Review of Irish Film @ ADIFF 2018: The Science of Ghosts

June Butler is haunted by Niall McCann’s observational drama which centres on well-known Irish musician Adrian Crowley.

I was not sure what to expect when attending the IFI for a screening of this film. The director, Niall McCann, stood to say a few words and my expectations mutated into full confusion mode.  McCann thanked Adrian Crowley, the subject of his film ‘for not going mad’. Cue titters from the audience. Quite why Adrian might have gone ‘mad’ was intriguing but worrisome. He went on to express his gratitude to other persons working on the project for also not going ‘mad’. More polite tittering.

It was clear at this point, McCann had a theme going on. He then mentioned a crew member who had decided not to row in with the flat-line levels of remaining calm, instead ratcheting crazy to a new level by actually going ‘mad’, thus throwing the audience into immediate disarray. No more cuddly safety for them – the audience stopped tittering and looked askance at each other. At this juncture, I was out of my seat and scrabbling for the emergency exits when McCann said something that stopped me in my tracks – ‘this is an experimental film’ he averred. I sighed in relief and returned to my seat. From here on, anything that came my way was a delightful excursion into the unknown.

Adrian Crowley, on whom the film is based, is both the perfect topic and an ideal subject for such a film. His soulful countenance, at times expressive and others implacable, is a most suitable canvas for McCann’s vision. There are moments of farce that bring unexpected lightness into the frame – some are timely and others a distraction but each scene brings with it the knowledge that post-mortem impressions are the result of individual wisdom. Each to their own, as the fella says. Crowley and McCann work well together with McCann’s vision coming to the fore and Crowley being game for a laugh. There is humour in parts and in others the wide-eyed innocence of a child, evidenced from Crowley’s playful narrative about his son.

Lyrics to Unhappy Seamstress written by Crowley when he moved, hermit-like, into a bedsit in Rathmines, make for somewhat distressing listening – the tools of a songwriter unfold as by-lines to human despair. But his songs also hold a light to the human condition in its perfect misery. The cinematography holds moments of sobriety against capricious whimsy – changing from moment to moment – becoming manifest as an oft-distant stage-whisperer only to later metamorphose into a second but equally significant subject, one that is figuratively as vital as Crowley himself.

McCann cleverly juxtaposes the sublime with the even more sublime and always manages to carry it off with panache. As experimental films go, I would suggest this has tones of Meshes of the Afternoon (Maya Deran, 1943, USA), with its unpredictable reminiscences – McCann’s wonderful offering allows and encourages viewers to think for themselves – it is what makes his film well worth seeing.

 

The Science of Ghosts screened on Saturday 26th February as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival (21 February – 4th March).

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Interview: Niall McCann director of ‘Lost in France’

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Photo: Greg Dunn

 

Shane Hennessy goes in search of director, Niall McCann who’s Lost in France.

There’s a lot more to Lost in France, Niall McCann’s latest documentary about the Chemikal Underground record label, than the music and the people involved in it. The stark contrast of the music industry and city of Glasgow, the two scenes in which the label rose to prominence, between then and now is almost as compelling as the stories told throughout. Neither the industry nor the city in its modern form can allow for a similar venture like Chemical Underground to thrive.

Social welfare is a recurring theme in the film for instance. “Nowadays”, McCann laments, ’the biggest enemy in society seems to be someone on the dole’. McCann is open and very much thankful for his own usage of social welfare in order to follow through on his personal ambitions.

“I was on the dole for a long period while I was making this, enrolling in a few courses. The demonization of people on welfare is interesting these days, because the dole is integral to the arts. The continued dismantling of public and political life where now it seems less about helping people and more about punishing them – for something that has nothing to do with them.”

It’s in this sense that Lost in France becomes about more than its subjects, or the music deriving from them, it’s about art and expression in all its forms. A passion project five years in the making, one gets the feeling from speaking with McCann that his affinity with this subject runs far deeper than his love for the music it spawned.

“At some point we need to have a discussion about whether we care about the arts, people aren’t given any time anymore. For a project like Lost in France, as soon as you see money for it you just owe it all to people. And don’t get me wrong, I’m lucky to have a career doing what I’m doing, but I’m still hoping that I’m not doing 9-5 for a while.”

Unlike most other music documentaries of the retrospective variety, we’re not fawning over global icons reminiscing about the good old days they’ve since been saved from.

“Some of these guys are struggling, Hubby (RM Hubbard) recently had to post on his Facebook that he was in a bad place financially and asked people to buy his new EP, he got a good response but it’s not easy for people to do that. Stewart Henderson still runs Chemikal Records, but he’s recently finished his training to become a fireman so he can keep the label going. These are the sacrifices people are willing to make. These guys can’t get by on their music alone.”

Which would make one think that the opportunity to have a documentary made about the folks involved at the label would represent some much needed exposure and income, but McCann said that wasn’t quite the case.

“When I first approached them there wasn’t a whole lot of willingness to make the film, Chemikal was on its knees and with the state of the music industry currently, the guys there were more interested in keeping it afloat than celebrating its legacy. The fact that I’m not from Glasgow probably worked in my favor, I think, because I was new and a bit different.”

With the catalogue available with which to score the film, one can only imagine the turmoil that came with choosing what songs to leave out rather than which ones to put in. But certain scenes, such as RM Hubbard’s sombre instrumentals in one of the film’s more reflective segments, makes it impossible to think of anything more fitting. But were director and musicians always in agreement with how, or how often, their music was used?

“Hubby is incredibly talented, I couldn’t possibly leave his music out, but it is an ensemble piece so you can’t please everyone all the time. Getting the balance between telling the different stories and moving on was difficult.

In many ways the songs picked themselves, We had no idea the Maurons were going to play ‘Jacqueline’ for instance. But I asked Hubby to play ‘False Bride’, so I had an idea of what I wanted but it was dictated by the people we brought. And obviously in the story of the label, the Bis single being on top of the pops was a very important moment so that had to feature.”

The characters themselves that appear in the film are portrayed as just that – themselves. Their mature and measured outlook, along with their jaded expressions as they ponder what could have been is often sobering. But one could be critical of the film for suppressing tension with nostalgia, whether it’s recanting old tales from the back of the bus or going through old photos over pints. But there are some moments shared between them that border on outright resentment. Paul Savage and his wife Emma Pollock share a playful but sincere joke and their own expense about getting married. “They’re still a couple,” Niall points out. “But to be honest, when people look at a married couple after so many years of marriage and say “why don’t they just say they love each other?”…To me that says more about them than the people they’re talking about.”

For all the talk in the movie about market forces precipitating the band’s decline, how much was in-fighting responsible for things going awry?

“When money’s tight it affects relationships, so in that sense I think market forces was undoubtedly the biggest effect. It’s difficult to separate the person from the professional when you’re this immersed in what you do. I sensed a lot of regret with regards to The Delgado’s breaking up. It was much more difficult for Emma (Pollock) to make it as a solo singer than as lead singer of The Delgados. They’re open enough with each other to share these moments on camera, but ultimately what’s kept the whole thing together is that they love each other, all of them. And they all believe in making art.”

McCann is strident with his views towards the funding of artistic ventures in Ireland and Glasgow as well.

“The music industry, for now, certainly on the level of Chemical Records – it’s fucked.”

But that’s not to say that he’s pessimistic about its future. Glasgow was the epicenter of the UK’s music scene, the rise and fall of Chemical Underground was inextricably tied to the city’s cultural heyday, with more music halls than in any other city in Europe. But McCann insists the interest is still alive and well, if a little more understated.

“Any time you go into a pub in Glasgow the people that work there are in bands. The lead singer of Twilight Sad (who is featured in the movie) was working for Rock Action, Mogwai’s record label.
So now it’s shifted to becoming more a part-time thing or a hobby, which is fine – people can still make an album – but they mightn’t make it to their third or fourth even they make something spectacular.”

That all bodes relatively well for the art scene over there, but what about closer to home? McCann, by now an established filmmaker promoting his third feature film, still struggles to get his projects off the ground.

“I see myself as a filmmaker, everything I do outside of that is to get enough money so I can make my next film. Constantly dwindling budgets aren’t good for anyone, including the audiences. I just think, without being too puritanical, that if you do a good job in making something that’s well received, you should be given the chance to work with a budget.”

While citing Keith Potter as one of the main driving forces behind the recent success of Irish films (“…he transformed the board as far as I’m concerned” ), he doesn’t afford as much clemency to people who have shown slightly less gratitude to the IFB.

“I don’t think the Film Board should ever fund John Michael McDonagh again after what he said about Irish films; he’s obviously an ego-maniac. I thought Calvary was fucking awful and The Guard was a load of shit too, not to mention offensive. I don’t like misanthropy and he and his brother (Martin McDonagh, In Bruges, 7 Psychopaths) write movies without a single likable character in them. As an Irish filmmaker myself I think it’s offensive what he said, and it’s amazing that he’d say it after being funded by the Irish Film Board. It troubles me that if he was someone whose films weren’t as financially rewarding that it would finish him, but that’s the problem with living in a market economy.”

This is a theme inflected throughout Lost in Paris as well, the market mechanics that allowed for the space in which bands like the Delgado’s and Mogwai to flourish are diminishing as genres more conducive to the ever increasing pace of the music industry grow in popularity.

“With more music out there more than ever, it’s more white noise than music now. But it helps some genres of music more than others, electronic and dance is much more accessible to produce but if you’re in a band that needs to get into a studio to make something then it’s not that much easier than before.”

McCann’s next project is a collaboration with Adrian Crowley with the working title Long Distance Swimmer, which is currently in the writing phase.

“We want to explore creativity and what an artist really is, but also trying to demythologize it, to show people the more difficult, the more human aspect of it. It’s going to be someway subjective.”

For now the focus is on Lost in France. “It’s not just for the fans of the music,” McCann insists, “I think everybody will appreciate it on some level, it’s the people that go to see the movie that make movies like this happen.”

It’s out today. Get along and watch it.

Screenings and Q&As with Niall McCann, Emma Pollock and RM Hubbert:

6.15pm – 03/03 – IFI Dublin – Tickets

6.30pm – 04/03 – The Gate Cork – Tickets

6.30pm – 05/03 – EYE Galway – Tickets

There are a series of gigs around Ireland that will accompany the film’s release including Emma Pollock & RM Hubbert LIVE:

Friday March 3rd – The Workman’s Club, Dublin

Saturday March 4th – Connolly’s of Leap, Cork

Sunday March 5th – Roisin Dubh, Galway

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‘Lost in France’ Special Screening and Live Event

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A special screening and unique live event of Niall McCann’s acclaimed documentary Lost in France will take place on Tuesday 21st February in a number of Irish cinemas including the Irish Film Institute, Movies@Dundrum, Movies@Swords, The Gate Cork with other venues to be announced.

The film charts the rise of Scotland’s indie music scene in the 1990s led by iconic Glasgow label Chemikal Underground, the Delgados, Bis, Mogwai, Franz Ferdinand, Arab Strap and other seminal musicians and bands.  Following the screening, audiences will be able to experience the magic live as Alex Kapranos (Franz Ferdinand), Stuart Braithwaite (Mogwai), RM Hubbert and Emma Pollock and Paul Savage (The Delgados) reunite for a once-in-a-lifetime performance.

The film and performance will be screened live to cinemas across Ireland and the UK and tickets are on sale now.  Watch the Lost in France trailer here: https://youtu.be/984SSIeOxwI

Lost in France will open on general release in Ireland on 3rd March by Wildcard Distribution.  Special guests including, Stuart Braithwaite (Mogwai), Emma Pollock (ex-The Delgados, Chemikal Underground Records) and RM Hubbert (Chemikal Underground Records), and director Niall McCann will attend select screenings on the opening weekend.

There are a series of gigs around Ireland will accompany the film’s release including Emma Pollock & RM Hubbert LIVE:

Friday March 3rd – The Workman’s Club, Dublin

Saturday March 4th – Connolly’s of Leap, Cork

Sunday March 5th – Roisin Dubh, Galway

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Niall McCann’s ‘Lost in France’ @ IFI

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The IFI presents a special screening of Niall McCann’s latest documentary, Lost in France, which chronicles a 2008 pilgrimage to France of a number of Scottish bands signed to the independent Chemikal Underground record label. The screening will be followed by a satellite broadcast from the band’s performance.

Chemikal Underground has been Scotland’s premier indie label since its establishment in the 1990s. The label has released work by a diverse range of fondly-remembered groups such as Bis, Magoo, and Urusei Yatsura, although the label’s greatest successes came from Arab Strap, Mogwai, and label-founders The Delgados.

In the label’s early years, a selection of its bands, including Alex Kapranos’s pre-Franz Ferdinand outfit, travelled to perform in Mauron, a small town in Brittany. Seven years later, the musicians retraced their steps. The resulting documentary provides the opportunity to make comparisons between the thriving Scottish DIY music scene of 20 years ago and the difficulties faced by new acts today, given the increasingly mainstream-focused music press and radio.

The cast’s reminiscences are engaging and often extremely funny, and, as one would imagine, the live footage and soundtrack are exceptional.

The screening will be followed by a live satellite performance by Alex Kapranos, Stuart Braithwaite, R.M. Hubbert, Emma Pollock, and Paul Savage. 

Tickets for this screening and live broadcast are available now at www.ifi.ie or by calling the IFI Box Office on 01-6793477.

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Review of Irish Film at Galway Film Fleadh: Lost in France

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Shane Croghan gets lost in music watching Niall McCann’s latest doc examining the rise of Scotland’s independent music scene.

 

Following on from his acclaimed 2012 documentary Art Will Save The World, director Niall McCann has delved into the world of indie music once again, and emerged with the charming Lost in France. Travelling to the north of the United Kingdom this time, McCann has assembled a compelling cast of characters to examine the rise of Scotland’s independent music scene in the ’90s, with a particular emphasis on the trailblazing record label, Chemikal Underground.

Though the narrative spans nearly twenty years, from the mid ’90s all the way through to 2015, the past and present are threaded together by the reprisal of a notorious 1997 trip to Mauron, a tiny French town which played host to a small music festival back in the day. McCann’s camera invites the viewer onto the tour bus, to join Alex Kapranos (Franz Ferdinand), Stuart Braithwaite (Mogwai), RM Hubbert and Chemikal Underground founders The Delgados as they head back to France, attempting to piece together their memories of the 1997 trip along the way.

McCann has struck gold with these subjects. Their effortless rapport drives the narrative, offering everything from nostalgic anecdotes about the origins of Chemikal Underground, to acerbic commentary on the state of the contemporary music business. As the gang on the bus attempt to recall the events surrounding the original trip eighteen years ago, we are treated to an insightful reflection on creativity, friendship and the transformative power of music. These contributions are coupled with archive footage, hobbled together from the libraries of those involved with the scene over the years, adding to the reflective tone which characterises much of the film.

Despite the far-reaching impact of Chemikal Underground upon the wider British indie-rock scene, this documentary is extremely personal, exploring the rise of the label from the internal perspective of those who helped to build it from the ground up. The sense of camaraderie amongst the musicians serves to forge an intimate connection between the viewer and the events unfolding on-screen. As Kapranos and company attempt to stitch together an image of that 1997 trip to Mauron, the audience is right there with them, leafing through weathered photographs and struggling to fully recall the booze-soaked debauchery that took place eighteen years ago.

Unsurprisingly, Lost in France is wonderfully soundtracked. From the feedback-drenched noise-rock of Mogwai, to the chart-cracking indie anthems of Franz Ferdinand, with a few acoustic interludes from the likes of Emma Pollock and RM Hubbert, the music is a key component in the eighteen year journey from past to present. In particular, the decision to cut between archive of old gigs and the present day performances in Mauron is an effective method of conveying the passage of time, as well as the timelessness of music.

Lost in France is a nostalgic trip down memory lane, neatly packaged with easy-flowing banter, a cracking soundtrack and some lovely shots of rain-soaked rural France. These aspects alone would’ve made for a charming little documentary, particularly for fans of Scottish independent music, but, thankfully, McCann has crafted a film greater than the sum of its parts. Not simply a music documentary, Lost in France is an insight into the communal power of music, the necessity of art and the freedom that creative endeavour can allow to those willing to fully embrace their idealistic dreams. Speaking alongside some of the featured musicians, McCann offered the film as a retort to the contemporary notion that “you’re supposed to just do any shit job and be grateful for it”. Lost is France is more than a just an entertaining watch, it’s a self-affirming experience for young DIY artists.

Lost in France screened on Friday, 8th July as part of the 2016 Galway Film Fleadh

 

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