullivan, the film started “as something Pat wanted to do. We had worked together a lot prior to this film and it touches on many of Pat’s central concerns to do with people and place, and shared cultural memory. I’ve worked a lot with archive over the years and it is something that’s really important to me. There is a magic to working with archive and there’s a  particular approach where you are looking for subtle hidden layers and meanings in material that was shot for an entirely different reason. And it’s just the everyday stuff of life, the incidental moments that have a poetry hidden within them. Trawling through the amazing material that is held at the IFI archive you find all these bits of film that were shot as recordings, memories, memories to be held, photographs of family members or holidays. They were shot with one thing in mind. Yet over time they gain other layers which are to do with a kind of melancholy of the passing of time and the idea that people have gone. But also there is an aesthetic and poetic element in them that myself and Pat as filmmakers were very much drawn to. The incidental things within the frames that might not have been apparent to the people who shot them but can be found within them. That is what made What Remains such an interesting film to work on. While I have worked with archive a lot, as I say, this was devoting ourselves to just working with that kind of fragmented poetry of hidden meaning and hidden layers within old material. I have to say it was one of the most enjoyable edits I have ever undertaken for that reason. There is something very free and very beautiful about it and something very human. That’s the most important thing – that the film is a poetic meditation on memory but also on humanity and the persistence of humanity.”

Finally there will be a screening of an excerpt from Terminal, a work in progress that is described as an “experimental film essay about industry, time and the cosmos.” O’Sullivan has been shooting the film for over a year on Whiddy Island, off the coast of West Cork, a place he is particularly fond of. “It’s a beautiful place, but also it’s a very storied place as well. There are all these layers of history written into its landscape  from Napoleonic-era military forts that are entirely overgrown now, through to the history of the oil terminal that was built there in the ’60s and remains there in the same form but plays a very different role now. What really interests me about the place is how you’ve had this long duration of hundreds of years of international historical things happening around the island, on the island, but human life persists and just goes on around that. These big cosmic events come and go but human life goes on regardless. That’s what I’m interested in.

“In Terminal I use material I have shot myself on 16mm in combination with archive material and that is something that I have done before but the approach to filming the 16mm material is based on my archive editing experience. I am almost shooting it in a way thinking what would it be like to shoot material and then approach it with an editor’s eye, as though it had been shot for another film. Using the grammar of archive editing in relation to new material. That is something I am quite interested in and it finds itself into pretty much all my work using that archival editing style and eye on all material, not just old material.

 

Tadhg O’Sullivan, in conversation with Michael Ryan, will present Bow Street, What Remains and Terminal (work in progress/8 mins excerpt) on Sunday, 23rd August 2015 at 13.00 at the IFI as part of its Ireland on Sunday monthly showcase for new Irish film.

Tickets are available now from the IFI Box Office on 01 679 3477 or online at www.ifi.ie

 

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IFI Ireland on Sunday Interview: Treasa O’Brien, co-director of ’Eat Your Children’

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Eat Your Children is an essay documentary that explores Ireland’s so-called acceptance of debt and austerity. Filmmakers Treasa O’Brien and Mary Jane O’Leary, two economic emigrants, return to Ireland to explore what seemed to be Irish people’s stoicism in accepting austerity and the country’s climate of complacency in the face of the nation’s current economic position.

Treasa O’Brien explains how the idea for the film came about 4 years ago “after my good friend Mary Jane O’Leary showed me a video online of Greeks protesting in Athens. They were chanting: ‘We are not Irish! We will resist!’ Mary Jane had just finished a year studying politics in Barcelona and was working for a European think tank. I had just finished a Masters in Film in London. Mary Jane dared me to make a film about why the Irish were not resisting. I said let’s do it together, and the rest is history. As we started to make the film, we realised the rest is history. Irish history is full of rebels and resistances, so why are we now so acquiescent and accepting?”

The film molds its essay in the form of a road-trip around the country, which, according to Treasa, was a way “to structure the film and also to involve the audience – you’re coming with us! We hope the structure allows the audience to discover with us, and also to keep asking questions and draw their own conclusions rather than ‘experts’ just telling them how it is. We both love the essay form as it’s a chance to explore a topic intellectually as well as emotionally, and it also gives room for a self-reflexive kind of authorship.”

Travelling around Ireland, Treasa and Mary meet Irish people on the streets, at protests, and seek answers from sociologists, politicians, historians, economists and activists on the nature of protest in Ireland. As a result, a lot of time was spent in the edit room to whittle the film down to the 78-minute final cut. “We shot over 40 long form interviews, less than 10 of which are excerpted in the film. The volume of interviews slowed down the editing process as we became attached to so many of the points made and wanted to cover everything – at one stage we were trying to make the short history of everything that ever happened in Ireland. So we had to get really ruthless in cutting the interviews down. We transcribed them all with some help and they have become an invaluable research and reference tool for us to have structured the film and informed our own thinking on the subject.”

I asked Treasa was there one thing that surprised herself and Mary the most on her journey around Ireland. “The Right2Water movement,” she replies. “We are really heartened to see this movement grow over the last few months. It seems to be bringing a lot of various groups and kinds of people together in solidarity, and of course it’s bigger than water. Water, our life force, is bringing people together against austerity, debt, and neoliberal privatisation and inequality. However, as inspiring and hopeful as it is, the vast majority of Irish people are still not protesting, even if they might support the Right2 Water movement from their armchairs. We also see the Irish media discrediting the protests and calling them violent. With all its globalisation and high media readership, Irish politics and media can still be very conservative.”

Looking at Ireland today Treasa thinks there is “a chasm between our conservative politicians and the real will of the majority of Irish people. Or at least I hope there is! I am home in Ireland now for the next few months and I will be here to vote yes for the marriage equality referendum. It is an important temperature gauge of how conservative or not the Irish really are – I wish we didn’t have to spend time fighting for things that seem so uncontroversial and obvious (to me, at least) as basic human rights such as the right to decisions over one’s own reproduction, the right to an equal marriage and the right to water.

“We have to think in a joined up and intersectional way – marriage equality, reproductive rights and racism are seen as identity politics, while labour rights and class struggle are left to the left. But, for example, reproductive rights affect poor people more than rich people, as the latter can travel more easily. We need that more intersectional approach which joins up movements and fights for something together as well as all the individual struggles.”

 

Eat Your Children screens on Sunday, 12th April 2015 at 13.00 at the IFI as part of its Ireland on Sunday monthly showcase for new Irish film.

Co-Directors Treasa O’Brien and Mary Jane O’Leary will participate in a post-screening Q&A.

Tickets for Eat Your Children are available now from the IFI Box Office on 01 679 3477 or online at www.ifi.ie

 

 

 

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IFI Ireland on Sunday Interview: Brian Reddin, director of ’It Came from Connemara!!’

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Brian Reddin talks to Film Ireland about It Came from Connemara!!, his documentary about the legendary Roger Corman’s time making movies in Connemara.

It Came from Connemara!! screens on Sunday, 15th March 2015 at 13.00 at the IFI as part of its Ireland on Sunday monthly showcase for new Irish film.

 

It Came from Connemara!! tells the fascinating story of the B-Movie legend Roger Corman who set up his film studio Concorde Anois Teo in Tully in 1996, 20 miles outside Galway – availing of tax breaks initiated by the-then Minister for Arts and Culture Michael D Higgins and spent the next few years making low-budget commercial motion pictures, such as Bloodfist VIII: Trained to Kill (1996)Spacejacked (1997) and A Very Unlucky Leprechaun (1998). Along the way, Corman gave many Irish people their start in the film industry whilst also upsetting the unions and the tastes of cinephiles who scoffed at the lurid “trash” Corman served up. Brian Reddin’s documentary captures that time in Irish film with wild gusto.
 
Speaking to Brian, I told him I was amazed that this story hadn’t been told before. “I was also amazed that nobody had tackled it before. I can’t imagine why as it is a great story.” Brian’s own personal history ties in with Corman and was one of the reasons he ended up making the documentary. “I was always a huge fan of Corman,” Brian says, “particularly his Poe adaptations with Vincent Price. Then when I heard he was coming to Ireland to make movies, I was intrigued. At the time I was producing a movie review series for TG4 and I tried to get on his sets and get some interviews but we had no joy. So, that made it even more intriguing wondering what was going on there. Then, he was gone almost as soon as he came and we never saw any of the movies and were none the wiser as to what went on there. Then many years later I was producing a drama series out of his studios and I got chatting with a lot of the crew who worked with Corman and their stories were hilarious. I knew there was a great doc in there, so I approached TG4 and they said if you get Corman, then we are on board. It took a while to get him, but once I did, TG4 came on board and then the BAI and we got to make it.”
 
More than just getting Corman, he proves himself to be a delightful interviewee throughout the documentary looking back on his time in Ireland with an impish glee. “He’s amazing,” Brian tells me, “88 years of age and still making movies. He doesn’t have an agent or a publicist or a manager, so initially I simply emailed his production office and then made a few phone calls and eventually he agreed to be interviewed. The problem was tying him down to a date as he is always so busy. When we were planning to shoot with him, he was overseeing his latest movie Sharktopus Vs Pteracuda – which I think is a love story – and he was making that at 87! He is still incredibly prolific and busy. But, once he committed then he threw himself behind the project. He allowed us use clips from his Irish back catalogue and gave us a brilliant interview in his offices in LA. He was happy to talk about anything for as long as we wanted. He was a joy to deal with. I had lunch with him after the interview and it was like a master class in filmmaking.”
 

Alongside Corman, the documentary features a list of of legends: Corbin Bernsen, Josh Brolin and Don “The Dragon” Wilson – all more than happy to take part. Brian explains how he approached them to be part of his film: “I went through all of Corman’s Irish movies and made a list of all the stars who appeared in them. Unfortunately David Carradine [Knocking on Death’s Door, 1999] and Roy Scheider [The Doorway, 2002] are no longer with us, but there was plenty of talent to choose from. I got their agents’ details and emailed them all, and every one of them agreed to take part. It‘s the first time I’ve made a documentary where everybody agreed to do it. They all had a great time in Ireland and they all love Roger, so they were more than happy to talk about their time here. Meeting Brolin was a particular highlight. I loved him in Capricorn One and he’s Hollywood royalty but a nicer gentleman you could not meet. They were all very generous with their time and it was great to meet them all.”

 

Their love for Corman was matched by the hundreds of Irish crew that worked for him. Their fondness of the experience comes through again and again coupled with their gratitude for breaking into the business and the learning curve it provided them. “It was great to get the Hollywood stars in the film, but the heart of it was always going to be the Irish crew,” Brian explains. “They were the ones with the war stories. They worked long hours for little money in tough conditions with pretty shit scripts and they adored it. They all got the opportunity to move through the filmmaking ranks and Corman gave them that opportunity when other places did not. It was an amazing training ground. You could be an assistant one day and directing the next and you could move through departments – grips ended up in make-up and there are loads of stories of crew getting lots of experience in lots of different areas. There remains a great camaraderie amongst the ‘Cormanites’ – as they call themselves – a lot of them turned up for the Galway Fleadh screening last year and it was amazing to hear them reminisce about their time in the trenches with Corman. The list of people who went on to great things from there is huge – David Caffrey for example, who directs Love/Hate, started with Corman, Terry McMahon played a heavy in a few of his movies, even Hector worked for him. There is a long list of people working in the business today who owe a lot to Corman.”

 

The documentary is deceptively fun but contains within it an important part of the history of Roger Corman and his time working in the Irish Film industry. It’s particularly interesting to recall how Corman was seen from the outside by the filmmaking status quo in Ireland, causing ructions from unions and the so-called film cognoscenti. “I wanted to keep it fun and light,” Brian says. “It‘s hard to take it seriously when you are talking about movies like Spacejacked or Knocking on Death’s Door – however, at the same time, his time making movies in Ireland was fascinating. Apart from the people still working in the business today as a result of working with him, there was another story of people being denied work. The unions weren’t happy with Corman and the press less so and those who worked for him were definitely made to feel as if their work had no value outside of the Corman bubble. That was a shame, but it had a lot to do with a lack of information. Nobody knew for certain what was being made in Connemara and then when they saw it, they were outraged that grants had been provided to someone to make such rubbish. However, and it’s important to note, Corman paid back every penny of his grant, so he left owing nothing. Whether you enjoy the films or not, and there aren’t many who do, you can’t deny that they were professionally made by people who had only begun in the business. Nobody would consider Corman’s movies Irish and yet they were shot in Ireland with an Irish crew, Irish actors, Irish technicians – sometimes directed by an Irishman and often telling Irish stories. Yet, they are never called Irish while we’re more than happy to claim an Australian director with American money telling the story of a Scotsman.”

 

Whatever anyone thinks, Corman’s guerrilla philosophy and can-do attitude on low-budget film has a lot to say about filmmaking.He was always way ahead of his time and embraced new technologies. He was shooting digital before anyone else and also embraced the internet very early on. The best thing about Corman is that he is not a cinematic snob. He’ll make anything and he doesn’t get caught up in the aesthetic value of it. It‘s all about making money and keeping the audience happy. He’s currently making movies for the SciFi Channel. When his work wasn’t selling big in cinemas anymore, he moved to the video market and then to television and now to the internet. He just keeps working whatever the medium. Its a pity that we can’t make films the way he used to anymore. For example in the case of Little Shop of Horrors, he was given a location for free for a weekend so he shot the movie in 2 days for $30,000. Once he got an idea, nothing would stop him.”

 

It Came from Connemara!! screens on Sunday, 15th March 2015 at 13.00 at the IFI as part of its Ireland on Sunday monthly showcase for new Irish film.
 
 Tickets for It Came from Connemara!! are available now from the IFI Box Office on 01 679 3477 or online at www.ifi.ie

 

 

Carol Hunt remembers her time shooting a B-movie love scene in Roger Corman’s Galway studio for the film The Unspeakable.

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IFI Ireland on Sunday Interview: Neasa Ní Chianáin, director of ‘The Stranger ’

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Neasa Ní Chianáin’s talks to Film Ireland about The Stranger, her documentary about Neal MacGregor, an English artist who lived in solitude on Inishbofin and died alone, aged 44.

The Stranger screens on Sunday, 18th February 2015 at 13.00 at the IFI as part of its Ireland on Sunday monthly showcase for new Irish film.

 

Neal MacGregor was an English artist who died alone in 1990, aged 44, in a stone hut built for hens on the remote island of Inishbofin, off the coast of Donegal, where he lived without water and electricity. The Gaelic-speaking islanders on the rapidly depopulating island knew little of Neal during the 8 years he lived there.

Neasa Ní Chianáin’s documentary The Stranger uses interviews with those who knew or knew of him, reconstructions, poetic diary extracts and archive material to piece together the fascinating story of this mysterious recluse and ponders the question Neasa herself poses at the start of the film: “Why do some people choose to retreat – to withdraw from the world; from people; from life? Why would someone choose to live in solitude and isolation?”

Memories of Neal vary from his life in England in the ’60s as a handsome popular teacher come jewellery artist in London, Acid-victim drop out and husband, to the life of loneliness he chose to pursue on a remote Irish island, which raised various questions from the inhabitants – was he a British spy recording IRA gun-running routes? Was he trying to take control of the island? Was he crazy? Or was he just seeking solitude? The different versions of who he was is something that attracted Neasa to making the film.

“I was interested in the notion of what is left of us when we die,” Neasa explains, “the idea that the dead become a collection of memories held by those still living, fragments of a life interpreted by others, memories fused with truth and sometimes myth. Neal was interesting in that he inspired so many conflicting stories about who he was, the Neal in London was a very different person to the Neal who arrived on Inishbofin. I was interested in how the jigsaw of his life varied depending on the storyteller and of course how memory evolves and changes overtime.”

The film plays on our interest in isolation and the life of a mysterious recluse, which feeds into a certain romantic narrative that film is exploring more and more. What is this particular fascination with solitude? “I think as life speeds up it gets very complicated for people,” says Neasa. “Everybody is busy being busy, one distraction after another, no time to reflect. Neal was a thinker and communicated only when he had something to say, one of his friends describe him as being very silent (in Donegal) but his silence was very noisy. I think he was trying to make sense of it all. He was searching for some meaning, he had to reduce his life, turn down the noise, so that he could focus, meditate, whatever way you want to describe it. I think there’s a little part of that in all of us, a yearning for solitude, a yearning to find some meaning. Maybe that’s why people want to hear the stories of those who were not afraid if it, because we think they might have found some answers. I have conflicting feelings about solitude, I sometimes yearn for it, but at the same time I fear it…like silence, I know it’s good for me, but it’s difficult to surrender to it. The film is a celebration of someone who had no fear of being alone.”

 

The Stranger screens on Sunday, 15th February 2015 at 13.00 at the IFI as part of the IFI’s Ireland on Sunday monthly showcase for new Irish film.

Neasa Ní Chianáin will participate in a post-screening Q&A.

Tickets for The Stranger are available now from the IFI Box Office on 01 679 3477 or online at www.ifi.ie

The film is presented in association with Guth Gafa Documentary Film Festival, who are working with Soilsiu Films on a festival outreach strategy for The Stranger, following its two successful screenings at Guth Gafa in Donegal and Meath.

The Stranger will also screen at The Glen Centre, Manorhamilton on Friday, 20th February at 8.30pm; at the Phoenix Cinema, Dingle, Sunday, 15th March at 12 noon (as part of the Dingle Film Festival); at Century Cinema, Letterkenny on Thursday, 19th March at 8.30pm; and at Glór, Ennis on Thursday, 26th March at 8pm. 

All screenings are part of the Guth Gafa and Soilsiú Films’ collaboration, and are made possible with direct distribution support from The Irish Film Board.

Further dates to be announced shortly.

Check www.thestrangerdocumentary.com for details.

 

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IFI Ireland on Sunday Interview: Marcus Stewart, co-director of ‘Marathon Men’

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Marathon Men is a new feature documentary from Earth Horizon telling the uplifting story of a young banker (Ken Whitelaw) and a middle-aged auctioneer (Gerry Duffy) who set themselves a challenge to run 32 marathons in 32 days in the 32 counties of Ireland with the aim to inspire people all over the country to go out and run their first ever marathons and raise funds as well as awareness for Autism Ireland.

Directed by Marcus Stewart and Marc O’Gleasain, the film came about when Marcus heard about this challenge through a friend and asked himself why would anyone want to put themselves through that? And so, Marcus explains, he “instantly knew that would make an interesting and powerful documentary story.”

Marcus and Marc then spent four years trying to get funding, but kept hitting brick walls. Everyone told them it looked like a great story but kept passing them on to someone else. In the end, Marcus says, “we just got fed up chasing people.”

With no budget, Marcus explains his approach to sculpting Gerry Duffy and Ken Whitelaw’s story into a finished documentary. “I got some of it filmed on a volunteer basis from some students looking for experience. After the event we filmed the guys who told the retrospective back story. The story is told through the voices that were there, and we had just enough amateur footage and photos combined with our own stuff to put the story together. It knits together seamlessly. This is all down to director/editor Marc O’Gleasain. His creative vision was what made it work as a film in the end.”

Marcus has had a working relationship with Marc O’Gleasain for over six years on the production side of things. “With this project”, Marcus explains, “it was my initial idea that I brought to him, but he took the reigns at a certain point and it would certainly still be on a shelf if he hadn’t taken it on. I knew I needed Marc for this as he is very strong on story structure. And this one was tricky to tell with so much amateur footage and archive, etc.

“Marc was generous to share the director title. I had the initial idea and ideas about how I wanted the film to look and feel from the start. Through the process Marc was certainly the one carving the story out of those rushes and in the end I have no problem saying it is more his film than mine. We worked together discussing different ways to tell the story, we both get on very well and understood the problems, so I would say it was a very good working relationship through the whole process. I’m delighted it got made in the end and I’m delighted Marc did such a good job with it.

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“We both feel that stories should never be left on the shelf. Just go and do it was the attitude, probably Gerry and Ken’s inspiration here… They are both inspiring people. It’s made me think it’s important for all of us to pick our own challenge that defines us. We would all learn more about ourselves if we put ourselves through these extremes and I think that’s very important in life. Different people choose different things, for some it’s Everest, for these two guys it was running 32 consecutive marathons and raising 500,000 euro for Autism.”

The film is set to screen this weekend at the IFI and naturally Marcus is excited at the prospect. “I hope it gets a good turnout and that people see it and remember it. That’s why we did it in the end. You want to make films that have an impact on people and the big screen is so important for that.”

Marathon Men screens on Sunday, 14th December 2014 at 13.00 as part of the IFI’s Ireland on Sunday monthly showcase for new Irish film.

The screening will be followed by a Q&A with directors Marcus Stewart and Marc O’Gleasain.

Tickets for Marathon Men are available now from the IFI Box Office on 01 679 3477 or online at www.ifi.ie

 

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IFI Ireland on Sunday Interview: Laura Aguiar, co-director of ‘We Were There’

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We Were There features the unique experiences of women in the predominantly male world of the Maze and Long Kesh Prison during the Troubles in Northern Ireland, including stories of a prison officer’s wife, prisoners’ relatives, Open University tutors, Probation Service staff and a visual artist.

Directed by Laura Aguiar and Cahal McLaughlin, the film explores how the prison impacted on women’s lives, how they coped with the absence of their loved ones, and highlights the important contribution to the peace process by educational and welfare staff.

Speaking to Film Ireland, Laura explains how the film came out of the Prisons Memory Archive (PMA) material, as part of her PhD research at Queen’s University Belfast. “The PMA recorded a wide range of experiences, from prisoners to prison staff and relatives, in 2006 and 2007, inside the empty sites. Participants were filmed by a single camera operator who followed them while they walked and talked. The focus was on the participants’ engagement with the site and on their memories of it, therefore leading questions were rarely asked. In this manner, participants acted as co-authors as they had control over the content of the interviews. Co-ownership of the recordings and the right to veto or withdrawal were also given to them.”

Laura’s own collaboration with the archive and the participants began in the post-production phase, four years after the interviews were recorded and digitised, and lasted for three years, from 2011 to 2014. “I chose to work with the female recordings of the Maze and Long Kesh prison because of the nearly absence of their diverse lived experiences in cinematic depictions of the prison and of the Troubles in general. ‘Troubles Cinema’ has been pretty much a male territory and when women are placed more centrally within the plot, their roles are often limited to the sacrificial mother, fanatic femme fatale, or the girlfriend or wife. So we wanted We Were There to go beyond these limited portrayals and to offer a more multi-layered representation by highlighting women’s agencies within the prison walls – as educational and probation staff – and outside the walls – as active mothers, as political activists, and so forth.”

The importance of recording such stories, stories that are often excluded from the traditional narrative of history, provides a valuable record of otherwise hidden people and stories which can deeply enrich our understanding of the past. Laura tells me that “We all at the PMA believe that personal stories are crucial to history, especially when the human side is privileged over the political, as it can help reduce, rather than reinforce, the sense of othering, which is so common in divided societies, as Northern Ireland.

“In We Were There, we did this by intercutting the stories according to what united these women – their diverse experience of the same site – rather than what separated them – their contrasting political affiliations or religion – and we refrained from adopting a ‘reconciliatory’ tone. As one of the participants of the film rightly put it, We Were There uses personal stories to tell the history of the prison in ‘a more multi-faceted way, not one side or the other, but many sides, many truths, many journeys, many stories’. These were her own words.

“However, when one works with personal stories, special attention must be paid to individual versus collective needs and aspirations and the public/private boundaries of sensitive stories. Some experiences may be too personal to be shared and can lead to embarrassment, harassment and even life-threatening situations for participants. That’s why working closely with participants, sharing authorship and ownership of the film with them can be key in minimising these risks. Minimise, not eliminate, as we can never know how stories will be publicly received, especially in sensitive places such as Northern Ireland.

“Furthermore, as war history is highly male-centred – and that’s not just me saying it but just think about all the war movies you have seen – personal stories are a powerful way to uncover women’s plural experiences of war and to deconstruct some of the myths of femininity and masculinity that have been reinforced by institutions such as the Church or the military.”

Also through these stories the film provides both a record of and moving insight into how the suffering of prison extends beyond the prisoners to relatives, partners and friends.It definitely goes beyond the prisoners,” Laura explains. “Estimates suggest that over 100,000 people have been directly affected by imprisonment during the Troubles. That’s a considerable number for such a small population of over 1.5 million.

“However, it is very important to acknowledge not just the women’s suffering but also their agency within the peace process and the history of the conflict. At the same time as the men were enduring the hardships of imprisonment, women on the outside were becoming not only the de facto head of the household but also more politicised and active, with many joining women and community groups and even paramilitary groups in some cases.

“The welfare and educational staff also played a key role, including in the peace process. A lot of them were responsible for planting the seeds for the talks that emerged in the prison. Their educational and welfare programme helped some of the men reflect on the armed struggle and opt to follow a more peaceful route after their release. It is very important to acknowledge their importance, as they often think that their stories matter less than the relatives’ stories. And this is not true; all stories are unique and equally important to the overall history of the prison and the conflict.”

I ask Laura to tell me about the editing process of the project.I regularly met Cahal McLaughlin, the PMA’s director and the film’s co-director, and carried out four individual meetings with participants. In these encounters we discussed the rough cuts and made joint decisions on the inclusion and exclusion of parts of the recordings and on the addition of visuals of the prison, soundtrack, and text. Hence, consent was an on-going process of negotiation, not just a single signature at the beginning or end of a project and ensured that the participants’ earlier role as co-authors was maintained throughout the editing phase.

“We agreed to let participants narrate their own stories and to use visuals of the prison, text and soundtrack minimally to support the women’s own voices. We favoured the contemporary imagery recorded by the PMA and eschewed adding other archival material, for example BBC newsreel or newspaper photographs. Text was used only to offer basic details on events, dates and location. We also agreed that the music should not be too intrusive nor too ideological and collaborated with sound designer Liz Greene, who produced a soundtrack that enhanced the ambient sound of the recordings, without intruding upon the women’s testimonies or guiding audience’s emotions.

“Since the film has been completed, participants have been invited to attend the screenings and take part in panel discussions, which have given them the opportunity to see how their stories impacted an audience and to engage in dialogues with them.”

We Were There screens on Sunday, 19th October 2014 at 13.00 as part of the IFI’s Ireland on Sunday monthly showcase for new Irish film.

This screening will be followed by a Q&A with directors Laura Aguiar and Cahal McLaughlin and participants.

Tickets for We Were There are available now from the IFI Box Office on 01 679 3477 or online at www.ifi.ie

 

 

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