Review of Irish Film @ Cork Film Festival: Photo City

Loretta Goff sends us a snapshot of Photo City, a portrait of photography itself as told through the lens of the citizens of a place defined by the art form. 

With Photo City co-directors John Murphy and Traolach Ó Murchú focus their lenses on a number of photographers from all walks of life in Rochester, NY. This city, the home of George Eastman’s Kodak, was once booming, with Xerox and Bausch & Lomb providing abundant employment opportunities alongside the photography company. Today, a much different picture of Rochester’s economic situation is presented, reflective of Kodak’s bankruptcy in 2012. However, the immense impact of Kodak is still evident in the area through the city’s love of photography and amount of photographers that live there. This documentary explores Rochester’s relationship with Kodak through the unique perspectives of some of these individuals.

Importantly, Photo City examines a range of photographic practices used today, from film developed in a darkroom to the instant accessibility and shareability of digital photography. Kodak’s downfall resulted from their lack of planning for this digital age that has, indeed, reshaped consumers’ and practitioners’ relationship with the medium. However, what emerges throughout this documentary is a sense that several artists remain deeply connected to the full process of photography—the art of developing your image from start to finish. Science becomes part of the art here as a number of individuals drawn to the technical side of photography experiment with creating their own equipment and procedures.

Memory and nostalgia equally emerge as themes attached to the photographic image. While this is made clear through various discussions of older images, both personal and universal, it is particularly evident in an interview with an elderly man who once travelled the world as a Kodak portrait photographer. His house is not only full of his old photos, including one he proudly displays of Walt Disney, but also of old Kodak memorabilia and advertising cut-outs that inspire him to cheerfully reflect on his time with the company.

A photograph gives an impression not only of its subject, but also of the person behind the camera. Weaving together interviews with a variety of photographers—from commercial to artistic and personal, from photojournalists, pin-up photographers and filmmakers to those who are also teachers, engineers and technicians—Photo City delves into their lives and stories as much as it does their relationship with photography. As a result, the documentary also touches on a range of important topics (such as race, marginalised communities, class, economic dislocation, education, illness and addiction) that affect the lives of these photographers and shape their work.

Visually, this documentary creates moving portraits of its subjects, often interspersing their dialogue over images of them working, scenes of the city and close-ups that give an intimate feel to the film. Frequent shots of the iconic Kodak building give it a looming, ever-present feel in the documentary, reminding us of its impact on the city. More interesting, however, are shots of Rochester’s various communities that offer a more complete image of the city, its diversity and clear economic disparities.

Director John Murphy attended the screening of Photo City at the Cork Film Festival and noted in the Q&A afterwards that they wanted the documentary to have an emotional connection, so that viewers would learn about Kodak through the experience of individuals, rather than being an information dump on the history of the company. As photography has become so accessible and part of today’s vernacular, he also was adamant that were “keen to show photography as a church for a broad congregation” and therefore interview a variety of people. As such, they actively searched for different “character types” to fill their diverse array of roles rather than just going after the city’s top photographers. This method works well, making the documentary topical, relevant and interesting for a wide audience.

 

Photo City screened on 16th November 2017 as part of the 2017 Cork Film Festival (10 – 19 November)

 

 

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Review of Irish Film @ Cork Film Festival: The Lodgers

Loretta Goff gets gothic at The Lodgers, which screened at the Cork Film Festival.

Introducing The Lodgers at the Cork Film Festival, Director Brian O’Malley said that he wanted to make a “beautiful and elegant ghost story” that reflected the script. O’Malley was given David Turpin’s script by producers Ruth Treacy and Julianne Forde after they saw his first feature film, the horror Let Us Prey (2014). After reading it and being struck by the beauty of some of the dialogue, O’Malley decided to bring the gothic horror to life.

The Lodgers tells the story of Rachel (Charlotte Vega) and Edward (Bill Milner), Anglo-Irish twins who live alone in a boarded up, decaying Big House in rural 1920s Ireland. The two are bound to the house by a family curse, sharing it only with the supernatural spirits that live below, emerging through a hatch in the floor to haunt their nights. The siblings must always be in their rooms by midnight and cannot let anyone else enter their residence for fear of otherworldly punishment. Edward dreads leaving the house at all, feeling “protected” by it in some way, and unravels within it, becoming part of its shadows. Rachel, on the other hand, takes her days for herself, enjoying the freedom of the outdoors, particularly after she meets the recently returned WWI soldier, Sean (Eugene Simon).

As the twins turn eighteen, the presence of the spirits grows heavier, creating a sense of urgency. This is reinforced by the visit of estate manager, Mr. Bermingham (David Bradley), who bears news of their dire finances and demands to appraise the mansion for sale. Amidst this, Rachel becomes more daring and desperate to escape, leading to increased tension with her brother.

Vega and Milner deliver strong performances as the siblings who are at once very alike (often going through the same motions in parallel) and very different (with opposing desires). The actors’ chemistry with one another carries from tender moments to violent, and often uncomfortable, ones. Together they aptly portray a relationship in turmoil, reflecting how being bound together can also tear you apart.

The striking production of this film deserves special attention; from the sets to the costuming and cinematography, The Lodgers looks very good. Under the guidance of O’Malley, who used The Innocents (1961), The Hunger (1983) and The Duke of Burgundy (2014) as references for the look of the film, director of photography Richard Kendrick and production designer Joe Fallover create a sumptuous gothic aesthetic. Loftus Hall in Wexford, itself reportedly haunted, offers an imposing presence in the film as the twins’ place of residence, eerily solid and impervious at the same time, holding the twins in, but also leaving them open to threat (thin curtains blow out an open window that lets in the elements and the otherworldly frequently intrude with their watery presence). The house reflects a fading decadence, replaced by dampness and erosion, that mirrors the weakening grip of English colonial power in Ireland at the time.

Indeed, this film reflects another haunting spectre—that of England’s presence in Ireland. A group of local young men, led by Dessie (Moe Dunford), consider the returned Sean a traitor for fighting in the British Army while they were busy fighting their own war at home. They equally regard the Anglo-Irish twins in the Big House with disdain, reflecting both political and class tensions. Topping it all off is the grave simply marked 1916 in the woods of the estate. Though this marks the burial spot of the twins’ parents, in the context of Ireland it only evokes one thing—the 1916 Rising. Genre films are often criticised as lacking cultural specificity, but that cannot be said about The Lodgers.

Overall, while the film’s narrative does let it down in some places, feeling a bit simplified, this is made up for by its stunning visual style, gothic-drenched atmosphere and strong acting by the two leads. This new Irish horror is definitely one to watch.

 

The Lodgers screened on 12th November 2017 as part of the Cork Film Festival

 

 

 

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Review of Irish Film @ Cork Film Festival: Condemned to Remember

 

Sean O’Rourke reviews Gerry Gregg’s Condemned to Remember, in which Irish Holocaust Survivor Tomi Reichental celebrates his 80th birthday in a Dublin Mosque and embarks on epic journey across a Europe in turmoil.

Condemned to Remember is a documentary by frequent collaborators Gerry Gregg and Tomi Reichental which discusses the rise of modern, neo-fascist movements throughout Europe. This unfortunately prescient topic is given a wrenchingly personal touch by the latter collaborator: Reichental, a holocaust survivor. Born in Czechoslovakia to a Jewish family, he and his loved ones were sold to the Germans by their government, just as had been done to many other Czechoslovakian Jews, and he was forced into the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. The movie opens with Reichental, on his 80th birthday in Dublin where he has been invited celebrate Ramadan in a local mosque.

He is immediately disarming, joking as he is readying for his visit that there are few Holocaust survivors celebrating their 80th birthday in a mosque. Even in parts of the film that touch on the darkest moments human history has to offer, Tomi remains a bright, hopeful presence.

However, while the visit to the mosque was playing out, the film took a detour to explore the ongoing legal proceedings against a former SS guard present on a forced death march Tomi described in an earlier film. The film simultaneously starts to set up its examination of current neo-fascist movements in Europe without initially making any important thematic links between this, the mosque visit, and the German legal suit. As I watched this unfold, it seemed to me that the film lacked focus and it felt a waste to cut back and forth between these various proceedings if no greater point about their connections were to be made. The film even started to seem too eager to get to its next big moment, such that the editing often felt too fast. Rather than lingering on moments of human connection between, for example, Tomi and the granddaughter of a Nazi, it instead cut the scene to only its essential soundbites, then moved on before the humanity of these two people, miraculously occupying the same space, could really come through. In these early moments, I thought the film might be squandering its best intentions in an attempt to cover too much ground too quickly.

What relief it was for me then, to find the movie really come together as Tomi went further in his European journey. The film’s stated goal is to prevent genocides like the Holocaust from reoccurring and it does so by reclaiming the past from any complacency that moniker, “past,” might possess. As the film delves deeper into contemporary European political figures, such as Slovakia’s Marian Kotleba, whose rhetoric would not have seemed out of place in 1940s Germany (nor indeed in a massive nationalist Polish demonstration earlier this month), Reichental’s recounting of his experiences in the Holocaust do not just seem a recounting of past events, but as vital experiences that must be used to fight against those who would have them repeated.

The film also gives itself more room to breathe as it goes on and, in these moments, the film has a real poetry to it. Moments of connection, of Tomi looking into the eyes of those who have survived more recent genocides, serve the film’s central goal well and, in moments where the camera lingers on Tomi’s face as he reflects on what’s before him, we are allowed to form an intimate human connection with him, a connection that is made all the more important by a theme the movie brings home again and again: that there will be a day in the near future when there will be no more Holocaust survivors, when this direct link to that historical moment is severed. In its moments of greatest humanity, of Tomi walking down a dirt road with a Syrian refugee, or standing at the spot where his childhood home used to stand, that the film’s poetic power is brought to bear on its audience. These moments preserve the humanity of a man like Tomi powerfully, and assert the importance of such preservation.

The film is at its best when it generates that sense of immediacy in its discussion of the past with the present. Despite a certain formal conventionality, the film remains a powerful reminder of the horrors that human beings commit again and again right up to the present day. Indeed, as Tomi visits the spot of his childhood home, long since gone, its foundations buried under bush and weed, as Tomi stands in the corner of the frame, describing life there as a child, building a mental image for us that might fill the rest of the frame if we listen well, saying over and over that it is gone, and yet still feels like home, one sees the words of William Faulkner (by way of Tomi) ring true: “The past is never dead. It is not even past.” Gregg and his team capture something truly special here: the horror and the beauty of Tomi’s past, a past that carries great relevance in a world that often bears, as Gregg shows through powerful juxtaposition between Tomi’s remembrances and footage of modern-day Europe, uncomfortable relevance to the world just prior to the horrors visited on Tomi. Aside from a start that lacks focus and an occasional reluctance to let powerful scenes breath, the film manages to make its importance known, to pull the past into an uncertain present, and display for us the humanity of a man whose experience deserves our attention and prompts our action.

 

Condemned to Remember screened on 12th November 2017 as part of the Cork Film Festival

 

In Irish cinemas 3rd November 2017

 

 

 

 

 

Gerry Gregg, Director of ‘Condemned to Remember’

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Review of Irish Film @ Cork Film Festival: Peter McVerry: A View from the Basement

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For 40 years human rights activist and Jesuit priest Peter McVerry has railed against state negligence, the abdication of Ireland’s most vulnerable citizens and a legacy of political indifference that has caused the destruction of communities, forced removals, addiction and homelessness. 

Marley McCallum takes a look at an hour-long documentary, in which McVerry re-lives those dark decades. Peter McVerry: A View from the Basement, screened at the 61st Cork Film Festival.

After the film’s screening at this year’s Cork Film Festival, director Kim Bartley noted that she wanted to try and tell Peter’s story through the story of the people he helped. Therein lies the essence of what this film is; as much social problem documentary as it is character study.

As the title suggests, Peter McVerry: A View from the Basement, recounts the life story of Fr. Peter McVerry, from his earliest childhood through to the present day. His character is always central to the narrative but the film subtly transitions into an exploration of the homelessness crisis in Dublin from the 1980s onwards. Neither story feels neglected or pushed to the side by the other. In fact, the film powerfully conveys how his personal story is so deeply embedded in the social issues he has spent his life working to improve. Both aspects inform and enhance one another in a way that feels unique to this man and this story.

A particularly moving element of the documentary is the voice it gives to some of the ‘lads’ Peter has helped along the way, specifically Paddy who has battled homelessness and a heroin addiction since he was a teenager. This micro-narrative within the overarching story of the film humanises the work that Fr. McVerry has dedicated his life to and confronts us with the notion that our society has demonised drug users and homeless people with little to no understanding of their lives. The respect that these men have for Peter and the bond that has been created between them is heart-warming to see and contributes to our understanding of his character, as well as the nature of his work.

Despite first being screened on television, it in no way feels out of place on the big screen which merely enhances its inherent cinematic quality. While nothing in the film feels particularly innovative, it is a documentary of the highest standard, deftly incorporating archival footage with contemporary interviews and footage. Perhaps questionable is the decision to have Fr. McVerry’s interviews in black and white. It adds little to the film other than to differentiate him from the other interviewees and it’s unclear why this would be necessary, but it’s a small issue in an otherwise well-crafted film.

The timeliness of the piece is evident at every turn and Fr. McVerry as the film’s central figure carries the narrative from its roots in the 1980s through to contemporary society in a way that effectively highlights the lack of progress that has been made and the persisting nature of the problems. Indeed, the post-screening Q+A focused primarily on the current reality of these crises and what can and should be done to combat them; an indication of this documentary’s power to inform social change. The fact that most of the questions were addressed directly to Fr. McVerry showed just how captivating a character he is and how eager people are to hear even more of his unique and nuanced perspective.

 

Peter McVerry: A View from the Basement screened on 16th November 2016 as part of the Cork Film Festival 2016 (11 – 20 November)

 

 

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Review of Irish Film @ Cork Film Festival: Cardboard Gangsters

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Annie Curran checks out Cardboard Gangsters, which screened at this year’s Cork Film Festival.

“Suffer the pain of discipline or suffer the pain of regret” reads the wall of the gym where Jason Connolly, protagonist of Cardboard Gangsters, aggressively hits a punching bag. This mantra ultimately proves to be the lesson that Jason and his friends learn as they find themselves more and more entangled in the initially alluring world of the Darndale drug trade.

Actor John Connors, who co-wrote the dramatic crime film with director Mark O’Connor, stars as Jason. The film was largely inspired by Connors’ own experience growing up in the neighborhood, which is situated on the Northside of Dublin and is a hotbed of cyclical social problems. During a post-screening Q&A at the Cork Film Festival, O’Connor stated that since the Cardboard Gangsters are a product of their environment, their goal as filmmakers was to show the “humanity of these characters.”

Jason and his group of three childhood friends are involved in small-time drug dealing. But as economic pressures mount, Jason concedes to his friend Dano’s wishes to begin selling “brown,” even though their neighborhood has been the authoritative and tyrannical Derra Murphy’s terrain for their entire lives. As to be expected, Derra does not take kindly to the newfound business competition.

From loansharking to unplanned pregnancy, Cardboard Gangsters expertly details the variety of social problems that Darndale residents face. In one heated exchange, Jason’s friend Cobbie is called a “Nigerian,” to which he has to defend himself as “Irish bred and born,” thus highlighting the racism that remains embedded with certain facets of Irish society. These social problems do not feel heavy-handed or clichéd, which is owed to Connors and O’Connor’s authenticity of experience.

Connors gives a masterful performance as Jason, who initially does not want to take over Derra’s territory. During an early scene where Jason attempts to pick up a welfare check, his face is framed next to an advert for a “Low-Self Esteem Clinic.” This framing tells the audience everything they need to know about the problematic masculinity that is created out of the limited options in Darndale. Jason’s check is refused because he has been DJ-ing as a hobby, thus implying that his attempts to better himself through healthy choices can’t even pull him out of the cycle of crime.

Perhaps the film’s finest cinematographic achievements are the sprawling one-take tracking shots. Producer Richard Bolger joked at the Q&A about the logistical stress of shooting one scene in particular, where Jason terrorizes a man with a chainsaw. While the scene might have been an insurer’s nightmare, the results are equally terrifying and electrifying. The filmmakers frequently use the frame to emphasize how the men get trapped into a world of crime, including shots where they walk behind fences that look like jail cells and are silhouetted by smoking piles of trash.

In an effort to present every day life in Darndale, the film contains a fair amount of scenes that don’t necessarily drive the plot. This is best exhibited in the music videoesque sequences that show the characters hanging out, selling, and simply living their lives. The hip-hop and rock influenced soundtrack is made up of all-Irish musicians and mostly local Darndale musicians. The filmmakers felt it was imperative to get the music right in order to capture Darndale’s local culture. As such, one of their inspirations was the 2015 biographical film Straight Outta Compton, which details the early lives of hip-hop group N.W.A.

Cardboard Gangsters truly shows the psychological effects of not suffering the pain of discipline. The scene where Jason breaks down into his mother’s arms is one of the most poignant moments I’ve seen in recent cinema. Jason gives into his vulnerability and the results are gut-wrenching and powerful. O’Connor told the audience at Cork Film Festival that is was very important to Connors that the film showed at-risk youth that dealing drugs will never end well.

To do this more effectively, the film highlights the suffering of all of the characters, even Derra. During a tracking shot of a robbery of the liquor store, the camera zooms in on the panicked face of an alarmed employee, before focusing back on the action. This moment painfully reminds the audience that the whole community is victimized by these crimes. But additionally and most importantly, the film shows how Jason, his friends, and Derra are victimized by their own crimes, which leads to the conclusion’s violent trail of revenge. The idiom an “eye for an eye” has never rang more true.

 

Cardboard Gangsters screened on 20th November 2016 as part of the Cork Film Festival 2016 (11 – 20 November)

 

Cardboard Gangsters is set to open in cinemas across Ireland in February 2017.

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Review of Irish Film @ Cork Film Festival: Further Beyond

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Annie Curran goes Further Beyond at the Cork Film Festival screening of Christine Molloy and Joe Lawlor’s documentary.

Further Beyond, the debut feature documentary from filmmaking team Desperate Optimists — Christine Molloy and Joe Lawlor — is not a biopic about eighteenth century Irish-born Chilean leader Ambrosio O’Higgins. Rather, this unconventional documentary describes the process of how Molloy and Lawlor would make a biopic on O’Higgins.

Molloy and Lawlor are drawn to O’Higgins because they are fascinated by narratives of displacement. Thus, the film parallels O’Higgins’ journey with the story of Lawlor’s mother Helen, who moved from the Bronx to Ireland and back again. Actors Denise Gough and Alan Howley narrate these intricately intertwined stories of dislocation. They bring Molloy and Lawlor’s words to life with haunting elocution.

Yet this documentary is about something bigger than O’Higgins and Helen; it is about how filmmakers take a subject (real or fictional) and construct a narrative through a series of creative and logistical decisions. As such, a central question that the film asks is whether it is easier to write or film. Ultimately, the form of this documentary reminds the audience of the similarities between the processes of writing and filmmaking. Further Beyond is framed by two prologues and an epilogue, thus emphasizing that Molloy and Lawlor wrote their versions of O’Higgins and Helen onto the screen.

As a result, most of the film is spent suggesting what O’Higgins and Helen felt in the various places they travelled. The narrators generally focus on larger themes, like Irish nationalism or humiliation, since their distance from the characters (Helen passed away a few years ago) prevents them from knowing specifics. These contemplations are set to long takes of the various locations, such as the lake in County Sligo, where O’Higgins spent much of his youth, which are beautifully shot by Lawlor.

While some of these shots feature Jose Miguel Jimenez, in costume, as a stand-in for O’Higgins, most simply show a snapshot of the location now. There is something incompatible about setting their musings on the characters to these images, since their stories seem so distant to modern life. This is especially shown as Howley describes Irish families saying goodbye to loved ones at Heartbreak Pier in Cobh Harbor, which is edited against the image of the remnants of the pier. The exterior shots begin to feel very repetitive by the conclusion, but that also could be a statement on the financial limitations of making a film. It reiterates that this is not a biopic; it’s the planning of one.

Further Beyond expertly interweaves anecdotes that explore the difficulty of making a movie. The narrators discuss a variety of technical, aesthetic, and monetary decisions, like finding the right opening shot or choosing a topic that will attract financial backers. The directors deserve a lot of credit for choosing a topic — a film about making a biopic rather than a biopic — that is less bankable.

The documentary also features an assortment of literary and film allusions, from Don Quixote to On the Waterfront, but it is the many intertextual references to Molloy and Lawlor’s past work that are far more interesting. These reminiscences provide the audience with a clearer sense of their process as creators.

The finest example of this intertextuality comes during a stunning shot of Jimenez on the snowy Andes, as majestic music plays in the background. The shot abruptly cuts to Gough in the recording studio, who asks the team if that was the same music from their last film. Molloy and Lawlor confirm that it is the same music and tell her that it will only be temporary. Yet, Further Beyond does in fact use the soundtrack from their 2013 feature Mister John. The decision to reuse the music yet again accentuates that the film is about the process of storytelling, not the finished product.

Molloy and Lawlor have written and directed numerous shorts and two feature films together over the past decade. In an introduction for the screening at the Cork Film Festival, Head of Programming Don O’Mahoney noted that while the documentary was a new departure for the pair, Further Beyond still maintained the energy found in their earliest work.

 

Further Beyond screened on 13th November 2016 as part of the Cork Film Festival 2016 (11 – 20 November)

 

 

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Review of Irish Film @ Cork Film Festival: Soulsmith

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Loretta Goff journeys into Soulsmith, which screened at the Cork Film Festival.

Introducing the premiere of their debut feature at the Cork Film Festival, writer-director Kevin Henry and producer Séamus Waters spoke of two years earlier when they were working in a DIY shop talking about making a film. Soulsmith was a passion project for them both and they, along with the many cast and crew who made the trip to attend the screening, were happy to see the finished product on the big screen.

Soulsmith follows the journey of playwright Ed Smith (Matthew O’Brien) who, once successful in the Dublin theatre scene, has become frustrated with his work, his life and the state of contemporary society, critiquing everything from social media to ineffective politicians. After his father dies, Ed returns home to Mayo, taking this time to clear his head and rediscover his path. His search for meaning is aided by a reconnection with his friends and family, who offer honest conversation, and through solitary time spent reflecting on himself and his choices in the beautiful scenery of Mayo (captured by Stephen Walsh in some stunning shots). Realising he can’t tackle all of the world’s issues in his work, Ed is once again able to meaningfully articulate himself by focusing on those close to him.

Ed’s journey of self discovery in the film quietly confronts a number of issues relevant to modern Ireland. These range from the generation of highly skilled young people who cannot find jobs to a mentality being out for yourself or your own area but not caring beyond that, especially in terms of politics which leave some places and people largely unrepresented. The subject most powerfully dealt with in the film, however, is the association of masculinity with machismo and the inability to express or discuss emotion.

Though Ed is a blunt, outspoken character, much of his frustration stems from his inability to truly recognise and give voice to all of his emotions, particularly regarding his father’s death. The play he writes by the end of the film is a catharsis of this, and the result of his time spent with friends and in self-reflection. By presenting emotionally honest conversations between male characters as beneficial and necessary for moving forward, the film effortlessly breaks down the stereotypical archetype of the Irish man who can’t talk about his feelings. The advice—“don’t ever be afraid of a bad day, we all have them”—during a particularly poignant scene expressing male openness is something that should be spoken aloud more, especially given that the rate of suicide among young men in Ireland is one of the highest in Europe. Soulsmith effectively deals with death, grieving and the feeling of being lost through its characters, normalising emotional frustration and making these acceptable and necessary topics of discussion.

The film feels very observational in nature. From close shots of people walking in Dublin, pigeons, rippling water and characters’ faces to more expansive shots of mountains, lakes, beaches and group gatherings, we are like a fly on the wall throughout Ed’s journey and during his interactions, allowing us to fully relate to what he is going through and also to place our own emotional journeys within the context of the film. Further supporting this is the very natural acting from the entire cast, which deserves recognition, and the seamless weaving together of moments of brevity and seriousness.

Ultimately, Soulsmith takes the simple story of a playwright struggling to find the right words and makes it much more. Ed’s lost path stands in for broader societal and generational searches for meaning, equally reflected in the musings of his mother, friends and locals in pubs. His ultimate articulation and self-reflection is mirrored by the film’s own important reflections, philosophising and subtle commentary on modern Ireland. Soulsmith ends with Ed’s comment, “to me, it’s not about finding the right answers anymore, it’s about asking the right questions”—something which this film does successfully.

During the Q&A following the screening Henry, Waters and O’Brien noted that having the character of Ed be a writer was important as it offered a great way to tackle ideas and reflect on society. O’Brien was mindful of the contemporary situation in Ireland (especially in terms of joblessness) as he acted the role and enjoyed playing a complex character that was able to explore important issues, particularly masculinity. In addition to discussing Ed’s journey in the film, Henry and Waters (who met in college) also discussed the journey of the film itself. Starting out small, the film grew and the story developed with the huge amount of support received from family, the cast and crew, and the community (the film was primarily shot in Mayo, but also Dublin and Roscommon). Soulsmith is an intelligent film with a lot to offer and marks an accomplished debut from the pair.

Soulsmith screened on 20th November 2016 as part of the Cork Film Festival 2016 (11 – 20 November)

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Review of Irish Film @ Cork Film Festival: Visual Fictions

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Ellen Scally was at the Cork Film Festival for Aideen Barry presentation of four video works: Levitating, Possession, Not to be Known or Named and Enshrine.
 
Aideen Barry makes films – but she doesn’t really call herself a filmmaker. Rejecting the traditional collaborative nature of filmmaking, Barry, an internationally acclaimed visual artist, prefers to work on her films totally alone: she is the set designer, the sole performer, and often goes to great lengths to simultaneously operate the camera (often using a remote device). According to Barry herself, an artist differs from a conventional filmmaker because they “pervert the standards again and again” in order to set themselves apart and create something different. Barry has a name for her pieces of film – she calls them “visual fictions”.

While her fictions are intense, solo undertakings, Barry’s style of public speaking is easy and open (perhaps unsurprising given her work as a lecturer in her field) and she suggests that the discussion be an “organic” one, with the audience free to jump in with comments or questions at any time. The theatre is packed. The fictions are played on a screen behind Barry, and between each short piece, she explains her process and takes questions.

The “visual fictions” all share similar themes of repetition, obsession, and of women’s place in society and the monstrous female (Barry cites her own preoccupation with the Irish constitution and its assertion in Article 41.2 that “a woman’s place is in the home”). Her work explores the expectations and pressures put on women to embody a certain image of domesticity, as well as the concept of woman as object, and her fictions show us these ideas manifesting themselves in ways that are at once absurd, disturbing and often very funny.

In “Possession”(2011), a hoover hose extends itself from Barry’s mouth and she proceeds to clean the floor with it, seemingly consuming the dirt herself. In another scene, several scissors emerge from her hair with which she mows the lawn, lying face down and moving forward in jumpy stop motion. She becomes an object, a twisted vision of domesticity.

The theme of endurance also comes up on more than one occasion. Stop-motion is a notoriously tricky, time-consuming style of filmmaking. Barry describes the process of performing 64,000 jumps in order to capture the floating movement seen in “Levitating” (2007), and other similarly grueling feats. It’s a labour of love, though, and Barry’s passion and enthusiasm for her work shines through as she discusses each piece.

Her use of slapstick humour, as well as the home-made video feel given to the pieces by her use of her own home and the type of camera used, makes these films very accessible. Funny moments get big laughs, and it’s inspiring for young artists and filmmakers to see what can be done with practically no budget to speak of. The crowd is full of such creative types, who are keen to engage with Barry on her thought-provoking work.

 

Visual Fictions screened on 16th November 2016 as part of the Cork Film Festival 2016 (11 – 20 November)

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Review of Irish Film @ Cork Film Festival: The Randomer

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Eoin O’ Callaghan hooks up with The Randomer, which screened at the Cork Film Festival.

 

What does The Randomer, screened as part of the 61st Cork Film Film Festival, have to say about life in contemporary Dublin? Quite a lot, actually—and much of it points to the bright future of filmmaking in Ireland. The brainchild of students in the Filmbase Masters in Digital Feature Film Production, and written by their established mentor Gerry Stembridge (Ordinary Decent Criminal, About Adam), The Randomer presents a contemporary, sophisticated look at seemingly well-trodden topics: the battlefield of sex, dating and children.

Meg Daly (George Hanover), a college lecturer recently turned the apparently fake age of 39, has, heretofore, spent her nights cruising the bars and nightclubs of Dublin, avoiding talk of the biological clock from her philoprogenitive sister Regina (Caoimhe O’ Malley). However, Meg’s rapidly diminishing thirty-something status, along with renewed exposure to her nieces and nephews, leads her to question the viability of this lifestyle and to sever ties with sleepy boyfriend Teddy (John Lynn). With the help of her neighbours Roberta and Shirley—a lesbian couple played by Siobhán Cullen and Neilí Conroy—Meg plots the means by which she will become a mother; in all probability by cornering the eponymous ‘randomer.’

Refreshingly, The Randomer does not succumb to some of the tired tropes of on-screen dating in 2016. There’s no supposedly ‘trendy’ nods to the emerging role of Facebook and Tinder in meeting people, for example, and Meg’s interactions with the potential randomers—even the misguided hook-ups—are face-to-face encounters, as opposed to the millennial wave of smartphone-heavy portrayals; no Catfish-style antics here. As such, The Randomer is unlikely to feel dated, years from now: it’s pleasingly technology-free, lending it a maturity often lacking in films of this type. The Ireland depicted elsewhere is, however, firmly planted in 2016: it’s broad-minded and modern. Meg’s lesbian neighbours have a child of their own, and her primary objective in the film is to attain single mother status. Independence, and a career, are positive, forward-thinking motivations for a female lead in a romantic comedy (particularly in light of mainstream, American output, constantly in search of Prince Charming).

Of course, Meg’s trials and tribulations are convincing, and relatable, because of Hanover’s performance and likeability; particularly in her more subdued scenes with Ray (Daryl McCormack). It is testament to Hanover’s accomplished performance that the film, which never deviates from her perspective (she is almost a permanent fixture on screen), never slows or bores over the course of its 82 minutes, and she ably conveys the lingering doubts—and excitement—that characterise every step of the transition from singledom to pre-motherhood. Other notable turns are those of McCormack and and Lynn—the latter’s somnambulistic ramblings perfectly illustrating the lifestyle that he and Meg had led up until now: blissfully unaware of time’s rapid passing.

Flaws—none of which are glaring—are to be found in some clichéd decisions. The disparity between The Randomer’s ‘timeless yet modern’ look at Irish life and its multiple generic commonplaces is somewhat disappointing: predictably, Meg’s less successful encounters with potential randomers ‘underperform,’ and her endeavours to care for her neighbour’s child are rote, Three Men and a Baby-style misadventures. And even if the lesbian couple are a welcome addition, they conform to at least two stereotypes: that of the agony aunts/comic relief sidekicks, par for the course in every romantic comedy; and the ‘odd couple’ pairing (one’s foul-mouthed and boisterous; the other’s delicate and sentimental). Elsewhere, despite the evocative storyline and diverse characters, the film lacks vibrancy and colour; grey and undersaturated, the look of the film is incongruent with the relatively upbeat and comic proceedings.

None of these problems keep the film from being a success, however (both artistic and financial: the screening at the Cork Film Festival was a sell-out). While marketed as a comedy, The Randomer’s most memorable moments are the dramatic, restrained scenes, and Hanover’s chemistry with her male counterparts is palpable throughout: a late-in-the-day encounter between Meg and previous suitor Teddy is a particular standout for both actors and writers. Oh, and with regards to life in contemporary Dublin, as mentioned in the outset, there appears to be an underlying message about the lack of adequate, affordable accommodation. Meg’s first lines are part of a lecture on housing, and her pregnancy plans—despite a flourishing college career–necessitate a move to a decidedly less grand apartment.

Here’s to this group of Filmbase students, and their future productions—however random.

The Randomer screened on 16th November 2016 as part of the Cork Film Festival 2016 (11 – 20 November)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Review of Irish Film @ Cork Film Festival: Know All (Cloud Control: Who Owns Your Data)

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Eoin O’ Callaghan checks his online fingerprints at a screening of Know All (Cloud Control: Who Owns Your Data) at the Cork Film Festival.

Sponsored by the Science Foundation Ireland, and screened by RTÉ both before and during the Cork Film Festival, Cloud Control is an informative/petrifying/encouraging documentary (delete as appropriate). The hour-long analysis, presented by editor of Mashable UK, Anne-Marie Tomchak, explores the potential benefits, dangers and mysteries of so-called ‘Big Data’: that amalgamation of our online fingerprints which we previously thought to be stored in some vaguely defined ‘cloud’ sphere. In a world where such a common belief can be disproved, then, another age-old axiom holds true: knowledge is power.

For better or worse, of course, and certainly Tomchak, herself a vocal advocate of social media and hashtag culture, the analysis showcases multiple examples of Big Data/digital culture working for the greater good. Tomchak’s first case study is that of the family farm in Longford, where Facebook allows for long-distance communication between parents and children. Taken as a method for filling out the occasional online crossword puzzle (and occasionally consulting Google for tips), the ominous Big Data seems a lifetime away. Translated to the rugby pitch, where advanced biometrics have helped Donnacha O’ Callaghan customise his training regimen and track his day-to-day performance, or to Cork University Hospital, where Geraldine Boylan uses data to monitor the health and well-being of premature babies, it’s again difficult to argue with the influx of technology we’ve grown accustomed to in recent years. Society is merely using its available tools—tools which they themselves created, mind—to advance itself.

However, with great power comes great responsibility, to drop another power-themed cliché, and ethical considerations regarding privacy are, naturally, a preoccupation in Cloud Control. Dave and Dani Kinsella have taken to recording their children’s exploits on YouTube, resulting in small-time internet phenomenon The Kinsella Bunch (with a not unrespectable 7,382 subscribers at the time of writing). Whether Dave and Dani will be able to reconcile any future dangers/backlash with their upload-heavy lifestyle at present does, however, remain to be seen. Such concerns about privacy and consent are exacerbated by the evolved form of CCTV in operation at Blackpool, where information about demographics, transport and shopping habits are collated on a daily basis, and by the prospect of deliberating online shoppers being ‘nudged’ towards alternative products.

Recurrent throughout these scenes, and the documentary as a whole, is the theme of control: whether our decisions—in the retail sphere, for example—will, eventually, be out of our hands, orchestrated by an Orwellian higher power. In fact, just using social media, as Tomchak indicates, does mean a surrender of at least SOME privacy; and often much more than we know about, as evidenced by Tomchak’s baffled reaction to the wealth of information plucked from her networking trail. Max Schrems, an Austrian privacy activist and victor in a case against Facebook and US-EU data exchange, ultimately emerges as the hero of the piece: he’s not naively resistant to technology’s benefits and advantages, but he remains adamant that Facebook, Twitter, Google et al. need to be law-compliant in their use of data. His tome of Facebook data—relating not only to information that he willingly shared but to that which was derived from his interactions with friends—reminds us that Facebook’s reach extends far beyond those who are actually registered on the site. Some, like Tomchak’s father, are online ‘by proxy.’

Despite Tomchak’s obvious investment in social networking and data, she remains objective and shrewd throughout, sceptical of both the Luddites and the technology-obsessed, and the documentary is, above all, thought-provoking. The Q & A session, which took place after the screening in the Triskel Christchurch, confirmed Tomchak’s commitment to the digital age, even if she acknowledged her increased awareness into the problems of Big Data culture. Audience questions ranged from the remarkably tech-savvy to the thoughtfully threat-savvy: does the use of Big Data remove the ‘human’ element from farming, health care and social interaction? While this reviewer would probably agree to some extent, Barry O’Sullivan (Insight Centre for Data Analytics) and the rest of the panellists (Geraldine Boylan of UCC and Margie McCarthy of Science Foundation Ireland) agreed that the ongoing formulation of a 21st-century ‘Magna Carta,’ which will outline the guiding principles of data ethics, is a positive step in the right direction.

Oh, and that ‘cloud’ data mentioned at the beginning? It’s stored in a series of nondescript, high-security mainframes located worldwide. So now you know.

 

Know All (Cloud Control: Who Owns Your Data) screened on 18th November 2016 as part of the Cork Film Festival 2016 (11 – 20 November)

 

 

 

 

 

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Review of Irish Film @ Cork Film Festival: Forever Pure

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Daniel Lynch catches Forever Pure at the Cork Film Festival, an Irish co-production feature documentary about the most symbolic football club in Israel.

 

Forever Pure tells the story of football club Beitar Jerusalem as the ultra-conservative team signs their first ever Muslim players. Director Maya Zinshtein was there first-hand to film and chronicle a bizarre period in Israeli football where right-wing zealotry and hooliganism combined to hold a mirror to a fragile section of society. 

Having never signed a Muslim player, the club was forced to welcome Zaur Sadayev and Gabriel Kadiev after eccentric owner Arcadi Gaydamak made a business deal to promote relations with Chechen political leaders. The resulting furore shocked pundits and caused a rising team to plummet near relegation. 

Football Ultras ‘La Familia’ were vocal about their disgust and chanted obscene anti-Islam rhetoric while also eventually boycotting matches. They even set fire to the club’s museum destroying their own history in an act of severe literal irony one must only assume was lost on them. 

Speaking of her film, Zinshtein commented how surprised so many people were of the severity of the blow-back from the signings. “Maybe I was naive but I thought football wins”, she stated. This is reflected in the film as pundits on the radio and long-time club legend Itzik Kornfein state a few goals from the new boys and the fans will get on side. However, while the ultras numbered only in the hundreds, when they called for a boycott they did so en masse

It is near impossible to watch Forever Pure and not see a startling parallel to current political climates. Both Brexit and the recent US elections have shocked experts and defied belief as other right-wing parties and movements gain momentum across Europe. The scale and popularity of these movements have been dangerously dismissed but with crushing consistency they reaffirm that are not a niche minority. Zinshtein was at hand to capture a global phenomena in microcosm and her proficiency at disseminating the information and displaying it is exceptional.  

‘Pure’ is an apt word to describe this director’s storytelling. With a background in journalism, it is clear to see the objective chronicler at work. Zinshtein never injects herself or her opinion into the narrative but does what great documentary makers do, and allows the story to speak for itself. She stated afterwards that the biggest compliment she gets is from the ultras. When they say the story is exactly accurate, she feels she has succeeded in her job. 

Forever Pure is a wonderful documentary from a political, social and psychological perspective that serves also as a warning. We who take for granted that we are the tolerant majority must take heed. Insipid hate is a weed, where the flower grows, the roots are much stronger. 

Forever Pure screened on 19th November 2016

The Cork Film Festival 2016 runs 11 – 20 November

 

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Review of Irish Film @ Cork Film Festival: Crash and Burn

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Aoife O’Neill was in pole position at the Cork Film Festival for a screening of Crash and Burn, Seán Ó Cualáin’s documentary about Tommy Byrne from Dundalk, who, in the ’80s, for a moment was the world’s greatest F1 driver.

 

In the words of director Seán Ó Cualáin, Crash and Burn is one of the most “important sporting stories never told”, until now. The documentary follows the story of Tommy Byrne, a local lad from Drogheda with big ambitions and talent to match. From humble beginnings of driving a mini cooper, he wins every race that is set in front of him and finally gets the opportunity to race for Formula One.

 

However, getting to the Formula One platform was easier than staying there. This documentary is not just a sport film, this is a character portrait of a man’s struggles to come to terms with a career that has passed.

 

Born in the back of a car rushing to get to the hospital, it seems Byrne’s need for speed and cars was there since birth. According to himself, he learnt more from crashing than anything else, even though crashing for Byrne was rare. Driving each race as if it were his last, Byrne often struggled to finance his racing dream. Were it not for the support of friends and family financing his dreams from across the pond, Byrne may not have achieved what he did. His struggles to get from one race to the next adds suspense in the documentary and that audience constantly wonders how Byrne will be able to continue to race against his highly sponsored competitors.

 

Byrne’s, at times, abrasive personality rubbed many of the major names in the world of racing the wrong way. This is in conflict with the audiences appreciation of his blunt character, which makes for humorous viewing and honest critique of the sport. The documentary is comprised of interviews with Byrne’s colleagues and friends who helped with the documentary by supplying achieve footage and photographs of Byrne in his previous racing days. The mix of animation, interviews, live action and archive footage sequences enhances the documentary, with the archived footage giving a vintage, VHS charm.

 

It is through one animation sequence that we see the paths of Ayrton Senna and Tommy Byrne cross, as the once teammates didn’t have the most amorous relationship. Similarly, this film has parallels with that of Senna (2010), both films highlight the dangers and corruption that is involved in the world of racing. Unlike Senna, Byrne struggled to finance his races and didn’t have a choice between winning or not; either win or it is the last race.

 

Producer David Burke explains that the documentary humbly began with a series of emails. Although Byrne was skeptical of the documentary at first, he was told that at least it would be the “best home movie for your grandkids”. However, Crash and Burn is far better than a home movie and a must-see documentary. Byrne’s flamboyant character and good sense of humour is endearing and engaging. Having met him after the screening it is safe to say that he is the same in the real life as he is captured in screen.

 

Throughout the film we get an insight into the highs and lows of his career as he was beaten by the system despite being the “best in the world at what he did”. Byrne’s personality on screen makes for an enjoyable and captivating documentary, ironic as it is the same personality blamed for his career downfall. A documentary cleverly crafted for both an outside viewer and an avid fan of racing. Through interviews we are given a fascinating and unique insight into low-level racing. These interviews explain the sport and race system, ensuring the documentary doesn’t fall into niche markets. A truly riveting documentary, that allows for Irish viewers a look at the best racer probably in the world that came from a local town in Drogheda.

 

Crash and Burn screened on 19th November 2016

The Cork Film Festival 2016 runs 11 – 20 November

 

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Review of Irish Film @ Cork Film Festival: Between Land and Sea

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Loretta Goff catches waves at Ross Whitaker’s documentary Between Land and Sea, which premiered at the Cork Film Festival.

 

Making its world premiere at the Cork Film Festival, Between Land and Sea follows a year of life in the surf town of Lahinch, Co. Clare. Previously known for golf, the advent of surfing in Lahinch from 2000 provided an economic boon for the town and has been embraced by the community. The documentary begins in January when most of the town has closed for the season and the beaches are quiet, giving locals time for their own surfing before the busy season, full of surfing lessons, kicks off. Easter weekend, and the repainting and reopening of local shops, marks the start of this season, and the influx of people and cars to the community contrasts greatly with the quiet (and sometimes financially difficult) winter months.

Offering a portrait of the community, and capturing its spirit, director Ross Whitaker (Unbreakable: The Mark Pollock Story, When Ali Came to Ireland) introduces us to local surfers Tom Doige-Harrison (and his wife Raquel Ruido Rodriguez), Ollie O’Flaherty, Fergal Smith, John McCarthy and Dexter McCullough, along with ocean-loving community member Pat Conway. Not only do we see these individuals’ athletics in the water (and their true love for it), we also get an intimate look at their lives, exploring the themes of aging as a surfer, financial ups and downs, family life and planning for a sustainable, long-term future.

Between Land and Sea equally creates a portrait of Clare’s Atlantic coast, capturing both its beauty and power. Shots of serene water reflecting orange-tinted sunsets and sleek, smooth waves are contrasted with stormy waters, huge waves breaking on cliffs and turbulent, frothy whitewater. Stunning local big-wave destinations Riley’s Wave and Aileen’s Wave, at the base of the scenic Cliffs of Moher, feature in the film. These waves attract surfers from all over the world, including surfing legend Shane Dorian who makes an appearance in the documentary, but are home to our surfers from Lahinch who show off their skills here. While Whitaker captures a great deal of the essence of Lahinch, its waters and its people from the land, Kevin Smith deserves special accolades for his visually impressive aerial and water camerawork which provides some remarkable shots. Capturing adventure, athleticism and everyday life, this film will appeal to surfers and non-surfers alike.

Following the sold-out screening, Ross Whitaker, Ollie O’Flaherty, John McCarthy, Dexter McCullough and Pat Conway were present for a Q&A. Whitaker explained that the film was made with a low budget and a small, but very dedicated, crew who put in the time to be there when things happened. Spending hours behind the camera filming surfing took intense concentration in order to ensure that the best waves of the day were captured. Meanwhile, O’Flaherty expressed a sense of pride in what they achieved and happiness that people will get to see the amazing place they live in, a thought mirrored by the rest of the panel. Throughout the film he, along with other surfers, expressed a desire to train up a new generation of Irish surfers to greatness, and this film should help to inspire that.

There are plans for Between Land and Sea to be released throughout Ireland next year as well as continue on the festival circuit.

 

Between Land and Sea screened on 19th November 2016

The Cork Film Festival 2016 runs 11 – 20 November

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Review of Irish Film @ Cork Film Festival: I Am Not a Serial Killer

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Loretta Goff is on the hunt for Billy O’Brien’s I Am Not a Serial Killer, which screened at the 2016 Cork Film Festival.

Deftly blending genres—part thriller, horror, comedy, drama and romance—I Am Not a Serial Killer is a unique film full of surprises. The teenage protagonist of the film, John Wayne Cleaver (Max Records), is fascinated by serial killers and has been diagnosed with sociopathic tendencies, leading him to create a set of rules to live by in order to prevent him from hurting or killing anyone. However, when a series of linked murders occur in his small Minnesota town, John becomes obsessed with discovering and understanding the killer, testing these rules.

John works in the family funeral home, helping to embalm corpses, and thus has access to the bodies of the murder victims. Rather than shying away from their wounds, missing organs and limbs, John studies them closely and goes to the crime scenes, working on a profile of the killer. Despite the concerns of his mother (Laura Fraser) and quirky therapist (Karl Geary), and the fact that John doesn’t feel emotion in the normal sense—in fact he is repeatedly labelled as abnormal—he is also a very likeable, and even relatable protagonist.

Director and co-writer Billy O’Brien (Isolation) clearly frames John as an outsider and an observer. Numerous voyeuristic shots through windows, trees, grass and binoculars are all from his perspective, at times innocuously observing the girl he seems to like and family life, and others more seriously tracking the killer. We also see shots from John’s perspective lingering on the blood draining from bodies as they are embalmed and on their wounds. These, and his fascination with serial killers, lend a sinister tone to his character, particularly when paired with close-ups of him slowly cutting chicken meat from the bone during his dinner. At the same time, however, John is repeatedly seen doing the right thing and is a large source of the humour in the film. Similarly, though his reactions and emotions don’t always align with what is “normal”, his emotionless face always appears pleasant.

In part family drama, I Am Not a Serial Killer explores relationships. Within the Cleaver family there is an absentee father, strained mother-daughter relationship, and of course John’s relationships with his family, therapist and people at school, affected by his inability to feel. On the other hand, contrasting with this emotional lack in John, is the abundant love between his elderly neighbours Mr. and Mrs. Crowley, through which the theme of aging is also explored. The key relationship in the film, however, is between John and Mr. Crowley (Christopher Lloyd). While the film is well-acted all around, this pair of actors (Records and Lloyd) in particular do a superb job in their nuanced roles.

The film is able to quickly shift between light-hearted, serious and chilling moments, and even blends naturalism with the supernatural as the killer is unveiled. Moments of sudden shock are juxtaposed with slowly built suspense and terror as the film moves into horror territory, assisted by clever editing and a solid soundtrack. The theme of darkness within us is explored  throughout the film in terms of John suppressing his own dark urges, but as the horror in the film grows, this theme also take on a more literal embodiment. In a particularly poignant scene regarding this, Crowley recites William Blake’s poem “The Tyger” as he sits with John in the dark by a glowing fire, contemplating darkness and light rooted in the same source. Ultimately, the film is a rollercoaster of emotion, full of sudden dips and turns, offering a bit of everything, but seamlessly fitting together.

Following the film’s screening in The Everyman, Billy O’Brien and producer Nick Ryan participated in a Q&A. O’Brien spoke about Dan Wells’ novel of the same name, from which the film was adapted, noting that he was attracted to its dark humour. As the novel is very much a first person narrative, O’Brien explained that Max Records’ face filled that role in the film, reflecting John’s perspective. Both O’Brien and Ryan praised Records and Lloyd for their performances, noting their collaboration, dedication and chemistry.

Though the process of funding the film was a struggle, taking six and a half years in the end, Ryan noted the continued support of the Irish Film Board throughout this process, providing a backbone of funding. The film, which premiered at the South by Southwest Film Festival, has been doing the festival circuit since and has been particularly well-received by European audiences. O’Brien remarked that I Am Not a Serial Killer is “an American film [set in Minnesota] with a European heart”, and that it offers something different.

 

I Am Not a Serial Killer screened on 17th November 2016

The Cork Film Festival 2016 runs 11 – 20 November

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Review of Irish Film @ Cork Film Festival: Power on the Box

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Annie Curran checks out  a preview screening of the first episode of RTÉ’s upcoming television docuseries, Power on the Box, which screened at the 2016 Cork Film Festival.

Audience members at the 2016 Cork Film Festival were treated to a preview screening of the first episode of RTÉ’s upcoming television docuseries, Power on the Box. The four-part series, hosted by Irish Times journalist Harry McGee, details the impact of Irish television on politics during the last 50 years.

 

The documentary balances interviews from politicians and journalists, weighing both the positive and negative effects of television on the bureaucratic landscape. McGee provides the viewers with a variety of differing opinions and does not suggest which side of the argument he falls on, stating only that “there’s no denying the power of the box in the corner.”

 

The first episode chronicles the creation of the television branch of RTÉ, which officially premiered on December 31, 1961. As Irish historian and longstanding RTÉ broadcaster John Bowman describes, politicians “weren’t ready to be on screen.”

 

Skeptics of television included Éamon de Valera, who compared it to an atomic bomb and expressed his concern over the harm it could cause. In contrast, Taoiseach Seán Lemass said television could be an “instrument of public policy.” Additionally, former Fianna Fáil Minister Noel Dempsey says that seeing politics on camera is what made him want to pursue his governmental career.

 

The majority of the episode is devoted to detailing the implications of Section 31 of the Broadcasting Authority Act, which gave the Minister of Posts and Telegraphs the ability to issue a Ministerial order to prevent RTÉ from airing interviews with Sinn Feinn and IRA members. The documentary includes interviews with politicians who think Section 31 was necessary, as well as those who decry the censorship and fault RTÉ broadcasters for cowering to it. The most critical view comes from Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams, who tells McGee that Section 31 delayed the peace process.

 

One of the most fascinating and ultimately humorous moments in the episode stems from the discussion of how RTÉ was able to work around the limitations of Section 31. The network could broadcast footage of Sinn Fein and IRA leaders if actors dubbed over their voices. McGee interviews famed actor Stephen Rea, who provides an entertaining account of the voice-over work he completed for the network. Adams tells McGee that he thinks the actors’ voices were better than his own and that Rea was his favorite version of himself.

 

McGee also travelled to the U.S. and attended the 2016 Republican Convention. Considering Donald Trump’s surprising victory in the recent election, this footage is even more powerful now, and only further proves the correlation between media attention and political success.

 

The screening at the Cork Film Festival was followed by a panel discussion hosted by McGee. Compliance Committee Member for the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland Dr. Ciaran Kissane; University College Cork History Department Lecturer Dr. Finola Doyle-O’Neill; and Communications Executive at NUI Galway, Acadamh Dan Dwyer provided fascinating context to information presented in the documentary. For example, Doyle-O’Neill informed the audience that since the Irish were already buying televisions and accessing world news, the state felt it was important to create an Irish network so that citizens would not get all of their information from British or American sources.

 

The panel also raised the excellent point that scripted television shows and talk shows have perhaps influenced public opinion more than television news shows. The first episode does not address this point, and thus perhaps misses the full implication of the power of television. However, because of the confines of a four-episode format, it is understandable that the producers honed in specifically on televisions news.

 

Additionally, the episode featured a major lack of women. This is certainly accurate to the disparity of genders in both politics and journalism, however I hope that future episodes feature more female voices.

 

The first episode of Power on the Box will air on Monday, 28th November at 19:30 on RTÉ1. The rest of the series will delve further into the tensions between journalists and politicians by reliving more consequential moments in the history of Irish television.

 

Power on the Box screened on 17th November 2016

The Cork Film Festival 2016 runs 11 – 20 November

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Review of Irish Film @ Cork Film Festival: A Dark Song

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Loretta Goff is haunted by the lingering horrors of Liam Gavin’s A Dark Song

Trapped by her grief and guilt after the loss of her young son, Jack, Sophia Howard (Catherine Walker) leases a remote country estate in Wales and hires Joseph Solomom (Steve Oram), an occultist with his own troubles, to perform an Abramelin invocation, ostensibly to speak to her son again. It is through a blurring of her grief, grounded in reality, and the occult, which is unknown, otherworldly and risky, that the atmospheric horror of A Dark Song slowly builds.

Rather than jumping immediately into horror territory, Irish writer-director Liam Gavin gives proper attention to the process of the ritual, which takes a minimum of six months. Gavin’s measured approach allows us to fully realise Sophia’s determination and feel her sorrow as we see her endlessly write scriptures, and repeatedly face sleep and food deprivation, spirit and body purification, and blood and sex ritual in order to break down the boundaries between her world and the next. Throughout these scenes a sense of unease and discomfort pervades, assisted by a strong soundtrack, but there are no real scares. Instead, the first two thirds of the film follows a more figurative haunting of Sophia by the murder of her son and her struggle to cope with it, linking this to an anticipated haunting of the house as part of the ritual, which is hinted at by unexplained sounds and the disappearance and reappearance of Jack’s old toy.

The tension of the first two thirds of the film is drawn from the oscillating relationship between Sophia and Joseph and the shifting balance between the known and unknown. Once the house is sealed at the start of the ritual, they cannot safely leave its confines until the invocation is finished many months later. Joseph warns that now “everything has consequences”. Sophia must follow all of Joseph’s rules very closely and trust him with both her life and the outcome of the ritual, just as he must trust that she is truthful about her intent and process. However, as the house becomes more isolating and incarcerating (shades are often drawn and we no longer see the expansive sky highlighted in the opening scenes of the film), and the invocation appears to repeatedly fail, the two lash out at one another with distrust and unconfined emotion, revealing deceptions and darker motivations. Excellent performances by Walker and Oram throughout the film successfully add its the dramatic, serious tone.

The traditional horror moments of the film may feel a bit short, only fully occurring in the final third of the film when the ritual finally succeeds and we feel the ultimate danger of the occult (with otherworldly figures and noises in full force), and the film’s ending may surprise horror fans. However, this film does not feel bound by the traditions of the genre, instead choosing to make us ponder moral and religious questions while taking a close look at the power of grief and its drastic effects on us. Rather than relying on spontaneous shocks, the horror of A Dark Song instead lingers with you. Ultimately, the film is a strong feature debut from Gavin and hints at a promising future for the director.

 

A Dark Song screened on 15th November at the Cork Film Festival 2016

 

 

The Cork Film Festival 2016 runs 11 – 20 November

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Review of Irish Film @ Cork Film Festival: In View

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Daniel Lynch takes a look at Ciarán Creagh’s In View, the latest offering to a much needed public discourse on Ireland’s suicide epidemic. 

Ciarán Creagh’s In View reminds me of an essay from my undergraduate years, ‘Suicide is neither rational nor irrational’. We are offered the sobering alcoholic contemplations of the viewpoint of a singular character who struggles with suicidal thoughts after suffering loss and harbouring massive residual guilt. Caoilfhionn Dunne as Ruth carries the film, and to paraphrase the director, without her immense performance the film wouldn’t work. It seems hard to fathom the Love/Hate star was drafted in as a late replacement.

During a questions and answers session, Creagh revealed In View suffered a directorial script massacre, whereby he cut mountains of dialogue and pages from the first draft. These edits clearly paid off however, as the film has air between the scenes and is allowed to breath. When Ruth says something you can be sure it has meaning and power. There is no trivial dialogue, if there is dialogue at all in a given scene.

As the title suggest, we view the world through Ruth’s eyes, myopic and ever reflexive. Windows, doors and even creative use of trees frame Ruth as constantly on the outside looking in, always unsure of her place, even if she wants to be there. The most powerful scene in the movie takes place in a suicide-support group where Ruth is faced with her own reality through another person. Magella’s (Joe Mullins) speech about how he lost his family to infidelity resonates bitterly for Ruth and her transfixed stare speaks volumes.

A strong Irish cast holds the film together, including Stuart Graham as Donny, who provides a father figure for Ruth when others have abandoned her. Initially, Ruth wasn’t written as a woman at all, and the masculine facade of the main character permeates the entire movie. Ruth drinks pints with the boys and tells crass jokes, almost seeks physical confrontation and lacks anything that might be termed feminine charm. The character works immensely more powerfully as a woman however, and the change was a wise one.

Is suicide rational or irrational? In View is the latest offering to a much needed public discourse on Ireland’s suicide epidemic. We cannot assume to understand the pain and suffering of those who contemplate their premature demise. Creagh has offered an important Irish film that deals masterfully with a topic of urgent concern. Cork Film Festival would be well served with more work from Ciarán Creagh.

 

In View screened on 12th November @ 6.30pm at the Cork Film Festival 2016

 

 

Cork Film Festival 2016 runs 11 – 20 November

 

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