The award-winning documentary, Older Than Ireland, has secured a cinema release in the US and Canada this March and April, 2016. In Canada, the film will play in Toronto and Calgary from March 4th and Saskatoon and Edmonton from March 11th. In the USA, the documentary will play in New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Washington DC, Chicago, Atlanta, Minnesota, Houston and Syracuse from late March and April, 2016.
Older Than Ireland Producer, Garry Walsh, commented “We’re absolutely thrilled by the reaction so far. Tickets went online for the Toronto release yesterday and already the opening night is nearly sold out, with still ten days to go…”
Directed by Alex Fegan (The Irish Pub), Older Than Ireland is a landmark documentary that tells the story of a hundred years of a life as seen through the eyes of thirty Irish centenarians. The critically acclaimed film was the highest grossing Irish documentary since 2011 (and still climbing) and was also a number 1 bestseller in the HMV charts, remarkable selling more DVDs than any other live action or documentary film, Irish or International, in December 2015.
Alex Fegan’s documentary Older Than Ireland tells the story of a hundred years of a life as seen through the eyes of thirty Irish centenarians. Beginning with their youth and working up to their thoughts of the afterlife, each person shares their extraordinary stories of a life that has shone for over a hundred years.
Alex explains that the idea for the film came about when he met a man who was going to a 100-year-old’s birthday party. “I just thought that was amazing. I asked him what was she like and he said she was in great form. That triggered the idea and things took off from there.”
Being born before 1916 and with the centenary coming up next year, Alex felt it would be an interesting way to get an historical perspective from the nation’s older citizens. Yet, as Alex admits, the film found its own narrative and rather than Alex looking to tell a particular story, the story began to tell itself. “That’s the great thing about documentary – you can start off in a particular direction but then you can discover a whole new thing. We realised as the journey went on that the film really isn’t about history at all or being Irish. It’s about being human. I suppose more things have happened in the last century than any other century – and while that’s in the film, it’s really irrelevant. The only thing that matters is the personal stories and these are stories of relationships. That was the big discovery. Ultimately, when you reach the pinnacle of the mountain of life you know that what matters is your spouse, your kids, your family and your friends.
“Early on we had an idea of going through the decades, so the film had various narratives, starting off with the ’10s, then the ’20s and ’30s and so on, and asked them what their thoughts were about the 1929 crash or the political situation in Ireland in the ’40s or ’50s for example. But very soon we realised they weren’t that interested in talking about such things. They just didn’t have a passion for that. What they did have a passion for was their wedding day, their first kiss, telling a story about their first pair of shoes. The stuff that probably everybody else will think about when they reach 100 – things like their school days, first girlfriend or boyfriend, how they proposed to their wife, how their husband proposed to them, their honeymoon… these are the things that they really wanted to reflect back on. You ask what was your happiest time and that’s what they would talk about. So what we initially set out to do just didn’t transpire in the way that we thought it would. What quickly became apparent was that this was a film more about their personal journey than a sociopolitical journey.”
Ultimately, this is what makes Older Than Ireland‘ such a wonderfully warm and tender film. You never feel that the people involved are being interviewed. It’s more that they are being allowed to talk and tell their stories. “I suppose what we ultimately decided was just to hold the camera up to these people and let them do all the talking, deciding to try and stand out of things as much as conceivably possible. You’ve got to remember”, Alex continues, “these people are 100 years of age and over. They’ve got a lot more wisdom then we do – they’re really authentic and they have zero pretence whatsoever. They just say it as it is. They don’t care what I think or what anybody else thinks. They just speak their mind. So, ultimately, what we wanted to do was to capture these people who are spiritually and soulfully as authentic as you can get.”
As well as offering a rare insight into the personal lives of the individuals featured in Older Than Ireland, the film also exists as a great personal archive for the families of those involved in the film. Alex talks about how families have sent on emails saying how grateful they are. “Especially for those centenarians who have since passed. It’s such a nice thing that they have this film. As well as that, we will be providing all the footage to them – we had about two hours, at least, of an interview per person, so it’s a lovely record. Sometimes you don’t take the time to put the camera on people and just let them tell their stories. One of the reasons this film got made was because when we went to the Irish Film Board with the initial idea, which they really got behind, they said to us that no matter what happened with the film, it would exist as a great archive.”
Finally, Alex hopes that the film will encourage families to visit the cinema together. “We are trying to encourage young people to take their grandparents to the film. It could be seen as a cynical ploy to get more people into the cinema but one thing we did discover making the film was that a lot of older people find loneliness to be the biggest issue. They all want to go to the cinema. They might not want to watch The Avengers but I’m sure they would like to see this film. So we are hoping that younger people will take their grandparents or elderly neighbours to see the film.”
DIR: Alex Fegan • PRO: Colm Walsh • DOP: Gary Nicell • MUS: Denis Clohessy
Older than Ireland won best feature length documentary at the Galway Film Fleadh in 2015 against some formidable opposition. Directed by Alex Fegan, Older than Ireland has a signature style which is reminiscent of Alex Fegan’s previous feature length doc The Irish Pub.
Like many of the subjects featured, the film is unhurried in pace but remains very engaging throughout. Older than Ireland is also reminiscent of the tone and structure of Ken Wardrop’s His and Hers.
The film follows a sequence of interviews with a range of Irish centenarians. Indeed, quite a number of those featured were significantly older than the 100 years old minimum age requirement.
The title derives from the fact that having been born over 100 years ago prior to the foundation of the state, all of those featured are effectively older than the state and indeed their births pre-dated the 1916 Rising.
In common with The Irish Pub, the subjects are a very diverse group who hail from all four corners of the country, urban and rural. They vary also in terms of class and outlook. But they are a universally interesting bunch.
Kathleen Snavely (113) emigrated to the US from Clare in 1921. Her story is in many ways a typical emigrants story which would resonate with contemporary emigrants. She was lonely initially. But she succeeded in eking out a much better life for herself than would have been the case had she remained.
Jack Powell (102) from Tipperary was Ireland’s longest serving Veterinary Surgeon and only retired a couple of years ago. He specialised in horses and clearly has an enduring passion for his job as a Vet. His story also included wartime service with the RAF. He clearly still has and very sharp mind and strong views on a range of subjects. Jack also has a passion for the Volkswagon Beetle and was still driving at the time the film was made.
There is inevitably a poignant tone to the film as the subjects reflect back on their lives. Many of their erstwhile friends, partners and contemporaries have gone. But many had also succeeded in re-inventing themselves in different ways. There are many unexpected light and humorous moments throughout the film.
They are the last men and women standing of a bygone era and provide a glimpse into the values and culture of the era. They reflect on their public and private lives with a level of insight which might not always have been present when those events were happening. Several have some fascinating recollections of events in the War of Independence and the Civil War.
The interviews are complemented by some wonderful photographs from a long gone era and the tone is complemented wonderfully by the music composed by Denis Clohessy.
There is a sense at times that these people are fully aware they are in the departure lounge. Sadly, many of them are no longer with us. But this is ultimately a positive life-affirming film.
Many of the subjects seemed surprised that they had endured for so long. I suspect that word of mouth may ensure Older than Ireland also endures in the cinema for longer than might be expected. It is a little gem of a movie and establishes the reputation of Alex Fegan as a director to watch.
Seán Crosson scores a century for Alex Fegan’s documentary Older than Ireland, which screened at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.
Among the most anticipated productions premiered at the Galway Film Fleadh was Alex Fegan’s Older than Ireland, which had already sold out by Wednesday afternoon. Based around interviews with thirty Irish centenarians, Fegan’s film – produced by Gary Walsh – was one of the major successes in Galway, receiving two standing ovations and eventually the award for Best Irish Feature Documentary.
In a work reminiscent stylistically of Ken Wardrop’s His & Hers (though in other respects a superior production), Older than Ireland evokes the full range of emotions, from laughter to tears, in an ultimately inspirational film. Particularly striking is the candour and frankness of the individuals featured, both men and women, as they recount their views on life, love and Ireland. While Fegan was blessed with extraordinary subjects, the direction, cinematography, editing and accompanying soundtrack all perfectly complement the interviews included and contribute greatly to the achievement of the film. Fegan’s direction, and the cinematography of Colm Nicell, patiently captures the testimonies of those featured – there is no rush here to move on and the space provided allows for moments of genuine revelation.
The interviewees featured come from counties across the island – from Antrim to Cork, Dublin to Galway – and each has a unique perspective to share from their lives. Their memories encompass the revolutionary period, and the emergence of the state but also reflections on a very different Ireland of modest means and limited opportunities where emigration was often the only option for many. The oldest woman featured, 113-year old Kathleen Snavely (who sadly passed away shortly before the screening), spent most of her life in the United States after leaving Clare in 1921. ‘I was happy but lonely’, she poignantly recalls.
While the interior set-ups are reminiscent of Wardrop’s work, a distinctive aspect of Fegan’s film is how often he follows his subjects outside of the home space and the insights this provides into their lives. This includes scenes of subjects playing golf, gardening, driving (including in one of the film’s funniest moments on a drive-on lawn mower), and walking. It is in his rendering of these seemingly ordinary moments that Fegan manages to capture most affectingly the extraordinary individuals depicted.
Among the film’s most memorable interviewees is 103-year old Dubliner Bessie Nolan (who was present in Galway for the première), who provides very frank reflections on her life and relationships. She is also filmed walking from her home to the local shop for her groceries, including her daily box of Superkings. While hardly an example of healthy living (another interviewee talks about her dislike for vegetables), Bessie’s depiction, in common with those of other subjects throughout the film, is more concerned with affirming her dignity and the significance of her insights and perspectives. This is perhaps the most important message of Older than Ireland, particularly at a time when Irish society has successively diminished and marginalised the role of the elderly, as evident in recent scandals involving care-homes, and centenarians left on hospital trolleys for several days.
Seán Crosson is the Programme Director of the MA in Film Studies: Theory and Practice at the Huston School of Film & Digital Media, NUI Galway. His publications include Sport and Film (Routledge, 2013) and several co-edited volumes, including Contemporary Irish Film: New Perspectives on a National Cinema (Braumüller, 2011) and The Quiet Man … and Beyond: Reflections on a Classic Film, John Ford and Ireland (Liffey Press, 2009). He is currently President of the European Federation of Associations and Centres of Irish Studies (EFACIS).
Older than Ireland screened on Friday, 10th July as part of the Galway Film Fleadh (7 – 12 July 2015)
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