Irish Film Review: In View

In-View

With the release of Ciaran Creagh’s “powerful and unsettling” feature In View, we revisit Seán Crosson’s review from last year’s premiere at the Galway Film Fleadh.

The themes of depression and suicide are among the most challenging to portray cinematically. They certainly don’t fit easily within  mainstream cinema today, with its focus on action, escapism and ‘entertainment’, probably the most overused word in cinema parlance. However, challenging narratives engaged with this topic are probably more necessary today in Ireland than at any point in the recent past given the unprecedented numbers taking their lives each year, now exceeding 500 per annum. As In View’s director Ciaran Creagh remarked following the film’s premiere in Galway, “There is an onus on us to bring these issues forward”.

In View is a powerful and unsettling depiction of one woman’s battle with depression and the circumstances that can surround taking the traumatic decision to end one’s own life. It is a production clearly built upon extensive research which informs the detailed account given of the lead character’s decline.

The film features Garda Ruth (Caoilfhionn Dunne), who is confined to desk duty. She has lost her husband and child, and is unable to deal with the huge loss and guilt she feels, blaming herself in particular for her husband’s suicide following her affair with a colleague. Her days are spent drinking or hiding in her office, unable to move on or overcome the deep depression which constantly follows her. Despite attempts by her co-workers and her father-in-law, she can see no way out. A visit to a local support group would appear to only remind her of her own guilt and much of the last third of the film chronicles her preparations for her own suicide. There is no redemption for either Ruth or the viewer here; director and writer Creagh (screenwriter of Parked (2011)) does not back away from the very dark and tragic reality of suicide.

Creagh is ably supported by the excellent and patient cinematography of David Grennan – indeed much of the film is dependent primarily on the visual with dialogue often to a minimum. The acting is also generally strong throughout, with established figures of Irish stage and screen featured, including  Gerard McSorley as Ruth’s father-in-law, and Ciarán McMenamin as her former lover Denis. There is, however, at times an overuse of incidental music evident where silence might well have been more effective – this becomes increasingly the case as Ruth’s mental state worsens. While no doubt included to compliment her condition, it ultimately detracts from what provides the core and backbone to the film as a whole; the performance of Caoilfhionn Dunne, probably best known to Irish audiences for her role as Lizzie in the RTÉ crime series Love/Hate.

Creagh revealed in Galway that the script was originally written with a male lead in mind; the decision to switch the gender was inspired and adds to the general sense of alienation throughout the narrative as Ruth navigates a primarily male world in search of normality: ‘I just want to be normal,’ she remarks at one point. Given the challenging subject of the film, In View is not easy viewing but it is Dunne’s extraordinary performance as Ruth that principally keeps the viewer’s interest throughout the narrative.

 

In View screened on Thursday, 7th July as part of the 2016 Galway Film Fleadh.

 

 

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Review of Irish Film at Galway Film Fleadh: Fís Na Fuiseoige

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Shane Croghan takes a birds-eye view of Aodh Ó Coileáin’s Fís Na Fuiseoige, which screened at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.

 

Fís Na Fuiseoige (The Lark’s View) is a gently-paced reflection upon the long-standing Irish relationship between land, literature and our own sense of self. Merging modern techniques of aerial cinematography with the words of Irish language poets dating as far as hundreds of years back, this documentary is a thoughtful examination of our heritage and an affectionate celebration of the relationship between person and place.

Director Aodh Ó Coileáin displays a clear passion for, and understanding of, the value of the Irish language in his handling of the topic. The informative, co-dependent relationship between person and place is evoked in the simple, yet effective, directorial decisions employed throughout Fis Na Fuiseoige. Introspection is encouraged in the slow movement of the camera, the considered cadence of the poetic delivery and the natural beauty captured by the swooping overhead drone. Even when we venture into the urban cityscapes, which are implemented later on in the piece, the reflective style of the documentary is never abandoned in favour of anything overtly dramatic. Instead, an almost meditative viewing is encouraged. The inclusion of these urban locations is an important addition, offering a contrast to the earlier rural settings and providing the viewer with a more complete snapshot of contemporary Ireland.

Though the beautifully crafted sequences of poetry and landscape imagery may set the tone of Fís Na Fuiseoige, the interviews with local people at each of the documentary’s locations are also an important component, serving to root the narrative in reality to some extent. Their affinity for their heritage, alongside their wealth of knowledge regarding their homeland, contextualises the more metaphorical, visually-driven sequences and further reinforces the theme of the film, that our proximity to the land allows us to better grasp a sense of our own existence. As well as presenting us with an affectionate exploration of our relationship to the land, Aodh Ó Coileáin offers an insight into the value of the Irish language and the potential loss of identity which can arise when a language begins to decline.

Fís Na Fuiseoige is an impressive directorial debut from Aodh Ó Coileáin. Both grand in scope and intimate in execution, this documentary is a warm study of our language, our land and ourselves. Director of photography Colm Hogan has captured some truly staggering images, presenting the topography of Ireland from a bird’s-eye perspective and providing his director with the ideal fodder for the narrative. This film is timely, given the recent centenary celebrations, and more importantly, it is delivered with conviction and brimming with genuine emotion.

 

Fís Na Fuiseoige screened on Friday, 8th July 2016 as part of the Galway Film Fleadh.

 

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Review of Irish Film at Galway Film Fleadh: Sanctuary

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Seán Crosson reviews Len Collin’s debut feature, which closed this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.

The Galway Film Fleadh closed this year with one of the most ambitious, innovative and deeply moving Irish films of recent times, Len Collin’s Sanctuary which received the award for Best First Irish Film. Featuring a cast composed mostly of intellectually disabled actors, Sanctuary explored with compassion, understanding and at times considerable humour challenges faced by intellectually disabled individuals in Ireland today, particularly when they fall in love. The achievement of this film is all the more impressive when one considers how rarely intellectually disabled actors have featured prominently in fiction film, with rare exceptions including Jaco Van Dormael’s Le huitième jour  (The Eighth Day, 1996) and Marcelo Galvão’s Colegas (Buddies, 2012). Screenwriter Christian O’Reilly (whose previous credits include the story for disability themed feature Inside I’m Dancing (2004)) adapted Sanctuary from his play of the same name produced by Blue Teapot Theatre Company between 2012 and 2014. Director Collin and his collaborators (in particular Petal Pilley, CEO & Creative Director of Blue Teapot) wisely maintained the same cast from the original stage production who have clearly established a strong and convincing rapport. At the centre of the narrative are Larry (Kieran Coppinger) and Sophie (Charlene Kelly) who want to spend unsupervised time together in order to develop their relationship. However, as intellectually disabled individuals they are legally forbidden from developing a sexual relationship unless they are married leading them to bribe their care worker Tom (Robert Doherty) just so they can book a hotel room for several hours. Tom arranges a room for the couple during an outing to the cinema of the intellectually disabled group to which they belong. While Tom brings Larry and Sophie to the hotel, their friends leave the cinema unaccompanied to explore Galway city in scenes that reveal each character’s need to find their own sense of independence and personal expression outside the controlled confines of their day-to-day life.

Sanctuary cleverly and unobtrusively brings the viewer through the complexities faced by intellectually disabled people wishing to start a relationship – the relevant law is mentioned once in the narrative but its introduction is neither forced nor disruptive to the developing diegesis but rather a necessary part of understanding the rationale for the actions of the film’s lead characters. Furthermore, the film does not treat its subjects as objects of either pity or deserving of our sympathy; these are independent and remarkable individuals who offer fascinating perspectives on the world around them. The scenes in which the group members escape from the cinema to explore the city, its shops, markets, and pubs are particularly impressive in this respect. Each character engages with his/her surroundings in what may be considered unusual ways (as when one character puts a chain on a security guard and hugs him) but they simultaneously alert us to aspects of the world we inhabit but may have become blind to through over-familiarity.

This is an auspicious debut feature as a director from Len Collin, a graduate of the MA in Production and Direction at the Huston School of Film & Digital Media, NUI Galway, and an experienced screenwriter for television in England, including writing credits with  “EastEnders”,”Casualty” and “The Bill”. Films such as Sanctuary have a crucial role to play in our culture today; they open a dialogue and hopefully prompt debate of issues that should be of serious concern in any healthy society. To do so with the humour and compassion evident in Sanctuary is an achievement that will be appreciated by audiences across Ireland, and I expect, internationally.

Sanctuary screened on Sunday, 10 July 2016 as part of the Galway Film Fleadh.

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Review of Irish Film at Galway Film Fleadh: Further Beyond

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Tony Tracy takes a journey Further Beyond, which screened at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.

 

Having established a reputation across a range of media, notably theatre, during the mid 1990s, ‘Desperate Optimists’ – the working title of the creative partnership between Christine Molloy and Joe Lawlor – have more recently come to the fore in the world of Irish film through two highly original and intensely atmospheric features: Helen (2008) and Mister John (2013). These films, and their work in general – as they characterize it in the opening voice over of this ‘documentary’ – deal with their abiding fascination with ‘outsiders, wanders, rovers…people who have been displaced, adrift, at sea, people who are not sure where they belong, and because of that, who they are.’

Here their focus is Ambrose O’Higgins (1720 –1801), an Irishman born on his family’s estate in Ballynarry, Co. Sligo, before being dispossessed and evicted with his family and moving to Meath, then later to Cadiz and South America. After a period in Argentina and elsewhere he crossed the Andes into Chile where he eventually rose to become Governor General and later viceroy of Peru. (His illegitimate son, Bernardo O’Higgins was the chief architect of Chile’s independence). The film begins by wondering upon who this man was, and what propelled him from such origins to such heights in a land and culture so far from his own? O’Higgins’ life (or part of it anyway) becomes the starting point for the film-makers reflections about a series of inter-related themes about the construction of identity, film, history and memory.

The voice-over (more of which in a moment) wonders aloud how this long gestating bio-pic might begin. Now another narrative strand emerges, closer to the present and more personal: the story of Helen, an Irish woman born in the Bronx to Irish parents but sent back to her relatives in Ireland alone, aged just 11 months, aboard a trans-Atlantic passenger ship. Later, Helen became Joe Lawlor’s mother, although this is not entirely transparent, as he is referred to as ‘my mother’ by the male VO actor who checks with an unseen director if the audience will understand this. That slippage is not accidental; it is part of the film’s preoccupation with a range of overlapping tensions: between one’s present and past; memory and identity; place and destiny. The hermeneutics of biography are slippery, even when – especially when – its your own. In an inspired clip we see Helen recounting the story of A Playboy of the Western World, a touchstone text of making yourself up as you go along.

Funded under the Irish Arts Council and Filmbase’s adventurous and important Reel Art initiative, Further Beyond is an extended meditation on history and memory, an interrogation of words, images and ideas that might, more commonly, take place off-screen in a notebook or pre-production meeting. It begins with an extended set of questions, digressions and other Brechtian alienation devices by two voice actors who may, or may not, be surrogates for the filmmakers. Calling it a documentary (as it is listed in some descriptions) is inadequate: It is an essay film. While this hybrid form of ‘filmed philosophy’ has steadily increased in popularity in recent years (in Ireland, most notably, through the films of Pat Collins and Tadhg O’Sullivan – also recipients of Reel Art funding), Nora Alter locates the origins of ‘a new genre of film’ in German avant-gardist Hans Richter’s 1940 essay ‘Der Filmessay: Eine neue Form des Dokumentarfilms’. Parsing Richter, she writes:

Unlike the documentary film, which presents facts and information, the essay film produces complex thought that at times is not grounded in reality but can be contradictory, irrational, and fantastic. This new type of film . . . no longer binds the filmmaker to the rules and parameters of the traditional documentary practice . . . rather it gives full reign to the imagination, with all its artistic potentiality.

Certainly this is one of the ambitions and achievements of Further Beyond. Its early sections in particular are rife with theses and anti-theses: ideas, interruption, digressions, self-commentary and irony. There are references to other directors and their process: Robert Flaherty and his anxiety about making a start on editing, Stanley Kubrick’s search for the perfect image of a tree in a field with which to begin Barry Lyndon.

O’Higgins significance to Latin American history is immense but the filmmakers admit that are more interested in the less documented parts of his life – in Co. Meath and Cadiz where he ‘re-invented’ himself (as ‘the Baron of Balinarry’) before he began his epic journey across half the earth. On a more meta-textual level, the problems of making of a bio-pic are foregrounded in the voice-over including where to begin, location issues (Cadiz could never be shot anywhere but in Cadiz), who will play the young Ambrose (three Irish actors come to mind) and an interview with a man who played him in a TV mini-series. An interview with a waitress in a café in the Andes where they go looking for a location is followed by self-reflexive re-enactments (there’s not enough snow) and a soaring ‘heroic’ score which is abruptly cut. Meeting an expert historian in Santiago, they (but not the audience) hear details of Ambrosia’s complex, adventurer life. (I later look it up online and it is fascinating but largely occluded in the film). The VO reflects: ‘If we were smart we would focus on this part of Ambrosio’s story . . . and if we were smarter still we would be making a film about Bernardo . . . but we’re not very smart.’

Helen Dowling was born in New York in 1936 to Irish parents, who for reasons not entirely understood (perhaps alcoholism, mental-illness) sent her back to Ireland alone as an infant to live with her aunt Nora on a farm in Co. Kerry. The film visits the farm where she grew up (it doesn’t match memories of the narrator) and the small coastal town of Ballyheige, in the company of her surviving brother Chris. The VO ventriloquizes her thoughts while standing on its glorious beach, of a feeling ‘hard to place’, memories of the America she left behind and sometimes thoughts of ‘Roger Casement the wander, the rover, the risk-taker’, who was washed ashore here. Later she returns to the United States, to Hoboken, New Jersey. There’s a long discourse on On the Waterfront and the famous scene between Marlon Brando and Eve Marie Saint (the one where he picks up her glove) which is set in a park near her boarding house. ‘The film struck a chord with Helen, standing inside the church, thinking about the film, a feeling overcomes her.’ There are shots inside the Catholic church (where the film’s fictional Fr. Barry was priest), inside her lodgings, a picture of her on a beach with young men, information about her job in a hair salon in the Empire State building and shots over New York from its viewing deck. We learn of a marriage proposal from Ireland – should she go back? It’s like a real-life version of Colm Tóibín’s Brooklyn.

I’ve included all this detail to communicate that the film is dense and complex, both in its construction and ideas. But while both these individuals are fascinating in their own way and while the film is full of stimulating intellectual digressions (with reference to Barthes, Bachelard, Sontag, Benjamin and others) I was not entirely convinced that bringing them together illuminates the other or the larger themes the film is reaching for. While there is an outline of each narrative ‘journey’ and while there is speculation as to their thoughts, Ambrose and Helen feel like rather strained projections than real people. (Perhaps there was a more solid basis for their thoughts than was revealed). The film ends with the suggestion to ‘make a start’ and while that is in keeping with the tentativeness of the film’s overall approach, it proves deeply frustrating from the perspective of story or even thesis. With so much called into question through form, narration or tone, the film leaves us with little to dwell on or hold onto. And yet, it would not be fair to summarily dismiss it: in its formal experimentation, its memorable characters and its thinking out loud about making cinematic history (particularly of the ‘great man’ variety), it represents an ambitious and engaging intervention about an often deeply clichéd genre. (Truffaut’s Adele H, Varda’s The Beaches of Agnes or Pat Murphy’s Anne Devlin came to mind as feminist rejections of such conventions). Still I would have liked to know more about Ambrose, who, even while he worked as a colonial administrator never seems to have left his Irishness and experience of Cromwellian dispossession entirely behind him. The Dictionary of Irish Latin American Biography tells me that one of his most important achievements was the abolition in 1789 of the cruel ‘encomienda’ system, whereby landowners kept indigenous labourers in conditions close to slavery.’ I wonder if Roger Casement was aware of O’Higgins before he washed up in Ballyheige?

 

Further Beyond screened on Sunday, 10th July 2016 as part of the Galway Film Fleadh.

 

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Review of Irish Film at Galway Film Fleadh

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The 2016 Galway Film Fleadh proved yet again to be a showground for the best in new Irish cinema. Click on the title to read our review and check out what’s fresh in film.

 

A Date for Mad Mary

 

Cardboard Gangsters

 

Crash and Burn

 

Dead Along the Way

 

The Further Beyond

 

History’s Future

 

In View

 

Lost in France

 

Outcasts by Choice

 

Rebel Rossa

 

Short Film: Student Showcase

 

Tiger Raid

 

The War Against Women in Eastern Congo

 

The Wall

 

The Young Offenders

 

Check back for more reviews

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Review of Irish Film at Galway Film Fleadh: Dead Along the Way

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Stephen Porzio takes a look at the Maurice O’Carroll’s crime comedy, which screened at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.

A unique feature of Irish drama, separating it from the rest of the world, is its humour. J.M Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World, James Joyce’s Ulysses, Samuel Beckett’s absurdist theatre and the McDonagh brothers output – all are tinged with comedy. As a people, we tend to find the hilarity in dark situations. Even the recent thriller Traders, a satire of recession Ireland centring upon men who beat each other to death for large bags of money, possessed a strain of jet-black wit. Writer-director Maurice O’Carroll’s debut feature Dead Along the Way (made for a reported €10,000), although much, much slighter than the works mentioned above, is too flecked with shades of dark comedy.

The film, featuring a jumbled timeline, opens with two murders. In the past, gangster Big Jim (Tom Lawlor) has killed the twenty-nine-year-old who may have impregnated his sixteen-year-old daughter. Meanwhile, in the present, amateur videographers, Wacker (Niall Murphy) and Tony (Ciaran Bermingham, Game of Thrones), accidentally kill Big Jim, from whom Wacker borrowed money to pay for his girlfriend Aoife’s artificial insemination. The two men in order to survive must dodge Aoife (Donna Patrice, Raw), an over-zealous Ban-Garda (Sinead O’Riordan) and dump the gangster’s body.

I mention the role of comedy in Irish drama because Dead Along the Way plays out like a less interesting Martin McDonagh play (particularly one from his Leenane Trilogy, all revolving around violent deaths in quiet country towns). Maurice O’Carroll’s script is occasionally quite witty but is missing the darkness, the underlying themes or the interesting supporting characters that populate the similarly plotted work of McDonagh. Also, by aping the Irish playwright, by extension he apes one of his major influences, Quentin Tarantino. In Dead Along the Way, Tarantino’s trademark trunk shot is utilised various times for long scenes of dialogue, as is the juggling time-line of Pulp Fiction. As well as this, a torture scene in which Big Jim arrives dressed as Olivia Newton John (he was at a costume party) plays out like a toothless homage to Reservoir Dogs’ infamous ear-cutting scene in its contrast between humour and horror.

Also, the film looks quite bland, no doubt on account of its budget. However, there have been movies in the past that have looked gorgeous, made for less than €10,000 (El Mariachi, Following, Primer to name a few). O’Carroll too often falls into a pattern of “establishing shot, still camera as a character walks, side camera when two characters are in conversation, close-up, repeat” creating a rather repetitive feel.

However, although, there is nothing original or particularly deep in Dead Along in Way, there is a rough-around-the-edges charm to the movie. The main cast look as if they are giving it there all, despite working with limited resources. Niall Murphy (according to IMDB this is his first TV or movie credit) is a likeable protagonist, with the charismatic everyman feel of Colin Farrell. He and Bermingham possess a genial odd-couple chemistry, adding some emotional heft to a well-handled subplot regarding Tony’s closeted homosexuality. While the characters on Big Jim’s side of the story are crudely drawn and their performances leave a lot to be desired, Donna Patrice shines as Wacker’s long suffering girlfriend. In lesser hands, she could have been an unfunny straight-woman to Wacker and Tony’s antics, but Patrice adds a live-wire and chaotic flavour to the film’s already farcical final act.

Maurice O’Carroll has talents as a writer and mines fine performances from his leads. These attributes are enough to cautiously recommend his debut feature. Dead Along the Way is a quirky uniquely Irish crime-comedy which hints O’Carroll may produce better work in the future, with a larger budget.

 

Dead Along the Way screened on Wednesday, 6th July 2016 as part of the Galway Film Fleadh.

 

 

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Review of Irish Film at Galway Film Fleadh: History’s Future

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Tony Tracy examines Fiona Tan’s film about one man’s odyssey through a Europe in turmoil – and through his own mind. The Irish-Dutch-German co-production screened at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.

We live in unsettled and unsettling times. In the weeks bracketing the screening of History’s Future at the 2016 Galway Film Fleadh, the UK tore up its European membership card, France experienced its third major terrorist event in 18 months, a sniper shot five police officers in Dallas TX during a peaceful protest over recent police shootings, and a failed military coup in democratic Turkey left hundreds dead and thousands arrested. All this after several years of ‘austerity’ politics following the implosion of hyper-capitalism and the displacement of some 11 million Syrians, including approx. 5 million refugees. Perhaps that surfeit of reality helps explain the somewhat depleted audience for what, for my money, was one of the richest films of this year’s Film Fleadh. More likely, it was its early afternoon slot on Saturday and the abundance of more readily recognizable Irish features screening during the evening. Yet for all its internationalism – an Irish-Dutch-German co-production directed by Fiona Tan (Indonesia/Australia/Amsterdam), co-scripted by British film critic Jonathon Romney, featuring an international cast and shooting locations in six countries – History’s Future is local enough, with themes that implicate us all and a career-high performance by the hugely talented Mark O’Halloran who, alongside his screenplay for Viva, is redefining the cinematic boundaries of Irishness in 2016.

To adequately summarise History’s Future would be a reductive and only half-certain exercise given its multiple textures and digressions, not to mention the fact that sub-titles suffered a technical failure at the Galway screening, a serious issues for a film with multiple extended foreign-language scenes (although some in the post-screen Q+A felt this added to the film’s overall effect of opacity and it led to a memorable translation/‘making-of’ anecdote in the Q+A afterwards from Mark O’Halloran of his scene with Denis Lavant). Writer Romney has spoken before of the impact Wim Wenders’ early films had on him and there is certainly a discernable influence in the film’s themes (memory) and structure (transnational road movie) that recalls films such as Paris, Texas and Until the End of the World. In its assemblage of drama, documentary and archive footage to convey past and present states of Europe, we might also invoke two more recent films: Leos Carax’s surrealist Holy Motors – not least through the shared DNA of Lavant – and Tadgh O’Sullivan’s reflective and disturbing essay-film The Great Wall on the refugee crises. It shares with both those films an odyssey narrative, but defies the traditional conventions of the genre in that this journey begins at the end and ends in confusion. But confusion, to paraphrase Brian Friel, is not an ignoble condition.

History’s Future centres on a central character – or more accurately a series of related characters – all played with panache and dexterity by O’Halloran. The Ur-character has lost his memory after an assault, cannot remember those most intimate to him, and after some weeks in rehab, leaves his wife and home in suburban Netherlands to wander through a series of European settings: Barcelona, Paris, Athens, Dublin. At each turn we learn about him from those he meets and through them we encounter a Europe that has also become detached from its past and, more troublingly, its future.

While this is director Fiona Tan’s debut feature film, she is an internationally respected multi-media conceptual artist and this background contributes to the film’s often cerebral and highly visual vignettes which refuse to be fully integrated into a smooth overarching narrative. (The film begins at ‘The End’ and rolls backwards and forwards at different junctures). Indeed the film is perhaps best approached as an instance of the now common intersection of gallery and cinema; and one could imagine episodes from the film playing on a series of ‘white cube’ screens simultaneously. Across a range of settings, costumes and facial hair, Mark O’Halloran manages somehow to bring unity to such disparity, grounding big ideas about an amnesiac and disintegrating Europe in a performance of a man/men who are genuinely confused but who remain, nevertheless, alive and directed onwards.

 

History’s Future screened on Saturday, 9th July as part of the Galway Film Fleadh.

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Review of Irish Film at Galway Film Fleadh: The Young Offenders

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Seamus O’ Donnell checks out The Young Offenders, which screened at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.

The Young Offenders, directed by Peter Foott, premiered, and was greeted enthusiastically, at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh. The plot revolves around the friendship of two teenage lads in Cork city who set off on their bikes down the coast in search of a bale of cocaine washed ashore in the hope of making their fortune. Hot on their wheels is Sergeant Healy determined to add another catch to his collection.

The pace at times is furious and the dialogue colourful and witty earning many a laugh along the way. Issues such as single-parent families and the complicated relationships of those concerned are touched upon that provides drama to a film that seems at times rather hard to believe; that being a police Sergeant pursuing the boys on bicycle rather than in the comfort of his car.

This gives the film an overall sense of slapstick humour, in word and action, although punctuated by the real-life tragedies that beset its central characters, played well on the whole, especially the two young leads, but certain characters are not so convincing.

PJ Gallagher makes an appearance as a suitably deranged villian with a nail-gun that only adds to the madness in a film that could also be called Fear and Loathing in County Cork.

 

The Young Offenders screened on Friday, 8th July 2016 as part of the Galway Film Fleadh.

 

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Review of Irish Film at Galway Film Fleadh: The War Against Women in Eastern Congo

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Shane Croghan reviews Dearbhla Glynn’s powerful documentary The War Against Women in Eastern Congo, which screened at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.

 

The War Against Women in Eastern Congo is a harrowing, unflinching look at the horrendous acts of sexual violence which are perpetuated with staggering frequency in the war-torn Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Through her brave exploration of a nation in seemingly endless turmoil, director Dearbhla Glynn has produced a powerful, eye-opening documentary.

Glynn leaves no stone unturned as she delves into the scattered populace of Eastern Congo to conduct interviews with everyone from victims to perpetrators to military generals, visiting conflict-stricken villages and overcrowded, under-policed prisons. The victims, women of all ages, some shockingly young, speak bravely, and frankly, of their horrific experiences and the consequences which have resulted from their sexual assaults. Resisting the temptation to blink, and look away for even a moment, Glynn’s camera is concentrated, unmoving, as these women recount their tales. As the camera remains fixed, the viewer feels the pain of these victims, unfiltered and raw.

Keen to examine the exorbitant rates of sexual violence from a diverse range of perspectives, Glynn has also attained, perhaps at some risk to her own safety, interviews with some of the men who have committed the rapes, at one point even bringing her camera into a ramshackle, overcrowded prison. These men appear remorseless, as if they cannot grasp the true nature of their actions, evidencing the deeply engrained use of rape as weapon in Congolese military culture. The actions of the soldiers stem from the hopelessness of their own bleak existence, with many drafted into the conflict as children and forced to follow the example of cruel, barbaric leaders. The cyclical nature of their abhorrent acts becomes somewhat clear when we begin to understand the context of their military service and the reality of day-to-day existence in Eastern Congo.

Amongst the soldiers and countless fractured military groups, The War Against Women in Eastern Congo manages to find one of its most intriguing protagonists, Mamadou Ndala, a colonel in the FARDC. A rare breed of military leader, tactically brilliant and morally sound, Mamadou is keen to put an end to the sexual violence which has characterised much of the conflict, going as far as punishing his soldiers if they commit acts of sexual assault. Inevitably, like many of his ilk, he is brutally cut down before he can begin to impose his envisaged changes upon a corrupt system. One of the few glimmers of hope present in the film, he is extinguished and the brutality rages on, unimpeded.

The War Against Women in Eastern Congo is a difficult, draining experience for the viewer, as is necessary for the correct handling of such a troubling topic. Dearbhla Glynn keeps the bells and whistles to a minimum, employing a realistic tone throughout, to ensure that nothing of the violence is lessened in its transition to the screen. Her directorial style is entirely befitting of the subject matter and the resulting film benefits greatly from her desire to document the experience of both victims and perpetrators. As well as highlighting the rampant sexual violence in Eastern Congo, this documentary serves as a stark reminder of the ramifications of long-lasting conflict and the horror of war in general.

 

The War Against Women in Eastern Congo screened on Friday, 8th July 2016 as part of the Galway Film Fleadh.

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Review of Irish Film at Galway Film Fleadh: Crash and Burn

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Seán Crosson zooms in on Crash and Burn, Seán Ó Cualáin’s documentary about Tommy Byrne, who, for a fleeting moment in the early ’80s, was the world’s greatest driver.

The sports documentary has become one of the most familiar and popular documentary genres in recent years. While well-established as a part of TV schedules, films such as Dogtown and Z-boys (2002), Step into Liquid (2003), Riding Giants (2004), Murderball (2005) and Senna (2010) have also had considerable success in cinemas internationally. The prominence of sport in Irish life has also been reflected in the documentary form with some of the most successful theatrically released Irish docs over the past ten years focusing on sport, including Saviours (2007) and Waveriders (2008).

Seán Ó Cualáin’s Crash and Burn, focusing on the world of motor-racing, is the latest addition to this genre. It concerns Drogheda-born Tommy Byrne who briefly drove in Formula One after a stellar career at lower levels of motor- racing. However, this is no Senna (though the Brazilian makes an appearance at several points); this is a story that challenges the familiar upward trajectory of the sports film (whether in fiction or documentary), tracing the journey of a driver who had all the talent and more of his contemporaries but lacked the background, social graces, and particularly the money required of those who control Formula One.

Nonetheless, the respect with which Byrne was held by his contemporaries is evident in the prominent interviewees featured in Crash and Burn, including former Formula One team owner Eddie Jordan (who regards Byrne as ‘the best of them all’), and former Formula One drivers and current TV commentators Martin Brundle and David Kennedy. Byrne’s story is remarkable, from his rivalry with Ayrton Senna at Formula Ford and Formula 3 level to his final years as a driver for corrupt gangsters on the Mexican Formula 3 circuit.

Director Ó Cualáin claims not to have seen Senna and his documentary provides, in important respects, a more complex depiction of the world of Formula One than Asif Kapadia’s entertaining though rather superficial documentary. Crash and Burn shares with Senna, however, a dependence on archive footage, much of it captured on VHS by friends of Byrne’s. Where footage was not available, Ó Cualáin  makes good use of animated sequences. Despite the low-quality of the original material, considerable work has been put into bringing consistency across the footage (both filmed and archival) in the final film. The archival material is intercut with interviews with Byrne who recalls his own journey from Drogheda to Formula One, offering in the process a fascinating and frank perspective on his sport.

Despite having been the fastest driver at all levels below Formula One, and proving himself the fastest when given an opportunity in the best car at that level, he was ultimately excluded from the sport, his life subsequently declining into excessive drinking and drug-taking and periods spent at the lower rungs of motor-racing in the US and Mexico. This is not, however, a tragic story despite Byrne’s failure to realise his own Formula One dreams. As he remarked in conversation at the end of the screening in Galway “life is pretty good right now. I just lost out on about $100m”. These words sum up a theme across Ó Cualáin’s film; Tommy continues to be unhappy with how he was forced out of the sport but nonetheless he has rebuilt his life and now works as a driving instructor in the United States.

Whether you have an interest in Formula One or not, Crash and Burn is an engaging, and at times moving account of an extraordinary life.

 

Crash and Burn screened on Sunday, 10th July as part of the Galway Film Fleadh.

 

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Review of Irish Film at Galway Film Fleadh: Cardboard Gangsters

 

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Straight Outta Darndale – Conor Dowling joins the gang and takes a look at Mark O’Connor’s Cardboard Gangsters, which premiered at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.

In all the years I’ve been to the Galway Film Fleadh, I have never seen a screening with more buzz about it than this year’s premiere of Mark O’Connor’s latest film Cardboard Gangsters. From the pre-party in the Roisin Dubh to the massive queue outside the town hall, filled with eager viewers anticipating the world premiere of the film, to the palpable atmosphere and buzz of the audience during the film, this screening was clearly the biggest spectacle of the festival this year.

John Connors plays Jay Connolly, a part-time DJ and low-level drug dealer in Darndale, an area victimized by gangs, drugs and social problems. When his welfare is cut off he decides it’s time to enter the big leagues with his gang, in order to help settle his family’s debts. His actions attract the attention of the local drug kingpin Derra Murphy, who rules Darndale with an iron fist and has no problems eliminating any potential rivals.

Jay knows he’s playing a dangerous game and struggles to balance his family’s debts, his pregnant girlfriend and the small drug empire he and his gang of childhood friends begin to build. Events spiral out of control when Jay becomes involved with Derra’s wife, and his gang are thrust in harm’s way. Jay is left with a momentous choice to be made: to exact revenge, or turn the other cheek.

Reminiscent of the beloved hood movies of the ’90s – Boyz in The Hood, Menace II Society and a little bit of Friday – this modern-day cautionary tale of small-time drug dealers flying too close to the sun kept the audience hooked for its duration. John Connors, a working-class hero as it were, has proven himself again as a co-writer and a leading man with moments both intense and tender in his portrayal of the Darndale dealer. However, an awkward sex scene midway through the film may have shown us a side of Connors and his character we could have done without. The main body of the story takes inspiration from Connors’ own experiences growing up, and even some of the film’s more bizarre moments, such as a chainsaw attack, stabbings and someone being tortured with an angle grinder hold some basis in reality. Connors’ engaging performance is a clear result of his personal connection to the material under guidance from an experienced director.

It wouldn’t be a Mark O’Connor film without some inclusion of celebrated Northside troubadour Damien Dempsey. Dempsey not only appears in a small speaking role in the film, but his song “Serious” provides the soundtrack for a stunning and stylish music sequence during a memorable drug-dealing montage, one of the best musical sequences I have seen in a film in a long time. To add to the authenticity of the film, the entire soundtrack features Irish artists with many of the rap artists from Darndale where the film is set. The sound of modern Irish rap and dance music really nails the tone of the film and stood out as a clear highlight of the film.

Produced by Stalker Films and Five Knight Films in association with Filmbase, Cardboard Gangsters boasts an ensemble cast featuring co-writer John Connors (Love/Hate), Toni O’Rourke (What Richard Did), Kierston Wareing (Eastenders), Fionn Walton (Get Up And Go), Jimmy Smallhorn (Clean Break),  Fionna Hewitt-Twamley (Red Rock), Gemma-Leah Deveraux (Stitches), Graham Earley (Monged), to name but a few. Fionn Walton’s explosive performance as Dano, hot-headed best friend of John Connors, hit all the marks and delighted audiences every time he appeared on screen. Walton’s portrayal of the Northside petty criminal stole the show with an intense performance that kept the audience on the edge of their seats and cracked people up with moments of skilled comedic delivery. Fionn is one to watch.

The energetic pace of the story is maintained by slick cinematography from Michael Lavelle (Patrick’s Day). Many choreographed one-take shots were executed skilfully which complemented the style and energy of the film. This colourful visual portrayal of Dublin crime is a welcome contribution to Irish cinema and brings a strong element of fun to this film.

Though the film shines a light on the crime of the Northside area, at times it is difficult to distinguish whether or not this story glorifies the good life to be had as a drug dealer or sincerely warns of the repercussions of the lifestyle. The accents, hair styles, clothes and music portrayed in the film were spot on and anyone who has grown up in similar areas will attest to the authenticity of the portrayal of this world.

The film is due for cinema release in October and based on the audience reaction in Galway, I highly recommend seeing this exciting film with a crowd. It is sure to appeal to a large audience in Ireland and abroad and I look forward to what all involved will show us next.

 

Cardboard Gangsters screened on Saturday, 9th July 2016 as part of the Galway Film Fleadh.

 

 

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Review of Irish Film at Galway Film Fleadh: Tiger Raid

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Conn Holohan checks out Simon Dixon’s Tiger Raid,  which screened at Galway Film Fleadh 2016.

Tiger Raid opens with a beautifully expansive tracking shot through a darkened desert landscape, framing a solitary military jeep as it races across the sand. For a few moments the soundtrack is silent, and then the somewhat incongruous sounds of two Irish voices arguing about the Good Friday Agreement puncture the desert air. These opening moments capture both the potential and the problems with Simon Dixon’s adaption of Radio Luxembourg, a stage play by Mayo playwright Mick Donnellan. The shift in location of the titular Tiger kidnapping from small-town Ireland to an unnamed location in the Middle East provides the director Dixon and cinematographer Si Bell with the kind of striking settings that we witness in these opening shots. These are used to good effect: the sweeping sand-filled landscapes and white-washed Arab towns remain eerily deserted, conveying the sense that the film’s characters inhabit some moral netherworld in which the usual rules of human behavior no longer apply. However, once we enter the confined spaces where the action unfolds: a military jeep, the windowless living room of the hostage’s house, a deserted warehouse, it is clear that we are in very familiar territory. This is the world of the maladjusted Irish male, whose philosophical ruminations, pseudo or otherwise, can barely mask the depths of his dysfunction. We know this won’t end well.

The story concerns two Irish mercenaries en route to kidnap the daughter of a wealthy industrialist. Joe (Brian Gleeson) is the more battle-weary of the two, yet remains absolutely devoted to Dave, the shadowy off-screen figure who directs their criminal operation. Paddy (Damien Molony) is brash and confident, yet not devoid of reflection. He seems willing to defy Dave’s orders, yet his motivations and intentions turn out to be perhaps the more complex of the two. The kidnap of Shadha (Sofia Boutella) becomes a moment of truth for both characters as they confront their own pasts and the nature of their relationships to Dave, to the people that they love, and to violence.

The biggest difficulty that the film faces is that these characters, and the scenario in which we encounter them, remain fundamentally theatrical. Despite the opening out of the action, the rules of the game remain defined by the stage: there are two men in a room, and beyond it there is nothing but the images that they conjure. The malevolent presence of Dave, who haunts the minds of Joe and Paddy like some Irish Keyser Soze, is itself a theatrical device. We are under no illusions as to whether Dave will ever actually arrive onscreen to mete out punishment or reward. Joe and Paddy’s world is hermetically sealed: it is a theatre of the soul. The stylishly theatrical language with which the characters probe and test each other’s hard-man exterior serves to heighten the action, lifting it out of the everyday of criminal exchange, yet its tenor jars with the inherent realism of the cinematic image and leaves the audience wanting to escape these stifling rooms, out to the expanse of world that lies beyond.

The upshot of all this is that, despite the impressive central performances, and moments of real cinematic tension and directorial flair, Tiger Raid ultimately struggles to escape its origins and fails to provide sufficient action or invention to fully justify its transition to the big screen.

 

Tiger Raid screened on Thursday, 7th July 2016 as part of the Gaway Film Fleadh.

 

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Review of Irish Film at Galway Film Fleadh: Rebel Rossa

 

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Tony Tracy takes a look at Williams Rossa Cole’s documentary Rebel Rossa, which unearths the legacy of his great grandfather Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa, one of the most controversial figures in Irish history. Rebel Rossa screened at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.

One of the most surprising and, no doubt, lasting elements of Ireland’s 1916 commemorations was the recovery of so many of the human stories of the Rising: the children who died, the previously overlooked testimonies and involvement of women and ‘forgotten’ relatives and the fleshing out of heroes whose names and contribution had become calcified by a century of post-colonial history books and partisan politics. Across a range of media and formats this work of reclamation was – and continues to be – carried out by a refreshingly eclectic group of both part-time and professional historians of different genders, political hues and methods. For many, it was this human connection, rather than any grand political or historical narrative that gave the centenary resonance and ensured that its participants and their choices will continue to be remembered and valued in our collective history.

It’s therefore difficult, from this vantage point, to recall that just six months before the centenary commemorations began, there was still considerable political ambivalence around how the Rising and the manner in which its key figures would be commemorated. It is perhaps therefore appropriate that, as 2016 draws to a close, this element of contested memory is what comes across most forcefully from Williams Rossa Cole’s documentary on Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa.

Belying his atypical name, New York nous and movie-star looks, the charismatic Cole is O’Donovan Rossa’s great grandson – or one of them anyway – and grew up with a proud and loving Irish-American father who brought his sons on several occasions to see the birthplace and the west-Cork landmarks associated with their famous great grandfather. We see some of these visits in family photos and home movies but in one touching piece of footage (which greatly enriches the visual texture of the film), Williams’ elderly and fading father cannot remember having taken his son to Ireland, even though he can still clearly remember an Irish ballad. It is both a personal and emblematic scene in a narrative about memory. Despite such visits and the fact that he has an archive of material relating to ‘the old Fenian’ stashed in his home office, Cole admits that he and his brother Rossa Williams Cole (who acts as cameraman and Co-Producer) never quite grasped the full story and significance of their ancestor.

In another vividly personal expression of the selective nature of historical memory, while he recalls two images of O’Dononvan Rossa in the family home – one the widely circulated respectable portrait and the other a Puck cartoon by the unreconstructed racist Frederick Opper showing the Fenian in exile dropping bombs on England and entitled ‘Gorilla Warfare’ – he has never fully reflected on the meaning of this second image, nor was it discussed. And so, aware that the centenary of his great grandfather’s return to Ireland for burial is approaching and spurred on by an ‘angel’ investor, he sets off on a modestly funded mission to discover who this man was and what his relevance to the 1916 commemorations might be.

While it seems odd that a documentary filmmaker like Cole (‘a Fulbright Scholar at the London School of Economics and a founder of the Brooklyn Rail’ his website tells us) never got around to more fully exploring the archive of O’Donovan Rossa material which languishes unsorted in his home office, his timing could not be better. With a limited budget and a packed schedule he and his brother travel to Ireland to encounter a variety of individuals, organisations and events which illuminate their great grandfather’s legacy.

First is Sinn Fein in Dublin, who have elaborate and detailed plans for the upcoming centenary commemoration (they even have O’D R’s image on their current membership card as well as – strangely – a man dressed up the uniform of a 1916 volunteer hanging around their offices). PR man Bartle D’Arcy tells the Coles that they will be central to the event.

Next to the North of Ireland and an encounter with a small group of unreconstructed republican militants at the incredible ‘secret Irish Republican Museum’ in South Armagh, and a former hunger striker who movingly sings a ballad from memory and explains that it was the spirit of O’Donovan Rossa that inspired republican prisoners in their darkest days. Strong stuff. Hard-line republicanism is rarely seen or heard in post-peace process Ireland and the brother’s unique status as outsiders and insiders is crucial to allowing these uncomfortable ideas to be heard.

There are other meetings with various local historians from Cork and Skibereen as well as several professional historians – most notably O’Donovan Rossa’s biographer Dr Shane Kenna – who provide detail and commentary on his life. Kenna is the film’s key historical consultant and talking-head and while his long contribution somewhat interrupts and unbalances the flow of the film, his commentary is so authoritative and passionate that it’s easy to see why he is given such prominence.

The trip culminates with the August 1st 2015 re-enactment of O’Donovan Rossa’s funeral – the transport of the coffin to Glasnevin cemetery through the packed streets of Dublin and the rousing oration of Padraig Pearse that is often identified as setting in train the events leading to the Rising. Here the Cole brothers are transformed from curious outsiders to talismanic descendants of a prime force in Irish independence. Accepting their role while retaining a bemused critical distance, they suit-up and chat and smile for the many photographs at City Hall before leading the Sinn Fein cortège (walking in front of SF honchos McGuinness and Adams) to Glasnevin, where they are publicly acknowledged and applauded. A deep honour and an unquestionably moving ‘homecoming’ for the New Yorkers and if they were in any doubt as to the depth of feeling and significance their great-grandfather has retained, then it is surely dispelled at this point.

Yet something more complex emerges as we see them next participating in the official Irish government commemoration, attended by Taoiseach Enda Kenny and the President of Ireland, Michael D Higgins. Here, no doubt sensitive to Anglo-Irish diplomacy and the always delicate peace process, the event is all pomp and circumstance, the boys are kept in the background and the official speeches play down O’Donovan Rossa’s commitment to Irish freedom by whatever means necessary – to the undisguised disgust of Shane Kenna. The film reverses the order of these events – the Irish government one was in the morning (and launched the 1916 centenary commemorations) while Sinn Fein’s took place in the afternoon. The SF event is given precedence in terms of chronology but also therefore authenticity but the contrast between the two remains striking and thought provoking.

There then follows a series of smaller commemorations by various factions and organisations until the genial brothers, who are photographed hundreds of times by the graveside, relieved to be done, sit exausted by the Glasnevin graveside. Not quite: to their surprise, a politically neutral parade takes place the next day, now celebrating O’Donovan Rossa’s internationalism and concern with the working man. In this, at times, uneven film, this multi-vocal claiming of their famous ancestor is what gives the Cole’s odyssey real punch and offers a mirror on the competing values of Irishness a century after Pearse’s call to arms.

Made on a very limited budget and finished just in time for the Fleadh (the screened copy still in need of a few editing tweeks and a final colour-grade) Rebel Rossa was warmly received and produced a lively Q&A. While one longed for a greater sense of the historical man rather than the man of history (I discovered afterwards that he was married three times and had 18 children) and for more of that unsorted archival material to feature in the visuals and perhaps guide the narrative, the film is held together by Williams’ charisma and good-natured openness to contemporary Ireland and its complex relationship to 1916, particularly in relation to violence.

In the mixing of personal and the public memory, not to mention its value in documenting the plethora of commemorations, this modest but impressive film marks a worthy contribution to the centenary commemorations and demonstrates that history – particularly for the Irish – remains an open book.

 

 

Rebel Rossa screened on Thursday, 7th July 2016 as part of the Galway Film Fleadh.

 

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Review of Irish Film at Galway Film Fleadh: Outcasts by Choice

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Shane Croghan gets out the safety pins for Outcasts by Choice, which screened at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.

Outcasts by Choice, directed by father-daughter duo Paul and Kate McCarroll, is a snapshot of Belfast punk in the late ’70s, as well as something of an insight into a lesser examined facet of the scene, the ageing process.

 The film kicks off with the riotous energy of the band it documents, introducing its protagonists against the tumultuous backdrop of a city fissured by political and cultural conflicts. “If one city was born for punk, it was Belfast”, is a declaration heard early on and it’s hard to argue against this statement, as archive footage shows bands like The Outcasts providing an outlet for the youth of Belfast in the late ’70s.

Archive, photographs and interviews with members of The Outcasts, both founding and current, detail the beguiling story of a group of angry young men and their dedicated followers, affectionately referred to as “the Locusts”. Violent, chaotic gigs are soundtracked by out-of-tune instruments and it’s hard to believe that the charming, soft-spoken men in the interviews are the same hell-raisers that seem to have been barred from, or kicked out of, half the venues in Northern Ireland.

It’s in this contrast between the young Outcasts and the modern-day incarnation of the group that Outcasts by Choice finds one of its most interesting narrative threads, what happens when punk grows up? Founding members Greg and Martin Cowan, along with their new band-mates, Raymond Falls and Petesy Burns have mellowed considerably in the near-forty years which have passed since the band’s formation. Martin, who was noted as much for his violent tendencies as his musical prowess in the group’s heyday, has channelled his energy into fitness. Twinkle-eyed Petesy teaches Tai Chi. Peaceful moments, like Martin strumming an acoustic guitar, or Petesy practising Tai Chi on the beach, reflect an inherent tenderness that was concealed by the incendiary behaviour of the young Outcasts in earlier scenes.

The more contented Outcasts haven’t lost sight of their identity though, they’ve merely diversified their understanding of what constitutes the spirit of punk. Rebellion is embodied in freedom, a righteous sense of self, uninhibited by the constraints imposed by society, and in pursuing this idea of freedom, separate from the anger of their youth, The Outcasts are enjoying their renaissance, both on and off the stage. From bars in Belfast, to a boat in Berlin, the band have lost some members, gained others, grown wiser and learned how to tune their instruments. Along the way they’ve clung tight to their identity, coming to understand who they are and what they represent, and they’re more comfortable with that than ever before.

Outcasts by Choice is a labour of love, produced on a shoestring budget, and it provides a fascinating glimpse into a scintillating period in Irish music history, whilst retaining the DIY spirit that ignited the punk scene in the first place. This ethos was preached by the directors in their Q&A after the screening, as they urged that any prospective artists should “just go out and make something”. Much like The Outcasts, Paul and Kate McCarroll followed their own path in pursuing this documentary, unfazed by their lack of financial clout, or influenced by a desire for commercial success. The duo have an obvious affinity for their subject matter and it’s there for all to see in the finished product.

 

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Review of Irish Film at Galway Film Fleadh: A Date for Mad Mary

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Conn Holohan finds himself on a date with Mad Mary. Darren Thornton’s debut feature screened at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.

In what has been an exceptionally strong year for new Irish releases at the Galway Film Fleadh, no film captured the confidence and competence of Irish cinema in this seemingly golden period quite like A Date for Mad Mary. Deservedly receiving a standing ovation for its exceptional central performances and seamless ability to shift between the comic and the poignant, this moving story of friendship, family and love is note-perfect in its execution and provides real evidence of the depth of talent within Irish filmmaking at this moment.

In its barest outline, the plot of A Date for Mad Mary seems in danger of collapsing into a collection of well-worn coming of age scenarios. We meet Mary as she is released from jail just three weeks before her long-time friend, and fellow troublemaker, Charlene, is to be married. Returning home to take up her rightful place by her best friend’s side, however, Mary discovers that all has changed in her absence. Charlene prefers dinner with her fiancé to tearing up the town. Her role as Maid of Honour seems under threat from the charmless Leona, amusingly played by Siobhan Shanahan. Although Charlene remains friendly, Mary’s late-night phone calls to her go repeatedly unanswered. Her newfound pariah status is confirmed by the news that she will not be receiving a ‘plus one’ to the wedding, as the prospect of ‘Mad Mary’ being able to find a man seems an unlikely prospect to all, cueing the search for the eponymous date. The scenario seems set for a journey of discovery, involving a montage of awkward dates, an encounter with Mr Right, and a final, emotional reunion with Charlene, the true object of Mary’s love.

The brilliance of A Date for Mad Mary lies in how it knowingly negotiates all the potential pitfalls of genre convention: acknowledging them (there is indeed such a montage), but always veering away from easy laughs or expected payoffs. The intelligence of writing, direction and performance evident in the film ensures the emotional truth and complexity of the characters’ situations is respected throughout, never allowing any character to drift into a type. Whilst all of the actors deserve praise, in particular Charleigh Bailey for her performance as Charlene, a role which could easily have been played for Bridezilla laughs, special mention must go to Seána Kerslake as Mary. Her performance moves from explosive anger to touching vulnerability, whilst portraying the inherent decentness of a character who has done some less than decent things; and from the moment she shares a screen with videographer Jess (Tara Lee), their chemistry sizzles. As their relationship develops, and the emotional coordinates of Mary’s life begin to shift, the film quietly captures the simple pleasure of being in the presence of someone you find captivating.

Directed by Darren Thornton, and co-written with his brother Colin, A Date for Mad Mary manages the all-too-rare achievement of putting female characters and relationships on screen that feel honest and authentic, and absolutely unconcerned with the opposite sex: if there were a Bechdel test for men, this film would fail it gloriously.

 

A Date for Mad Mary screened on Fri 8 July 2016 as part of the Galway Film Fleadh

 

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Review of Irish Film at Galway Film Fleadh: Student Showcase

Cathy Butler checked out some short films exploring big themes at the Student Showcase on offer at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.

 

It can be tempting to look for thematic similarities in student filmmaking, as if it may give some insight into the preoccupations of the young generation. While this may be a bit generalised, there were some recurring themes in this Student Showcase screening. Anxiety and depression featured prominently, whilst all the films utilised that great potential of the short form to explore big themes with small stories, be it love, vocation, ageing or even death.

 

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This short documentary by Alannah Murray looks at the role and depiction of disability in the Irish audio-visual industry. Murray turns the camera on various industry players, including herself. The personal note to this film gives it its impact, as Murray recounts her own struggles and her drive to achieve her ambitions. As she succinctly puts it, ‘I am more than my condition.’

 

When the Butcher Stopped Ordering Meat

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In another examination of life and vocation, we meet Michael Quirke, a Sligo resident who inherited his father’s butcher shop but later converted the business into the sale of his own woodcarvings. Director Laura Gaynor takes a hands-off approach and lets the camera roll, allowing Michael’s life and that of his customers come to life on the screen in what is a charming and amusing portrait of a local businessman.

 

Aoibhinn and the Bear

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In the first of the drama pieces we meet Aoibhinn, a young woman who has isolated herself out of seeming anxiety and fear. While her friends try in vain to reach out to her, Aoibhinn’s struggles anthropomorphize themselves in the form of a stuffed bear. Kieran Burke’s film puts a lot of demand on its lead actor Esther Woods, who deftly depicts Aoibhinn’s inner struggles.

 

Fishwitch

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This stop-motion animation from Adrienne Dowling takes a well-known theme – finding love after being hurt in the past – and applies it to a fairy-tale, seaside landscape. Eschewing dialogue in favour of some quite fun obvious imagery – this witch is literally cold-hearted – the piece is a meticulously animated and moving story.

 

What’s the Point

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This short, animated vignette from a group of IADT animators takes the form of an information piece looking at struggles with depression. From the perspective of a young woman who has faced depression in the past, the film offers guidance to those who may find themselves in a similar situation.

 

 

Strangers

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The perils of alcoholism come to the fore in Rebecca Thompson’s story of a young man faced with losing his family after letting them down one too many times. As with Aoibhinn and the Bear, this challenging story puts its stock in the strength of its young cast, namely the director herself and Mark Agar as the young couple.

 

 

All the Time in the World

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In terms of big themes, director Ciarán McNamara tackles several at once in this rather comedic look at the various rites of passage human beings cycle through in the short lives we are given.

 

Pat

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Returning to documentary to finish the screening, we meet Pat, a bachelor farmer in Co. Galway. In the eighties, Pat began filming people and events in his local community, beginning with his then gravely ill father. Over the years he has amassed something of a personal archive, and an invaluable time capsule of years gone by. While looking at videos of the past, Pat reflects on his own past and the decisions he has made, in this affectionate portrait by Katie McDonagh.

 

The Student Showcase took place on Wednesday, 6th July as part of the Galway Film Fleadh

 

 

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Review of Irish Film at Galway Film Fleadh: Pursuit

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Deirdre Molumby pursues Paul Mercier’s modern take on the legend of Diarmuid and Gráinne, which screened at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.

After an attempted hit on his life, from which his right hand man, Diarmuid (Barry Ward), saves him, gangster boss Fionn Mac Cumhaill (Liam Cunningham) decides to get married. He is talked into choosing his enemy’s daughter Gráinne (Ruth Bradley) as his bride as the union could lead to a mutually beneficial alliance. Fionn begins to court the significantly younger Gráinne but on the night they get engaged, Gráinne runs away and forces Diarmuid to go with her. As the two of them journey from the city to the west of Ireland, meeting various characters along the way, war between the families ensues as several parties pursue the couple.

What can be at times be an awkward and over-the-top script is acted so straight by its ensemble – which includes Brendan Gleeson and David Pearse – that one soon settles into the silliness of the story and finds themselves laughing in spite of themselves. Production quality throughout the film also varies quite a lot. Though its money launderers and drug trade gangsters, as well as the casting of Ruth Bradley, all draw comparisons to TV series Love/Hate, the film is much lighter in its content, although its attempts to be emotionally harrowing are undercut by its comedy. In its attempts to be both a comedy and a tragedy, it ends up not really being either.

Like Song of the Sea, Paul Mercier’s film is an admirable feat in its modern take on Irish mythology, adapting the legend of Diarmuid and Gráinne and transforming it into a road movie and gangster thriller for a contemporary audience. The influences from the original play version can also be seen and as Paul Mercier himself explained in a Q&A following its screening in Galway, the preceding play had visible filmic elements while the movie carries numerous theatrical influences. Overall, Pursuit is a rather mixed bag. Whether that is a good or bad thing is up to its future audiences.

 

Pursuit screened on Friday, 10th July as part of the Galway Film Fleadh (7 – 12 July 2015)

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Review of Irish Film at Galway Film Fleadh: I am Belfast

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Seán Crosson heads North in Mark Cousins’ documentary I am Belfast, which screened at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.

 

Personifying places and indeed the entire island of Ireland as a woman has been a recurring trope in Irish literature and culture for many centuries, including seminal texts such as W.B. Yeat’s Cathleen Ni Houlihan and Pearse’s Mise Éire. Mark Cousins’ I am Belfast provides an innovative updating of this trope in the figure of a 10,000 year old woman (Helena Bereen) who claims to be the city itself and takes the filmmaker on a journey through time and space, recounting its historical development while travelling through its distinctive streets and landscape. In the process Cousins offers one of the most innovative studies of an Irish city; his film is partly a paean to its people, language and culture, partly an impressive rendering of the distinctive colours and shapes one finds while walking the streets of Belfast, and partly a hopeful song to a future without bigotry and division.

Cousins is fortunate to have collaborators such as acclaimed cinematographer Christopher Doyle and composer David Holmes who visually and aurally complement Cousins’ own refreshing and engaging dialogue with the elderly woman as he travels across the city and into its past. Few previous films have managed to render the distinctive architecture and colours of Belfast as effectively; there is also a patience to the film’s pacing that allows for the viewer to fully appreciate the film’s aesthetic achievement. Cousins even manages to find a peculiar beauty in the play of light and colour on the ‘peace walls’ that continue to divide communities across the city – more now even than during the height of the Troubles.

Belfast is unfortunately still primarily associated in film and television with recurring generic depictions of the Troubles and its aftermath; and Cousins, despite his own stated reluctance, does not shy away from confronting the legacy of Belfast’s traumatic and violent past. Indeed, he engages directly with some of the most disturbing events, including the horrific bombing of McGurk’s Bar in 1971 in which 15 civilians were killed and a further 17 seriously injured.

I am Belfast includes archive footage to incorporate events during the Troubles into its narrative; however, the film’s principal focus is on Belfast today and the hope that may lie in the future. Cousins films the mock-up of McGurk’s bar created under a Belfast underpass in 2011 and ponders the possibility of a different encounter between ‘salt and sweet’, Protestant and Catholic, beyond the traumatic legacies of the past. He personifies this evocatively in the imagined funeral of the ‘last bigot in Belfast’, and an upbeat funeral procession is featured towards the film’s close.

At a time when filmmakers have been hesitant to engage with the difficult legacies of Belfast’s past, Cousins provides a timely intervention while pointing to a future where all the city’s inhabitants could take pride in the spaces and places they inhabit.

 

Seán Crosson is the Programme Director of the MA in Film Studies: Theory and Practice at the Huston School of Film & Digital Media, NUI Galway. His publications include Sport and Film (Routledge, 2013) and several co-edited volumes, including Contemporary Irish Film: New Perspectives on a National Cinema (Braumüller, 2011) and The Quiet Man … and Beyond: Reflections on a Classic Film, John Ford and Ireland (Liffey Press, 2009). He is currently President of the European Federation of Associations and Centres of Irish Studies (EFACIS)

 

 I am Belfast screened on Sunday, 12th July as part of the Galway Film Fleadh (7 – 12 July 2015)

 

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Review of Irish Film at Galway Film Fleadh: Strangerland

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Deirdre Molumby checks out the Irish/Australian co-production Strangerland, which screened at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.

Strange by name and strange by nature, Kim Farrant’s debut is a confident, dramatic, suspenseful thriller that is well-acted but frustratingly ambiguous.

The Parker family have recently moved to a remote desert town called Natgari in Australia. While the children express a sense of restlessness – the youngest, Tommy (Nicholas Hamilton), wanders around the town at night while teenager Lily (Maddison Brown) gets very friendly with the local young men – the parents try their best to fit in. The father, Matthew (Joseph Fiennes), works as a pharmacist while Catherine (Nicole Kidman) is a stay-at-home mother who discovers one day, to her horror, that the children are missing. After the town is searched from top to bottom, the prospect that the children have disappeared into the desert outback becomes more probable, and every day their chance of survival rapidly diminishes.

In spite of what seems to be the set-up of old movie clichés – a family moves into a small town and tries to fit in, the kids start a new school, a family secret is apparent – there is more to the story than meets the eye. The promiscuous nature of the teenaged Lily sets her up as far from a helpless, innocent, victimised young girl. First seen only in her underwear as she openly flirts with a worker in her house in front of her father, her open sexuality is quite shocking, and even more so given she looks like she has only just hit puberty. Both Lily and Tommy are attractive children, which only makes their prospective fates in the desert landscape all the more daunting. Another key player in the plot is local cop David Rae (Hugo Weaving), who intends to be helpful and to be a good cop. However, the balance between protecting the Parkers and having long-standing relationships with several of the locals leads to difficult compromises.

At the heart of the drama are parents Catherine and Matthew, played respectively by Nicole Kidman and Joseph Fiennes. While Catherine quickly disintegrates into emotional trauma by the events surrounding the children’s disappearance, the character of Matthew is far more enigmatic and stoic towards what is happening. Both go through major transitions, and the children’s disappearance reveals several facts about their parents’ marriage and relationship, the town and those who live there, and repressed desires.

While the younger cast are impressive, it is the trio of Weaving, Kidman and Fiennes who are the key to the film and all give stellar performances. The changing dynamics that occur both within and between the characters is indispensable to the film’s tension, which holds the audience from start to finish. Strangerland does, however, suffer from a fairly predictable plot as well as an awkward balance between trying to be both arthouse and accessible cinema. Having built up to what promises to be a dramatic, fitting finale, the film’s final scenes seem to be more interested in shocking the audience and subsequently leaving them freewheeling rather than providing catharsis. The ambiguity that characterises the film ultimately does not seem to be so much an artistic decision as lack of assertiveness on the part of the writers. The acting saves it.

 

 

Strangerland screened on Wednesday, 8th July as part of the Galway Film Fleadh (7 – 12 July 2015)

 

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Review of Irish Film at Galway Film Fleadh: Older than Ireland

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Seán Crosson scores a century for Alex Fegan’s documentary Older than Ireland, which screened at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.

 

Among the most anticipated productions premiered at the Galway Film Fleadh was Alex Fegan’s Older than Ireland, which had already sold out by Wednesday afternoon. Based around interviews with thirty Irish centenarians, Fegan’s film – produced by Gary Walsh – was one of the major successes in Galway, receiving two standing ovations and eventually the award for Best Irish Feature Documentary.

In a work reminiscent stylistically of Ken Wardrop’s His & Hers (though in other respects a superior production), Older than Ireland evokes the full range of emotions, from laughter to tears, in an ultimately inspirational film. Particularly striking is the candour and frankness of the individuals featured, both men and women, as they recount their views on life, love and Ireland. While Fegan was blessed with extraordinary subjects, the direction, cinematography, editing and accompanying soundtrack all perfectly complement the interviews included and contribute greatly to the achievement of the film. Fegan’s direction, and the cinematography of Colm Nicell, patiently captures the testimonies of those featured – there is no rush here to move on and the space provided allows for moments of genuine revelation.

The interviewees featured come from counties across the island – from Antrim to Cork, Dublin to Galway – and each has a unique perspective to share from their lives. Their memories encompass the revolutionary period, and the emergence of the state but also reflections on a very different Ireland of modest means and limited opportunities where emigration was often the only option for many. The oldest woman featured, 113-year old Kathleen Snavely (who sadly passed away shortly before the screening), spent most of her life in the United States after leaving Clare in 1921. ‘I was happy but lonely’, she poignantly recalls.

While the interior set-ups are reminiscent of Wardrop’s work, a distinctive aspect of Fegan’s film is how often he follows his subjects outside of the home space and the insights this provides into their lives. This includes scenes of subjects playing golf, gardening, driving (including in one of the film’s funniest moments on a drive-on lawn mower), and walking. It is in his rendering of these seemingly ordinary moments that Fegan manages to capture most affectingly the extraordinary individuals depicted.

Among the film’s most memorable interviewees is 103-year old Dubliner Bessie Nolan (who was present in Galway for the première), who provides very frank reflections on her life and relationships. She is also filmed walking from her home to the local shop for her groceries, including her daily box of Superkings. While hardly an example of healthy living (another interviewee talks about her dislike for vegetables), Bessie’s depiction, in common with those of other subjects throughout the film, is more concerned with affirming her dignity and the significance of her insights and perspectives. This is perhaps the most important message of Older than Ireland, particularly at a time when Irish society has successively diminished and marginalised the role of the elderly, as evident in recent scandals involving care-homes, and centenarians left on hospital trolleys for several days.

 

Seán Crosson is the Programme Director of the MA in Film Studies: Theory and Practice at the Huston School of Film & Digital Media, NUI Galway. His publications include Sport and Film (Routledge, 2013) and several co-edited volumes, including Contemporary Irish Film: New Perspectives on a National Cinema (Braumüller, 2011) and The Quiet Man … and Beyond: Reflections on a Classic Film, John Ford and Ireland (Liffey Press, 2009). He is currently President of the European Federation of Associations and Centres of Irish Studies (EFACIS).

 

Older than Ireland screened on Friday, 10th July  as part of the Galway Film Fleadh (7 – 12 July 2015)

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Review of Irish Film at Galway Film Fleadh: The Survivalist

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Deirdre Molumby finds herself in a post-apocalyptic world in The Survivalist, which screened at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.

On introducing this film, Programmer for the Galway Film Fleadh Gar O’Brien emphasised how the Fleadh nurtures talent. They help directors make the transition from shorts to features through the screening and promotion of Irish filmmakers’ work. So has been the case for Stephen Fingleton, whose debut feature The Survivalist follows his award-winning short SLR and Magpie. Indeed, the feature is set in the same post-apocalyptic world of the latter short in which oil dependency and food supplies plummeting create a cut-throat world that is nearly impossible to survive in. Like Magpie, The Survivalist takes place in an ambient forest which is luscious in its green colour yet haunted by death.

A young man’s body is buried in the woods by a mysterious figure in a thick green anorak. We follow the figure to the cabin in which he lives and intrigue continues to grow as we see his everyday means of living. The film evokes much Western iconography in its initial focus on the lone hero, his wooden cabin, the referencing of The Searchers in alluding to its famous doorway shot, and the deserted wilderness setting that surrounds the Survivalist. This first section of the film contains no dialogue and Martin McCann (My Boy Jack, Swansong: Story of Occi Byrne) is subtle and assured in his performance of the leading unnamed character. Our hero is efficient at making fires and growing food, even using his own bodily fluids so nothing goes to waste. However, he is lonely and constantly fearful as can be seen when he anxiously looks around him while he hastily washes some distance from his cabin retreat.

The film’s universe is characterised by paranoia, which continues when two women come to the Survivalist for help. The older, mystifying Kathryn (Olwen Fouere – The Other Side of Sleep, This Must Be the Place), offers her teenage daughter, the quiet but tough Milja (Mia Goth – Magpie, Nymphomaniac: Vol. II), to spend the night with him in exchange for food and shelter. They gradually become accepted into the Survivalist’s cabin and his way of life but the women plot to get rid of him so that they can have his crops for themselves, and there are further dangers in store for all three.

Fingleton, who also wrote the script, paints a brutal landscape of hardship and violence. Without giving too much away, its stand-out scene takes place in the rushes when the Survivalist goes in search for Milja, who is missing. Damien Elliott’s cinematography captures a gripping moment and will have you holding your breath in anticipation.

The Survivalist is a raw film and fairly difficult to watch at times. The graphic imagery includes full frontal (male and female) nudity, rotting flesh, maggots, masturbation, periods, and bloody internal organs. It is one of the more original post-apocalyptic films to be released as of late and is a curiously thought-provoking at that, but its bleakness will not appeal to all audiences. Having already won an award at Tribeca for Best New Narrative Director – Special Jury Mention, this provocative film is well suited to the festival circuit.

 

The Survivalist screened on Friday, 10th July as part of the Galway Film Fleadh (7 – 12 July 2015)

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Review of Irish Film at Galway Film Fleadh: Happy Hour

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Martin Keaveney finds Germans in Kerry keeping it real in Happy Hour, which screened at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.

 

Franz Müller’s Happy Hour is a German-Irish film depicting the antics of three men nearing fifty who leave their homes in Germany for a holiday in Co. Kerry. Wolfgang, HC and Nic have distinct personalities with enough underlying similarities to bring their adventure to life on screen.

Wolfgang owns the holiday home and is the natural leader. HC is quieter and appears at the outset to be in some form of emotional strife. The younger looking Nic seems carefree and good-humoured. The movie opens with the three skating across an ice rink, and this pursuit foreshadows a youthful philosophy which underpins the rest of the film. Their time in Kerry will be spent partying, picking up women and testing the limits of their friendships.

The chief sub-plot is a well-constructed, although fairly traditional love triangle. Other narrative threads are low key, but do serve to give some depth to the secondary characters. The narrative plays out mainly in German, with some short scenes in English. There is a strong possibility much of the script’s dialogue is lost through the translation and as a consequence, some scenes which appear to have all the ingredients for intelligent drama fall flat.

We never get clear exposition on the men’s backgrounds. The main clues are HC’s depressive persona, Wolfgang’s reluctance toward sex and Nic’s play-making. The film treats the cross-cultural issues of holiday homes, mid-life interactions of both love and friendship and invites reflection on both common ground and differences between Ireland and Germany.

There are aspects of The Three Stooges, yet the comic intensity is often diluted with philosophical meanderings, at one stage the group question their existence on Earth. The director does admirably resist melodrama, the initially flamboyant Wolfgang puzzles new girlfriend Kat with his conservative attitude in the bedroom. The consequences of this situation is the key moment in the film, evoking themes of change and growth. HC is the most realistic creation; self-piteous, bitterly comic and unpredictable. Realism is the best aspect of the production, it verges on documentary style at times, appropriate for many of its concerns.

There is a sensible avoidance of panoramic sweeps of lakes and mountains, as so often appear in Irish-Foreign collaborations. The appeal of the lifestyle is instead reflected upon. Even so, the result is still the stereotypical late-night drinking sessions of depressed quasi-bachelors, deep in loud, dark pubs.

For a limited scope, Happy Hour achieves its goals. While characters are still frustratingly underdeveloped, a decent attempt is made to explore the three men and to an extent, the women they encounter. The realism of the material is superbly drawn and the dynamics of the characters really come to life after the key point in the film.

The subject is probably not a mainstream one and Happy Hour is not likely to reach a wide audience. Those that do find it will be entertained by a piece which comes together well.

 

Happy Hour screened on Friday, 10th July as part of the Galway Film Fleadh (7 – 12 July 2015)

 
Martin Keaveney co-wrote the feature film Cattle Raid, currently in post-production. Recent fiction has appeared in The Crazy Oik, Gold Dust and Agave Magazine. He has a B.A. in English and Italian and an M.A. in English (Writing) from NUI, Galway, Ireland. He is currently a PhD candidate at NUIG where he is researching the John McGahern archive and also writing a novel as part of the course.

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Review of Irish Film at Galway Film Fleadh: A Turning Tide in the Life of Man

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Seán Crosson delves into the waters of Loic Jourdain’s A Turning Tide in the Life of Man, which screened at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.

 

The islands off the West coast of Ireland have been the subject of many books, paintings and films. The lives of those who inhabit these often neglected areas have provided the inspiration for such seminal figures as W.B. Yeats, John Millington Synge and documentarian Robert Flaherty. However rarely has the perspectives of islanders themselves (before the advent of TG4) been the central concern of film work, particularly work that has emerged from outside of Ireland.

French director Loic Jourdain’s A Turning Tide in the life of Man, which includes TG4 among its funders, goes to considerable lengths to foreground the challenges faced by islanders off the West of Ireland (and indeed across Europe as a whole) in a work narrated by an Irish-speaking fisherman from Inishbofin (off Donegal), John O’Brien. O’Brien has been engaged in a campaign for almost ten years to save his livelihood as a fisherman against the imposition of laws by both the Irish state and the European Union hampering his efforts to do so.

Watching Jourdain’s documentary, I was reminded of a line from John Doyle in Cathal Black’s Korea (1995): “We impoverish the fishing for the tourists”. In Black’s film, based on a short story of the same name by John McGahern, Doyle is the last to fish his local lake in county Cavan for his living before his licence is taken away to preserve stocks for the increasing numbers of tourists arriving to Ireland in the late 1950s. Similarly, O’Brien finds his own livelihood as a fisherman threatened as the government places increasing limits on what salmon he can fish, in order (it is claimed) to save stocks for visiting anglers to Ireland.

However, a core focus of the film is the close connection between fishermen such as O’Brien and his local environment, a connection that is informed by generations of fishermen who have learned to fish sustainably and responsibly from their local environment. This includes rotating the fish caught each season to avoid overfishing a single species, unlike the massive factory boats that plunder the fish stocks close to Inishbofin. However, as a consequence of Irish and EU policies, O’Brien is forced to overfish single species throughout the year given the limitations placed on his work. Unsurprisingly, most coastal fishermen are forced to leave their livelihoods behind, with O’Brien (like Doyle) one of the very few left still trying to make a living from fishing on Inishbofin.

In a beautifully shot work, Jourdain follows O’Brien’s campaign for recognition of the needs of coastal communities from Inishbofin to Brussels. He also visits other European island communities, from islands off Bittanny to Corsica, as part of a campaign to build a significant lobby group to save the fishing livelihoods of coastal communities. One is struck in watching the film by O’Brien’s sincerity and humanity; his journey to Brussels and growing understanding of the political and bureaucratic systems that decide his own livelihood is also our own journey.

In this respect, the film is one of the most accessible and informative studies of the role the EU now plays in our lives – often largely ignored or misunderstood – as O’Brien grows to understand the importance of making common cause with other island communities across Europe and with a non-governmental organisation to support his lobbying efforts for recognition for the rights of coastal communities. He does eventually achieve some recognition, following meetings with the EU fisheries commissioner and an address to the European Parliament. However, the film closes on a pessimistic note; it seems further EU regulation on natural environments may make all the gains made irrelevant.

In the context of the continuing fallout from the Greek crisis, A Turning Tide in the Life of Man is a sobering reminder of the disconnect between the political and bureaucratic institutions in Brussels and the needs of communities on Europe’s periphery.

 

Seán Crosson is the Programme Director of the MA in Film Studies: Theory and Practice at the Huston School of Film & Digital Media, NUI Galway. His publications include Sport and Film (Routledge, 2013) and several co-edited volumes, including Contemporary Irish Film: New Perspectives on a National Cinema (Braumüller, 2011) and The Quiet Man … and Beyond: Reflections on a Classic Film, John Ford and Ireland (Liffey Press, 2009). He is currently President of the European Federation of Associations and Centres of Irish Studies (EFACIS).

 

A Turning Tide in the Life of Man screened on Saturday, 11th July as part of the Galway Film Fleadh (7 – 12 July 2015)

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Review of Irish Film at Galway Film Fleadh: Traders

Ailbhe O’ Reilly trades blows with Traders, which screened at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.

Since the recession hit the world with a bang in 2008 there have been a few economic themed films – The Company Men tried the drama angle, Up in the Air tried the comedy angle and there have also been numerous documentaries.

Traders is the first Irish film I have seen that tackles the subject matter with a dark comedy edge tinged with graphic violence. Traders focuses on two very different lead characters – Vernon Styles (Game of Thrones’ John Bradley) and Harry Fox (Love/Hate’s Killian Scott), who are both left desperate after the company they work for goes under. After their boss takes his own life to escape his financial problems Vernon comes up with a very unique business idea which is the basis for the movie.

The idea is that people down on their luck arrange a secluded place to fight it out to the death with the winner walking away with the life savings of the other person. This is trading and the aim of the game is to keep arranging fights until you have enough money or die trying.

At first glance, Traders may not appeal to everyone – the violence can be quite graphic at times and the plot of ordinary people fighting like backyard brawlers in recessionary Ireland felt too far removed from reality. However, the fast moving and hilarious script keeps our interest and Killian Scott delivers as a captivating leading man. Traders really is Scott’s film, he is in nearly every scene and keeps our attention throughout. He is joined on screen by at least half the Love/Hate cast, which was distracting at times, but does display the many up-and-coming Irish actors around at the moment.

John Bradley is entertaining in his role, but doesn’t stray too far from the role many are familiar with in Game of Thrones. Overall, the directing pair of Rachel Moriarty and Peter Murphy do an excellent job with a daring and unique film that keeps the audience guessing throughout and even manages to surprise with the ending.

 

Traders screened on Saturday, 11th July  as part of the Galway Film Fleadh (7 – 12 July 2015)

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Review of Irish Film at Galway Film Fleadh: Shem the Penman Sings Again

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Seán Crosson finds himself “hoppy on akkant of his joyicity” at a screening of Shem the Penman Sings Again at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.

 

James Joyce’s work has long been regarded as among the most difficult to adapt successfully to the cinema; certainly very few films have managed this challenging task with wide critical acclaim, with the possible exception of John Huston’s extraordinary rendering of The Dead, the final film from the great Irish-American director.

While this may apply to all of Joyce’s works, it is surely all the more so with respect to his final (and most demanding) novel, Finnegans Wake. Indeed, the novel itself is rightly regarded as one of the most difficult literary works to read (never mind film) with Joycean seminars sometimes dedicated to attempting to decipher no more than one page per session, if even that.

No doubt conscious of this challenge, Pádraig Trehy wisely choose to produce a work that though it draws on aspects and characters within Finnegans Wake, could not in any established sense be called an adaptation. Rather Trehy takes inspiration from two prominent characters and their actions in Joyce’s book, Shaun the Post and his twin brother Shem the Penman, and interweaves these scenes with reenactments of moments from the lives of the two individuals who inspired these characters, Irish tenor John McCormack (Louis Lovett) and Joyce himself, played at various stages of his life by Hugh O’Conor, Frank Prendergast, and Brian Fenton.

The concept of audience is a recurring concern in the film foregrounded through scenes of performance, by both Joyce and McCormack, and audience reaction, beginning with McCormack’s winning performance at the 1903 Feis Ceoil tenor singing competition. Structured in four episodes, the film contrasts the extraordinary popular success of McCormack with Joyce’s considerable critical acclaim, but limited popular impact.

A further focus of the film is the very difficult life Joyce and his family led, living in considerable poverty and coming to terms with the mental illness of Joyce’s daughter Lucia, whose dancing is a recurring feature of the film. However, this brief description of central concerns of the film and its structure cannot possibly communicate the eclecticism and imagination with which Trehy manages to tell this story, in a work very reminiscent of silent cinema. The director has acknowledged a debt to Charlie Chaplin, and Chaplin is certainly an influence in the sometimes hilarious (if surreal) slapstick moments that capture the relationship between Shem and Shaun.

Trehy draws heavily on silent film aesthetic for the realisation of these scenes, including the use of iris shots, title cards, and speeded-up movements, an aesthetic well complemented by John O’Brien’s excellent score. Though predominately in black and white, the film also includes flashes of colour to complement particular themes touched upon. While reminiscent of silent cinema visually, creative use of sound is also a feature, evoking the sounds of the wireless and phonograph of the early twentieth century (important elements in Joyce’s own life) whether in scenes featuring Joyce or McCormack singing or in conversations between the characters. These dialogue scenes also suggest the difficulty in trying to accurately capture figures from the past through the creative use of radio static between snippets of conversation.

Shem the Penman Sings Again was entirely funded by the Irish Film Board’s Micro Budget initiative though the film’s small budget is never evident in this innovative, highly imaginative, and impressively realised addition to the work the Board has funded to date.

 

Seán Crosson is the Programme Director of the MA in Film Studies: Theory and Practice at the Huston School of Film & Digital Media, NUI Galway. His publications include Sport and Film (Routledge, 2013) and several co-edited volumes, including Contemporary Irish Film: New Perspectives on a National Cinema (Braumüller, 2011) and The Quiet Man … and Beyond: Reflections on a Classic Film, John Ford and Ireland (Liffey Press, 2009). He is currently President of the European Federation of Associations and Centres of Irish Studies (EFACIS)

 

Shem the Penman Sings Again screened on Thursday, 9th July as part of the Galway Film Fleadh (7 – 12 July 2015)

 

 

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Review of Irish Film at Galway Film Fleadh: My Name is Emily

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Deirdre Molumby was at the premiere of Simon Fitzmaurice‘s film My Name is Emily, which opened this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.

 

The opening film at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh was life-affirming and truly extraordinary given the feat that it took to make the feature. Simon Fitzmaurice, the director of My Name is Emily, was diagnosed with Motor Neuron Disease in 2008. It did not, however, deter him from continuing to make movies (having previously directed award-winning shorts Full Circle and The Sound of People), and so he wrote the script for My Name is Emily and used iris-recognition technology to direct the film. Simon Fitzmaurice was present at the screening in Galway as were a number of cast and crew members.

The film stars Harry Potter starlet and Irish actress Evanna Lynch in the titular role. Evanna also attended the Fleadh and thanked the director for his incredible hard work on the movie. On behalf of all the cast present – who also included George Webster and Michael Smiley – she expressed their extreme gratitude at being a part of his film and said that he was an inspiration to them all throughout the project. In a Q&A following the screening, the writer-director himself stated that the film was made for his children, to teach them to never give up.

My Name is Emily follows a sixteen year old girl (Lynch) who lives with foster parents. We follow the events of Emily’s emerging into her parents’ life, her father (Smiley) becoming a motivational writer, her mother (Deirdre Mullins) passing away, and her father eventually being committed to a psychiatric institution. As a result, Emily grows up into a rebellious, apathetic teenager, but one with a distinctive and even philosophical view of the world. A fellow student, Arden (Webster), recognises this in Emily and while others think her existential questioning is ‘weird’, Arden finds himself immediately attracted to her. Soon after her birthday, Emily decides to leave home and break her father out of the institution, enlisting Arden’s help. They embark on a road trip across Ireland, learning much about life and death, as well as loss and letting go, along the way.

As the above summary promises, the film is simple and sweet throughout, and makes a welcome addition to what can often be overwhelmingly bleak Irish cinema. Last year’s Fleadh winners for Best Irish Film, Glassland and Patrick’s Day, provide two examples of this while this year’s winner, the feel-good and visually enrapturing family animation Song of the Sea, reveals a trend that lighter content is in greater demand as of late (My Name is Emily itself took the runner-up prize for Best First Irish Feature this year at the Fleadh, after Mark Noonan’s You’re Ugly Too).

My Name is Emily is touching in its depiction of the irrepressible bonds of family and funny in its relating of being a socially awkward, weird teenager. It mourns loss but ultimately celebrates life. The photography of Seamus Deasy (who won an award in Galway for his work) is quite remarkable, giving the film a transparent and otherworldly effect. The casting is also on form with Lynch and Webster as the endearing young leads while the tragic character of Robert, Emily’s father, is given a sensitive, poignant performance by Smiley. Big thumbs up.

 

My Name is Emily screened on Tuesday, 7th July as part of the Galway Film Fleadh (7 – 12 July 2015)

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Review of Irish Film at Galway Film Fleadh: Lost in the Living

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Christopher Banahan gets Lost in the Living, which screened at the Galway Film Fleadh.

Lost in the Living begins as a classic story of a bunch of Irish lads in a band enjoying the thrill and adventure of touring in a foreign land. The foreign land being Berlin, which here is portrayed as a very decadent city, with its emphasis on youth culture. Then the story begins to drift away to focus on the troubled band-member Oisín and transforms into a personal voyage of discovery and reckoning for this central protagonist, compellingly portrayed by the extraordinary presence of Tadhg Murphy.

Oisín, who has an obvious self-destruct mechanism, feels he has been sidelined by his band. He is lured away by the exquisite and utterly charming Sabine (played by the ‘face to watch’ in German Cinema, Aylin Tezel). Initially, he is dumbfounded by this beautiful girl’s interest in him. Then, in what the director called his ‘love letter to Berlin’, the pair appear to fall passionately in love with each other. Sabine reveals to him a hidden Berlin of intimate places, away from the tourist traps. Though you always suspect she is too good to be true and this is hinted at in a nightclub where she pretends not to know a man who seems familiar with her.

Oisín, smitten, surprises her by wanting to see her home. At this point you sense he wants to see this ‘perfect girl’s’ background, possibly curious to see what makes her ‘so happy’  – as it becomes obvious Oisín has a troubled past he is in denial about.

After an intimate night together, secrets slip out unleashing Oisín‘s self-destruct button as embittered memories are brought to the surface.

The director, Robert Manson, uses a subtle metaphor of ‘foreignness of voices’ around the troubled Oisín to emphasis his alienation, not only to the city but from himself and the people he thought cared for him.

The film has a remarkable juxtaposition of cinematography by Narayan Van Maele, emphasised in the scene where Oisín appears to walk drunkenly through an underground train. It’s as if he’s at kilter to the movement of the irregular shifting of the carriages, like an annoying  ‘crazy walk’ on a fairground ride, making his slow progress sluggishly towards an endless sea of overhead T.V. Monitors with the same image repeated.

In fact there are many remarkable moments of cinematography, such as the focus pull on the wonderfully atmospheric depth of field swimming scene, where the nakedness of the young couple is treated sensitively and with pathos (as such scenes can so easily be portrayed as corny).

The director Robert Manson said that much of the cinematography and plot approach are partly an homage to Alain Resnais (Last Year at Marienbad) and Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni (L’Avventura), both known for their chilly depictions of alienation, creating enigmatic and intricate mood pieces, rejecting action in favour of contemplation, all ingredients in which Lost in the Living successfully negates and embellishes, adding its own unique imprint.

Christopher Banahan (MA Production and Direction: Huston School of Film & Digital Media, Flirt FM journalist)

Lost in the Living screened on Thursday, 9th July as part of the Galway Film Fleadh (7 – 12 July 2015)

 

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Review of Irish Film at Galway Film Fleadh: A Day Like Today

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Christopher Banahan is impressed by Gerard Walsh’s A Day Like Today, which screened at the Galway Film Fleadh.

Gerard Walsh’s A Day Like Today has a thoughtfully-paced, sensitive script and direction that breathes an intimate sensibility into the arc of the story. Yet it belies a gritty undertone that gives the viewer disturbing glimpses that reveal the hidden flaws of the damaged central characters of the homeless Joe (Paul Butler Lennox) and downtrodden housewife Alice (Andie McCaffrey Byrne).

The film exudes a tentative subtle non-physical contact alliance between a couple from extremely different worlds. There is an unsaid compassionate understanding between the protagonists after spending a day in each other’s lives (suggesting an indirect catharsis to heal their own lives/ situations and see them more clearly from each other’s perspectives).

After the initial attraction, the unlikely couple’s hidden flaws rise uneasily and uncomfortably to the surface, during the course of ‘a mitching day in Dublin’.

Once intimate questions are asked by the pair, like the Pandora’s box syndrome, they have to be ‘looked into and faced’… As there’s no going back from the ugly truth once it is hinted at and takes an unhinged confrontational form of its own.

This confrontation manifests itself in a vengeful attack on Joe, a mercy rescue by Alice and the uncomfortable arrival of the vexed husband as he returns home to find his wife attending to the wounds of the homeless man. An uneasy, beer-drinking stifled conversation is drawn out with the homeless man by the suspicious husband, eventually leading to a brutal assault on his wife.

Yet despite the unwanted revelations and acts of retribution, the empathy of the two central protagonists towards each other irrevocably holds their belief in some form of redemption or hope, no matter how meagre or pitiful.

It is hard to believe that the film was put together on a micro-budget and shot in only ten days, as it is rich in its deliverance of its sensitive content, and thoughtful casting, particularly of Paul Butler Lennox’s volatile yet potentially ‘loose-cannon character’. An actor the director had in mind even as the script was still developing.

Gerard Walsh revealing it was ‘his love letter to Dublin’, told me he would make the film the same way again even if offered a larger budget – bringing to mind the Orson Welles filmmaker’s principal that ‘the enemy of art is the absence of limitation’ suggesting the tighter the budget the more creatively challenging the director must be. And in the case of A Day Like Today, Gerard Walsh succeeds with a wealth of imaginative gritty urban realism imbued with a sensitive story naturally told and revealed through brave and compelling performances.

 

Christopher Banahan (MA Production and Direction: Huston School of Film & Digital Media, Flirt FM journalist)

A Day Like Today screened on Wednesday, 8th July as part of the Galway Film Fleadh (7 – 12 July 2015)

 

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Review of Irish Film at Galway Film Fleadh

 

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Check out our reviews of the Irish films that screened at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh, which ran 7 – 12 July 2015.

An Náisiún

 

A Day Like Today

 

Deoch an Dorais

 

Happy Hour

 

I am Belfast

 

Lost in the Living

 

My Name is Emily

 

Older than Ireland

 

Pursuit

 

Shem the Penman Sings Again

 

Song of the Sea

 

Strangerland

 

The Survivalist

 

Traders

 

A Turning Tide in the Life of Man

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