Conor Fleming checks out Terry McMahon’s Patrick’s Day, which screened at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.
‘When I first saw Terry McMahon’s first film, Charlie Casanova, I hated it’, claimed festival programmer Gareth O’Brien as he introduced Terry’s latest film, Patrick’s Day, to the audience in the sold out Galway theatre. ‘But then I watched it a few more times and it had something that kept drawing me back to it’, he continued before going on to describe the polarising reception Terry’s debut feature has had, with mention that his latest film Patrick’s Day, is just as challenging and polarizing as you would expect.
Patrick’s Day is a powerful drama that focuses on title character Patrick (Moe Dunford), a young man suffering with mental health issues and the offbeat relationship that develops between him and suicidal air hostess Karen (Catherine Walker). A relationship that is threatened by the ever growing presence of Patrick’s obsessive mother Maura (Kerry Fox) who seeks to separate them with a misguided and almost ignorance attitude into how to handle her son’s illness.
It is a film whose powerful and engaging themes are in danger of being eclipsed by the performances of the main cast; with Kerry Fox and rising star Moe Dunford in particular giving exceptional performances. Moe, when asked about what research he had done for the film, replied, “none”, as he has lived with familiar member’s with mental illness. This was not just any role for him, but one he lived, a fact that shines through brightly in its unflinching accuracy and impactful delivery.
A drama of this nature can often time feel a little too overwhelming, which again runs the problem of driving away some potential suitors who would otherwise thoroughly enjoy the film. Thankfully this was something it seems Terry was aware of as the main cast is rounded out with Phillip Jackson playing police officer and aspiring comedian John Freeman, whose witty humour and flat-falling dad jokes gives the script some lift in area’s much needed.
McMahon’s writing skill is apparent from the get go, and whose style of direction seems to blend perfectly with the expert work of cinematographer Michael Lavelle. Shot in a simplistic yet incredibly technical manner, it is the perfect display of technique meeting storytelling resulting in a staggeringly beautiful film. Particular mention must go to a sequence in the third act, one which is truly horrific but incredibly powerful, and one which solidifies the message of the film; with memories of a similar sequence from Requiem for a Dream – it is truly one that must be seen to be believed.
The difference between Patrick’s Day and McMahon’s previous work is that Patrick’s Day is immediately identifiable as a stand-out film on first viewing; one that has an impact and message that will only grow stronger with time. By his own admission, director Terry McMahon set out to make a difficult film. Not a film to please a majority film audience but one to do its subject matter justice, and to prove there is an audience for challenging, emotional films. Given the care this movie treated its often mishandled subject matter, Patrick’s Day’s is an incredible display of the impact a movie can truly have if you let it.
Diarmaid Blehein gives us the juicy gossip on Poison Pen, the first feature film script by Artemis Fowl author Eoin Colfer. The film premiered at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.
PC Molloy (Lochlann O’Mearain) is a Booker Prize-winning author who hasn’t published a book in fifteen years. He spends his days teaching classic poetry to uninterested college students and avoiding completion of his second novel. However, his circumstances change suddenly when his publisher is bought by the owners of a celebrity gossip magazine, Poison Pen, a genre of writing he openly despises. Much to his indignation, the magazine’s boss, the beautiful and ruthless April Devereaux (Aoibhinn McGinnity), hires him to interview celebrities for a column she hopes will add a touch of class to the scandalous rag. Facing legal action if he refuses, Molloy grudgingly takes on the job and sets about trying to get fired. But he soon finds himself becoming very involved on both sides of the game.
Eoin Colfer, famed author of the Artemis Fowl book series, turns his hand to screenwriting and creates a quirky comedy that sucks us in to the grizzly world of magazine journalism, while at the same time entertains us immensely. It is very refreshing to see a film set in London which has an Irishman as the central character who doesn’t fall victim to any kind of stereotype. He is a man who just happens to be Irish.
O’ Mearain gives a delightful performance as the bookish, snobbish, tweed- wearing Molloy, whose cynicism of his new workplace and its members proves for some genuinely amusing moments. McGinnity is equally convincing as the ambitious, gossip-hungry boss, who gradually melts once Molloy starts to deliver the dirt. The film also features a strong supporting cast. Ryan O’ Shaughnessy is hilarious as one of Molloy’s loud-mouthed students whose ambition to be a famous rapper makes him stop at nothing to attract media attention including posing as his teacher’s gay partner. Lauryn Canny of Amber fame also holds her own as Molloy’s daughter, Sally, who aspires to be a model just like her deceased mother, much to her father’s dismay.
What’s most impressive about the film is its ability to be funny without resorting to awful crassness, which sadly seems to be what many contemporary comedies are doing in order to generate a laugh. The subject matter is strikingly relevant with the power and freedom of the British press being currently under scrutiny in light of the Leveson Inquiry. Indeed, despite the many laughs the film succeeds in conjuring, there is a deeper message trying to get through, particularly through the character of Shona, a famous singer with whom Molloy finds himself confiding in during an interview.
With Poison Pen, directors Jennifer Shortall, Lorna Fitzsimons and Steven Benedict have delivered a clever, quirky, thought-provoking film which succeeds in revealing the human side to the people we read about on a daily basis as well as that of those who set out to exploit them.
Stephen Totterdell deciphers Living in a Coded Land, Pat Collins’ film essay that makes unexpected links between events and locations, history and contemporary life. The film screened at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.
This film tries too hard. It’s extremely self-indulgent.
And yet, it offers sound analysis of Irish society in a way that most films don’t. It makes no concessions to its audience, and can come across as preachy; but if its viewers can stick with it they will find value. It excavates – slowly – some of the ideology at the heart of modern Ireland. It offers a vocabulary for liberation in a thoughtful manner, rather than a shouty manner.
There has been much talk about the reasons for Irish artist’s disinterest in critiquing Irish society during the financial crisis. Most writers and filmmakers seem content to ignore what has been happening, and write about tea instead; or the power of sticking together or whatever. A few, such as the poet Dave Lordan or the novelist Julian Gough, do their best to shoot from the sidelines. It is still rare, though, and that makes this film a welcome manifestation of concern.
The code of the title is the set of behaviours, mannerisms, social rules that one learns to manipulate in order to rise to the top. Those who achieve it aren’t necessarily the best or the brightest; they just know the right things to say in order to slip through. More often that not, this is due to an accident of birth; they were born into a “good” family or they went to a certain school. They learn to latch onto the part of society that rises to the top. Whereas in the past it might have been the world of oil (or milkshakes), today it is finance
What the film achieves is that it makes explicit the mechanisms at work, so that laymen can understand them. It demystifies the processes at work, which will hopefully help the population to feel more confident in criticising those processes. It is easy for those in these high status positions to accuse the “lower” classes of being overly passionate or not knowing the specifics of a situation, but, as with the many violations of the last few years, we can see that these “higher” classes don’t really know the specifics either. It’s a power system, and this film attempts to teach people to navigate it in order that they can begin to dismantle it.
That is an ambitious and admirable project. That Collins indulges in too much arthouse imagery is forgiveable, but I hope that he improves on this front in the future. This is one of the few contemporary Irish artworks that tries to say something important.
Diarmaid Blehein catches A Nightingale Falling, Garret Daly and Martina McGlynn’s debut feature about a turbulent period in Irish history, which screened at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.
A full house gathered in Galway’s Townhall Theatre on a particularly warm July evening to attend the premiere of A Nightingale Falling as part of the Galway Film Fleadh. The evening began with a few words from the directors Garret Daly and Martina McGlynn, whose excitement to have their film finally shown to the world proved somewhat contagious. After many extensions of deserved gratitude, the lights dimmed and the show got under way.
Adapted from the novel by PJ Curtis, A Nightingale Falling tells the story of two sisters May (Tara Breathnach) and Tilly (Muireann Bird), who live in a large farmhouse in the country during the Irish War of Independence. Times are tough and both women work hard to make ends meet, with the help of some local farm labourers. However, their peaceful lives are suddenly disrupted when May finds a critically injured British soldier called Jack (Gerard McCarthy) in their yard. They take him in and do their best to nurse him back to health, fully aware of the consequences of such actions. As Jack slowly recovers, both sisters start to develop feelings for him, but it is only to Tilly he returns such affections. Meanwhile, the Black and Tan soldiers are terrorising the village, searching for Irish rebels, as well as their missing captain.
Daly and McGlynn deliver a fine film which focuses on the effect of a nationwide crisis on one particularl family. Breathnach gives a fine performance as the older and more authoritative May, while Bird is equally impressive as the younger, more excitable Tilly, whom the audience get to see mature before their eyes. The most effective scenes are early on when the sisters are slyly vying for Jack’s affections, without any direct confrontation on the matter apart from the looks they exchange when one catches the other alone with him. The feeling of danger is also very imminent with the ruthless Black and Tans never too far away, added by the fact that many of the farm labourers who work for the sisters are themselves IRA members. The film also doesn’t shy away from the tragic loss of life in this era, as well as the desperate actions of those trying to get away unscathed. Towards the end of the film there comes a twist that will throw even the most experienced filmgoer.
Beautifully directed and brilliantly acted, A Nightingale Falling is a moving, authentic piece of cinema about a turbulent period in Irish history where loyalty and trust were for many the only means of protection.
Stephen Totterdall reviews One Million Dubliners, Aoife Kelleher’s documentary about Glasnevin Cemetery, the final resting place of 1.5 million souls. One Million Dubliners screened at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.
For a society that thinks so much about death, we say remarkably little about it. For every mystical platitude we spout, we subtract from our knowledge of death’s mundanities and practicalities. These details become the spine of One Million Dubliners, and offer us a far more profound analysis than any poet-philosopher’s approach could.
The film focuses on the inner workings of Glasnevin Cemetery. Its managerial process, methods of attaining revenue, grave planning, cremation clean-up. Then we watch how the cemetery’s narrative is produced. The guided tour, combined with an approach to publicity that takes into account the Michael Collins film amongst other things. There really is nothing romantic about it when you get close up. Yet at the same time it is these mundanities that produce something beautiful.
Like the opening pages of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle, it is the mundane details that make up a death; and the life lived before it. The success of Knausgaard as a novelist comes largely from his insistence that he, a middle-class father living in a regional town, lives a life worth documenting. He doesn’t need to be a hero like Michael Collins. Simply by living his unsatisfying life, he is a part of the human experience; arguably moreso than those who, like Collins, have become mythologised.
While One Million Dubliners appears to initiate this approach to life, it is actually an early adopter of a wider society-wide shift in the way we perceive the world. New Sincerity and Authenticity rule. David Foster Wallace got there even earlier with his tale of bureaucratic meaning in The Pale King. Long seen as the mark of an unlived life, these small details in life; the new thinking argues; are the places where we live. Although many visitors come for the grave of Michael Collins, these visits provide revenue so that the cemetery can house its other 1.5 million residents.
When we first hear that the cemetery is designed to maximise the number of graves, we react with revulsion. It makes sense, obviously. But we tend to think of death in such mystical terms that to be confronted with such an ugly and capitalistic fact brings us a little too close. As the film goes on, we come to appreciate this closeness. It takes the pressure off. By confronting the physical reality rather than fobbing it off with platitudes, we come to see the connectedness of everyone. 1.5 million Dubliners, connected to each other through muck. “We’re just caretakers,” say the cemetery’s staff, “One day [We’ll] end up in Glasnevin Cemetery, too.”
Rarely has a film outperformed expectations to this degree. Its description is hardly enticing. But, like the small details of the cemetery, it catches you off guard and provides you with all you need in a film.
Cathy Butler attended the screening of An Bronntanas, which closed this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.
Despite the World Cup final running concurrently, the main auditorium of the Town Hall Theatre was packed out for the closing screening of the 26th Galway Film Fleadh, Tom Collins’ An Bronntanas, a crime thriller set in Connemara.
The opening credit sequence gives off a very televisual style, and upon further investigation it seems that this is a feature film incarnation of what will also be a television mini-series. This correlates with the tone of the film, which does veer more towards the televisual than cinematic.
JJ (Dara Devaney), an Irish engineer working in Canada, receives a call from home concerning his father’s death. Upon returning to Connemara, he is burdened with his father’s failing business and the wrath of the local employees whose jobs are in danger. When a call comes in about a boat in distress, JJ, his brother Macdara (Pól Ó Gríofa), and another lifeboat volunteer Jakub (Janusz Sheagall) venture out to assist. What they find is a boat with a murdered woman and a million euro worth of cannabis on board. The three men are then faced with the choice of contacting the police or keeping the drugs and selling them themselves. There is a complex scheme at work, however, as the brothers discover.
This is a well-scripted thriller, with some nice twists and misdirection, especially in relation to perceived suspicious outsider Jakub. A Polish man living locally, Jakub becomes one of the most engaging characters as the film goes on, moving between shades of threatening and empathetic with great ease. As the lead, JJ is somewhat lacking in characterisation, and the moral dilemma presented by the boat full of drugs lacks the dramatic tension such a scenario would promise. He is very easily swayed to wrong-doing by his hapless brother Macdara, despite being presented as the more upstanding of the two. Charlotte Bradley is intriguing as the cool-headed, resourceful mother to the two men, though the source of her hardened pragmatism is unclear.
The film is described as being as Gaeilge, which it predominantly is, but it could also be described as a trilingual film, given its use of Irish, English and Polish, almost symbolic of Ireland’s contemporary linguistic landscape.
This is a well-plotted narrative, which situates itself well in contemporary rural Ireland, managing to hit the right notes of a thriller without it seeming incongruous to the location. The film also makes great use of the variety of the Connemara landscape, in both the violence of the choppy seas and the sweeping valleys. And as noted by Gar O’Brien, the festival programmer, in his introduction of the film, it is certainly fitting to have a Galway film close the Galway Film Fleadh.
Oisin Hanlon takes aim at Darkness on the Edge of Town, Patrick Ryan’s thriller about a teenage sharpshooter hunting her sister’s killer. The film premiered at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.
Darkness on the Edge of Town follows Emma Eliza Regan’s character, Cleo Callahan, an expert marksman, as she is out for blood over the murder of her beloved estranged sister, played by Olwen Catherine Kelly. Cleo is accompanied by her so-called friend Robin O’Riley, played by newcomer actress Emma Willis. Cleo’s journey for vengeance forces her to commit morally questionable acts at times, resulting in a tension-filled, eerie thriller with more than a hint of a Western.
Brian Gleeson is in a league of his own in terms of performance, playing the conflicted Virgil O’Riley. Gleeson has many powerful scenes in this movie that really stretch an actor’s emotional range. Another stand-out of the film is the beautiful photography – immaculate shots that simultaneously capture both beauty and tension that are transfixing. Tommy Fitzgerald, the cinematographer, has done a marvellous job at showing the tranquillity of the Kerry countryside but somehow stocks it with a sinister undertone.
The individual performances of Emma Willis and Emma Eliza Regan are strong but it’s difficult to buy into the idea that these two characters are childhood best friends as there is a lacking of sincerity in their relationship.
Overall, Darkness on the Edge of Town is an enjoyable thriller rooted in a very creative and unique idea. Whether you buy into a revenge thriller with shoot-outs with an Irish background or not, director Patrick Ryan really delivers an original authentic Irish westernesque piece of cinema.
David Gorman checks out Glassland, Gerard Barrett’s highly anticipated follow up to Pilgrim Hill. Glassland screened at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.
The atmosphere in the Town Hall Theatre, the epicentre of the Galway Film Fleadh, had an air of eagerness and excitement about it on Friday night. Two years ago, in the same venue, a young unknown filmmaker was about to emerge on to the Irish film scene with his debut feature, Pilgrim Hill.
Pilgrim Hill (2012) evoked critical acclaim from Ireland and abroad was the most talked about film of that year, resulting in writer/director Gerard Barrett winning Rising Star Award at the IFTAs. So the excitement and anticipation at this year’s Fleadh for Barrett’s second feature, Glassland, was justified. Barrett, who also wrote both films, is a self-proclaimed proud Kerry man, who was compared to the great Irish playwright John. B Keane when the film was being introduced by the former Minister of Arts. The irony of both of his films premiering in a theatre and not a cinema was not lost on me.
Barrett says about his second feature, “I come from a close family and I have never known anything else, but the reality is that there are plenty of broken families in Ireland and I wanted to explore that.” It is never easy to follow a successful debut and the pressure that goes with that can distract the best of filmmakers. However, there is an air of confidence about Barrett and it is refreshing to see a young man (Barrett is still only 27) with such passion about storytelling and I am glad that he chose the medium of cinema to convey those stories and not the stage like the comparative Keane.
Glassland progresses at a slow pace and there is a certain amount of patience required, but it is well worth it. Jean (Toni Collette) is slowing killing herself with alcohol and John (Jack Reynor), her son, is her only hope of survival but he is on the verge of a breakdown himself. Reynor’s character is obviously under strain and his family situation is making him sacrifice not only living his life, but possibly putting it at risk also. Reynor has a strong screen presence and can hold the attention of the viewer in long scenes without dialogue or a manipulating score. Toni Collette is unflinchingly raw, almost unrecognisable from the glamour of Hollywood that some might relate her to. She is 100% believable in the role. The strong, believable performances from the lead characters engage the viewer and there is an honesty and sincerity that pervades the film. The writing/dialogue is at times brutally frank but then this frankness is juxtaposed with moments of comedy that resulted in laugh-out-loud moments in the packed theatre.
There are certainly similarities with Pilgrim Hill, the sense of ‘anywhere’ shows why these films are so relatable, the only indication that both films are based in Ireland are the accents, brilliantly pulled off in Glassland by Australian Toni Collette and Will Poulter from England who plays John’s friend. Poulter is responsible for the comedic elements that ease the palpable tension among the audience at times. There is an honesty about Glassland and, again, like Pilgrim Hill, Barrett is certainly not afraid to depict the harsh truth of life in modern Ireland. Another clear similarity between the two films is that the viewer is completely immersed in the main character’s world, which in both cases are claustrophobic, repetitive and mundane.
This film is the type that grows on you as time passes; it dominated the conversation over breakfast the next morning. We need more films like this that explore the prevalent issues in contemporary Irish life – addiction, emigration, and a sense of isolation from mainstream society. It is fair to say that not everyone might enjoy the pace or visual style over a dialogue-driven narrative. Nevertheless, these are stories that need to be told in Ireland by Irish filmmakers and Barrett is telling them with compassion, subtlety and refreshing honesty. A well-made mature second feature.
Cathy Butler enters the nightmare of Ivan Kavanagh’s The Canal, which screened at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.
Going into Ivan Kavanagh’s The Canal knowing nothing about its plot or genre turned out to be quite an experience, as a complete lack of any preconceptions strengthened the film’s impact. Dark and disturbing, yet with moments of inexplicable humour, the film is a perfectly constructed voyage through one man’s nightmarish experiences.
David (Rupert Evans) is a happily married film archivist with a young son and a happy home – apparently. Through his work, David discovers old crime scene footage from 1902, showing his house as the location of a brutal murder. Soon after, David discovers his wife has been unfaithful. He begins to suffer from bizarre, horrifying visions, and his wife goes missing. When she turns up drowned in the canal near their home, her death is ruled accidental. However, David believes otherwise, and begins to pursue the connection between the 1902 murder and her death, ultimately starting down a path of horror and violence.
One of the main plot threads is familiar: a happy couple move into a home which turns out to have been the location of a turn of the century violent murder. Horror ensues. However, The Canal takes these tropes for what they are and plays with them and the audience, instilling doubt over David’s perspective on events. Kavanagh himself remarked in the Q&A following the screening that The Canal is a very self-aware film in this manner, taking such aspects of the horror genre and subverting them.
Editing and sound design come to the fore here. The form of the film reflects the content in a violent and visceral manner, time and again. Great use is made of the physical film which David uses as part of his job, film that is cut and spliced and wound at great speeds through reels. Such images are used in jarring cuts between scenes, emphasising the violence of the film in yet another self-aware aspect of the piece, implying further that what you are watching is a construct.
Sharp cuts in audio keep the audience on edge from start to finish. One particular aural cut on the sound of a zipper on a child’s bag is unnerving and jarring, yet is just an everyday object. Much of the horror of the film is presented in this way, as being part of banal aspects of David’s life, the ordinary places and things that he sees everyday. This only serves to further intensify the thread of foreboding that winds through the film.
The Canal is an expert blend of horror, mystery and psychological thriller, underpinned unexpectedly by moments of comedy. That such a film could maintain its ominous tone while injecting moments of humour is a testament to the director. All this, along with its all too vivid imagery, makes The Canal a film that will linger long with the viewer, welcome or otherwise!
Click here for our coverage of Irish Film at the 26th Galway Film Fleadh (8 – 13 July, 2014)
Cathy Butler is impressed by Stephen Bradley’s emotive and engaging film, which screened at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.
A film like this is difficult to review, being a fact-based story about an extraordinary person, whose actions have greatly improved the lives of young children in dire circumstances. It is difficult to separate the film as a work from the real-life woman it portrays. While in some ways flawed, Noble is an emotive and engaging account of how one Irish woman found herself coming to the aid of impoverished children on the other side of the world.
Directed by Stephen Bradley, the filmfocuses on the tumultuous life of the eponymous Christina Noble, born into poverty in Dublin in the 1950s, eventually being taken into care after her mother’s death due to the negligence of her alcoholic father. Her difficult childhood, her experience of homelessness and assault as a young adult, and the eventual breakdown of her marriage force Christina to become not embittered but resourceful. After having a dream of war-torn Vietnam, Christina decides that the country holds her fate, and pledges to one day travel there. When eventually she does, she finds herself up against various obstacles – both native and foreign – in her attempts to help the impoverished children she finds there.
The scenes of Christina’s childhood juxtaposed with her arrival in Vietnam as an adult make quite a clear parallel between the poverty of 1950s Dublin and that of 1980s Vietnam; that these two countries have at different times suffered from third-world conditions. It bridges the geographical gap between the two regions, and goes some way to accounting for how Noble identified with the Vietnamese situation.
Narratively the film is somewhat black and white, and has a tendency to oversimplify. The heroes and villains lack in ambiguity, being either the good guys or the bad guys with little in between. Some major plot points don’t seem to receive adequate attention for their significance, such as Noble’s experience of sexual assault, her relationship with her children, or the collapse of her marriage. Perhaps if more of an insight had been given into the effect these events had on Christina, rather than them being just items on a long list of hardships, it may have been easier to engage more with her character. Deirdre O’Kane does a fine job presenting Noble’s endless resourcefulness and boundless strength of character, but there is still some amount of distance between the audience and the character.
Whatever the film’s shortcomings, the film packs a fairly hefty emotional punch. Noble’s determination and profound love for the children she is trying to help come through with great clarity, which is ultimately the film’s triumph. Christina, both the film’s character and the woman that inspired the story, is clearly someone to be reckoned with.
Stephen Totterdell takes a look at the extended cut of Gerry Gregg’s award-winning documentary, Close to Evil, which screened at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.
Cognitive Dissonance. Is there any psychological process that has caused more trouble in the world? But the cognitive dissonance on display in Close to Evil allows us insight into how atrocities can occur, and how they occur again. Tomi, a Bergen-Belsen survivor who arrived in Dublin in the late 1950s, decides to seek out one of the last remaining SS officers from the camp. He doesn’t want to confront or accuse. Rather he wants the SS officer to show remorse, and to shake her hand in the spirit of reconciliation. Hilde Lisiewicz served as an officer in Bergen-Belsen while in her early 20s, and went on to put it behind her and live a normal life.
It’s the smile that does it. The “chit-chat”, as one interviewee puts it. We expect a former Nazi to show remorse, or to have become embittered, or to live a punishing life. But Hilde smiles, says she doesn’t remember much, she liked the uniforms, would you like a sandwich? It’s the banality of evil, and is something German cinema has dealt with repeatedly. The recent Austrian film Michael analysed it: that film tells of an unassuming office worker who returns home in the evening to a child he has locked in his basement. It’s the stories about Hilter being a vegetarian. We expect a monster. When these people turn out to be human it causes what Julia Kristeva calls ‘abjection’. We see a part of our own identity become vulnerable; the border between us and these monstrous figures is blurred, and we react with disgust.
That Hilde can’t acknowledge her own history of atrocity speaks to a wider human condition. What would happen if she had acknowledged it sooner, or at all? Is it possible to acknowledge being a part of such a thing without finding some excuse, some reason that you weren’t really a part of it? Such a realisation would surely end in suicide. Hilde seems so assured of her innocence that she brought her children to visit Bergen-Belsen, telling them that she worked as a chef in the camp. But why did she lie about her job there?
It’s the kind of mentality that reminds us never to take the world for granted, that our powers for self-justification are endless. Look at those arguing for unjust wars abroad, look at the situation with Israel and Palestine. Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle comes into it. In a way, people find comfort in putting the Holocaust in the past; in saying there, that’s where the evil is. In looking at the horrific footage available. It existed, and it was terrible, but it was in the past where it can’t get us. Like Kristeva’s abjection, an acknowledgment that this kind of atrocity could still happen; that does still happen; that we could all be in some way complicit in something or other, would threaten our sense of identity too much. So we put it in the past, and we wonder how the Germans of the 1940s could have let such things happen.
Cathy Butler sinks her fangs into The Light of Day, a mockumentary about the making of a low-budget vampire horror flick. The film premiered at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.
When the opening title cardappeared on screen, having characteristics suspiciously similar to Final Cut Pro default title settings, I had my doubts about The Light of Day. However, this meta-mockumentary about a disastrous film shoot defied its slightly unpromising opening.
The film was produced by students of the Filmbase/Staffordshire University MSc Digital Feature Film Production Course, and has at its helm not one, but three directors: Amy Carroll, Conor Dowling, and Eoin O’Neill. It follows the exploits of a film crew attempting to shoot a cheesy screen adaptation of a vampire graphic novel, led by their eccentric and incompetent director, Richie, and his beleaguered producer, Desmond.
Considering the scope of an entire cast and crew, Light of Day is truly an ensemble production. Film crews often feature diverse individuals who would never have spent time together were it not for the film they are working on, and this is used to great effect here. The cast of characters is the core of the film; the stressed yet dedicated DOP hiding from his personal problems, the writer worried about her book being butchered, the eager-to-please First AD, and a sound guy who never makes a sound, to mention but a few. The zany director figure, complete with turtleneck, is a bit of a cliché, but this ultimately serves to make more real the assorted characters surrounding him.
The film is certainly a testament to the potential of low budget or crowd-funded filmmaking – production values are high, showing what can be done by a talented crew regardless of how much money is behind a project.
This kind of self-referential film can be problematic. What if it is only enjoyable for people who know the trials of filmmaking themselves, and who can laugh out of familiarity? The film takes aspects of two of its more famous predecessors –Tom DiCillo’s Living in Oblivion and Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe’s documentary Lost in La Mancha – and fuses them together, making for a very enjoyable caper, with laughs that non-filmmakers will likely partake in as well.
The DOP remarks to the producer near the close of the film that he doesn’t strike him as the kind of man that enjoys being peaceful. One might wonder if this could be said of anyone with any filmmaking inclinations. Surely such a person must have some bizarre craving for disorder, given the wealth of potential problems and personality clashes that this film uses for comic effect. Light of Day takes such disorder and turns it into an entertaining and engaging piece of comedy.
Stephen Totterdell checks in on Neasa Ní Chianáin’s documentary about Neal MacGregor, an English artist who died alone aged 44 in a cave on the remote island of Inishbofin. The Stranger screened at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.
Camus’ Mersault is the obvious association. Whenever a character like this appears; a character who chooses to live outside society – no, rather a character who refuses to engage in the “busying oneself” that makes up much of modern life – we think of Mersault. A character who refuses to lie, to engage in social practices for the sake of it. The young Neal MacGregor first strikes us with his good looks and charm. The narrative dissonance of his life – that a talented London charmer should end up a recluse on an island off the west of Ireland – is irresistable. It’s like a story out of a Roberto Bolaño novel.
Sometimes, perhaps, a little too irresistable. Whilst the interviews with Neal’s friends provide insight into his youth, there are repeated references to “What happened”, as if his move to the island was the result of personal difficulties that suddenly came upon him. Some suspect a bad acid trip. This kind of conjecture runs through the coding of an otherwise fine and intriguing film. Sometimes the narrative is a little too eager, or engages with the tortured artist complex a little too much. It wants there to be a mystical secret to Neal’s life.
For example: when the interviewees describe Neal wandering to the back of the island, they suggest that this was “Out of bounds” for the island’s residents, and that Neal disregarded this mystic barrier in order to explore “the back of the island” (read: his tortured soul).
Nevertheless, it is one of the more interesting documentaries of late, and its trawl through West Ireland culture certainly provides plenty of interest. Given that Neal’s identity is constructed through hearsay and half-forgotten memories (he died in 1990), that he should be remembered as a larger-than-life figure makes sense. The Cult of Neal. That the documentary takes as its subject an interesting non-celebrity reveals shades of Karl Ove Knausgaard and the new trend for authenticity. Much of what Neal did on the island was fascinating only because of its context. The obsession with minutiae and of building his identity through language is one of the great appealing traits of the modern age. It also has ties with Roberto Bolaño, whose novel The Savage Detectives consists of memories and fragments of characters who never appear directly before the reader.
It would be interesting to hear if, from all of the recorded interviews, Neal emerged significantly differently in the accounts of the Irish speakers versus the English speakers of the film. If language is how we perceive reality, and our identities consist of the ways in which we utilise language, and if Neal lived as an Englishman on an island where Irish was spoken, then perhaps his identity is caught between two languages, in the shades in between.
What makes a man desert society to live on an island? The interviewees speak as if there are reasons. Some people do things differently. “Neal enjoyed being alone,” says one interviewee, “That’s sad.” Why is it sad? It’s different. This is the Mersault problem.
David Gorman shlocks his way through Brian Reddin’s It Came from Connemara!!, a fascinating documentary about the production studio that low-budget, B-movie legend Roger Corman established in Galway.
The first time I heard Roger Corman’s name, in an interview with Martin Scorsese discussing the influence he had on his career. I remember that I thought Scorsese said, in his fast New York accent, ‘Roger Gorman’. So with a similar surname to myself, I searched into some of his films on IMBD. I was a little surprised for two reasons: firstly, he did not have the same surname (listen to Scorsese say his name and you can excuse my mistake); and secondly, his filmography consisted of names like The Beast with a Million Eyes (1955)Monster from the Ocean Floor (1954) and Candy Stripe Nurses (1974). I was surprised, and wondered why one of my favourite directors was speaking so highly of this B-movie filmmaker.
As I read further into the career of this man I soon realised that the admiration came not only from Scorsese but from some of American cinema’s biggest names. Avoiding a long list of familiar names that are easily recognisable to anyone reading this, it is suffice to say that Roger Corman has an entry in the film lexicon of many filmmakers in America and especially those from the New Hollywood era.
Fast forward about eight years after my first hearing of Roger Corman in a YouTube interview with Martin Scorsese – I am in the Town Hall Theatre Galway watching a documentary about his production studio located just a few miles from where I am sitting.
It Came from Connemara!! is a documentary by director Brian Reddin about the production studio that Roger Corman established in Galway, where in the 1990s for five years an Irish crew manufactured about twenty films. I say manufactured because you get the sense that it was like a machine going from one film to another, covering genres such as horror, sci-fi, action and romance.
From the beginning of the documentary there are hilarious anecdotes conveying stories of a filmmaking regime that will possibly never be imitated again. It is a great insight into a time when inexperienced Irish crews might one day be in the make-up department and the next, be assistant director. Make no mistake, Corman did not want his director spending time worrying about every aspect of a scene or have pleasing aesthetics in mind, it was pure commerce.
The footage from the films made at that time are a great addition to the documentary and much to Reddin’s relief, Corman, who is notorious for being frugal, kindly let them use the footage free of charge. There is something surreal about seeing a huge shoot out in the middle of Shop Street, or a car exploding outside a small garage in Spiddal, and as someone who lives in Galway I am now very keen to see them.
As Ireland introduced higher wages and theatrical releases for the type of B-Movies Corman was putting out decreased, his time in Ireland came to an unavoidable end. You can sense Corman has a genuine affection for that time in his career, he reminisces with a hint of pride “It was the Irish branch of what was known as The Corman Film School”.
His legacy in Ireland might not be as widely known as his American one, nevertheless, similar to the way Corman started the careers of so many accomplished American filmmakers, he achieved the same in Ireland. Many of the people who worked on the Irish branch of the Corman Film School now have significant and accomplished careers. This film is about more than Corman’s studio in the West of Ireland, a sense of nostalgia permeates this documentary looking back at an era that might never be replicated again. For any film fans out there this a great watch.
Stephen Totterdell checks out Irish director John Carney‘s Begin Again, which opened this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.
Take Once, set it in NYC, and turn the emotions up as far as they’ll go – you’ve got an approximation of Begin Again. Despite this, John Carney’s latest film works with one of the sharpest screenplays of the last few years. Add to that a hugely endearing Mark Ruffalo (who I predict will soon get the Bryan Cranston treatment), as well as Ray Romano, and there’s something refreshing about this film. In the ’70s, Woody Allen refused directorial preciousness with Annie Hall – inventing the subtitles scene, the animated scene, the layered flashbacks; and anything to keep the film fresh and engaging. It looks like John Carney has taken a similar approach, playfully subverting both Hollywoood’s and the audience’s expectations. This feels like it comes out of a genuine anxiety of “selling out”, and indeed the film’s themes mirror this anxiety.
Mark Ruffalo plays a down-and-out family man and former indie record label owner, whose personal issues have cost him everything. When he stumbles across Keira Knightley’s poorly received open mic performance in New York, his contrarian nature tells him that she could be – with a little work – an important artist. While her former partner and ex-boyfriend becomes a music legend, her passion for the craft at the expense of success sees her living hand-to-mouth.
Carney introduces a number of familiar cinematic elements, only to undercut these moments with a dexterity subtler than anything stock postmodernism could achieve. When James Corden invites Keira Knightley to perform at a gig, she is reluctant. This reluctancy is followed by an arc-friendly acquiescence. Then, rather than provoking the awe we expect, she bombs. This development is subverted again by a moment I won’t spoil. The film is full of this playfulness, and refusal to be precious about its subject matter.
Although Carney clearly wrestles with the move from Irish film to Hollywood, he manages to marry Hollywood’s sentimentalism with a low-key sense of humour that sounds a note akin to a few other young U.S. directors. Along with Joseph Gordon Levitt and Ryan Gosling, Carney is determined not to follow the beaten path. The vogue today is for artists to reject the establishment in order to carve out their own unique careers, and the rise of Kickstarter films along with indie publishers and Twitter successes fits nicely with this film. That its message can be tied to a very American message (Emerson’s ideas on self-reliance and ignoring the crowd aren’t exactly new) reveals it to be less revolutionary than it wants to be, but that it does so within a stringently anti-risk industry and that Ruffalo and Knightley’s journeys clearly mirror Carney’s give this philosophy a visceral affirmation.
Structurally the film operates on a strange level. The A plot and the B plot don’t overlap in the way that one expects. It’s as if we are watching two different films spliced together.
Both Knightley and Ruffalo have been on the path previously tread by Matthew McConnaughey, albeit at slower speeds. That so many artists eventually come to reject easy success in order to pursue what they’re passionate about is a nice trend in American cinema right now. There should be films that reflect this spirit. This film brings hope – a qualified hope – for the future of American cinema. It’s not great. But it is interesting.