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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