In the Cannes

Ruben Ostlund squares up

Séamas McSwiney wraps up his reports from Cannes 2017.

There was a refreshing touch of Cannes self-mockery in this year’s Palme d’Or, or at least it would be nice to think awarding top nod to a poke at art elitism was deliberate. Swedish director Ruben Ostlund’s sweetly satirical The Square took gold and most would not argue the choice, for The Square delivered laughs, discomfort and insight, in equal measure.

Claes Bang plays Christian, the amiably debonair curator of a modern art museum in Stockholm. He’s a young Pierce Brosnan with a whiff of Cary Grant about him, as he shows an endearing capacity to bumble while wearing his elitist privilege casually. The two starting points to the intrigue are an in-house debate around a new art installation, a luminous square, in search of a media gimmick to augment the museum’s inclusive profile (and please donors) and a more personal one that involves a street scam, which sees Christian’s wallet and phone… plus his heirloom cufflinks, stolen through an impressively contrived drama that could even be considered street art for its ingenious execution. His strategy to recover his essential personal pieces interweaves with the preparation for the keynote art installation and his public duties in promoting it, leading to an almost sitcom spiral that finds him stumbling to ruination as the YouTube teaser goes viral for all the wrong reasons.

An Artistic Pluralist Hat (The Square)

In retrospect, the story itself has a well-constructed narrative direction, but at first reading it seems a mere sequence of anecdotes and unexpected episodes specifically designed to prick and prod at pretentiousness in the art world, delivering well-nuanced boho barbs as it saunters through the storyline.

Adding cosmopolitan flair to the setting, the cast also includes Elisabeth Moss and Dominic West; she a journalist who awkwardly beds the classy Christian, only to unleash a neo-feminist inquisition the following day when he appears to have forgotten her name; and West, an esoteric artist whose sympathetic personality masks a deep conviction of self-importance that unravels in the film’s over-the-top ‘performance art’ set piece, involving a human anthropoid, programmed to conclude an important black tie donors’ dinner, a set-up where Marx brothers jiggery-pokery meets the cruelty of Lars von Trier.

Though the inclusive sociology of Scandinavia brings modernity to a classic theme combining art, elitism and money, it carries extra critical voltage when contrasted to the same industrial scale, real-life phenomenon of hype, fawning enthusiasm and dubious bling that plays out annually, and personifies Cannes itself. Despite first appearances, The Square’s episodic narrative is more than the sum of its parts and a worthy winner in what was widely held to be a weak field.

The two other unexpected political guests at Le Festival this year were the Netflix debate and the extra, if not excessive, levels of security that was necessary to show that everything was being done to protect guests and stars alike. For attendees, with its ubiquitous metal detectors and electronic frisks, it was akin to boarding ten flights a day; still, remarkably, only a few screenings were delayed at the beginning of the festival and only one unattended bag panic incident shut down the Palais for an hour midway through.

The Netflix dilemma veered from implacable industry logic to an existential appeal for the soul of cinema. Jury President Pedro Almodóvar and member Will Smith locked horns at the opening jury press conference on the subject, after Cannes had already announced that no future internet media produced movies would be programmed in the future unless also assured of a French theatrical release. Other prestigious festivals rowed in with contrasting declarations and the debate is now fully on. Meanwhile, luckily Netflix competition entries Okja andThe Meyerowitz Stories didn’t really merit a prize, giving Pedro the arguments he needed.

Time to act (120 Beats Per Minute)

The Grand Prix or second prize went to Robin Campillo’s 120 Beats Per Minute, the biopic of an organisation, the French Act Up association that fought, sometimes controversially, for a massive increase in research and investment to resolve the HIV-Aids crisis as it emerged in the 1980s. It captures well the urgency of the cause, giving detailed scientific debate and does not shy from evoking the internal debates that took place within Act Up regarding its methods and aims. Nor does it exclude the individual suffering of some, and bareback casualness of others, in pursuing their desires and romantic passions, thus offering a metaphor for the emphatic embrace of a cause that still stokes controversy. Just as Act Up in its time divided even those that shared its aims, the film also appears to have divided the jury. President Almodóvar did not deny that this film was his choice for the Palme. So democracy prevailed.

Irlandais (The Beguiled)

Speaking of democracy, on the gender politics scale, the now predicable comments were frequent throughout the festival regarding the low level of representation of women in the festival and in the industry at large. This can unfortunately create the critical collateral damage of anything by a woman being heaped with exaggerated praise to appease the legitimate protest. Thus, perhaps, Sofia Coppola won the best director for The Beguiled, a pale copy of the Don Siegel movie of the same name, with the claim that this imitation is from a feminist perspective. Gelded of the Siegel-Clint Eastwood raw predatory sexuality, even Colin Farrell is not half the bad man he could be. On the bright side, this can provide gender-in-film academics an opportunity to comment whether or not the Siegel’s macho character indictment and comeuppance from 1971 is not ultimately more feminist in its offerings and outcomes.

Nishelism (Jeune femme (Montparnasse Bienvenüe)

On the optimistic side, a higher proportion of young women filmmakers were in contention for the Camera d’Or, which rewards the best first film. Contenders here often find their way to the Competiion as their career rolls out. This year Jeune femme (Montparnassev Bienvenüe) by French director Léonor Serraille, won the Camera d’Or for a fractured parable of a 30-something woman on the verge of self-annihilation. It is a careening Parisian odyssey into the destitution of a young woman who shows herself to be unlikeable in the extreme, before impressing with the depth of her desire to be unshackled by an unloving mother, unsuitable lover and society at large.

Bloody kids (The Beguiled)

Nicole Kidman picked up a special 70th anniversary prize for the fact that she appeared in 4 red carpet offerings this year, two in competition (both alongside Colin Farrell), The Beguiled and Yorgos Lanthimos, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, and John Cameron Mitchell’s special screening punk sci-fi flick How to Talk to Girls at Parties. She also featured in Jane Campion’s Top of the Lake TV series, which premiered in Cannes, sharing TV honours with David Lynch’s much admired new season of Twin Peaks.

Really hair (You Were Never Really Here)

Lanthimos’s Sacred Deer shared a screenwriting award with Lynne Ramsey’s You Were Never Really Here, which also garnered Joaquin Phoenix the Best Actor Award. Diane Kruger got Best Actress for Fatih Akin’s In The Fade, her first role in her native German, where, in a workaday film, she controversially learns bomb-making skills.

MBV (Loveless)

Loveless, a Russian broken-family fable by Andrey Zvyagintsev, was a favourite with many from its first day outing, managed to only pick up the Jury Prize, a story that both indicts selfishness in today’s materialistic Russia while exemplifying a sense of community in the quest for a lost boy. If we were playing an art publicist in The Square, we might say that the lost boy is Russia, but we are not, so he probably isn’t.

As the intense schedule of screenings drifts into the past, the individual films glow greener like receding hills, just as next year’s already approaching —hopefully richer — menu does.

 

Séamas McSwiney is an Irish writer-producer based in Paris  

 
This year’s Cannes Festival takes place 17 – 28 May 2017
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Report: Tribeca Film Festival 2016

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Anthony Kirby checks out some of the highlights on offer at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.

Founded by writer/producer Jean Rosenthal, writer/reviewer Craig Hatcoff and actor/director Robert De Niro as an engine to revive the economy of Lower Manhattan following the tragedy of 9/11 and with sponsorship from AT&T, IBM, SAMSUNG and United Airlines, the Tribeca Film Festival has more than succeeded and is a resounding success with both industry and public.     

This year the festival presented 274 films from 42 countries comprising narrative fiction, documentaries, animation and shorts.

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Samar Qupty and Tamer Nafar (Junction 48)

Winner of the Award for Best International Narrative Feature was Junction 48, an unvarnished presentation of life and injustice in present-day Israel. The main protagonist of the drama is Kareem (Tamer Nafar), an aspiring rapper who comes from Lode, a small town near Ben Gurian Airport, Tel Aviv. “My songs aren’t political they just describe the place I come from” – a deprived town with brackish water and intermittent electricity, where his Palestinian-Israeli family has lived for generations. One morning, Kareem and his family are woken up by the sound of bulldozers. They have just minutes to vacate their home. It appears it’s on disputed territory near a historic home the authorities wish to turn into a museum. Since they have both goats and doves they plead with the police to at least let them take the animals. Their pleas are in vain and the indiscriminate violence of the police is reminiscent of apartheid  South Africa.

In a Q&A following the screening, Udi Aloni, the film’s director, said, “I think most of you know that the present Prime Minister of Israel and the authorities don’t like me. The authorities try to control film production, also there’s a sort of self-censorship that artists must follow to get funding. We got funding for this project from Germany and the U.S. This allowed me to make the type of film I wanted.”

Mr. Aloni, a secular Israeli, worked with the principle actors after he’d developed his script. “I worked especially with Mr. Nafar (Kareem), both he and Ms. Qupty are major stars in Lebanon and Israel.”

He’s somewhat hopeful for peace in his native country in the coming years. “The energy of both Israeli and Palestinian youth is infectious. Of course you have ISIS and Bibi Netanyahu stirring up the pot. We try to make a difference through art.”

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Deep VR

Ireland offered Deep VR at the festival, an experimental virtual reality project. Designed by Project Leader Owen Harris (Dublin) and Niki Smit (Netherlands) and music by Andreuch O Maonaigh, this Ireland/Netherlands co-production was screened at The Festival Hub very early in the festival. Deep VR is a meditative and psychoactive VR experience controlled by the player’s breathing. Co-creator Harris made this game to deal with his own issues with anxiety; it’s a glimpse into how VR can be used in different ways, including our bodies and minds.

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Brian Gleeson and Damien Molony (Tiger Raid)

Ireland was also represented at the festival by Tiger Raid, featuring Irish actors Brian Gleeson and Damien Molony. Directed by Simon Dixon, Tiger Raid deals with the almost unbearable tension of front-line warfare and how it destroys the souls of men. Joe (Gleeson) and Paddy (Molony) are mercenary soldiers on a top-secret abduction mission in either Iraq or Afghanistan. However, their boss, Dave, keeps pushing the boundaries between them. The fragile bonding between the two battle-hardened soldiers begins to fracture throughout the film.

The pacing and tension of this first film by professional advertising director Simon Dixon never lets up. The film’s greatest asset is the dynamic chemistry between Gleeson and Molony. The scenario of the screenplay pays subtle tribute to Frank O’ Connor’s story ‘Guests of the Nation’ and Neil Jordan’s The Crying Game. For the dynamic performances by Gleeson and Molony and its unrelenting depiction of the human cost of war this film deserves to be widely seen.

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Alan Sabbagh, Julieta Zylberberg (El rey del Once)

Alan Sabbagh, an Argentinean character actor, won The Audience Award for his performance in El Rey del Once (The Tenth Man), an Argentinean US co-production directed by Daniel Burman. There is a biblical tradition that to form a quorum there must always be ten men at a Jewish religious service. It’s the Purim Festival, Ariel a middle-aged, overweight, non practicing Jewish man is summoned by his father to fill in for him in the vibrant Jewish community of present-day Buenos Aires. Ariel’s father (Usher), a hero in the community, has gone upcountry for a funeral. Ariel must fill in. Since it’s Purim kosher meat and chicken are in high demand. Ariel becomes a fixer for the whole community. He reconnects with many former friends, but is run off his feet with work and his responsibilities. A former girlfriend (Ms. Zylberberg ), who has become Hassidic, makes clear to Ariel that she still cares so our hero reembraces his religion. It’s when taking a ritual bath at a synagogue that Ariel is reminded of the tradition of the tenth man.

Alan Sabbagh’s underplayed performance provoked much laughter from the largely English-speaking US audience. The performance is realistic but not broadly comic. The film should do well financially in Argentina, The US and Israel. Hopefully, it will be remembered at awards season.

As Tribeca is primarily an American festival, US films predominated. Many independent productions were given their world premieres, several were brave in their subject matter and treatment. The Return, Youth in Oregon, Wolves, The Phenom, and A Kind of Murder all deserve mention. 

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Kelly Duane de la Vega and Katie Galloway’s The Return was winner of the Audience Award for Best Documentary. In 2012, in a humanitarian gesture, the electorate of California adopted Proposition 36 striking down a draconian law of the 1990s known as the three-strikes law. This law imposed life sentences for mostly substance-abusers convicted a third time of petty crimes done mostly to support their addictions. This documentary follows three prisoners about to be released from jail.

The Return is told from the viewpoint of the about-to-be-released inmates, most having spent over ten years in detention, the social workers who interact with them both in detention and following their release, the legal workers who fearlessly fight to set them free, and their fractured long suffering families.

What does it mean to be released following a long detention? How does one begin to reintegrate into society? The Return follows the struggles of two former lifers as they try to restore relationships with their wives, their children, now adult, and relate to grandchildren. Regret and anger is in part an issue as they struggle to find gainful employment, and manage mental health problems and personal triggers which had led to incarceration. Finding the process extremely difficult one older releasee has a long talk with his supportive wife and decides to spend some personal time in a halfway house.

At the federal level, President Obama is striving to release many prisoners convicted under this draconian 1990 law. He’s decried the fact that the U.S. has the highest prison population in the industrial world. The Return has put a human face on this massive problem. It well deserves its award.

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Frank Langella (Youth in Oregon)

Youth in Oregon, directed by Joel David Moore, sees Frank Langella as Raymond Engersoll, a surgeon and heart specialist who has been warned that without a second heart operation he could have a heart attack or stroke at any time. Knowing all the odds and feeling that even with surgery he might live less than five years, he decides to return to his native Oregon (one of three states where assisted suicide is legal) to be euthanized. He makes the announcement at his eightieth birthday party traumatizing his entire family. His long-suffering wife (Mary Kay Place), formerly a nurse, is apathetic, his daughter (Christina Applegate) overwhelmed by the announcement becomes emotional and is completely opposed. Ray, a brilliant self-made man says, “Listen, I’m already an encumbrance on all of you, since my earlier attach. I don’t want to be a further burden.  I’ve made my decision. I’m booked into a facility in Eugene for next Thursday. The procedure will take place on Friday. I’m getting to Oregon with or without your help.”

Ray knows that he’s been far too focused on his career over the years and hurt those who love him most. He doesn’t want to cause more pain but is stubborn in sticking to his decision.

As always Langella is superb as the hard-headed yet conflicted Ray. Underplaying her role as his long-suffering wife Place is also affecting. Applegate is simply emotional as a loving daughter. Billy Crudup as the son in law simply wants his wife back.

Actor/writer director Joel David Morse, knows how to get the most from his accomplished cast. A film that hopefully will be widely viewed.

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Taylor John Smith and Zazie Beetz (Wolves)

Looking like a young Matt Demon newcomer Taylor John Smith features in Bart Freundlich’s Wolves as star player Anthony Keller of St. Anthony’s High School in this realistic story of present day white US middle class. Tapped for an athletic scholarship, if he maintains his academic grades, Keller is under pressure from both his teammates and his family to continue to succeed. Keller’s father Lee, a teacher of creative writing at a state university, is experiencing middle-aged angst. Formerly a star basketball player, forced to retire because of injury, he misses his glory days. He’s in a relatively happy marriage to a marketing executive (Clara Gugino) but has developed a gambling addiction which may put everything in jeopardy.  Not only has he gambled with family funds, he’s also borrowed heavily from several shady characters. Anthony, just seventeen, learns of this when called to the administration offices at the school.  Fees for his second term have not been paid. By taking on extra contract work his mother comes up with the money.

Young Anthony is under a lot of pressure; should he simply drop out of high school and work to keep his family on track or continue on his academic and athletic course?

The action of the film moves fluidly between the halls of academia, the public basketball courts of New York City and the modest apartment buildings of the city’s Lower East Side.

Wolves is a powerful portrait of a boy coming of age in urban New York. All the performances are understated and true, especially Taylor John Smith as Anthony. The basketball sequences are electric. With selective marketing the film could become as successful as The Basketball Diaries.

ethan-hawke-phenom-conquistador-600                                                                   Ethan Hawke (The Phenom)

Staying on the court, Noah Buschel’s The Phenom stars Johnny Simmons as major League first year basketball player Hooper Gibson who has lost his focus. After freezing during a game, he’s sent down to the minor leagues and mandated sessions with an unorthodox sports psychologist (Paul Giamatti). The psychologist pushes the reluctant sleep deprived athlete to uncover the origins of his unease. Adding to Hooper’s problems is the troubled relationship he has with his overbearing ex-prisoner father (Ethan Hawke) who’s tough love has developed Hopper’s talent and added to his anxiety.

           “When were you happiest playing baseball?” asks the psychologist of the sleep deprived Hooper.

           “When I played little league and simply focused on hitting the oncoming ball. I didn’t care about anything just on the game and the approval of my teammates.”

          “I can give you back this joy,’ says the psychologist.

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Patrick Wilson (A Kind of Murder)

In A Kind of Murder directed by Andy Goddard, architect Walter Stackhouse (Patrick Wilson), who’s love is crime writing, is in an unhappy marriage to the mentally ill Clara (Jessica Biel). To aid in his writing Walter keeps a scrapbook of real life crime cases. He becomes fascinated by the case of Melchior Kimmel (Vincent Kartheiser), a bookseller from New Jersey. Melchior is suspected of murdering his wife Helen at a long-distance bus rest stop. All the evidence is circumstantial. Authorities cannot proceed with the case but a dogged police inspector keeps Kimmel under observance, harassing him in his book store. Walter’s fascination with this case becomes an obsession. He visits Melchior’s store. Secretly he wishes his wife Clara dead. When Clara enroute to visit her dying mother turns up dead at the same rest stop Walter is seen as prime suspect. Is he?

A Kind of Murder proves itself to be a classic film noir seamlessly combining philosophical thoughts on culpability with edge of the seat Hitchcock style suspense.

The 2016 Tribeca Film Festival took place April 13 – 24.

 

 

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Report: IFI Spotlight 2016

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Grace Corry attended Spotlight at the IFI, a day dedicated to focusing on Irish film and television; reviewing the past year and considering current trends in production, distribution and consumption of new work. 

Every year at the IFI, bands of filmmakers, film lovers and film academics gather together to take a look back at the year in film and television, picking apart and analysing all that went into making our indigenous industry tick the way it did. The focus this year drew on the huge disparities between men and women working in film and television, and although gender inequality has been a hot topic in the last number of years, particularly in the Arts, the statistics never cease to amaze.

 

Kicking off the day with a retrospective, Dr. Roddy Flynn (DCU) returned for another session with collaborator Dr. Tony Tracy (Huston, NUIG) to examine evolving trends in Irish cinema. Together they have written extensively on the history of cinema in Ireland and are primarily concerned with policy, lending this knowledge and research to the exploration of common themes which were not previously considered essential to Irish film. This change, they argue, has allowed Irish films to travel and to revel on the international stage. In its new found plurality, Irish cinema has become unconcerned with regionally based storytelling, stepping away from the common themes of history, family and criminality towards the glimmer of transnationality, centering “on the now”. That is, films that work for everyone but are “not necessarily trying to fit”, argued Tracy, “they just do”.

 

Also under consideration by the pair was national identity; how, in the light of all this change, can Irish film be identified as Irish? To be financially viable, film production requires international collaboration and the product needs to be able to travel. Room had Canada, Mammal had Luxemburg, Viva had Cuba. Even most of our biggest names like Fassbender and Aiden Gillen have become international characters – Brooklyn was the coveted Saoirse Ronan’s first Irish film, a fact that demonstrates and ties into Tracy’s final point in which he invokes Benedict Anderson’s theory of imagined communities, that we are letting go of what was previously considered definitive and embracing a deep, human imaginative curiosity.

 

Beginning the days gender-focused talks in the later morning session was esteemed guest Francine Raveney, the head and founder of the European Women’s Audio-Visual Network (EWA) to talk through some of the measures being taken by the organisation to address the gender imbalances in indigenous industries across the continent, working with Eurimage (Council of Europe Cinema Support Fund) to promote gender mainstreaming and encourage reflection on stereotypical gender assignments, such as those working in technical posts. Several countries, including France, Germany and Sweden, took part in both qualitative and quantitative research into how many women were working in their respective industries, and also reviewed responses from over 900 professionals working in these countries about their experiences. The EWA also acts as a watchdog and works with these countries to implement models like those adopted in Sweden (50/50 quota policy) and Norway (Moviement) – strategies for achieving this included offering targeted training courses, providing network opportunities and carrying out research and follow on advocacy work.

 

The pan-European research for policy change spearheaded by Raveney found that many countries were unaware of any inequality (94% of Germans), as low as 12% of targeted funds go to first-time directors where only half of the 44% of female graduates were working. Women just aren’t trusted to do the job, a myth that was echoed throughout the day’s presentations. There is a brighter side; the EWA and Eurimage have announced a new strategic policy for 2016/17 which includes new studies, new prizes awarded to female directors only and masterclasses designed to cater to working mothers, for example.

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                        Dr. Annie Doona

An energetic panel discussion between script consultant Mary Kate O’Flanagan, Dr. Annie Doona of the IFB, Dr. Susan Liddy of UL, Francene Raveney, and chaired by Siobhan Bourke of the Abbey filled the afternoon slot, each taking to the podium to raise issues stemming from the ‘unconscious bias’ that plagues the industry. Coming from various places in the industry, it was a heated, informative and maddening analysis of what has been happening across Europe. Susan Liddy presented responses she had collected from women who had applied to the Irish Film Board, ranging from anger to shear disappointment. One wrote about how she was simply ignored by the IFB, another felt that the notes she received back from the reader were diabolical and personally offensive, and others wrote about lip service and the lack of leadership, summarising with a simple question: what are the IFB doing differently to implement their six-point plan? Dr. Doona, acting chair of the IFB, stood firm in defence but was well tested by the other panellists, as well as fending off questions from the roving mic where attendees put forward their own issues, ageism being a big one as well as the gender imbalance of the IFB readers. The absence of others bodies was also noted – until recently the BAI didn’t even acknowledge that there was an issue. It goes without saying that it was like watching five old friends back and forth over a topic that had compelled the people in IFI’s cinema 2 to gather. After listening intently for over an hour, I can safely say that any despair I felt for missing that sacred day in the Abbey last November had lifted.

 

Lunch was followed by a screening of Where My Ladies?, a DIT documentary by female graduates, where interviews with women working in the Arts helped to cast a further light on the issues of the day. Amongst others, Maureen Hughes and Dearbhla Walsh talked about their own entries into the industry, as well as what had kept them there and the issues currently facing young women. Joy McKeon, one of the filmmakers, stressed that aim of their film was not to point blame or to exclude, they hope for as much of a male audience as female, and a collaborative effort between the sexes in creating awareness. The film will be hitting the festival circuit.

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Pat Murphy

Ireland’s longest standing female director, Pat Murphy, took the soap box in an address that was, as expected, the cherry. Spanning back to her work as part of the first wave of Irish filmmakers, she spoke about her current work teaching in Singapore, and traced her career, turning each of the ups and downs into a point of encouragement, points warmly welcomed to those aspiring to someday be successful in their own right.

 

Wrapping up the day was the newest addition to the annual event, In the Pipeline, where producer Katie Holly (Queen of Ireland) and documentarian Ken Wardrop (His and Hers) talked about their upcoming films, their own industry backgrounds and the best ways to get into the business (which naturally opened up some contentious comments from the floor), and, most notably, spoke about the breakdown in the dividing factors between policy and cultural influences and the propagation of gender mainstreaming.

 

The day can only be described as a big success. It was, as always, efficiently facilitated by Sunniva O’Flynn and her team, and it will be a day that is repeatedly referred to in the ongoing battle for equality.

 

Spotlight took place on Friday, 15th April 2016

 

 

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Profile: New TG4 Series ‘Eipic’

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Deirdre Molumby profiles the new TG4 series Eipic, a six-part Irish language drama follows five rural teenagers who form a band.

A new comedy musical drama Eipic is available exclusively online today at TG4.tv, before its official broadcast on Thursday evening (Feb 4th) at 10pm. The six-part Irish language drama follows five rural teenagers who form a band, partly in rebellion and partly out of boredom. The series is set against the backdrop of the 1916 centenary celebrations and interrogates the possibilities for revolution, theirs being a specifically musical one, in the contemporary age. The soundtrack is vibrant and features tracks such as the Jam’s ‘Town Called Malice’, ‘Frankly Mr Shankly’ by The Smiths and ‘Video Girl’ by FKA Twigs, all translated as Gaeilge.

Set in the fictional midlands town of Dobhar, and filmed in Woodford, Co. Galway, each of the episodes follows one of its five leading teenage characters. The first takes the perspective of Sully (Fionn Foley) as he forms the new band and comes head-to-head with Oisín (Cian O’Baoill), the new, attractive, rich kid in town. The second episode follows the introvert Mona (Róisín Ní Chéileachair) as she struggles with her irresponsible and juvenile mother, as well as trying to keep the ever-bickering band, which also includes the nerdy but well-meaning Aodh (Daire Ó Muirí) and the vain, glamorous Bea (Fionnuala Gygax) from falling apart.

Fionn Foley and co-star Fionnuala Gygax attended the screening alongside writer Mike O’Leary, who previously worked on Skins, and executive producer Paddy Hayes (Corp + Anam) of Magamedia.

“It’s a teenager’s point of view of the 1916 rising,” Paddy Hayes explains. Mike O’ Leary continues: “It became a touchstone to explore other issues such as sexuality, identity etc., which contrast against the backdrop of the centenary. We were writing this around the time of the referendum last year and it felt very much like a reaction to the contemporary moment. We also wanted it to reject jaded adult cynicism and instead reflect the optimism of the young generation in the series.” Hayes adds: “It’s been great to have new, refreshing faces like Fionn and Fionnuala to tell this story. The energy in the show is really an attribute to the actors.”

Fionnuala Gygax talks about her character, Bea, and about what audiences should expect from the series overall: “My character is a bit outrageous from the beginning. She’s a little silly and superficial initially but you see more depth to her as it goes on. She’ll surprise people with her opinions on things, I hope, and she’ll be a great source of craic, she’s definitely a bit wild.

“As the weeks go on, you’re going to get a deeper insight into each individual member of the band. At the start you see the band as a unit but as the series goes on it delves deeper into their personal lives and they go on their own personal journeys. Cracks will form in the band and different layers and dynamics between the characters will be revealed.”

Eipic will be the first post-watershed teen drama to be broadcast on Irish television. Indicated from its first two parts, the remainder of the series promises to be funny and touching with an electrifying soundtrack.

Eipic stars Fionn Foley, Róisín Ní Chéilleachair, Cian Ó Baoill, Fionnuala Gygax, Daire Ó Muirí, Andrew Bennett, Clive Geraghty, and Tara Flynn. The series is written by Mike O’Leary, produced by Ciara Nic Chormaic (Am an Ghátair), and directed by award winning Louise Ní Fhiannachta (Rúbaí, Páidí Ó Sé: Rí an Pharóiste). Eipic is designed by Nicola Moroney (Corp + Anam) and edited by Conall de Cléir (Cré na Cille), with Colm Hogan (An Klondike) as DOP.

The series was produced with funding from TG4, the BAI Sound and Vision scheme and the Section 481 support measures.

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Lord David Puttnam

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In September, David Puttnam received a special honour at the Montreal World Film Festival after having treated festival goers with a film masterclass on 31st August. Anthony Kirby was there and sent Film Ireland this piece on the celebrated British producer.

 

Partly in fulfillment of a promise he made to festival founder Serge Losique some twenty years ago, Lord David Puttnam returned to Montreal’s World Film Festival this autumn. He mesmerised both film professionals and the general public by giving a free workshop on creativity and film production.

“Creativity isn’t a mystery,“ he said showing an illustration of the five aspects of the process. “What I’ve shown here are the aspects of the process. However, more important than all of them is persistence.”

Glad to be an advisor in the department of Media and Communications Arts at University College Cork, Puttnam has taken part in promotional videos for both the Bachelors and Masters programmes. He has a small studio at the rear of his home in West Cork where he formats lectures for UCC and two other universities.

As a child growing up in North London Puttnam was obsessed by comic books, especially by the Alf Tupper comic strip. Tupper was a scrawny child fascinated with long-distance running, (the Tupper addiction was to pay off in later life).

Puttnam and best friend, Alan Parker, “lived in the cinemas of North London… Like everyone of our generation, Alan and I were also obsessed by James Dean, especially his work in East of Eden and Giant. Once we began to make our own films we stole from Elia Kazan and others.” He showed the shooting arcade scene from East of Eden and the exact same sequence from one of his first films at this point.

Puttnam left school at sixteen and found a job as a messenger boy in central London. “I went to night school but also spent a lot of time at the British Film Institute where I discovered Fellini and Visconti.”

About this time he was engaged by the Collette, Dickerson, Pearse & Partners Advertising Agency. His immediate superior was Colin Millwood. “After a few weeks Millwood called me into his office. I thought I was going to be fired,” he recalled, “instead Sir Colin said, ‘You’re not here simply to work, Mr. Puttnam, you’re here to amaze me. Now amaze me.’ Youth are desperate to be challenged,” Puttnam says. “I’m mindful of this in my teaching and seminars.”

Putting copy writers and graphic designers together as a team Millwood revolutionized advertising, making the C.D.P Agency the top advertising agency in Britain. His best friend, Alan Parker, also worked C.D.P.as did Ridley Scott, John Hagerty and Charles Saatchi. All have remained close friends.

“In advertising as in art you start with something quite good and finesse and finesse it through dialogue with the other members of the creative team. In both industries you keep the creative relationships and build on them.”

It was the early ‘60s , the time of “swinging London”. Not only were Puttnam and Parker fascinated by film, they also loved popular music. Puttman was especially fascinated by the Harry Neilson song and album ‘That’ll be the Day’. He envisaged a film featuring this and other songs. How to do it? “My friend Ray Connolly was also captivated by pop music. We decided to go for it. Ray worked on the film script at night. I met him in the morning and reviewed his work. Somehow we cobbled together enough money to get the film made.”

Directed by Waris Hussein, with music by The Bee Gees, Melody (1971) is an adolescent view of swinging London. The appealing leads, played by Mark Lester (Oliver) and Tracy Hyde, rebel against the establishment, especially when they decide to get married. Melody did well at the box office and both Connolly’s and Puttnam’s careers were launched.

“We followed with Stardust (1975), directed by Michael Apted. It starred Adam Faith, Keith Moon and David Essex  as believable rock musicians.”

“At its heart, film is about identity” Puttnam said. “Alan Parker was extremely interested in the Chicago of the late ‘20s and the music created. He hit on the idea of an homage of sorts with all the leads played by twelve year olds. Jodie Foster committed. Instead of bullets the machine guns sprayed whipped cream. Paul William’s score was in the tradition of the era and worked. The movie Bugsy Malone (1976) was a runaway critical and commercial success. Alan won a BAFTA for Best Screenplay and Jodi Foster won two BAFTAs as Best Supporting Actress and Best Newcomer. Because of changes in law a film like this couldn’t be made today.”

With the late Francoise Truffaut, Lord Puttnam believes that “the truth the filmmaker feels inside himself is the only truth. I’m desperate to get what I believe are truths across in cinema. God knows the medium is powerful enough to do it . You make a passionate committed film, the audience will always turn up. I’ve never had an audience let me down. You make a film like The Killing Fields and the audience will come and see it.”

Puttnam’s childhood obsession with Alf Tupper comics and a bout of ‘flu in 1979 led him to research the life of Eric Liddle a devout Scottish Christian who struck Olympic Gold in the Paris Games of 1924. Liddle was in fact the model for the comic strip. “I looked at actual film of Liddle running from the Games and elsewhere. The film was jumpy. Then I returned to the drawings from the comics. I commissioned Colin Welland to write the screenplay and the result was Chariots of Fire. It won an Oscar. It was Hugh Hudson’s first film as director. He won a BAFTA and later an Oscar. Ichikawa had made a 1965 film Tokyo Olympiad which greatly influenced our cinematographer David Watkin.”

“I’d like to take moment here to acknowledge the part of music in great movies. I’ve seen both Chariots of Fire and The Mission many times without music in the editing process. Vangilis’ music for Chariots and Enno Morricone’s music for The Mission greatly enhanced both films.”

“Cal (1984) was a chance to work with the great Helen Mirren. I was attracted to the project because of the Dostoevsky-like aspect of Bernard MacLaverty’s novel. The budget was always adequate and we had a terrific Anglo-Irish cast and crew. I think Mark Knopfler’s score for Cal is wonderful and underestimated.”

Puttnam refers to Local Hero as his first environmental film. He’s about to produce another film on this subject. Ironically part of the financing for this project comes from Saudi Arabia. “If you’re not part of the solution you become part of the problem,” he said, quoting Eldridge Cleaver. He can usually tell if a script is of interest after reading about fifteen pages.

“On balance, I think it’s easier to get a reasonably priced picture made today than it’s ever been – this is evidenced by the number of movies being distributed by independent distributors. Although there has been a slight decline in the number of small-budget pictures produced by major studios as they increasingly focus on large productions.”

Lord Puttnam ended his lecture by paying tribute to fellow Cork resident Jeremy Irons. “Jeremy is a committed human being who’s an actor but much, much more.”

The same might be said of producer, and humanist, David Puttnam.

The Montreal World Film Festival took place 27th August – 7th September 2015 

 

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Report: Irish Screen America New York

Irish Screen America Glucksman Ireland House Oct. 2, 2015 Photo: James Higgins

Executive Director and Curator of Irish Screen America Niall McKay

Matthew Carlson was at the New York strand of Irish Screen America, which showcases the best in contemporary Irish media.

New York is full of cultural enclaves – a microcosm of America itself, a melting pot of culture, identity, and language, all mingling in the streets beneath glass towers and vertical architecture. What brings these cultures together is the arts, and this year, Irish Screen America (ISA), a bi-coastal film festival celebrating Irish cinema, saw dramas, comedies, documentaries, narratives, animation, television, video games and interactive media come together. I was at the east coast edition at the NYU Cantor Film Center in New York, where I saw some fantastic, criminally underseen films and met with some lovely people who worked selflessly to make this experience possible.

Niall McKay, an Emmy-winning writer/director, is the festival’s Executive Director and Curator. When we spoke, he expressed his passion for filmmaking, filmmakers, and the curating of films, as well as the actual work involved in building a community that could support Irish film in the United States. “We do this by showing their work and connecting them with industry professionals here in New York and Los Angeles.” According to Niall, the industry parties in LA (at USC) and New York (at the Consulate General’s beautiful penthouse) helped visiting filmmakers connect with industry professionals such as distributors, sales agents and managers, while celebratory days such as “local filmmaker day” bolstered a sense of thriving community between visiting filmmakers and citizens of Irish descent who call New York / LA their home.

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There were plenty of highlights: Traders [above], by Rachel Moriarty and Peter Murphy, and starring John Bradley, about ordinary people who kill for money in a dystopian world where killing is allowed and organized according to a strict code. Cathy Brady led a directing masterclass and, later, showcased a haunting short, Wasted, about a group of stoners in a tense pressure-cooker as disagreements boil to the surface on a camping trip. But this writer’s favourite piece came in the form of Martin’s Life, a trio of animated vignettes, directed by Liam Hallihan, in which a boy and his parents have a series of elliptical conversations that focus on age-gaps and an inability to relate (in one episode, Martin watches Game of Thrones, but his dad can’t grasp the title of the show or the names of the actors due to a hearing problem.) These minute-long vignettes are infinitely relatable for anyone who’s ever had a parent ask what they’re watching or listening to.

Ultimately, Niall’s festival showed a focus on community, a love of films and their makers, and a genuine interest in helping emerging artists and directors with their careers. Festivals such as these are crucial not only for networking as a director but for keeping the communal aspect of film-going alive – a practice so commonly eschewed in our world of Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and torrents. It’s an exciting time for Irish storytellers – quoth the curator, “I’ve seen a renaissance of Irish filmmakers and artists taking the production of film, television, animation, web-series and games to a new level.”

As for me, as a director and filmgoer, I hope that the bar is never set – and from what I saw, this ideal is evinced at ISA New York.

 

Irish Screen America New York took place 2 – 4 October 2015

 

 

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Report: The Irish VFX + Animation Summit

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Jonathan Victory went along to the Irish VFX + Animation Summit, which hosted masterclass sessions, presentations and discussions, bringing industry talent from both Ireland and overseas to share their experience and techniques.

Google’s Dublin Headquarters played host to the Irish VFX + Animation Summit, a gathering of leading figures from the worlds of design, animation and visual effects (VFX). This summit is becoming an annual fixture for those working in the animation industry here, providing an opportunity for training and networking as well as for promoting Ireland as a talent hub for this field. The work that animators do has become increasingly important to the audio-visual sector and meeting the speakers at this summit, seeing their openness and infectious energy, reveals the vibrancy of their field.

Sponsors included the American Embassy in Dublin, suggesting some international interest in Ireland as a location for developing this industry. There was also support from our own government with Screen Training Ireland and Animation Skillnet facilitating many of the talks and an appearance from the Minister for Education and Skills, Jan O’Sullivan. She told Film Ireland that, “There is a misunderstanding that there aren’t careers from a variety of arts subjects” and that creative subjects are something she wishes to support throughout all levels of education. When asked what specifically this government has done to support creative industries she highlighted that, “The government introduced some special tax breaks earlier on this year which I know from some of the discussions I’ve had here today are encouraging filmmaking here in Ireland and I think we will see a considerable growth now that those tax changes have been introduced.”

Yet it is not just the increased use of VFX in film and television that provides career opportunities for animators. As Andy Hayes and Paul Timpson of the effects house Framestore outlined, there are also skilled people needed in the fields of advertising, design and even bio-medical research, as imaging is a crucial way to communicate with patients. Timpson is shortly setting up a new effects house in Dublin called Studio TM, while Hayes is Head of FX at Framestore, one of the world’s foremost VFX companies. Their experience covers a range of feature films that required practical shot sequences tailored to augmentation with VFX.

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They collaborated on the fantasy-sci-fi film The Golden Compass (2007) in which the young heroine rode on the back of a polar bear that was animated later. They had to design a rig the actress could ride safely that would then match up with animation. Gravity (2013) is a more recent project Framestore worked on and Hayes explained that not only was the outer-space environment pre-lit ahead of time but the entire movie was pre-visualised years in advance. The challenge for the film crew then was to shoot the elements that required actors but with precisely programmed camera movements and LED lights that matched the computer-environment’s lighting.

The precise work required in designing such movies along with the thousands of man-hours in then animating completed effects has employed more and more people in recent decades, becoming something of an economic behemoth in its own right, a field in which Hayes and Timpson insist there are plenty of job opportunities. Initially, VFX were intended to achieve what couldn’t be done with practical in-camera effects but now VFX are prevalent throughout all sorts of movies, at least in Hollywood’s output. Is it possible that with all the investment in VFX, film productions are pushed towards relying on VFX?

Paul Timpson believes this is an aesthetic choice that comes down to each individual filmmaker. The experience of Mark Ardington, a VFX artist with Double Negative, seems to have been positive in this regard as he worked with director Alex Garland on the relatively low-budget Ex Machina (2015). He gave a talk about his work on the sci-fi film, in which Domhnall Gleeson’s IT man is introduced to an artificially-intelligent cyborg Ava, played by Alicia Vikander.

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The seamless effects in this movie have parts of Ava’s torso become a translucent mesh, which were achieved by animating the footage frame-by-frame, following marked points on her costume. Ardington said that they tracked movement with basic “rubber black rings that are in the design of the costume and they’ve got these little reflective studs in them” so that they didn’t “impose any restraints on how they filmed it by having to set up motion-capture settings or anything like that.” The result is VFX that serves the story, something that Ardington feels can get lost in more bombastic blockbusters:

“Visual effects films fall into one of two categories. Most of them fall into the ‘I’m a visual effect, I’m all-singing and dancing’ and they really want you to see it and notice it so they can show off they spent all this money on the visual effect. Ex Machina is different to that. The visual effect is there in your face the whole time you’re watching the film but it’s seamless and it’s subtle and you accept it. It doesn’t grab you and go, ‘Aah! I’m a visual effect!’ If the visual effect was always trying to take over, it would take away from her performance and the believability of her character.”

Is such a balance between practical effects and VFX lost in larger-scale productions? Are modern movies and modern computer-generated imagery (CGI) itself suffering from a decline in quality? There are those who argue for this idea and those who argue against it insisting that each production find its own needs when it comes to effective VFX design.

This summit also featured showcases of design on animation projects like the upcoming Danger Mouse reboot from Anglo-Irish animation house Boulder Media and graphic design for live-action film. A talk on design for live-action film was given by Dublin-based graphic designer Annie Atkins who worked on Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, which won the Oscar for Best Production Design. She has since worked on Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies building on her specialty in replicating historical documents. While she highlighted that working in an art department can mostly entail unglamorous paperwork and intense research (she recommends scouring books and flea markets as opposed to Google Image search), she was able to share delightful details about her work with Wes Anderson.

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The Mendl’s pastry boxes were mass-produced with a spelling mistake (you’ll know you bought a genuine one off eBay if “patisserie” is spelt with two Ts), highlighting the importance of proofreading. The calling cards of Willem Dafoe’s character were based on contemporaneous cards that Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun used. So much work went into properly aging, stamping and marking an envelope in front of Harvey Keitel’s character. When asked why an art department must build so much detail for seemingly inconsequential props that are unlikely to be noticed she said that if historically-correct details hadn’t been added, you would be left with a blank piece of paper for an envelope. Were this to be reflected across the board, sets would start to look to very sparse and low-budget. Details that build a world go unnoticed but a world without details is very noticeable. She also told Film Ireland that, “We’re not always designing directly for the people in the audience. We have to design for the actors and director and the people on-set in order for them to do their work.”

Two highlights of the summit came from the United States. The first of which was Professor Stuart Sumida, a professor of biology at California State University, renowned for consulting on the anatomy and movement of animals for films such as The Lion King (1994) and Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur (2015), which screened at the summit. His study of physiology and movement informs animators’ efforts to create believable characters on-screen; even fictional animals such as dragons are typically designed by combining attributes of existing animals. Basically, the characters must be grounded in reality as best they can before they open their mouths and talk and stuff.

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When Sumida spoke to Film Ireland, he explained how you get an animal’s mouth to move like a human’s; “It usually involves studying both a human’s way of communicating and the construction of an animal’s face and then making some design decisions about how we’re gonna move lips and cheeks and so on. The farther you get from a human, the harder it becomes.” One would think that motion-capture performance such as that pioneered by actor Andy Serkis when playing Gollum in the Lord of the Rings trilogy would help in this regard but Sumida warns that you can still lose authenticity when it comes to other aspects of animal movement. His trained eyes found inaccuracies in the recent Planet of the Apes series too distracting, saying that, “Although the digital effects were massively impressive, the physical movements were appallingly incorrect. The posture was incorrect. Even the hand motion was incorrect. So with all due respect to Andy Serkis, he’s been much better in other films.”

When offered the example of Peter Jackson’s King Kong (2005) in which Serkis also performed motion-capture for a primate character, Sumida was more positive:

“Some of the facial animation in King Kong was stunning. It was beautiful acting. It was what animation should do. You looked at the face of that character and you saw that character. You didn’t think that ‘Someone was captured for this’. I was very impressed. The flipside of that is an animal that big could never have done the things he did. So if you want me to believe he lives in my universe I don’t buy it. He’s too heavy.”

This highlights the importance of plausible physics as well as biology when it comes to animation. This was something touched upon throughout the weekend, including Andy Hayes’ tale of a day where they set off fuel explosions and filmed them so that they could get a better understanding of how fire moves and how far you could exaggerate the physics in service of a director’s brief before it starts to look wrong. Scientific research is crucial to developing VFX and animation that looks good and sometimes that striving for perfection can lead to surprising reciprocal rewards for the scientific community. The medical profession’s need for improved imaging technology was touched on throughout the summit. The recent sci-fi film Interstellar (2014) had characters travelling through black holes and in designing a black hole the animators contributed to advances in understanding what a black hole actually does look like, according to the film’s scientific consultant Kip Thorne.

Sumida told Film Ireland it is very important to promote and support the link between the scientific community and the creative arts. A scientifically-literate arts community can promote scientific literacy through their work, which increases scientific literacy and support for science, which continues to support the arts and so the positive feedback loop goes on. Sumida wants such an interaction between science and creative industries to continue:

“That interaction is not yet as appreciated as it should be. One of the things I like to do is remind people in the animation and visual effects industries just how much science they are doing. It helps us convince the youth of today that art can be scientifically exciting and it helps us convince the scientists of today that science can be artistically beautiful. And it gives a greater appreciation of both and when that appreciation exists, the collaboration begins and we’re always better when we collaborate than when we stay apart. Always.”

The spirit of collaboration and collegiality was high at the VFX Summit but another speaker from the US united the summit in reverence. Jim Morris is the current President of Pixar and delivered a masterclass on the history of VFX on which he is an unparalleled guide of great clarity. He is a towering figure in the industry having been present for most of the advances in VFX since beginning work in this area at ILM in the 1980s just as the transition from photochemical post-production to the digital revolution began. He oversaw key advances made on films like James Cameron’s The Abyss (1989) and Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991) in which computer-animated creatures of liquid were realised, using processing power that Morris notes is probably available on an iPhone now. Death Becomes Her (1992) saw the first transplanting of Meryl Streep’s face to the back of her head and Jurassic Park (1993) was the game-changer that ushered in the modern era of VFX.

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Having been there at so many iconic moments in the history of VFX, he is now the President of Pixar and still speaking highly of technological advances made on their projects, notably the use of real geological survey data from Montana and Wyoming to create the backgrounds in The Good Dinosaur. I asked him how Pixar approaches the writing of its most successful films and he outlined how they will have a handful of projects in production at any one time which allows directors to give feedback on each other’s films. The process from pitching a story to cinema release takes roughly five years for them and much of that time is spent on rigorous refining of a rough-cut assembled from storyboards so they can essentially see their finished film before taking it to animators. This is a luxury their unique set-up affords them, allowing them to refine stories well but often the story comes from a place of emotional resonance to the director. He cites Finding Nemo (2003) and Inside Out (2015) as movies whose directors were dealing with the challenges of parenthood and expressing themselves through the story.

Animation is in its own right a great medium for storytelling and an area for growth in Ireland with companies like Cartoon Saloon and Brown Bag Films already finding international success. VFX and animation offer exciting jobs for creative projects and are open to anyone with the interest, passion and commitment to contribute, with scientific literacy being a huge bonus. The effects houses represented here all said they need to recruit more talent. If the people at this summit were anything to go by, it’s good company to be in.

 

The Irish VFX & Animation Summit took place 20 – 22 November 2015

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Report: IFI Spotlight 2015

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Deirdre Molumby attended IFI Spotlight 2015, a day-long space for in-depth critical engagement with current Irish media culture, which took place on Saturday, 25th April 2015 at the Irish Film Institute in Dublin.

 

Last weekend marked the Irish Film Institute’s third annual focus on Irish film and television. With guests including filmmakers, critics, academics and enthusiasts, IFI Spotlight 2015 provided a space for analysing the accomplishments of Irish film and television output in the last twelve months, and for discussing what aspects of the industry could be improved.

Ross Keane, director of the IFI, kicked things off by introducing this reflective and engaging event. He explained the wide range of programmes offered by the IFI that support the Irish film industry, including the Irish film archive, a new Irish shorts programme, and Ireland on Sunday, the institute’s monthly showcase for new Irish film. The proceedings were subsequently moderated by Margaret Kelleher, Chairperson of the IFI Board of Directors, who introduced Dr Roddy Flynn of DCU.

Dr Flynn [above] gave the keynote address, which was entitled ‘20 Years a Growing or “The Ailsa to Zonad” of Irish Cinema or “What is Irish Cinema, Literally?”’. Dr Flynn demonstrated how he and fellow academic Tony Tracy were in the process of creating a survey database of feature films funded by the Irish Film Board produced in the last twenty years and trends in their production. Though he emphasised that there was much work still to be done, Dr Flynn had already come across a number of interesting findings. Some of the findings included that directors and screenwriters of the last twenty years were overwhelmingly male (at 81% and 83% respectively), though females dominate other areas of the industry such as costume design and make-up. Interestingly, the Irish film industry has a high number of writer-directors (62%), which is quite unusual by the international standard of having separate directors and screenwriters. Most of the films produced in the last twenty years have been dramas and have been set in Dublin. Other findings included that there are vastly different budgets across Irish feature films and that there have been a great number of international co-productions made in the last two decades.

Dr Flynn was followed by the first panel of the day, which reviewed the Irish film and television output of the year 2014. Sunniva O’Flynn, Head of Irish Film Programming at the IFI, chaired the panel, which included producer and festival director David Rane, Executive Director of Screen Directors Guild Birch Hamilton, animator and Oscar nominee Tomm Moore, and Commissioning Director of TG4 Micheál Ó Meallaigh.

Hamilton observed that the lines between the television and film industries are blurring, and that producers and filmmakers need to look to broader areas of broadcasting, online and digital for assimilation in the future. Birch also stated that she believed there needed to be more of a focus on first-time directors who, having shown talent in their first production, should receive support to make a second. Moore found that the state of the Irish animation industry was very healthy with productions being made specifically for international companies, for example, Doc McStuffins for Disney Junior, while other Irish productions are travelling well abroad, such as Henry Hugglemonster. Penguin, Walker and other publishers have been working with animation companies, and the possibilities for international co-productions could be opened even further, to Asia and South America rather than just Europe. Moore also spoke positively about the first Irish Animation Awards, which were held in Dingle, and about the apprenticeships and collaborative relationships offered by the animation industry in Ireland.

Next, Ó Meallaigh talked about Irish language productions and television drama. For Ó Meallaigh, the greatest challenge TG4 has to face is subtitles, as audiences struggle to listen to dialogue, read text and follow a program at the same time. He also spoke about realistic ways to use the Irish language in a film or TV production, for example, An Bronntanas uses a mix of English and Irish while Corp is Anam is set in a fictional town where only Irish is spoken. Rane then spoke about feature documentary production in Ireland, and found that its current state is very poor. He observed that more funding was going to American, English and German documentary filmmakers than to Irish, and that Irish documentaries were not getting enough international distribution. Rane found that Irish broadcasters were happy to air Irish documentaries but were not putting enough money into them, and agreed with Birch that a reinvestment in talent was sorely needed. After the four industry members spoke, an in-depth discussion was had between the audience members and the panel through Q&As.

After an afternoon break, the IFI Spotlight Soapbox was given to Brian Finnegan [above], editor of GCN and author of The Forced Redundancy Film Club. In the run-up to the Marriage Equality Referendum this May, Finnegan looked at the representation of LGBT issues across the history of Irish film, with a focus on gay protagonists. Looking at a number of texts including A Man of No Importance, 2 by 4, Breakfast on Pluto and Albert Nobbs, Finnegan found that these films, in spite of their representation of queer protagonists, cannot be considered queer or gay texts, as the lead would often be a figure of victimisation, gay sex was portrayed unrealistically or not at all, and that acceptance of identity and sexuality does not occur in the finale of these films. He found that Neil Jordan’s The Crying Game has been the only film to satisfactorily explore these issues.

The second panel was then held. Entitled ‘I’m Not a Fan of Irish Movies’, inspired by the comments of director John Michael McDonagh earlier this year that he did not consider his film Calvary an Irish film and that he did not think Irish films were any good, the panel sought to address these comments as well as to discuss the current state of Irish movies generally. The chai,r Dr Debbie Ging, chair of the MA in Film and Television Studies at DCU, introduced the panel and made some observations of her own, including that Irish cinema has seen a shift away from themes such as motherhood and rural locales to new urban, universal themes. She also noted the vast number of ways to categorise films as Irish including location, origin of director/writer, funding, themes and more.

The panel, which included director Lenny Abrahamson, writer/director Carmel Winters, and Sunday Times chief arts editor Eithne Shortall, all had different and interesting points to make. Abrahamson stated it was vital for filmmakers to avoid the same themes of previous Irish cinemas, and that they need to create films that can be viewed through multiple prisms. Winters celebrated the accomplishments of recent Irish film, particularly given the relatively small size of Ireland, as well as its limited budgets and crew numbers. Shortall observed that McDonagh, and his brother, Martin McDonagh, use a version of Irishness in what they produce, and that Calvary uses Ireland rather than adding to Irish cinema. After the comments, there was a lively Q&A and discussion about these and other topics such as Irish movies in the box office.

Lastly, Margaret Kelleher summarised the day’s proceedings and encouraged the guest speakers to say what they would like to see happen in the industry over the next year.

 

Deirdre Molumby is an MLitt Film Studies student at TCD

 

You can listen to all the day’s talks and panels here

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Report: Dublin Doc Festival

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Dee O’Donoghue reports from this  year’s Dublin Doc Festival and takes a look at the top three short documentaries.

 

Now in it’s 3rd year, the Dublin Doc Festival was recently held in the historic and resplendent setting of The O’Connell Room at The Irish Georgian Society. Providing a unique platform for both Irish and International documentary filmmakers, the event aims to showcase short documentary films and highlight Dublin as an international destination for documentary film. This year’s festival attracted over eighty entrants, with seven films shortlisted and curated around the theme of  interior/exterior and mindscape versus landscape.  The selection of documentaries blend an idiosyncratic exploration of the festival’s themes with more traditional conventions of documentary filmmaking, probing challenging and existential questions of the past, present and future. The seven shortlisted documentary films included:

 

‘Fathom’ by Pat Collins and Sharon Whooley

‘Bloody Good Headline’ by Paul Quinn and Tom Burke

‘Bo’ by Oisín Bickley

‘Gordie’ by Traolach Ó Murchú

‘Love and Other Drags’ by Ryan Ralph

‘Anónimo’ by Moises Anaya

‘The Last Days of Peter Bergmann’ by Ciaran Cassidy

 

The above films engage with diverse aspects of individualism, marginalisation, alienation and difference, including; a day in the life of a newspaper seller, the isolating yet hypnotic life around South West Cork’s Fastnet Lighthouse, a homeless man negotiating life on the threatening city streets, the career ambitions of an aspiring drag queen, a Tinglit man’s struggle to comprehend a childhood trauma, the mysterious last days of a foreigner in Sligo and a unique insight into life on the land for a West Cork dairy farmer.

 

This year’s top three short documentaries executed the festival’s themes through a visual and thought-provoking exploration of its subjects and subjectivity, elevating the everyday ordinary to the wondrous extraordinary.

 

Bloody Good Headline directed by Paul Quinn and Tom Burke

 

Opening the festival, Bloody Good Headline explores the anonymous identities behind some of Dublin’s rush-hour newspaper sellers, inviting the audience to see, hear and identify with the dehumanized figures that blend into the capital’s cityscape. The film goes behind the people holding the headlines, the purveyors of bad news, to portray the physical endurance and psychological effect of an occupation where one person’s misfortune is another’s financial gain. The film provides a fascinating insight into the socio-economic circumstances of the newspaper sellers who navigate demanding and demeaning everyday situations for very little economic reward.

 

Gordie by Traolach Ó Murchú

 

Gordie is a powerful story about a drug addict and alcoholic Tlingit man, who narrates his own account of a childhood trauma that haunts him to this day. Recalling his kidnap and subsequent gang rape against the backdrop of a bleak and hostile landscape, Gordie’s jagged narration and haunting tone pieces together elements of this disturbing event, the memory of his trauma blurred and incomplete, leaving the story open to audience interpretation.

 

 

 

The Last Days of Peter Bergmann­ directed by Ciaran Cassidy

 

Closing the festival on a note of intrigue, The Last Days of Peter Bergmann explores the mysterious final days of a foreigner, who arrived into Sligo town under an assumed identity and whose methodical daily routine over the course of three days comes under scrutiny when a body is washed up on Rosses Point beach. Going to great lengths to conceal his true identity and dispose of his personal possessions, the beautifully-paced film recreates puzzling events in the traditional style of documentary filmmaking, with eye witness accounts attempting to piece together the baffling and saddening fate of this unknown man.

 

 

The third Dublin Doc Fest took place on Saturday, 28th February 2015 at 7pm in The Irish Georgian Society, City Assembly House, 58 South William Street, Dublin.

 

Read an interview with Festival Director Tess Motherway here

 

 

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Report: Locarno Film Festival

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Story of My Death (Albert Serra)

 

Ronan Doyle reports from the 66th Locarno Film Festival

“This is true cinema!” screamed Baltasar Kormákur—the animated Icelandic director whose latest movie, 2 Guns, opened this year’s Locarno Film Festival — to the signature outdoor venue Piazza Grande’s rapidly-emptying 8,000 seats as a wild storm forced the bulk of the crowd out, or rather in. Two weeks on, with the festival’s hectic feast of films now behind us, it’s clear just how appropriate an intro that scene proved to be. It was true cinema, a proud celebration of the wide diversity that comprises modern movies and a fitting tribute to their immense power to bring us together in our droves.

 

That’s a potential paid tribute to in the Piazza Grande selection as much as the typically varied competition strand. Carlo Chatrian, assuming artistic director duties for the first time after many years with the festival in other capacities, evidently understands the dual demands of a venue so large. Nowhere is the manner in which the festival overtakes its host—a small city in Switzerland’s Italian-speaking canton Ticino, hugged by mountains on one side and Lake Maggiore on the other—better seen than the Piazza, a makeshift screening space erected in the city’s dead-centre with Europe’s largest outdoor cinema screen. To fill so many seats is of course a commercial concern, and one seemingly at odds with the spirit of discovery on which the festival provides itself. Yet Chatrian managed a miraculous balancing act with the chosen array, deftly sneaking in subversive oddities like Quentin Dupieux’s absurdist Wrong Cops alongside mainstream fare such as We’re the Millers. No doubt the festival’s nightly award ceremonies helped, inviting festival goers to preface Piazza screenings with presentations to cinema legends the like of Christopher Lee, Anna Karina, and Werner Herzog.

 

But those less drawn to the shine of stars had other options aplenty, as Locarno’s wealth of venues played host to a bulging slate of twenty titles in competition. Catalan director Albert Serra’s Dracula-meets-Casanova period drama Story of My Death was eventually awarded the prestigious Pardo d’Oro, a disappointingly stuffy choice when considered alongside the cream of its competitors. Droves of walkouts at the first public screening of Hélene Cattet and Bruno Forzani’s extreme neo-giallo horror The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears made that movie’s chances unlikely from the get-go, but how nice it might have been to see something so different afforded some recognition, particularly given its brilliance as an intimidating indictment of the male gaze. Or why not What Now? Remind Me, Portuguese director Joaquim Pinto’s profoundly personal chronicle of a year spent undergoing experimental treatment for HIV? Extraordinarily and often excruciatingly moving, the film at least earned the runner-up award from the Lav Diaz-led jury, as well as the FIPRESCI prize from international critics.

 

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The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears (Hélene Cattet and Bruno Forzani)

Special mentions were afforded Yves Yersin’s Tableau Noir and Destin Cretton’s Short Term 12, whose rapturous reception, standing ovations and all, ensured it an early spot atop the likely winners list. Star Brie Larsson rightly won the jury’s best actress award, while El Mudo’s Fernando Bacilio took home the corresponding male prize. The venerable Hong Sang-soo won best director for his endlessly entertaining Our Sunhi, another boozy tale of men defining women in the image of their own imagination. Other standouts included Romanian director Corneliu Porumboiu’s spare self-referential comedy When Evening Falls on Bucharest or Metabolism and Exhibition, a stunningly-shot study from rising British director Joanna Hogg.

 

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Our Sunhi (Hong Sang-soo)

More talent still outside the main competition; the festival’s Cineasti del Presente strand is a promise for the future, bringing together a selection of first and second-time directors for a varied slate of international efforts. Victory here for Manakamana—an often wordless documentary composed of static ten-minute shots from within a cable car—from the Harvard Sensory Ethnography Lab, whose Leviathan was part of the main competition at Locarno last year. Lois Patiño’s best director victory for Coast of Death was unsurprising given the film’s stunning capture of the Galician cliffs. A special mention deservedly went to Thai director Nontawat Numbenchapol, whose By the River was one of the festival’s most unquestionably beautiful offerings, despite the troublesome structure of its docudrama look at local lead poisoning.

 

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Coast of Death (Lois Patiño)

For all the indication Locarno offered this year of the security of cinema’s future, it was no less a celebration of its past, as retrospectives aplenty cast festival-goers’ collective mind back to generations past. A comprehensive collection of Hollywood director George Cukor’s filmography was the main appeal, reliably filling screenings with the variety of Golden Age stars that populate his movies. Each of the festival’s honourees were treated to screenings of their work, too, treating audiences to a dozen Herzog films as well as a pair of screenings of special effects legend Douglas Trumbull’s career-maker 2001: A Space Odyssey.

 

That a classic as unassailable as that film could share a screening venue with a host of new movies from little-known directors is indicative of the broad definition of cinema the Locarno Film Festival thrives on. The hundreds of screenings and thousands upon thousands of viewers that made up its 66th edition eagerly attest the culture of community the movies have the power to foster. How right Kormákur was as he stood before the storm on that opening night. How strong a display of true cinema this has been.

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Report: Ballyfermot College Final Year Animation Showcase 2013

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Paddy Delaney went along to the recent Ballyfermot College Final Year Animation Showcase to check out Ireland’s future animators.

Irish animation is standing pretty strong on an international level. From prestigious awards at Sundance for Irish Folk Furniture  to continued international success, with companies like Brown Bag Animation, to having the No.1 children’s television show in 2012 with over 100 million viewers in over 160 countries. Attending the Ballyfermot showcase it’s easy to see why.

When asked what he thought of the offerings one attendee said, “The standard was really great. This year the standard was just so professional” and he was absolutely correct. It was incredibly impressive to see what a small team of animation students could accomplish. Ranging in duration, there was a staggering variety of styles and subject matter. From the illustrated style sea-monster story of Curraid by Adam Kavanagh, to the hauntingly beautiful Lake Isle of Innisfree by Don Carey, to the unsettling The Pit Out There by JJ Kavanagh, to the short but hilarious Not Programmed For Love by Brian McDevitt the technical achievements of all the films were remarkable.

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Lake Isle of Innisfree

Another shining example of the quality to be expected from the College’s alumni was my personal favourite The Sweet Life by Maureen Walshe. Reminiscent of the opening montage from Disney/Pixar’s Up it tells a story of hardship, loss and redemption with a touching and heart-warming happy ending that had everyone in the audience saying “Aw”. All this was done in about three or four minutes with no dialogue. The stylised three dimensional characters were so expressive and the soundtrack so perfectly aligned with the events of the story that there was never any uncertainty as to what was happening or how the cast of characters were feeling.

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The Sweet Life

Speaking with Maureen after the show it was clear that it’s not just time the college are willing to invest to see their students succeed. For example, eight of the films from the show-reel were selected for the Galway Film Fleadh, and as Maureen said, “The college are really, really good at getting (our films) into the festivals, they paid for all of us. They’re really good like that”.

Despite some technical difficulties (the Blu-ray had to played through a PS3 and the pub next door was on standby as a backup location due to earlier problems with the audio) it is very hard to look on this showcase as anything but a rousing success and a testament to the hard work and skill of the students at Ballyfermot. If their films are anything to go on, Ireland will continue to be a world leader in the field of animation.

 

The films shown were:

Curraid

1798 Rebellion

Complicit

16,000 ft

Cat Calls

Strongbow & Aoife

1Up

Snagged

Endurance

Love is Blind

The Pit Outside

Mass Appeal

Mochi Mochi

Not Programmed For Love

The Sweet Life

Duncan

The Winklesteins

Reflections

The Lake Isle of Innisfree.

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Report: Film Ireland at the Dublin Doc Fest

Doc Fest

 

Carmen Bryce reports on the Dublin Doc Fest, which recently took place as part of the 10 Days in Dublin arts festival.

The Dublin Doc Fest (DDF) served documentary aficionados with a generous helping of beautifully crafted shorts as part of the ‘10 Days in Dublin’ arts festival.

DDF is an exciting new short documentary film festival that showcased work from both Irish and International documentary filmmakers, its objective to provide a new platform for short documentary film and to place it centre stage. It is the only purely short documentary film event in Ireland.

In this first instalment on 4th July at the Sugar Club (D2), the festival delivered work exploring art and the artistic process, memory, addiction, hope and the strength of the human spirit from award winning documentaries and filmmakers such Colm Quinn, Martin Bleazard, Andrew Telling, Hedvika Hlavackova, Siobhan Perry and Ross McDonnell.

The festival invited an audience to sink their teeth into an assortment of documentaries that each offered a brief but provoking insight into vastly contrasting topics, from springboard diving to drug addiction.

The festival got underway with Off The Board by Siobhan Perry, which took a look at the world of spring board diving in Ireland. The doc, which received ‘Special Mention’ at the Galway Film Fleadh 2012, is a slowly paced, stylised short, easing the audience gently into the evening’s screening experience.

Set against a melodious soundtrack, the movement of diving in the docu is represented through vivid and striking images of the young divers while they narrate their experience, motivations and fears as competitive athletes through disembodied voices.

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Needle Exchange

Colm Quinn’s Needle Exchange offered a very contrasting tone, style and content. Produced by Andrew Freedman for Venom Productions, Needle Exchange tells the story of two recovering drug addicts who practice tattooing on each other and find over time that they mark each other in more ways than merely physical.

The engaging, touching and at times, darkly humorous documentary, had already screened in festivals such as the Galway Film Festival, the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival, Seattle International Film Festival, Worldwide Short Film Festival and Paris Documentary Festival to name a few.

Another memorable screening at the Dublin Doc Festival was Jan Blom by Martin Bleazard, which tells the story of a rowing coach from Holland who found himself in the Port Alfred township of South Africa after his partner died and started an organisation to train disadvantaged children in sports and basic education. The story of Jan Blom is uplifting and inspirational, warming the hearts of even the most cynical viewer.

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Remember Me, My Ghost

A highlight of the festival was Remember Me, My Ghost by Ross McDonnell, in which a resident of the notorious Ballymun flats in Dublin’s northside recounts her bleak experiences living amongst drug abuse, social deprivation and the constant threat of violence.

The documentary was developed out of McDonnell’s stills project ‘Joyride’ in which he photographed teenage residents of Ballymun. The initial focus of the project was as a fictional feature with the script developed through interviews with Ballymun’s real life protagonists. However, upon McDonnell’s return to the area the tower blocks had been demolished so he decided to take another approach for the short.

Instead, we get a heartbreaking story of a woman who has her hopes of a new life for her young family violated and crushed but ultimately finds her way through the other side to a better future.

Festival Director Tess Motherway told Film Ireland she would love to see DDF become a fully fledged and internationally renowned event.

She said, “As festival director, I couldn’t be happier with how the first ever screening went. I was delighted with the turn out and have been receiving nothing but positive feedback for the selection of films, the way they were put together, which was a huge motivation – to screen short documentary film as a curated event, and for the event itself.”

Tess added, “The essence of the festival is to specially curate short documentary film in an engaging way – to counteract the trend of showing short docs as opening acts to larger features. I believe Ireland has some of the best documentary filmmakers in the business but unfortunately they receive little acknowledgement closer to home. As for short documentary film, it is a hugely underappreciated form of film and that’s why I wanted to create a new platform for short documentary film in Ireland.

“There was a lot of work put in, as I work full time in the industry myself, and spent most evenings over the last few months promoting, watching submissions, selecting films and getting the right formats for screening. It was important for me to show high quality films in high quality formats. What also sprung from submissions, and which was also something that I wanted to create, was a mix of funded, professional and student films side by side – not separated, but shown together for their quality and merit.

“I would love to see DDF grow bigger in the future, to become a fully fledged and internationally renowned event, on par with other documentary film festivals such as Sheffiled Doc Fest and to create a hub for audience and filmmakers alike,” she added.

Carmen Bryce

 

 

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Report: Graduate Screening at the Huston School of Film and Digital Media, NUI Galway

 
Amidst the bustle of the conferring ceremonies held in NUI Galway last week on Friday, 23rd November, another smaller yet unique event was taking place in the premises of the Huston School of Film and Digital Media; the graduate screening of films produced by students of both the MA in Production and Direction and the MA in Digital Media. A colourful and diverse selection, the eight short films spanned a wide scope of topics and exemplified the array of different voices and perspectives emerging from Irish film schools today.

 

Saving Turf, a short documentary about the conflict over state and EU regulation of turf cutting in Ireland, was first on the bill. Directed by Gearóid Hayes and produced by Michael Mann, the film effectively places archive footage alongside deftly executed shots of bogs and turf cutters as they are today. The tradition of turf cutting and how it is being curbed in recent times by Government intervention is underscored by a theme of man’s connectedness with land and how, in the Celtic Tiger era, this tie was loosened, but in the present downturn may need to be refastened.

 

The next film, Exodus, directed by Darren Hinchy and produced by Mairead Ní Threinir, takes the somewhat ubiquitous figure of the disillusioned white male and places him in a sci-fi setting, with ironic results. Taking the notion of commercially available time travel as its central plot device, the film makes clever use of visual effects without being overly flashy and playfully extols the lesson of ‘be careful what you wish for’.

 

Next up was a music video for the song ‘Head in the Clouds’ from Irish folk-pop outfit Amazing Apples, directed by Aisling Egan. The video is beautifully shot with a rich colour palette and convincingly evokes a bygone era of troubadours and barn dances, through clever use of costume and locations. It also comprises a tight edit, as all good music videos should.

 

Following on from this was As Long as I’m Here, a short documentary about Corofin native Martin Fleming and his work with children living in areas suffering from the effects of radiation after the nuclear explosion in Chernobyl in 1986. Directed by Dearbhla Tobin and produced by Katrin Salhenegger, the film tells the story of Fleming’s selflessness and dedication to his charitable work through the voices of those who work with him and members of the local community.

 

Next up was Liam Mellowes: Battle for the Legacy 1916, directed by Michael Mann and produced by Dearbhla Tobin. The film details the life of Liam Mellowes and his role in the Easter rising, and questions how the ideals of that uprising can be related to contemporary Ireland in its current crisis. While the events of that Easter week in Dublin are widely known, this film examines the lesser known facts about how the rising played out across the country, specifically in Galway. A well constructed documentary, it makes good use of archive footage and highly knowledgeable contributors.

 

Not Just in Tents, directed by Mairead Treanor and produced by Carla Maria Tighe, continued the documentary theme. The piece looks at the now disassembled Occupy movement in Galway, and imparts an overall message of action over passivity in the face of the financial crisis currently facing the country. Like much of the work at the screening, the film features highly competent cinematography and uses its visuals as a means to clearly reiterate its central message. The film invokes the power of the individual in the face of crisis and unreservedly places the onus on the audience to act instead of acquiesce.

 

The penultimate film, Martin McDonnell’s Grass and Lavender, takes a more abstract and experimental form than the other works. An eclectic montage of sound and visuals, in the context of this screening, the film shows the power of experimental work to subvert expectations and stir an audience out of their comfort zone.

 

Unheard, directed by Carla Maria Tighe and produced by Lynda Bradley, brought the screening to a close. This short film follows Aisling, a young musician, as she struggles with the loss of her hearing. A highly emotive piece, the film astutely depicts the effect of a sense, one that is often taken for granted, being diminished or taken away. Given the importance of music in Aisling’s life, her hearing difficulties are more palpably felt. The aural theme of the film is complemented by rich, colourful visuals, with inventive production design. This is an uplifting story of triumph over adversity, serving as a fitting finale to this thought provoking array of films.

Cathy Butler

 

 

 

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Report: Galway Film Fleadh 2012

 

While the Galway Film Fleadh is always an occasion to set the real world aside for a few days and jump knee deep into multiple film viewings, alas, one can’t throw their arms around everything.  Here is a quick rundown on what this viewer was able to catch during Fleadh 2012.

Grabbers

Finally, the Irish genre film elevated to a whole new level.  The central premise of inebriation being the only defence against alien monsters that are attacking a remote Donegal island could have easily taken a wrong turn into pandering and paddywhackery.  Thankfully, the filmmakers find just the right tone nearly every step of the way and turn Ireland’s most clichéd attribute into a winning plot device that is neither cheap nor insulting.  Jon Wright’s sharp direction, Kevin Lehane’s clever writing and an excellent cast have great fun with horror movie conventions, and they collectively carve out an entertaining romp that Irish (and hopefully other) audiences can proudly embrace.

The Good Man

A simple but risky concept: two storylines, one following a disaffected black teen in South Africa, and the other in Belfast detailing a jaded white businessman’s unravelling; both are told in parallel and only ever intersect in tangential fashion.  No one from either storyline ever shares a scene or has any direct interaction with anyone from the other.  Still, both storylines are morality plays, and the well-intended actions in Belfast of Aiden Gillen’s international property broker does eventually have a detrimental effect of the township young Thabang Sidloyi lives in. It’s a dicey gamble writer-director Phil Harrison takes, and he manages to pull it off beautifully.  The finely tuned, extremely well balanced script is bolstered by powerful yet understated performances and straightforward storytelling that, thankfully, scrupulously avoids any soapbox moralising.

Pilgrim Hill

Writer-director Gerard Barrett’s highly effective documentary style drama paints a grim portrait of isolation and the dwindling prospects for small farmers in rural Ireland.  Joe Mullins gives an utterly naturalistic performance as Jimmy Walsh, whose life on his ramshackle farm is downbeat enough at the start and then hits a bad patch from there.  Pilgrim Hill is a one of those films that is increasingly uncomfortable to watch, but is so accomplished in its portrait of the human drama, you simply can’t look away.  Compelling but heart-breaking stuff.

Jump

The lives of a group of Derry youngsters are chronicled on one fateful New Year’s Eve.   The individual strands and fractured timeline all come together seamlessly to generate genuine suspense, drama and humour.  Kieron J. Walsh’s direction is nimble throughout and the ensemble cast terrific from top to bottom.  It’s a pleasure to see a Derry set film that isn’t about the Troubles and doesn’t even mention them once.  An extremely accomplished and highly enjoyable film that deserves to travel beyond the confines of Ireland.

King of the Travellers

Writer-director Mark O’Connor’s follow-up to the brash, bravado fuelled Between the Canals is a saga set in the world of the Travellers.  While the access and insight into the Traveller world is fascinating, the plot machinations seem underdeveloped and come off as an increasingly slapdash concoction of other films and stories: The Godfather, On the Waterfront, Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Shane (amongst other westerns), and too many others to count.  O’Connor has the vision and energy of a young Irish Scorsese – he’s truly a talent to watch.  He just needs his Paul Schrader to come along and give him a script he can take to the next level.  At present, his scriptwriting ability is his biggest liability.

Good Vibrations

The real life tale of Terri Hooley, who, in the midst of the Troubles in the 70s, decides to open a record shop on the Belfast’s most bombed street and then goes on to champion the city’s burgeoning punk scene.  A game cast and superior production design help make the film a true prism of the time, and Good Vibrations succeeds brilliantly in authentically capturing the period detail, mood, and historical relevance.  However, it is in the personal/domestic story where the film stumbles somewhat.  The depiction of Hooley’s home life simply seems pedestrian in comparison to the rest of the events. Still, a great achievement and a fine, entertaining film.

 

www.galwayfilmfleadh.com

Shane Perez

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Report: Freshly Squeezed International Student Short Film Festival

You Shall Not Leave the Way (pictured) , an animated film from the Czech Republic, won the Grand Prize at the first Freshly Squeezed International Student Short Film Festival held at the Screen cinema, Dublin, this weekend.

Access Cinema will distribute the film to over 80 film clubs and societies around Ireland.  The jury included Access Cinema director Maeve Cooke and programme manager David O’Mahony, together with filmmakers Mait Laas, Conor Horgan, Ken Wardrop and David Caffrey.

The film follows its main character on his journey through life, accepting guidelines set by his parents and encouraging others to do the same.  The film, with its unique visual style, makes excellent use of sound and music

Veronika Szemlova, the film’s director, trained at the Tomas Bata University in Zlin, Czech Republic.  Three of the six films featured in the animated section came from that university.  Surprisingly, given the animation boom in Ireland, there were no Irish films in the animation section.

Patricia Klinch from DIT provided strange but beautiful images in Non-Simultaneously Apprehended.  Paul Mahon from Pulse College displayed versatility in Storm in a Teacup, in which he joined two unconnected short films, one shot in black and white, the other in colour.  Nobody else knew what I was doing, he said, I never wrote anything down.  Klinch took the same approach, emphasising the experimental nature that characterises the best shorts

Festival highlights included the excellent documentary Kirkcaldy Man (Julian Schwanitz), in which the director seeks former world darts champion Jocky Wilson in his hometown to find out why he stopped playing, while Spanish filmmakers impressed in the comedy and horror sections with El Punto Rojo (Darío José Ferrer) and La Cuerda (Jóvenes Realizadores).

Audience members were particularly pleased with the performances of children in the drama section.  Lucy Chen, in Push and Pull (Dorothy Pranolo) from Australia, was remarkable, playing a young girl struggling with her pushy mother.  She prepares for a violin audition when drawing is her true passion.  Childhood friendship provided the theme for the Audience Award winner, White Square (Ivan Pavljutskov, Estonia).

The 34 films displayed high standards of technical accomplishment, and the quality of acting impressed Brendan Culleton, from Akajava, who spoke about his industry experience.

Edwina Forkin (Zanzibar) and Robert Cullen (Boulder Media) provided tips for students wishing to pursue a career in film.  Forkin said, Making a career in the film industry, you have to play a game.  She described the ladder that starts with student shorts, moving on to Filmbase and the Arts Council, then the various Irish Film Board schemes before getting to features.  She advised students to be professional and know the industry and to be aware that producers may prefer certain genres.

Cullen advised students to keep their showreels short, perhaps down to a minute and a half, but to ensure that it’s all high quality.

Sé Merry Doyle recounted his career development and experiences in making his recent release, John Ford — Dreaming the Quiet Man.  Both he and cinematographer Peter Robertson (Garage, Disco Pigs) pointed to a difficulty that students face with a declining need for camera and editing assistants.  Robertson said wanting to be a cameraman in Ireland in the 1970s was akin to wanting to become an astronaut but he offered hope, saying, Opportunities to get into the industry are now so much better.

Festival director, Piret Saar, pointed to the need for exposure for student short films because many are of exceptional quality, demonstrated by this weekend’s festival, the first of its kind in Ireland.  For the filmmakers, she said, It’s the first steps of people into the film industry.

John Moran

 

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Report: Ireland on Sunday at the IFI presents ‘Opus K’

 

On Sunday, 20th November last, the IFI screened Basil Al-Rawi and Eamonn Gray’s new independent Irish feature Opus K in the intimate surroundings of Cinema 2 as part of the Ireland on Sunday series, a monthly showcase for new Irish films. This series is designed to provide Irish film-makers with an opportunity to screen their work in a unique atmosphere, with a view to gaining a general release. Opus K is the perfect example of what Ireland on Sunday is all about – the very definition of an independent film, this entirely self-financed work has been a labour of love for director Eamonn Gray and cinematographer Basil Al-Rawi, as well as their dedicated cast and crew, over the last two years.

The result of their efforts is a film that defies the constraints of a very modest budget with its rich, imaginative plotting and great visual panache. With its red-lit corridors and murky interiors, Opus K effectively conjures up a vision of a murky urban world, full of paranoia and dread. With definite thematic and visual nods to the paranoid American conspiracy thrillers of the ‘70s (e.g The Parallax View, Klute) coupled with an excellent soundtrack by Tommy Gray, the film expertly builds tension as the twisting plot unfolds towards an unexpectedly moving climax.

Put simply, Opus K does a hell of a lot with very little – Basil Al-Rawi and Eamonn Gray manage to squeeze maximum visual impact from their limited means to create a work which exhibits huge promise and genuine thematic ambition. After its enthusiastically received screening in the IFI, the two filmmakers were joined by the IFI’s Alicia McGivern for a Q&A session to talk about their cinematic influences, the difficulties of working on a tight budget and… er… how to order exotic moths online…..

Q. (Alicia McGivern) – So, thanks guys for showing your film Opus K here today – an extremely atmospheric, haunting mystery thriller. This is in fact its third screening so far, could you tell us a little about its journey here?

A. (Eamonn Gray – director) – Yes, the premiere was back in July at the Galway Film Fleadh where we were entered in the Wild Card section, which is devoted to independent film-makers trying to get their films out there…so Galway was a great platform for us to launch the film, Galway being such a prestigious festival. After that we were at Darklight, also a great experience as its another festival of grass-roots film-making in Ireland. Again, after Galway we were in the wilderness a little bit…we tried for a number of bigger festivals which was ambitious for a film of this scale…which didn’t work out but we said we’d give it a shot anyway. So when we were invited to screen our film here, we were over the moon to have such a great location to screen the film. So its been a long road to get here – the editing process has taken quite a while – but today finally feels like a point of completion.

Q. So you started shooting in April ‘09, picked up again in October ‘09 and ended up finishing in April ‘10….

A. (Eamonn) Yes, the original shoot was about a week and a half…which was quite ambitious for a 100 page script. But as you shoot, more scenes tend to go or get merged together…in terms of scheduling it was literally just me and Baz trying to co-ordinate everyone, you don’t realise how difficult it is until you try to get 20 people in one place at the one time, especially every day for two weeks.

Q. From what I’ve heard a huge element of the film as far as you’re concerned was the generosity of others and the co-operative effect of all of that…

A. (Eamonn) Absolutely, it all started with just me and Baz having a few beers on a Saturday night and just talking about what we were going to do after film school. We both thought that making films was something you did down the road, after you’ve paid your dues, but eventually we just thought “Why don’t we make a film ourselves?”. Technology has come so far now that its not beyond the limits of what you can do, its just a matter of getting the right people around you. So it was literally a case of cold-calling people, scanning credits and trying to track people down. Most people are very contactable these days, with the Internet, and fortunately there’s a great wealth of acting talent in Ireland today and we found some absolutely fantastic people who were willing to get stuck right in. They understood what was expected of them and that they would not be rewarded financially, but that we would support as best we could in terms of feeding them and making sure they didn’t have to work too long hours. The crew were also willing to get stuck in, everyone had a smile on their faces throughout and the whole thing was a fantastic experience.

Q. We should mention the moth at this point….[ one of the film’s most striking images is of a moth fluttering around a light-bulb.]

A. (Basil Al-Rawi – cinematographer) Yes, the moth arrived in the post…you can order moths online now. We just Googled moths and ordered one, when it arrived it had hatched in the box and was scratching around inside the parcel, so the postman must have been freaked out…..but directing the moth was another story!

(Eamonn) Yeah, as you can see, in terms of shooting, all the stuff that looks complicated on screen is actually quite easy to block out and film…but that one shot of the moth flying around the light-bulb; me and Baz took a whole day trying to get it right but couldn’t get the moth to co-operate! So we ended up getting a friend of ours who’s good with computers and animation to get some footage of a moth flying and just cut that out and rotoscope it onto the shot. It ended up taking him five minutes….after me and Baz took weeks planning the shot…

Q. So did the moth survive?

A. Eamonn : Well… you know, moths don’t live very long anyway!

Q. Baz, let’s talk about the cinematography of the film- it looks amazing, and you’ve been talking about Gordon Willis and his use of light and shadow in his ‘70’s films. You’ve referenced his The Parallax View and other paranoid thrillers of the ‘70’s as an influence. Could you talk to us a bit about that?

A. (Baz) Well, me and Eamonn both loved those films of the ‘70’s, particularly Pakula’s trilogy (Klute, The Parallax View, All the President’s Men). I suppose Willis’ approach to cinematography was to avoid what he called “light sandwiches”, having two sources of light on either side of a character. We felt that our script suited an approach like this, with shadows and darkness helping to create a mood. We watched a lot of other films too, like Blade Runner, to see how people re-create these dark urban worlds, and how they used shadows to create a sinister mood. A lot of it is about doing more with less.

Q. There’s a lot of Edward Hopper there too, particularly in those greens in your film…

A. (Baz) Yes, we looked at a lot of Hopper just for the colour patterns, and how they re-created that feeling of the alienation of the urban world.

(Eamonn) We also got lucky quite often with things like green becoming a pre-dominant colour, it was just a colour that kept popping up in the different locations. A lot of the time you’re crossing your fingers in terms of how your locations will look, so we got lucky with those green colours…there was that sense of serendipity quite often, which is something which helps to spur you on.

Q. Did you change the ending during production?

A. (Eamonn) Yes, the ending has been in a constant state of flux since we started, and through the different stages of production. Again, it was another part of the learning process for us, it was our first feature and from our first script. It wasn’t an ideal way of doing it…but all the same we were learning all the time. Fortunately, we were able to get it in the can initially and so we were able to come back and re-cut….and really we learned that editing is another form of writing.

Q. What was the budget of the film?

A. (Eamonn) Well, we got a loan from the bank of about 10,000Euro, and camera and other costs came to between 6 and 7,000Euro…so overall about 16,000Euro.

Q. I have a quote from you in relation to your method of film-making where you say that you “share an innate discomfort with any notion of practical wisdom....

A. ( Baz ) Yes, the shooting process involved a lot of late nights and we were flying by the seat of our pants a lot of the time. There was a lot of location shooting and we would be going from location to checking on how our sets were being built…our set builder had a depth of practical wisdom that we didn’t have. Sometimes when things got difficult, against our better judgment we just went ahead with a willing blindness….you will always run into trouble on a shoot and sometimes your scheduling goes out the window. But we just had a lot of optimism and just got on with it thanks to all the co-operation from everyone.

Q. Can you just tell us about the soundtrack, that was your brother wasn’t it?

A. (Eamonn) Yeah, that was Tommy my brother…Tommy did a great job, he’s a graduate of the Jazz Academy out in Newtownpark Avenue in Blackrock. Obviously jazz comes first but they get a very solid grounding in classical composition also….so he was a fantastic addition. Tommy’s also a film buff so he’s been able to draw on his knowledge of film composers throughout film history in composing the soundtrack. The difference is huge…when you watch the film dry with no music and then watch it with the soundtrack, the soundtrack really adds so much to the atmosphere of the film.

Q. So will you be collaborating again?

A. (Eamonn) Yes, absolutely…we have our production company, Triptych films, and we have a number of projects in development….its really a case of which one rises to the top. It also depends, of course, on what we will be able to afford and seeing if we can get people on board. It is great to close the book on Opus K and to move on. It’s great to come to a conclusion with this, but one thing I’ll say is that if you’re planning on making a film independently, be prepared to feel very bad about yourselves. The financial debt is one thing, money can be paid back….but the moral debt you owe to everyone who helps you, that’s something you can never pay back!

Martin Cusack

 

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Report: IFI Ireland on Sunday presents Gerard Hurley’s ‘The Pier’

As Gerard Hurley’s The Pier continues its run in cinemas around the country with a screening on Monday, 19th March at The Phoenix Cinema, Dingle, Co Kerry @ 6pm, Soracha Pelan Ó Treasaigh reports on its recent IFI screening as part of Ireland on Sunday series.

The Pier was screened as part of the Irish Film Institute’s Ireland on Sunday season showcasing new Irish film. Gerard Hurley (writer, director, producer and lead actor) was in attendance and took part in a post show discussion with the IFI Irish film curator, Sunniva O’ Flynn. The Pier tells the story of an Irishman returning to Ireland on news of his father’s illness. He is surprised by his father’s health when he arrives and the ensuing events revolve around the tension in their relationship. Hurley is originally from West Cork and has been living and working as a screenwriter in the US for twenty years. He was awarded funding from the Irish Film Board to make a film set in Ireland, and Hurley jumped at the chance having always wanted to make a film here.

The émigré returning to Ireland from America is a familiar story in Irish cinema, The Quiet Man being the most famous. O’ Flynn also pointed to the Kalem brothers’ films from the early 20th century, one of which was shot in both America and Ireland, like The Pier. Of course, in The Quiet Man the returning émigré is the picture of success and looks at Ireland with a distinctly romanticised view. This is not the case for Hurley personally and this comes across in the film. Both father and son are relatively poor and whilst West Cork certainly looks picturesque in parts– it doesn’t quite fit the bill of lush green fields, homely cottages and dancing maidens. Ireland viewed in this way is often seen in Irish cinema and these stereotypes are prolific in American representations of Ireland; see such recent films as P.S. I Love You, Leap Year and Laws of Attraction.

A member of the audience pointed out this difficult balance between telling a story with ‘home truths’ whilst keeping a hopeful message and at the same time not falling into the trap of romanticising the homeland. The film does not shy away from the difficulties between father and son; the characters express their feelings on each other with harsh language and behaviour that can be difficult to watch. O’ Flynn commented on a violent scene which she felt could potentially affect the audience’s sympathy with the main character. Hurley responded strongly that he did not consider it important whether the character is likeable, but that his actions should be true to the character he created. Hurley went on to discuss that he felt the love story with Lili Taylor’s (High Fidelity, Six Feet Under) character essential to the film in order to give a sense of hope to the story. The film, he said, is shrouded by the absence of the mother and this is the cause of the unhappiness of the two male leads, so Lili’s character provides a maternal counterpoint to this.

In discussing his directorial approach to the film, Hurley said that he was not trying to make ‘high art’, this owing to the limited budget but also because his priority is to tell an honest story, rather than focus on style. I certainly got the sense from him that the story takes precedence and this presumably stems from his experience as a scriptwriter. Discussing his writing process, he said that he does not work chronologically but instead focuses on one scene and builds the rest of the story around that. In The Pier the pivotal scene is when father and son finally confront the issues between them. A member of the audience asked if visually, the claustrophobic shots featured throughout were budget related or a directorial decision, to which Hurley responded simply ‘both.’ He again emphasised his intention to tell an honest story with the use of tighter shots focusing on the conversations and relationships between the principal characters. He then balances this with wider landscape shots to frame the story.

In addition to writing and directing, Hurley discussed his acting role in the film, playing the central character, Jack. The Pier is only his second time acting as he had starred in his previous film, The Pride. Hurley said that he does not have a real interest in acting; he took up the role in The Pride after the actor he had cast pulled out at the last minute. While not his preference, he finds acting to be challenging and emotionally involving in the process of losing himself in another personality.

The film was shot over eight days with limited time with the actors and on a very low budget. Such were his restraints that Hurley actually built an Irish kitchen in his basement to keep travel costs down for the actress Mary Foskett. The overriding message from Hurley is that as a filmmaker there are ways around budget limitations and that you don’t necessarily need a big budget or high-end equipment in order to tell the story. As a screenwriter tired of waiting for a script to get picked up, he directed it himself. As a writer/director with no principle actor, he stepped in. With limited distribution opportunities, he took on the task himself.

With the challenges facing filmmakers today with companies and distributers less eager and less equipped to take risks on small films like The Pier, Gerard Hurley certainly has the right attitude.

Soracha Pelan Ó Treasaigh

www.thepierfilm.com

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Report: Giant Creative Launch

purple cat

Wood Quay Venue in the Dublin City Council Civic Offices played host to Giant Creative as it launched its new website and presented a showreel of their works. Giant Creative is a recently established animation studio dedicated to the design, direction and production of high-end animated content for advertising, T.V. shows and short films.

The company was founded by recent graduates from Ballyfermot College of Further Education’s Irish School of Animation.

Their recent collaboration The Last Train, an animated short made as part of the Animation Hub 2011, has been nominated for a prestigious IFTA award for animation.

The Irish Film and Television Awards ceremony is being held on Saturday, 11th of February 2012.

Best of luck guys!

www.giant.ie

Nicola Marzano

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Report: Netflix Launch

Irish actress, Sarah Bolger (In America, The Tudors), pictured at the launch of the Netflix Film and TV subscription service in Ireland. Irish film and TV fans in Ireland can now subscribe to Netflix and instantly watch unlimited films and TV programmes for the low monthly price of Û6.99.

Pic. Robbie Reynolds/CPR

With the launch of Netflix in Ireland, Brian Lloyd was at the launch and spoke to Reed Hastings, CEO and Neil Hunt, Chief Product Officer.

For those who don’t know, Netflix is an Internet-based streaming service for film and TV. Working with a wide range of distributors and studios – such as Momentum Pictures, MGM and more – Netflix has a dynamic library that features ‘10,000 hours of content and rising’, according to Neil Hunt.

The service is a month-to-month subscription of €6.99, for which you receive unlimited viewing of all content. The service doesn’t feature any contract and can be cancelled immediately. ‘We make it as easy as possible for people to start using it. You just click, fill out your details and you’re ready. There’s no contract, you can stop using it and cancel right away without any fines or fees.’

CEO Reed Hastings spoke at length about the variety of platforms Netflix is available on – including XboxLive, PS3, PC, iPads and AppleTV. ‘I really believe in Internet TV, with click-and-watch capability. And I think, in the future, it’s going to be as common as mobile phones. It’s becoming that way, already. Twenty years ago, the idea of mobile phones being so popular was unheard of, and now we can’t think without them. I feel it’s the same with Internet TV,’ says Hastings. The same goes for broadband capability, which Netflix is heavily reliant on. ‘There’s rural areas in the US and Canada, and in those areas, broadband and fibre-optic cables are reaching there. It’s like telegraph wires, when the demand is there, the capability will be there.’

Netflix has already made waves in the US market and given new life to films that either performed poorly in the box office or were overlooked by cinema audiences. Most recently, Netflix has moved into original content – such as Kevin Spacey’s House of Cards and a new series of Arrested Development. ‘It depends on how succesful House of Cards is. If it’s a big hit, we’ll see about making more. We’re growing steadily and it’s a great direction for us.’ He also mentions that the service isn’t necessarily schewed towards television or film. ‘We try to get a lot of both. We have a bias towards good content. Good content is what people want, so it’s in the eye of the beholder.’ As mentioned, Netflix has a wide variety of films in their library, but what of Irish films in particular? ‘We have Ondine and Secret of Kells coming on in a couple of months, the content available from Ireland comes from independent distributors and doesn’t get a wide distribution, aside from the occasional films like Once. But interestingly, films like Ondine and Secret of Kells that were in theatres for a very limited run in the US, people watched millions of hours of films like that using Netflix. So, in a way, they discovered independent films through services like Netflix that they may have missed or been unable to see in theatres.’

There is a charge that because a service like Netflix being so cheap and accessible, does it devalue the content itself? And what of piracy? ‘We want to make it the best value possible for consumers. If you compare it to piracy, it’s better value. There’s better quality with streaming, we’re integrating into all the services (XboxLive, SamsungHDTV), you don’t have to worry about viruses or downloads, etc. – all the major companies see Netflix as their best shot to confront piracy.’

Netflix are offering a free one-month trial in Ireland and say they’re here for the long haul. ‘There’s no question that InternetTV that is going to be very successful and very popular in Ireland. We’re patient, we want to build a fanbase that will expand from there… we want to start with a small, loyal customer base and go from there. We’re not setting targets that we want to reach, we just want to make sure that people who use it will love it and want to keep using it.’

Brian Lloyd

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