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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