Irish Film Festival, Boston: Audio Interview with director Aoife Kelleher & producer Rachel Lysaght of ‘One Million Dubliners’

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The 15th Irish Film Festival, Boston took place over four days from 19 – 22 March  2015 at the Somerville Theatre, Davis Square. Alexis Sullivan, a student at Boston College, attended the festival and talked to some of the filmmakers who were there presenting their films.

In this podcast Alexis chats to the director Aoife Kelleher and producer Rachel Lysaght, whose award-winning documentary One Million Dubliners explores life, death and the afterlife through a journey of Glasnevin Cemetery in North Dublin.

 

“All these here once walked around Dublin. Faithful departed. As you are now so once were we.”Ulysses, James Joyce

 

One Million Dubliners screened on Friday, 20th March 2015 at the Irish Film Festival, Boston.

 

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One Million Dubliners

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DIR: Aoife Kelleher • PRO: Rachel Lysaght • DOP: Cathal Watters • ED: Emer Reynolds • MUS: Hugh Rodgers, Ray Harman

One Million Dubliners, is a documentary film centred in Glasnevin Cemetery – sometimes known as ‘the dead centre of Dublin’. Glasnevin Cemetery has been an iconic feature of Dublin for generations. In recent years visitor numbers have increased significantly due to the development of the heritage aspect of the cemetery.

The film takes its title from the fact that over one million people are buried there –  nearly as many Dubliners as are above ground. Among the dead are many famous names including a roll call of those associated with the War of Independence and the Fenian era. I expected the film might be dealing with some of those famed underground residents. And it does. But the film is much more about the living than the dead.

It is particularly about people working there. The people who directly or indirectly deal with the needs of the many dead in their care as well as their visitors. We also meet some regular visitors who travel from afar to visit the grave of a person they have never met.

The film delves deeply into the minutiae of the daily life of the cemetery through interviews with various staff members. Chief among these is Shane, an engaging tour guide who in many ways acts as our guide through the film.

Shane moves seamlessly from witty guided tours with groups of school children and adults to a more reflective mood as he speaks about his father. Many years ago, I went on historical tours of Dublin with Shane’s father Éamon Mac Thomáis who was a tour guide before him, as they say and who is now buried in Glasnevin himself.

Other employees share their own perspective not just on the job, but on life and death, including a couple of interesting grave diggers. Management staff with diverse roles all seem to share a mixture of passion and reverence for the cemetery. The crematorium attendant gives a detailed demonstration of his role and the process of cremation – perhaps more detailed than we might have expected.

The Florists made interesting revelations about the two graves which attract the most flowers and visitors. One perhaps predictable – not a Dubliner as it happens, the other maybe not as predictable. And the Manager who interviewed the florist for the job had an interesting revelation to make in his own right.

An engaging aspect of the film was that the director sought the views of all of the Cemetery community about matter beyond their own role. They were probed about how that role affected their views on the afterlife – if such exists, and their own preferences in relation to cremation or burial. As might be expected, those views were divergent.

The film is in ways a meditation about the sensitive subject of death. There was a sense of the presence of the silent dead in the background as the camera gave us panoramic aerial shots of the cemetery sweeping across the countless grave stones.

I really liked the score composed by Hugh Rodgers & Ray Harman which was in tune with the mood of the film as was the lighting and photography by DOP Cathal Watters. On my way out of the screening, I overhead a discussion on the impressive nature and variety of the photography.

One Million Dubliners was not what I expected. It gave me a completely new perspective on a cemetery that I visit from time to time due to an interest in history and to see the graves of people I once knew. It is a reflective film which is much more than a documentary about the cemetery. The film and especially the conclusion will remain long with me.

 Brian O Tiomain

PG (See IFCO for details)

80 minutes

One Million Dubliners is released 31st October 2014

 

 

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One Million Dubliners – Review of Irish Film at the Galway Film Fleadh

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Stephen Totterdall reviews One Million Dubliners, Aoife Kelleher’s documentary about Glasnevin Cemetery, the final resting place of 1.5 million souls. One Million Dubliners screened at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.

For a society that thinks so much about death, we say remarkably little about it. For every mystical platitude we spout, we subtract from our knowledge of death’s mundanities and practicalities. These details become the spine of One Million Dubliners, and offer us a far more profound analysis than any poet-philosopher’s approach could.

The film focuses on the inner workings of Glasnevin Cemetery. Its managerial process, methods of attaining revenue, grave planning, cremation clean-up. Then we watch how the cemetery’s narrative is produced. The guided tour, combined with an approach to publicity that takes into account the Michael Collins film amongst other things. There really is nothing romantic about it when you get close up. Yet at the same time it is these mundanities that produce something beautiful.

Like the opening pages of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle, it is the mundane details that make up a death; and the life lived before it. The success of Knausgaard as a novelist comes largely from his insistence that he, a middle-class father living in a regional town, lives a life worth documenting. He doesn’t need to be a hero like Michael Collins. Simply by living his unsatisfying life, he is a part of the human experience; arguably moreso than those who, like Collins, have become mythologised.

While One Million Dubliners appears to initiate this approach to life, it is actually an early adopter of a wider society-wide shift in the way we perceive the world. New Sincerity and Authenticity rule. David Foster Wallace got there even earlier with his tale of bureaucratic meaning in The Pale King. Long seen as the mark of an unlived life, these small details in life; the new thinking argues; are the places where we live. Although many visitors come for the grave of Michael Collins, these visits provide revenue so that the cemetery can house its other 1.5 million residents.

When we first hear that the cemetery is designed to maximise the number of graves, we react with revulsion. It makes sense, obviously. But we tend to think of death in such mystical terms that to be confronted with such an ugly and capitalistic fact brings us a little too close. As the film goes on, we come to appreciate this closeness. It takes the pressure off. By confronting the physical reality rather than fobbing it off with platitudes, we come to see the connectedness of everyone. 1.5 million Dubliners, connected to each other through muck. “We’re just caretakers,” say the cemetery’s staff, “One day [We’ll] end up in Glasnevin Cemetery, too.”

Rarely has a film outperformed expectations to this degree. Its description is hardly enticing. But, like the small details of the cemetery, it catches you off guard and provides you with all you need in a film.

Click here for our coverage of Irish Film at the 26th Galway Film Fleadh  (8 – 13 July, 2014)

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One Million Dubliners: Preview of Irish Film at the Galway Film Fleadh

one million dubliners

The 26th Galway Film Fleadh (8 – 13 July, 2014)

One Million Dubliners

Sat 12th July

Town Hall Theatre

16.00

The feature documentary about Glasnevin Cemetery, One Million Dubliners, is to have its world premiere at the 26th annual Galway Film Fleadh next week.

Directed by Aoife Kelleher and produced by Underground Films, One Million Dubliners uses Glasnevin cemetery as a platform to explore life and death. Ireland’s largest non-denominational cemetery, it is the resting place of over 1.5 million people. In this documentary a tour guide takes us through the headstones, american tourists search for ancestors and gravediggers and musician celebrate.

One Million Dubliners reveals the often unspoken — stories of ritual, emotion, history, and the business of death.

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

Director Aoife Kelleher and producer Rachel Lysaght will attend.

Director: Aoife Kelleher

Producer: Rachel Lysaght

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