Review of Irish Film @ Cork Film Festival 2019: Screen Ireland World Premiere Shorts

 

Loretta Goff was at the Cork Film Festival’s screening of short films produced under Fís Éireann/Screen Ireland’s Focus Shorts and Real Shorts schemes.

Ten short films produced under Fís Éireann/Screen Ireland’s Focus Shorts and Real Shorts schemes had their world premiere at the 64th Cork Film Festival on the 16th of November. Mags O’Sullivan of Screen Ireland introduced the programme of shorts by noting that 60% of them were directed by women and that 50% had female screenwriters, highlighting Screen Ireland’s commitment to diversity and gender equality, which was evident across these shorts. The films ranged in their mode of expression and style—encompassing animation, documentary and live-action—but all engaged with types of community and identity, making for interesting comparisons and showing off Irish talent.

Lorraine Lordan’s A Cat Called Jam opened the programme with the humorous tale of a cat who sees himself as a dog and just wants to be part of the pack. Despite reactions suggesting he doesn’t quite fit in, Jam is persistent in his mission, lightheartedly singing about meat and chasing his tale like the other dogs. A beautifully drawn and well-crafted animation, this short has an uplifting message about finding the place you belong for yourself and being who you want to be. This message carried across several of the other films, with A Cat Called Jam offering an excellent start to the group.

The second film of the selection, Bryony Dunne’s Above the Law, explored communities in transit, cleverly drawing comparisons between paths of migratory birds and the, usually fraught, journeys of refugees and migrants. While the birds move freely, as they wish, between locations, closely examined only by birdwatchers, the refugees are instead seen by surveillance cameras patrolling borders, or those who must be ready to rescue them from overflowing boats. Moving between Cairo, Lesvos and Donegal, with narration from both migrants and those looking out for them, the film lets us literally fly along with the birds (with cameras attached) as we are grounded by the words spoken by these individuals. Above the Law faces difficult realities in a poetic and hopeful way, drawing to a close with a Syrian refugee in Ireland commenting that his “Irish passport is now [his] wings”.

A Better You, written and directed by Eamonn Murphy, brings us to a well-designed modern steampunk world with the advanced technology of programmable carbon clones alongside computers that are cranked to scroll through pages as you would archival material. In this setting, a shy man, Douglas (Seán T. Ó Meallaigh) finally decides to purchase a “better version” of himself to go on a date with a girl he likes. Ó Meallaigh’s performance and the production design are both very strong and, after some light-hearted scenes setting up the clone, we are left with a similar message to that in A Cat Called Jam—that it is best to be yourself.

Ruari Robinson’s Corporate Monster takes a turn toward horror as an overworked and recently laid-off man in NYC takes some untested pills to help with his exhaustion. These further unravel him, causing him to see monsters all around him who pose as humans—from policemen to his former boss. Are the pills making him unstable, causing him to go on a rampage, or are they exposing the truth of the creatures living amongst us? The fast-paced Corporate Monster keeps you guessing with its impressive looking creatures, and makes you consider the perils of losing oneself in work and greed. It also offers some well-placed political commentary as the first appearances of these creatures are surrounding Trump on the stage during a televised speech.

Welcome to a Bright White Limbo, directed by Cara Holmes, documents the creative process of dancer and choreographer of Oona Doherty. As Doherty explains that she had moved to Belfast from London, didn’t feel she fit in, and found a way to express herself through movement, we see her practicing her choreography in the street of a housing estate, as well as in an auditorium. This movement embodies not only herself, but the local identity. Welcome to a Bright White Limbo is artistically shot, capturing the arresting and emotive movements of Doherty, and offering insight into the thoughtful construction of her award-winning show, Hope Hunt.

In Claire Byrne’s Sister This, a simple phone conversation between two sisters reveals a depth of emotion and shines a light on the struggle to get by, and what is sometimes sacrificed to do it. With one sister abroad for work, and the other taking care of her son, they argue over the mother missing the boy’s birthday and about the safety of her line of work. Charlie Bailey and Jordanne Jones deliver strong performances as the sisters, packing this short with an emotional punch.

Based on Ryan’s essay “The Fear of Winning”, Iseult Howlett’s cleverly named The Grass Ceiling is a short documentary in which three of Ireland successful female athletes—Rianna Jarrett, Elise O’Byrne White and Ryan herself—relate what sport means to them. Through this a portrait is spun of powerful, inspiring women who resist constrictive and conservative gender expectations. Finding their place and their confidence through their athleticism, these women serve as strong role models. The Grass Ceiling rightfully showcases their talents and perspectives, which are often overlooked in favour of the male athletes who are more frequently in the spotlight, and is itself a powerful and inspiring film.

Sophia Tamburrini’s Maya stars Pat Shortt as Ken, who lives happily connected to a machine that simulates his reality using his memories. However, as his payments for this run out, he will soon be confronted by reality. Maya sensitively explores loss and what grief can do to a person—replaying memories and subtly overwriting them through time until we are faced with a new reality. Tamburrini smartly uses elements of sci-fi in this film as a way to confront what are equally natural processes. 

Kalchalka, directed by Gar O’Rourke, documents “the world’s most hardcore gym”—Kiev’s outdoor Soviet scrap metal gym, offering a snapshot of the day-to-day running of this unique place and the variety of individuals that use it. Well put-together shots tell the story of this space as its caretaker brings us through it, providing several humorous moments. The gym equipment and construction is interesting in itself, but the glimpses we are given of the characters that populate it leave an even bigger impression. Personalities are well-captured here, often simply through gesture.

Finally, rounding off the programme was Brendan Canty’s Cork-based Christy, which received quite a few cheers from the home crowd. This short follows a 16-year-old as he goes on a disappointing job interview and is brought back to good spirits by his friends. Showing off plenty of Cork charm, in a similar vein to The Young Offenders, the film deftly moved between heartfelt moments and humour, ending the Screen Ireland World Premiere Shorts with plenty of laughs.

 

The Screen Ireland World Premiere Shorts programme screened on 16th Nov 2019  as part of the Cork Film Festival (7 – 17 November 2019).

 

Share

Review of Irish Film @ Cork Film Festival 2019: The Cave

 

Loretta Goff was at the Cork Film Festival to watch The Cave, Irish filmmaker Tom Waller’s recreation of the dramatic cave rescue which successfully extricated members of a junior football team trapped in Tham Luang Nang Non cave in Chiang Rai Province, Thailand.

 

The Cave tells the story of the international rescue mission of the young Wild Boars soccer team, who were trapped in the Tham Luang Nang Non cave in Chiang Rai Province, Thailand for 18 days in June/July of 2018. Twelve boys, aged 11 to 16 were trapped about 4 km in to the cave with their 25-year-old coach after it became flooded, resulting in a rescue operation that was the first of its kind and was widely publicised across the world.

Irish-Thai Writer-Producer-Director Tom Waller, was quick to act on the story after his interest was piqued by the involvement of County Clare cave diver Jim Warny, which allowed him to focus on not only an Irish connection to the event, but the contributions of several everyday heroes who were involved in the rescue.

In keeping with his focus on the many individuals who contributed selflessly to the rescue, Waller cast several of the real participants as themselves in the film, including Warny. These individuals are placed alongside actors, in a similar vein to Clint Eastwood’s The 15:17 to Paris (2018). This results in some stilted and unclear moments throughout the film, but it does provide a spotlight for those who were actually involved in the event. Warny’s involvement begins about a third of the way through the film, allowing Waller to jump between Ireland and Thailand, and show the events unfolding from an international perspective.

In addition to the blended cast, the film itself feels like a mix between documentary-style and Hollywood action-style thriller, which doesn’t quite work. It is generally fast-paced, and cuts between several international locations, particularly at the start. This does add a sense of urgency to the rescue operation, but it also makes the narrative feel a bit scattered and underdeveloped in places. On the other hand, there are some moments that are perhaps given too much time, or returned to repeatedly, such as the difficulty bringing in the best water pumps. Though this is an important part of the narrative, its pacing in comparison to the rest of the film felt a bit drawn out.

Ultimately, the film’s pacing and style let it down. It would perhaps have been stronger had it leant more into the vérité style it pursues in places. However, it does achieve what it sets out to do in the sense of highlighting the selfless acts of countless individuals involved in the rescue mission and telling the story from a different perspective. Equally, Waller does a good job reconstructing the event, capturing the scale of the base of operations outside the cave where the rescue operation is planned across several teams, with thousands of individuals taking part. Waller creates an atmosphere of chaos, urgency and exhaustion here that is well-contrasted with the dark and isolated atmosphere inside the cave. 

The film had its Irish premiere at the 64th Cork Film Festival. A large audience was in attendance, along with Waller and Warny, who participated in a Q&A after the screening. Warny, who received a standing ovation, spoke of his involvement in the film and the development of its narrative from conception. He noted his trust in Waller to tell the story accurately and said his own  “aim [was to] show what it felt like” at the cave, reflecting the visceral experience for the viewer—thrown in amongst the rescuers. Waller, meanwhile, noted that one of the big challenges of making the film was “to make it suspenseful when you know the outcome”, because the rescue had been so well-publicised. Discussing the quick turn-around time of the production, which was shot mostly at the end of 2018, quite soon after the actual events, Waller explained that he had to be quick to get the rights to the story and get his unique version out there. Indeed, he noted that the rights to the kids’ story was given to Netflix, who are producing a series on it, meaning that the film that he made can’t be done again, further marking its uniqueness.

 

The Cave screened on Sat, 9th Nov @ the 2019 Cork Film Festival (7 – 17 November).

 

Share

Irish Film Review: Cellar Door

DIR/WRI: Viko Nikci • PRO: David Collins, Viko Nikci, John Wallace • DOP: Robert Flood • ED: Viko Nikci • DES: Mark Kelly •  MUSIC: Ray Harman • CAST: Karen Hassan, Catherine Walker, Una Carroll

Writer-director Viko Nikci weaves together a fragmented narrative in Cellar Door that is only fully understood near the end of the film. The film follows Aidie (Karen Hassan), who appears lost and/or trapped in time as she struggles with memories of her pregnancy and searches for her baby. The audience is placed in Aidie’s shoes, wading through her key memories as she continuously cycles through them in search of an answer.

The film begins with a fully-clothed and submerged Aidie awakening in a bath full of water visibly confused. As she takes in her surroundings and her condition she asks herself “what’s the last thing you remember?”, setting the tone for what is to follow. The audience is then taken through Aidie’s conversation with her ailing mother, a classroom in which she is the teacher, a dance with her lover which morphs into her pregnant and alone in a Church, and ultimately in an institution with other unwed mothers. The timeline for these events is shaky, and they repeat over and over, with subtle differences as Aidie tries to make sense of them, sometimes guided by other versions of herself.

While these scenes do become repetitious in places, they bleed into one another seamlessly thanks to the strong cinematography, score and editing. These allow the audience to sometimes feel that they are gently falling between or sliding into memories, and other times feel a sense of entrapment and panic as Aidie fights for a resolution.

Cellar Door is difficult to pin down, not only in terms of its narrative but in its elusion of categorisation. There are moments when one might question if supernatural elements are at play and it feels like a horror, and others that resemble a drama. This uncertainty, however, is deliberately carried across the film so that it can perhaps best be described as a puzzle.

The film requires commitment on the part of the audience to make sense of the pieces as they come, and may suffer from some unnecessary repetition or elongation at times, but when its resolution arrives, making sense of what has come before it, it is thoughtful and poignant. Cellar Door tackles the difficult topic of Irish institutional abuse, drawing connections in a thoughtful way and forcing the audience to think throughout.

Loretta Goff

93 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)
Cellar Door is released 25th January 2019

 

Share

Irish Film Review @ Cork Film Festival: One Million American Dreams

Loretta Goff discovers the secrets of New York’s mass graves in Brendan Byrne’s One Million American Dreams.

Brendan Byrne’s One Million American Dreams brings into focus the often unnoticed Hart Island, a small New York City island that is used as a burial ground for the city’s unclaimed dead, and for those whose families cannot afford burial expenses. Byrne’s documentary takes a personal approach to the subject matter, following the stories of four families with members buried here. In doing so, he removes the anonymity of the Hart Island cemetery, reinscribing it with the narratives of these individuals and providing a sort of commemoration for them that is not fully offered on the island itself.

Introducing the film at the 63rd Cork Film Festival, Byrne commented on his own relationship with New York City, from his first visit at age 17, when he was in complete awe, to his multiple returns that have also revealed the city’s tougher edge. When he was made aware of a two-minute recorded news piece on Hart Island he realised it deserved more attention and that he could make a whole film about it. This led to One Million American Dreams, which he describes as “a difficult love letter to the place I’ve had a longstanding love affair with” that takes a “deeper look into the soul” of the city.

Several animated segments in the documentary, along with narration by Sam Rockwell, provide viewers with the necessary historical details of Hart Island, which are expanded upon in interviews with scholars, journalists and politicians. We learn that burials began there in 1869, with over one million individuals laid to rest on the island to date, that it was also used as a Union Civil War camp (amongst other things) and that it is currently run by the Department of Correction, with inmates employed to bury the bodies and no access to the general public. These details are made more visceral with the striking animations that accompany them. One of these, in particular, stands out; it shows layers upon layers of nameless coffins piling up below the island, forming it, but also giving shape to a human head, reminding us that each coffin contains an individual that had a part to play in the story of New York City, and that those who are marginalised should not be forgotten or cast away.

Our attention is turned to some of these marginalised individuals through the stories of the families affected by loved ones’ burials on Hart Island. We meet an African-American Vietnam War Vet whose baby daughter was buried there while he was away, a Cuban family whose father died alone with dementia in the city, a Puerto Rican woman whose stillborn child was due to be buried on Hart Island and the family of a man suffering from drug and alcohol addiction who ultimately ended up there without his family’s knowledge. Through their stories, not only is Hart Island personalised, but we are confronted with the deeper underlying issues affecting New York City and contemporary American culture more broadly—racism, immigration, substance abuse and poverty.

Commenting on his film in a Q&A after the screening, Byrne noted that he used the cemetery on Hart Island, and the stories that emerged from it, as a “frame to confront issues that still face America”, which are threaded throughout the film. We see this in the stories of the individuals that the documentary follows, but also through the film’s carefully crafted cinematography. This captures the beauty of New York City—in the bright lights of Time’s Square, the skyline and diverse groups of people—but also its struggles and darker sides, focusing attention on the homeless sitting overlooked on busy streets and those that exist in the fringes. A particularly striking image follows the ferry travelling out to Hart Island as it, and the island are engulfed in fog. This offers a skillful visual depiction of the islands shrouded nature, cast into the shadows of the dazzling city.

Discussing the process of making the film, Byrne noted that the project as a whole took between three and four years (with 18 months of filming). He commented that it was a process to get the stories of the individuals, but that “without their stories we wouldn’t have the film”. It is the honesty of these that resonates with the audience, offering the documentary’s powerful social commentary.

One Million American Dreams is a timely, well-crafted, poignantly shot and animated documentary that speaks to a number of contemporary social issues neatly encapsulated by Hart Island—the story of which is remarkable in itself.

 

One Million American Dreams screened on Saturday, 17th November 2018 as part of the Cork Film Festival   (9 – 18 November)

 

Share

Irish Film Review @ Cork Film Festival: Town of Strangers

 

Loretta Goff meet the locals in the County Galway town of Gort, in Treasa O’Brien’s Town of Strangers, with a diverse cast, including young Irish Travellers, English New Age hippies, Brazilian factory workers and Syrian refugees.

 

Before the screening of Treasa O’Brien’s new documentary, Town of Strangers, at the 63rd Cork Film Festival, her short The Blow-In (2016) was played. Both feature the town of Gort in County Galway, and those newer residents to the town, considered “blow-ins” or “strangers”. The Blow In is narrated by a French woman who we meet at the start of the film, cleverly framed with an uprooted tree by O’Brien. This woman’s voiceover explains that, as a result of moving around a lot during her youth, she often felt like an outsider and developed a habit of observing people through her windows. This is used as a thread throughout this short documentary as she “looks in” on the lives of several of Gort’s residents.

A narrative thread similarly runs through Town of Strangers, but this time it is the director herself, who interweaves elements of her own life with those of the individuals she interviews in the film, notably drawing together similarities between them. The premise behind this documentary was an open-call film audition O’Brien held in Gort, from which emerged several stories that she felt compelled to follow. In the Q&A following the film, the director explained that she initially had the idea of making an experimental film based off of a script she was working on located in Gort, tackling the subject of changing Ireland and what that meant to a small town. However, she was “very surprised and really moved” by the stories people shared and her experimental film turned into a documentary.

In Town of Strangers we meet individuals from around the world—Afghanistan, Brazil, England, Ireland and Syria—who have all come to call Gort home. As these individuals open up about their lives we are invited to learn about their different backgrounds and unique stories, but what stands out are the commonalities between them (and ourselves) at basic emotional levels. Answering questions about what “home” means to them, about their families and about their dreams, the participants in this documentary reveal their fears, insecurities, hopes and strengths both through what they say and what they don’t. O’Brien subtly catches the whole range of emotions in quiet moments where the camera lingers on individuals’ faces, allowing the audience to read, and connect with, them. Discussing the film, O’Brien said that she was “trying to show empathy in a cinematic way”, and she certainly does.

All of the individuals are presented as different types of “outsiders”—with immigrants, hippies and Travellers among them. However, what emerges throughout the film more than a sense of living between two cultures, though that is evident, is what O’Brien notes as “displacement from the family”. It is through O’Brien’s exploration of this, along with its associated loneliness, that she is able to connect her audience with these “strangers”. Portraying them with empathy and understanding, rather than looking away from difficult stories, reveals just how familiar these individuals really are.

Speaking after the screening, O’Brien said that she “wanted to make a film for our times”. She went on to note the rise in right-wing politics and the fear that is developed by not fully understanding large events, explaining that, with this film, she wanted to bring things back to the personal and focus on connection. Ultimately, she hopes that this documentary contributes to a “shift in your consciousness [in terms of] how you might perceive people”.

Town of Strangers visually challenges perceptions—juxtaposing shots of the Gort Show (agricultural, baking and animal events) with rappers and dancers and Brazilian shops—in order to open up our understanding of rural Ireland, and reinforces this with its interwoven narrative of deeply moving, personal stories. All in all, the documentary offers a sensitive and engaging depiction of human connection, with all its fragilities, and, in doing so, beautifully reflects on contemporary rural Ireland.

 

Town of Strangers screened on Tuesday, 13th November 2018 as part of the Cork Film Festival (9 – 18 November)

 

Share

Irish Film Review @ Cork Film Festival: The Curious Works of Roger Doyle

 

Loretta Goff goes on a journey through The Curious Works of Roger Doyle, Brian Lally’s documentary about Roger Doyle who, over the course of five decades, has created an impressive body of work ranging from minimalist piano and electronic pieces to orchestral works.

Preceding the screening of The Curious Works of Roger Doyle at the 63rd Cork Film Festival, Roger Doyle himself performed live on the piano. Doyle synched this performance with footage of himself in concert in Beijing six years earlier (in 2012), material that was cut from the documentary. As the onscreen Doyle plays, he is superimposed with images of and from a moving train, visually mirroring the motion of his fast-paced music. This synchronicity was echoed through Doyle’s live performance, creating a synergy between the digital and the human, as well as the old and the new—something that pervades both Doyle’s work and Brian Lally’s documentary about the composer.

The Curious Works of Roger Doyle is framed around Doyle’s 2016 electronic opera, “Heresy”, performed at Dublin’s Project Arts Centre, but covers five decades of his career. This intertwining of the current and the previous reflects Doyle’s style as a composer, bringing together classical forms and instruments (e.g. opera and the piano) with electronic technology to create his own style. Interspersed with footage of his opera—from the early stages of its approval and rehearsals to its live performances—are interviews with Doyle’s collaborators over the years, archival footage and several of his past performances. Though dubbed the “Godfather of Irish Electronica”, Doyle’s music has taken him across the world and we see that in the film.

Lally gives space to the music in this documentary, setting aside several sections for Doyle’s performances to play out onscreen. These are often combined with corresponding images that help tell the story of the songs to the audience. For instance, as Doyle plays his song “Chalant” in Paris, shots of the city and its people at night populate the screen. As new faces appear with each beat, a whimsical portrait of the city unfolds. While this shapes our perspective of the song, each musical break in the documentary primarily focuses on the music itself, allowing the audience to become immersed in it and reflect. Doyle’s music invites its listeners to take part in an experience and Lally’s documentary allows for this.

At the same time, we learn about the methods and motives behind the music from both Doyle and his collaborators. Doyle describes the influences behind several of his songs and his use of technology, explaining: “I revise, that’s my process”. Olwen Fouéré, who formed Operating Theatre with him, describes his music as “from the mothership”, noting how their unique styles connected in such a way that allowed them to create musical theatre pieces together for several years.

Equally, several of Ireland’s prominent filmmakers in the 1970s were drawn to Doyle’s music. In fact, Bob Quinn, who collaborated with Doyle several times, also used the composer as a subject of a 1978 documentary for RTÉ. Joe Comerford, who grew up with Doyle, explains that they worked in parallel on the short experimental film Emptigon, simultaneously developing a language of film and composition. A similar sentiment is expressed by Cathal Black, who explains that music creates “a sort of invisible story” in film and Doyle’s was able to perfectly match the film’s narrative in Pigs.

In Lally’s impressive documentary, the story of the music is much more visible and, during the Q&A following the screening, the director expressed that, though he did most of the work on the film, he had Windmill Lane work on the sound mix as that was “quite important” for this project. Equally it was Doyle’s music that inspired the project. Lally became aware of Doyle’s work in the early 1990s but started the documentary in 2005 when he saw Doyle playing goldfish bowls at Whelan’s in Dublin and thought: “this is remarkable, someone should be filming this.”

Describing Doyle as an “avant-garde” composer, Lally explained: “the more I delved into it, the more fascinated I became”, noting that, particularly when he struggled to find funding for the project, “there were certainly points when the music kept me going.” Screen Ireland funding eventually saw the documentary through to completion and the result is a thoughtful exploration of Roger Doyle’s music and career. As Doyle expressed in the Q&A: “I am constantly curious and constantly looking for new ways of doing things.” The Curious Works of Roger Doyle expresses just that, bringing the audience along for the journey.

 

The Curious Works of Roger Doyle screened on Sunday, 11th November 2018 as part of the Cork Film Festival (9 – 18 November)

Share

Irish Film Review @ Cork Film Festival: Float Like a Butterfly

Loretta Goff finds a voice to the voiceless in Carmel Winters’ film Float Like a Butterfly, which opened the 63rd Cork Film Festival.

The second feature-film of writer-director Carmel Winters, Float Like a Butterfly was the Opening Gala of the 63rd Cork Film Festival and screened again the following day, with packed out audiences at both showings. Introducing the second screening of the film, the Festival’s Programme Director, Michael Hayden, described it as “highly intelligent” and “full of humanity”. This proved to be true as audiences connected with the story unfolding onscreen over the next hour and forty minutes, laughing, gasping, clapping and crying along the way.

Float Like a Butterfly, set in rural Ireland in the 1960s, follows the story of Frances (Hazel Doupe), a fifteen-year-old Irish Traveller, as she comes of age amidst turmoil and fights back against societal expectations. The film opens with a young Frances sharing a happy moment with her family—boxing with her father and listening to her mother sing. This is quickly shattered with the arrival of Guards demanding that Frances be brought to school. Trying to take the child leads to an altercation that results in the tragic death of Frances’ mother, who is pushed by a Guard, and the arrest of her father, who fights back.

Several years later, we see Frances carrying on her father’s fighting spirit while channelling her hero, Muhammad Ali. She stands strong against the discrimination and vitriol she and her family face, reminding herself that they are “the greatest” (like Ali), and resists prescribed gender roles, focusing on boxing rather than the marriage she is continuously pushed towards. However, when her father, Michael (Dara Devaney) returns from prison as a broken man struggling with alcoholism, Frances’ strength is put to the test as she tries to hold her family together.

Tensions boil over when Michael takes Frances and her younger brother on the road. As the trio begin their journey, they come to a split in the path and, after pausing for a moment, Michael comments that “there’s no wrong way” and allows the horse to choose their direction. This neatly reflects the overall position of the film—that it is OK to follow your own path—and acknowledges the many directions one’s life might take. However, Michael does not seem to follow his own philosophy for most of the film, undermining his daughter’s passion for boxing and her more “masculine” strengths, while scolding his young son for being too “soft”.

The acting in this film is strong across the board, but Hazel Doupe stands out, expressing great emotional depth and variety throughout the film. Several shots focus on Doupe’s face, allowing it to guide the audience through both her character’s experiences and their own emotional responses to the film. Through Doupe’s subtle and nuanced performance, Frances becomes both a strong, determined individual and representative of humanity (and our fears, struggles, hopes and successes) more broadly. The audience connects with her, feels her pain and roots for her. In the Q&A following the film, Winters explained that the “character of Frances drove this… she had a story to tell and she didn’t let me go until I told it.”

Locating this film in the past gives it a mythological quality that softens and romanticises some of the tough issues the film addresses, but these remain affecting and the audience can easily relate to them. In the Q&A, Winters stated: “What I really want is everyone to open their hearts” and expressed that she hoped the film allows audiences to connect with their pain, but also find beauty. She explained: “That’s where I come from as an artist … how can I serve, whatever that might be … I want to give a voice to the voiceless.”

Float Like a Butterfly is a standout film that tells a unique story while simultaneously tackling a myriad of topical social issues relevant not only in Ireland, but across the world. It captures humanity at its best and worst, offering a message of hope throughout.

 

Float Like a Butterfly screened on Friday. 9th & Saturday, 10th November 2018 as part of the Cork Film Festival

 

 

Share

Review of Irish Film @ Cork Film Festival: Photo City

Loretta Goff sends us a snapshot of Photo City, a portrait of photography itself as told through the lens of the citizens of a place defined by the art form. 

With Photo City co-directors John Murphy and Traolach Ó Murchú focus their lenses on a number of photographers from all walks of life in Rochester, NY. This city, the home of George Eastman’s Kodak, was once booming, with Xerox and Bausch & Lomb providing abundant employment opportunities alongside the photography company. Today, a much different picture of Rochester’s economic situation is presented, reflective of Kodak’s bankruptcy in 2012. However, the immense impact of Kodak is still evident in the area through the city’s love of photography and amount of photographers that live there. This documentary explores Rochester’s relationship with Kodak through the unique perspectives of some of these individuals.

Importantly, Photo City examines a range of photographic practices used today, from film developed in a darkroom to the instant accessibility and shareability of digital photography. Kodak’s downfall resulted from their lack of planning for this digital age that has, indeed, reshaped consumers’ and practitioners’ relationship with the medium. However, what emerges throughout this documentary is a sense that several artists remain deeply connected to the full process of photography—the art of developing your image from start to finish. Science becomes part of the art here as a number of individuals drawn to the technical side of photography experiment with creating their own equipment and procedures.

Memory and nostalgia equally emerge as themes attached to the photographic image. While this is made clear through various discussions of older images, both personal and universal, it is particularly evident in an interview with an elderly man who once travelled the world as a Kodak portrait photographer. His house is not only full of his old photos, including one he proudly displays of Walt Disney, but also of old Kodak memorabilia and advertising cut-outs that inspire him to cheerfully reflect on his time with the company.

A photograph gives an impression not only of its subject, but also of the person behind the camera. Weaving together interviews with a variety of photographers—from commercial to artistic and personal, from photojournalists, pin-up photographers and filmmakers to those who are also teachers, engineers and technicians—Photo City delves into their lives and stories as much as it does their relationship with photography. As a result, the documentary also touches on a range of important topics (such as race, marginalised communities, class, economic dislocation, education, illness and addiction) that affect the lives of these photographers and shape their work.

Visually, this documentary creates moving portraits of its subjects, often interspersing their dialogue over images of them working, scenes of the city and close-ups that give an intimate feel to the film. Frequent shots of the iconic Kodak building give it a looming, ever-present feel in the documentary, reminding us of its impact on the city. More interesting, however, are shots of Rochester’s various communities that offer a more complete image of the city, its diversity and clear economic disparities.

Director John Murphy attended the screening of Photo City at the Cork Film Festival and noted in the Q&A afterwards that they wanted the documentary to have an emotional connection, so that viewers would learn about Kodak through the experience of individuals, rather than being an information dump on the history of the company. As photography has become so accessible and part of today’s vernacular, he also was adamant that were “keen to show photography as a church for a broad congregation” and therefore interview a variety of people. As such, they actively searched for different “character types” to fill their diverse array of roles rather than just going after the city’s top photographers. This method works well, making the documentary topical, relevant and interesting for a wide audience.

 

Photo City screened on 16th November 2017 as part of the 2017 Cork Film Festival (10 – 19 November)

 

 

Share