Review: Spy

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DIR/WRI:  Paul Feig •  PRO: Peter Chernin, Paul Feig, Jessie Henderson, Jenno Topping • DOP: Robert D. Yeoman • ED: Mellissa Bretherton • MUS: Theodore Shapiro • DES: Jefferson Sage • CAST: Melissa McCarthy, Miranda Hart, Rose Byrne, Jason Statham, Jude Law, Allison Janney, Bobby Cannavale

 

When super-suave agent Bradley Fine (Jude Law) is killed by the fabulously-quiffed Raina Boyanov (Rose Byrne), his CIA desk jockey handler Susan Cooper (Melissa McCarthy) is devastated. Worse than that, now there’s a nuclear bomb available to any dastardly buyer, and Cooper begs Chief Crocker (Allison Janney) for a chance to finally get out in the field and do some real spying-type stuff.

Agent Rick Ford (Jason Statham) laughs off that idea – he wants to go in with all guns blazing – but this requires a light touch, and he’s too OTT. When he storms out, the Chief has no choice but to – reluctantly – give the nod to Susan. Finally she’s going undercover!

Quick as a flash – well, after getting her underwhelming super spy “weapon” – Susan has said goodbye to her BFF and fellow agent Nancy (Miranda Hart) and is on the way to Budapest, slipping into her first hideous cat women/single-for-life frumpy middle-America lady tourist disguise.

Ford is there too – he’s gone rogue – and now Susan has to deal with him and try not to blow her cover (or make too many mistakes). She manages to infiltrate Raina’s inner circle, but then things start to get really dangerous: can Susan and her friends save the world (and finally get a decent haircut and frock to stop Raina’s bitchy comments?).

Written and directed by Feig, Spy reunites him again with his Bridesmaids and Heat star McCarthy, who was wobbling a bit after the relative failure of Tammy, which was the first film where she was the only name on the poster.

Perhaps taking note of this, Feig does the unusual for this kind of film; he beefs up the supporting cast and actually gives them something to do. Apparently a huge fan of English TV star Miranda Hart (an unknown in the USA), Feig gives her a funny and meaty role, and she almost steals the film from McCarthy at times; they’re like a kind of female Laurel and Hardy.

The rest of the supporting cast – Statham, Law, Byrne and another British comedian Peter Serafinowicz, playing an amorously cheesy Italian agent – get plenty to do as well, and because they’re all totally up for a laugh, the combination effect works really well and makes McCarthy shine a little more.

There are plenty of laughs to be had, and with smart direction (we’re in Bond territory here of course, but there are chases and knife fights alongside blood, vomit and plenty of f-bombs – Americans love to hear English people swear), this is likely to set off a sequel or two…

James Bartlett

15A (See IFCO for details)
119 minutes

Spy is released 5th June 2015

Spy – Official Website

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Cinema Review: Bad Neighbours

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DIR: Nicholas Stoller  • WRIAndrew J. Cohen,  Brendan O’Brian PRO: Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen, James Weaver • DOP: Brandon Trost • ED: Zene Baker • MUS: Michael Andrews • DES: Julie Berghoff • CAST: Seth Rogen, Zac Efron, Rose Byrne, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Dave Franco, Lisa Kudrow

 

Trading in America under the simpler (if misspelt) moniker of Neighbors, this sporadic scatological comedy has had ‘Bad’ grafted onto it’s title in this territory. Probably for fear we mistake it for a feature-length take on TV’s Ramsey Street and its soapy residents.

This venture is set in an American college town where human Fozzie Bear Seth Rogen has improbably settled down with Australian goddess Rose Byrne. (She probably was the first to alert the producers to the title clash in her homeland). For once employing her native accent on-screen, Byrne is a foul-mouth delight throughout and sets the comedic bar for the rest of the cast. Sadly the remainder of the ensemble treat the bar as something to limbo underneath rather than something to vault over.

Rogen is quickly becoming comedy Marmite. His habit of yukking it up at his own jokes seems to be a reflex that he can’t shed. But surely a director and editor working in tandem could literally cut it out. Or cut it down a bit at the very least. Anyhow, for reasons too simple to not outline, a university fraternity moves in beside the couple in their tranquil suburban neighbourhood. Initially, the pair displays an odd, yet understandable, impulse to not be regarded as old and unhip by the teen army on their doorstep.

However, despite sampling the frat’s hospitality to the full, the home owners quickly tire of the incessant raves and ragers next door. When they breach a pact not to call the police, the leaders of the frat (Zac Efron and James Franco) seem both wounded and wound up by the betrayal. Soon open war has been declared with the students investing immense time, expense and effort into ever more elaborate pranks. While Rogen and Byrne’s characters consider minting a brand new definition for the word ‘fratricide’.

Or at least that last paragraph suggests what the pitch for this film must have promised. In truth, the escalation of hostilities is handled poorly enough. It’s all a bit spluttering and unsure of itself. One recurring gag about redeployed air bags was given away entirely in the trailer and limps to an uninspired conclusion rather than a comic crescendo.

Elsewhere the entire project smacks of a feature that never had its script nailed down and wanted to allow room for the performers to find the ‘gold’ on the day. Naturally, actors must love the exploration and spontaneity allowed under this method of work but increasingly it strikes me that audiences are getting a bit short-changed in this process. For the most part, comedy should be tight as a drum. Not meandering and poking around in search of the joke. And it must be placing a huge onus on editors to retroactively re-align story and character within the flux of this framework.

And here it shows. For instance, Byrne’s best pal apparently begins a mildly inappropriate relationship with a male student but it is so absent in the story that a late reference to its’ importance is utterly lost. Overall, Christopher Mintz-Plasse is featured so rarely that his absence or presence here is redundant.

Still, American high-school movies have always possessed the ability to depict parties on an epic scale that can only make Irish filmmakers drool in envy. Most Irish house parties on screen usually consist of three extras doing laps around a lava lamp. However, even in the hedonistic stakes Bad Neighbours is a bit tame. Again, the sense that more explicit material will be added in future released versions is omnipresent. You can already see the ads for the DVD having ‘a too hot for cinema’ edit with an extra ten minutes restored.

As it stands, the film is far from a dead loss and there are some great one-liners strung across the film like islands in an archipelago. In the end though, Bad Neighbours isn’t bad enough. Or offensive enough. And personally, I’m a little offended by that.

James Phelan

16 (See IFCO for details)
96 mins

Bad Neighbours is released on 2nd May 2014

Bad Neighbours – Official Website

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A review of ‘Risk’ by award-winning Youth Theatre Company

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Rose Byrne reviews Risk by award winning Youth Theatre Company.

Award winning Roscommon County Youth Theatre captivated their audiences with their production of Risk written by John Retallack and directed by Catherine Sheridan, on Thursday 30th and Friday 31st of January. It was the premiere of the play in Ireland.

I was fortunate to be able to attend both performances. Each night, the audience were glued to their seats with the cast’s convincing portrayal of their characters. The play is based on true life stories from teenagers at risk.  As such, the play was told through five main characters in a series of monologues. Arron Byrne played “Paul” the gambler, Molly Mew played “Michelle” the fighter, Ronan Kearney played “Martin,” the prisoner, Gabia Neverauskaite played “Ann-Marie” the opponent and Michael Foley played “Ed” the rebel. All five actors excelled in their convincing performance of the reality facing teenagers in today’s society.  They each brought us on their journey of risk taking, their reasons for taking such big risks and what they learned about themselves.  Although the play was originally performed with a cast of five, this production had an ensemble cast of twenty. The director brilliantly interspersed the monologues with other cast members injecting “risks” involved throughout a young person’s life.

Throughout the play, there was an exciting mix of dance, narrative, text and multi-media. There were two strong solo performances from Enya Reilly and Katie Kelly in dance and song.  The sequences the cast performed were amazing and they were all in perfect unison.  As one audience member remarked, “It was like they were one body,” such was the perfection of their moves. It was clear to see the talent, dedication and commitment of these young actors ranging in ages from fourteen to eighteen and the strong bond that exists between them. The set was simple, the exceptional lighting added to the mood as did the music, which was played by Rudhan Mew, who did an excellent job.

As another audience member, a secondary school teacher remarked, “The play was very relevant to teenagers today. It showed what’s going on for a lot of them. Every school should see it.”  Indeed, young and old alike got something from the play. Some were reminded of their own teenage years, while others said, “This really gives me an insight into young people’s lives today.”  Certainly the play contains a message, but the characters simply tell their story, giving the audience a glimpse into their lives. It also gives a message to teenagers that there is a way out of problems they might be facing.  It was such an innovative production, with superb performances, it left a lasting impression with the audience long after they left the theatre.

Michelle Carew, Director, The National Association for Youth Drama, who attended Friday night’s performance, had this to say:

“It was a pleasure to see Roscommon County Youth Theatre exemplify all that is best in youth drama with their recent production of Risk at Roscommon Arts Centre. A strong ensemble of committed young performers, high production values, inventiveness and a real relevance to young people’s lives characterised the experience. Much as the title suggests, every member of the cast was challenged to take risks as performers and each had the opportunity to express their individual talent within the supportive structure of a tight-knit and dynamic group of peers. The results of regular participation in drama workshops led by director Catherine Sheridan could be felt throughout the production, reminding the audience of the hard work and dedication that underpins the work that reaches the stage. Well done to all the members and team at RCYT and well done too to Roscommon County Council for ensuring the continued availability of youth theatre in Roscommon.”

Roscommon County Youth Theatre are happy to announce they will be accepting new members February 15th 10am-12pm at Roscommon Art Centre. YOU MUST REGISTER prior to this at 9.30am. This will be first come basis. Reserve your place now by contacting 086 874 7024086 874 7024.

Members must be 14-22 and show a keen interest & commitment to theatre. Workshops will run weekly Saturday mornings from 10am-12 p.m at Roscommon Arts Centre. This will be led by Artistic Director of the company Catherine Sheridan & many guest tutors from leading theatre & film industry.
Special Thanks to: Parents, Members, Audience, Roscommon County Council, Roscommon Arts Centre, Brain Farrell Photography, Roscommon Herald and Roscommon People.”  Catherine Sheridan.

Photos:            Brain Farrell.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Award-Winning Youth Theatre bring latest production ‘Risk’ to Roscommon Arts Centre

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Photo by Brian Farrell

 

Rose Byrne takes a the look at award-winning Roscommon County Youth Theatre, who are once again bringing a brand new show to Roscommon Arts Centre on the 30th and 31st of January. 

This year’s production, Risk, written by John Retallack and directed by Catherine Sheridan is an exciting mix of dance, narrative and text. What makes this play different though, is it doesn’t just come from the writer’s imagination. John Retallack, devised the play after working with teenagers at risk on a series of workshops. It gives a voice to these young people, lets us see what they really have to deal with, not just the usual perceptions one might hold about stroppy, typical or violent teenagers. But as the writer himself said in Coffee-Table Notes, speaking to arts writer Neil Cooper, “Characters have been condensed and there is no one person identifiable, but its’ all come out of stories we’ve been told.”

The stories unfold through a series of monologues from five main characters. They each bring us on their own personal journey of what leads them into taking such big risks. Michael Foley, who plays Ed the rebel, remarked, “I think this play is an opportunity to showcase the extremes that some teenagers are pushed to and how they deal with these situations.”
 
Surprisingly, they come to learn a lot about themselves through the risks they take. Eventually, they are all faced with life changing decisions. Arron Byrne, who plays Paul, the gambler, said, “I see this play as a perfect way of showing parents the difficulties teenagers can be faced with on a daily basis. It also gives hope to teenagers that face these challenges, they’re not alone and there is a way out.”

This production is very much an ensemble piece with a cast of eighteen members of RCYT who are all looking forward to portraying the character’s stories. Molly Mew, who plays Michelle, the fighter, said, “Playing Michelle is a challenge because she is such a broad character. However, youth theatre has taught me how to portray the emotions the character experiences.” Ronan Kearney who plays Martin, the prisoner, said, “The audience can expect to see the concept of taking a risk in a new light and discover what risk means to different people, sometimes with humorous consequences.” Gabia Neverauskaite, who plays Ann-Marie, the opponent added, “I found doing the play through monologue was challenging, however, I really enjoyed playing such a complex role.”

With several highly acclaimed productions performed over thirteen years, with plays such as, The Crucible, Chatroom, The Railway Children, and The Roses of Eyam to name but a few, the audience can look forward to another exciting, fresh and vibrant show from RCYT. As always, the cast and their director have approached this play with the same level of professionalism and passion we have come to expect from this very talented youth group. This new show, Risk, is a must see for teenagers and adults alike, the story is thought provoking, humorous and surprising. No doubt, this is a show that will stay with the audience long after they have left the theatre.

Tickets for Risk are on sale now at Roscommon Arts Centre and can be purchased online or by calling (090) 6625824. The performances take place on Thursday, 30th and Friday, the 31st of January. Concession prices for schools, youth groups and community groups are €7 if you quote “I’ll never be bullied again” when booking and all other tickets at concession prices of €10 if you quote “Hello, Mister Fridge.”

RCYT are supported by Roscommon County Council and the Arts Council / An Chomhairle Ealaíon.

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Cinema Review: Insidious: Chapter 2

 

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DIR: James Wan  WRI: Leigh Whannell • PRO: Jason Blum, Oren Peli • DOP: John R. Leonetti • ED: Kirk M. Morri • DES: Jennifer Spence • Cast: Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Barbara Hershey, Lin Shaye

 

I understand the commercial logic of the genre classification system but if ever a film suffered economically because of its label the ‘horror’ is the one.  The French label of ‘fantastique’ for films about the supernatural world is much more appealing to the sophisticated audience amongst us.

Anyway, Insidious: Chapter 2,while very much being a commercial product of the capitalist cinema machine, becomes much more interesting when reading it as a metaphor for, and a place to escape from, the horror of today’s recession-riddled patriarchal society.  And if you know enough ‘horror’ films you’ll find its intertextuality clever and entertaining.

The film begins where Chapter 1 ended.  Renai returning to find the dead body of Elise Rainier in her living room and Josh gone.  It quickly brings those who don’t remember – or haven’t seen Chapter 1 – up to speed by cutting to Renai being interviewed by the police.  Renai played by Rose Byrne, who I know as Ellen Parsons, the brilliant legal protégé of Patty Hughes (Glenn Close) in the TV series Damages, and so have no problem believing her version of events.  She explains how her son Dalton was in a coma as a result of getting lost while astral travelling so the family engaged the services of Elise to help bring him back.  Josh Lambert, Dalton’s father, possesses the same gift for astral travelling and agreed to go to the other world, The Further, to try and find him.  He succeeded and they returned to the family home.  Renai left Josh with Elise to take care of the children, when she returned she discovered Elise dead and Josh no longer in the room.

The policeman, firmly grounded in the present, asks Renai if she believes what she is saying .  He clearly doesn’t and thinks Josh killed Elise, he tells Renai that he will be back in touch when he gets the results of the DNA tests.

Against the genre grain, and just as I was seeing the haunted house as a metaphor for pyrite damage and negative equity, believing the house to be haunted, the family move  to the safety of Josh’s mother’s house.  But the fear follows.  This horror films monster comes not from the house but from within the family itself.  The traditional family unit,  monster breeding ground of the patriarchal system.

But fear not, as per its genre requirements, the film journeys with the aid of ‘Ghostbusters’, parasites, the castrated man et al towards its ending, restoring the audience’s faith in the system allowing them to leave the cinema fears released and re-repressed.  Or does it?

Without spoiling the plot the film actually concludes with perhaps a sense of hope for the future in the feminine.  The film is only 105 minutes but feels longer, dragging a bit after the hour mark, when the ghost busting troupe get tangled up before they manage to infiltrate the zone of ‘The Further’.  That said it is for the most part gripping and much to my relief, with fear of ‘horror’, I only screamed once and actually enjoyed the film.

Susan Leahy


15A (See IFCO for details)

105 mins
Insidious: Chapter 2 is released on 13th September 2013

Insidious: Chapter 2 – Official Website

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Cinema Review: I Give It a Year

 

DIR/WRI: Dan Mazer PRO: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Kris
Thykier DOP: Ben Davis ED: Tony Cranstoun DES: Simon Elliott Cast:
Rafe Spall, Rose Byrne, Anna Faris, Simon Baker, Jason Flemyng, Olivia
Colman, Stephen Merchant, Minnie Driver

A frequent collaborator of Sacha Baron Cohen (who can currently be
seen flexing his musical muscles in the awards-laden Les Miserables),
Dan Mazer forged his reputation as a producer/writer in both
television and film, with his crowning moment to date being his
Oscar-nominated work on the screenplay for Borat: Cultural Learnings
of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, which went
down a storm upon its release Stateside.

He has previously worked on the small screen as a director of certain
segments of Da Ali G Show, as well as the Zach Galifianakis-starring
Dog Bites Man, but I Give It a Year marks his first foray into silver
screen helming.

Featuring an instantly recognisable cast of British and overseas
talent, I Give It a Year focuses on Rafe Spall and Rose Byrne’s
newlywed couple, who find themselves in a real bind just nine months
into their marriage. Mostly told in a series of flashbacks with Olivia
Colman’s marital counselor, we witness the ups and downs of this
initially happy union, and how they are affected by their specific
circumstances.

On hand to complicate the equation are Spall’s former flame Anna
Faris, who has returned from her charitable endeavours overseas, and
the roguishly charming Simon Baker, who is more than willing to mix
business with pleasure in his dealings with Byrne.

Aiming to become a breakaway British comedy success, like Bridget
Jones’s Diary and Four Weddings and a Funeral before it, I Give It a
Year is a somewhat uneven comedy, which sometimes tries too hard to
keep the laughter ratio on the right track, but nevertheless has
enough moments to sustain its relatively slender running time.

Key to the film’s sustainability are some fine supporting performances
from reliable faces like Jason Flemyng, Stephen Merchant and Minnie
Driver, the latter of whom is enjoying a mini-revival on the strength
of roles in the Conviction, Barney’s Version and the underrated Hunky
Dory.

Her part is that of the bride’s best friend, which so often comes
across as stereotypical or caricatured, but thanks to the chemistry
between Driver and on-screen husband Flemyng, she helps to conjure up
some of the film’s biggest laughs.

Merchant is also entertaining, if a little underused (much like The
Farrelly Brothers’ Hall Pass) as Spall’s best man, while Colman
displays the comic chops that she honed in Hot Fuzz and Peep Show
before winning widespread acclaim for her extraordinary performance in
Paddy Considine’s Tyrannosaur.

In terms of the four-way romance at the heart of the film, the
Spall-Faris thread is more effective, as it is easier to symphatise
with with the husband’s predicament, given the warm history that he
shares with his former partner. Byrne, who showed in Get Him to the
Greek and Bridesmaids that she can be a dab hand at comedy, suffers
more when it comes to characterisation, though she does her level best
to make it work, as does Baker, her fellow Aussie co-star.

Spall, who is starting to step away from the shadow of his
highly-respected father Timothy, is a very engaging male lead, while
Faris (who is so often let down by the script in her chosen projects)
is as likeable as ever.

A neat twist on the standard rom-com finale aside, there is little
here that you won’t have seen before, and the jokes are quite often
‘hit and miss’, but Mazer’s film has more than enough going for it to
keep audiences onside.

Daire Walsh

16 (see IFCO website for details)

97 mins

I Give It a Year is released on 8th February 2013

I Give It a Year – Official Website

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Interview: Writer/Director Johnny Gogan

(Black Ice)

Filmmaker Johnny Gogan talks to Rose Byrne about his journey into filmmaking since being the founding editor of Film Ireland or Filmbase News as it was known twenty five years ago in 1987.

Johnny has written and directed fifteen films to date including shorts, documentaries and features. He has been involved in a number of projects promoting the film industry over the years. His latest venture with Sleeping Warrior Productions has seen the recent launch of Studio North West T.V, an on line channel. His latest feature Black Ice is due for release in early 2013.

You were the founding editor of Film Ireland or Filmbase News as it was known in 1987. How did that come about?

I returned to Dublin from working as a journalist in South America early in 1987. The three tenets of Filmbase were equipment, training, and information. Filmbase members had agreed they needed a newsletter as a means of addressing the information issue. I always thought there was space for a film magazine in Ireland. Up to that point there hadn’t been a consistent magazine.

I was working with Mike Collins on the early issues and ironically the first thing we had to report was the abolition of the Film Board. Some people might have questioned the magazine’s timing in the light of that but in a way, we were bearing witness to the biggest event in Irish film and keeping the magazine was an act of faith on the future that many of us could see for filmmaking in the country.

Anyway it became apparent after the first three issues this was more than a newsletter. It was the genesis of a film magazine for film practitioners. We attempted to tread a line between the necessity of people in filmmaking to have information while in time developing a critical angle on the film industry in Ireland.  It became a good means of creating awareness of the lack of a film policy in Ireland. There were a lot of good ideas coming out of Filmbase at the time.  The magazine was a good way of transmitting these ideas to the wider industry and public.

You were editor for three years. How and when did you get into filmmaking?

I start attending training courses in Filmbase making a transition from journalism. Within a few years I had written some scripts and made my first short Stephen in 1990. It was one of the early Filmbase Shorts. It worked really well for me and did well in the festivals and was widely broadcast.  Quite memorably it was released along with Jane Campion’s first feature Sweetie which had a cinema release in Ireland. That was a great boost for Stephen and was really my starting point.

You set up Bandit Films in 1989 to make your first short Stephen. Did you find it necessary to set up a company  or was it something you wanted to do anyway?

I was creating an umbrella with Paul Donovan. We started to produce Stephen but Paul had to go to Australia so it didn’t work out at that time. However I liked the idea of an entity and not just me as a sole operator.  When Paul returned we moved on and worked on The Last Bus Home. Meanwhile I had done a film called The Bargain Shop for ZDF/ARTE and RTÉ. To do that production I did need a functioning limited company and I’ve managed to keep one operating since then.

So did having your own company give you more control?

Well it did but it shouldn’t have to be the way. It’s quite tiresome maintaining a company. There are a lot of administrative aspects to it. Though it has made increasing sense and it was a good exercise. I and Paul then formed Bandit Films Ltd.

What was your short film Stephen about?

It was about a young unemployed Dubliner who was very taken with the victory of Stephen Roche in the Tour de France. So much so, that he takes his eye off the road while on his bike and crashes. While unconscious he dreams he is a great national hero. Really the film was a play on Dublin being a depressed place at that time.  The victory of Stephen Roche was a national event and it captured people’s imagination similar to the national football team in the Euros in 1988.

Sport helped us transcend the reality we were stuck in at that time. The film was an ironic take on that.  The narrative was non-linear and the character never speaks.  People who saw it a few times said they got more from it each time. It was unconventional and low budget. It was broadcast around four times on RTÉ.  It won Best Film award at the Galway Film Fleadh in 1990.

(The Bargain Shop)

You already mentioned The Bargain Shop a film you wrote and directed in 1993. Your company was the first in Ireland to produce a commissioned drama for German T.V with The Bargain Shop. How did that come about?

Well there’s some interesting strands in my family background. My father worked in Germany in the late 1970s and my grandfather had a strong connection with pre-war Germany in the thirties which I subsequently made a documentary about.

My sister Jane Gogan had done the EAVE producers training programme and was working with me as executive producer on The Bargain Shop. She suggested to me to try ZDF/ARTE in Mainz. I was at a film festival in Hamburg with my short Stephen and on the back of that went to Mainz  to meet someone about The Bargain Shop. I had phoned ahead but when I got there she said she couldn’t see me. I explained I had travelled all this way and was there anyone else I could talk to. She went off to get someone while I anxiously paced the corridors.  Eventually I met Claudia Tronnier who later became commissioning editor for the film. Later my first feature The Last Bus Home was commissioned by public television W.D.R and my film Mapmaker by Z.D.F/ARTE.

You wrote The Bargain Shop before Stephen. What was it about?

I suppose it was a film with a lot to say for itself. It had a more conventional narrative than Stephen.  If you think of where we are now in terms of the economy it was a kind of allegory for the busted economy and the corrupt Ireland I saw in the late Eighties and early Nineties. What it had to say for itself was very enduring. In many ways, aesthetically it was a backwards step but in terms of taking on the bigger story form it was a forward step. It lacked some of the lightness of touch that Stephen had, perhaps because the script was an earlier work. Corruption was very difficult to talk about in Ireland at that time. Certainly in a journalistic sense criticism was heavily put down. The film was a way of talking about corruption, saying in fiction what a lot of people saw to be true. It was also a chance to work with a feature-like plot and narrative albeit in a one hour format. It meant I wasn’t going straight from short film to feature length. The Bargain Shop and Stephen were complementary works and led to my first feature The Last Bus Home.

So Stephen was a good calling card for you?

Yeah. A lot of people were fond of that film. It was ambitious at the time. Filmmaking was at its infancy and a lot of films weren’t being made. I had a lot of very good encouragement, Tiernan McBride andPat Murphy who were active in Filmbase. It was part of the spirit of Filmbase. They had a good connection with the next generation of filmmakers. It’s so important to have a sense of mentorship.

Where did you get  the idea for your first feature The Last Bus Home which you wrote and directed in 1997?

For myself and producer Paul Donovan It was very much our era in music. We both could identify with punk music.  The Punk (and subsequent New Wave) era was seminal even though it ended with the collapse of the Irish economy in early 1980s. It was like a small revolution that failed.

I wanted to tell that story as by the mid-nineties we were coming out of that period of stagnation.  In the early nineties there were two kinds of revisionism, the national question and we were a deeply conservative country that was becoming liberal. This was being achieved by the liberal agenda that Mary Robinson’s election represented.  That was partly true, but I felt it was a struggle that was going on before that.  There were various highs and troughs in that battle and one of the critical eras were the late seventies. It was happening in subcultures, but subcultures are very important for the revitalisation of a society.

The film was about a microcosm of that subculture and how these kinds of moments of extreme intense experience even though they fail, have reverberations through a society and have future meaning. The coda of the film takes place ten years later in the early nineties with the decriminalisation of homosexuality.   I was trying to connect what happened in the nineties with what happened in the late seventies.

Most filmmakers in Ireland would see Dublin or the larger cities like Cork or Galway as the best locations to further their career. Yet you moved to Leitrim in a gamble that seems to have paid off. Were you worried about your career when you moved?

I never really thought of myself as having a career. I know some people looked at me and said, “Uh, he’s on a career path” (laughs) I had made three urban films and I needed to revise what I had to say. I had lived in Dublin fifteen years and things were changing. By the late nineties the arts was becoming more corporate and the city was losing some of the village atmosphere I had enjoyed. So I decided to up sticks and move. I had this project Mapmaker and felt if I moved to a rural area essentially where the film was being made it would improve. It was either move abroad or further into Ireland away from boom time values that were becoming prevalent then.  It was just time for me to move on. I haven’t looked back and it’s been a really good period.

It was in the light of that move that I surrendered my role in Bandit Films Ltd which paved the way for Michael Garland to join the company and for the renaming of the company I had set up with Paul Donovan to Grand Pictures.

What was the first screenplay you ever read?

It was by American filmmaker John Sayles. The screenplay was called Matewan.

What filmmakers do you admire?

I’m really taken with Sayles work and am very influenced by his work. I’m a big fan of Pedro Armodovar.  Also Ken Loach and Irish filmmaker Joe Comerford.

What’s your favourite role, writer or director?

I would say director. I have benefited greatly from co-writing collaborations. I’ve worked with Joe O Byrne a lot. If I had been more career-minded I would have done more directing. Having taken this path of writer/director though it’s meant I got to do the films I wanted to make.

(Black Ice)

So is it fair to say when you started out you weren’t thinking of becoming a filmmaker for the rest of your life?

That’s true, I’ve always seen it as part of a mix of things, I’ve been involved with journalism, politics, even stood for election a few times with no success. At the moment I’m involved with the fracking issue in the North West. My involvement in the fracking issue arose out of my interest in film. A film called Gaslands had been made in the States. I took it on the road with the mobile cinema I’ve been involved with. It was a good way of raising the debate.

You’re very active in the film community. You created the Adaptation Film Festival in Dromahair, Co. Leitrim in 2005. Where did you get this idea from and what did you hope to achieve?

I was  involved in the hand over of the mobile cinema from Leitrim County Council to independent stewardship and was looking for new ways to use the cinema. I had attended workshops with screenwriter and educator Stephen Cleary. I learned on that course that fifty to seventy percent of screenworks were adaptations. I thought about the strong literary tradition in Ireland. We looked at writers whose work had been adapted already in Ireland. We decided on John McGahern as our first subject.

Working with the Irish Film Archive we found eight films, two of which had not been seen since first broadcast in the early eighties. We were acknowledging the contributions these writers had made to television drama and cinema.

Significantly John Mc Gahern died the year after, so it was good to have done his work. We also archived all the films.  I’m no longer involved and the festival has branched out into international writers which is exciting, so I think it is a festival that has legs.

It must have been beneficial to the wider community. Has it grown in success?

Yeah, Cinema North West has grown into an organisation that is an exhibiter of good quality films and they provide training, including in screenwriting for the north west and the wider community nationally. It provides a strong focus for the film community. We’re geographically dispersed so it’s great to have ways of crossing paths and the mobile cinema provides that.

You recently stepped down as chair of Cinema North West, how and when was this project started?

It started as Leitrim Mobile Cinema in 2001. I joined the board in 2004. We rebranded it as CinemaNorth West in 2007. I had left the board but when the financial crisis hit Leitrim and Sligo County Council wanted to pull out. I came back in to work with the Board again to establish an independent company. It worked out, we traded out of the red for a while then the International Funds for Ireland came in which allowed us to hire a full time director Colin McKeown. We’re on a pretty sound footing now, so it was a good time to leave. I have a three year rule with organisations that I tend to stick to. Things should be moving after three years. For the organisation you don’t want the it becoming too associated with one individual. It frees you up to go on and do other things and it’s healthy for the organisation too. That’s the position I am taking with my current role on the Film Board too.

You were appointed in 2009 by Minister for Arts to the board of the Irish Film Board. As the only member outside Dublin, does living and working in a rural setting have any advantages such as highlighting the needs of the film community in the North West?

The board already has a regional dimension to it with an office in Galway. I suppose people’s understanding of regional policy is largely about companies coming in from Dublin and shooting films in rural areas. I would make the analogy with regional theatre: in the early eighties we understood regional theatre to be companies such as the Gate and the Abbey touring Ireland with their shows.

In the mid to late eighties a whole range of regional theatre companies started up all over Ireland, Red Kettle, Blue Raincoat, Field Day, Druid etc. These are strong examples now of regional theatre companies who have had a big impact not just nationally but internationally. My argument is we can develop film and digital media in the regions in the same way given the technological changes taking place. The prevailing model for film we’re working off is still the 20th century model. We still have to find a model for the 21st century. Regional development is a key part in developing  film and digital media in the next ten years. Regional Policy is part of what I do on the Film Board but there’s more to it than that. Apart from my involvement in the Irish Film Board, I have tried to be active in the region and develop the sector.

You are a member of Studio North West, a forum for filmmakers and practitioners based in the North West. You have recently launched Studio North West T.V channel. What’s your involvement in this?

Early in 2011 I commissioned a feasibility study into the film sector in the North West. I also looked at how we might benefit from incoming productions. When the study was completed by Oonagh Monahan I circulated it to as many people as I could who I knew were active in the region. Cinema North West called a meeting in February 2011 and the Forum has been meeting regularly since then. There was debate about how to proceed; some people felt it was too soon to cluster. I accepted that but had to follow my own instincts.

I pushed along with the idea of clustering and along with Patrick O’Rourke of Sleeping Warrior Productions set up Studio North West T.V. which is an online channel. It’s an outlet for the work already produced here most of which has not been previously broadcast. It’s also a way of generating new work. My hope is Studio North West T.V can assist in increasing the output of the sector in the region. It’s also about building people’s confidence.

It’s a great incentive for filmmakers and writers in the area. They’ll now have an outlet for their work.

Exactly it’s a way for them to say “O.k. we can develop a short drama or a short documentary series for the web”. I think it’s a great opportunity and though developed through my own company it’s not about having control. I hope people can see they have their independence while getting their work out there.

(Astray)

Can you tell us a bit about your documentary “Homeland” shown on T.G.4?

The film is about emigrants and immigrants in Leitrim. It’s a small place and the people have an amazing openness about them. I believe it’s because they feel the benefits of people moving in boosting the population. Also, a lot of Leitrim people lived abroad from necessity and experienced a wider world.  It’s an openness you don’t find in the richer counties and its one of the reasons I like living here. Homeland is about a mixture of people who lived abroad and how that experience formed their lives when they returned; it is also about people who weren’t born here like myself but decided to make it their home.

Your latest film Black Ice is due for release in early 2013 and was filmed in Leitrim and Sligo and co-written with Brian Leyden. What inspired you to make this film?

I’m fascinated with cars and the way people can get into a car and cut themselves off from the rest of the world.  There’s a phenomenon in rural areas of young men in particular jumping into cars and losing the plot. This is really strong in border counties because the border roads are like No Man’s Land in terms of the law. It makes them a choice location for this wild driving.

I approached Brian Leyden with an outline for the story. He was writing a book about suicidal behaviour in young men. He had a good insight into what’s going on behind boy racing. We worked really well together. I’ve been lucky in collaboration. It’s a very layered story with layered meanings.

So with Black Ice you proved your point, you can make films in the North West?

Yeah, I think so, though it was challenging but we hope to do it again. I can say to myself now I’m not waiting another ten years to make a feature. We’ve found a model that works and I hope to do another one that way in the next two to three years.  We had a great cast and the film has a youthful energy about it. Killian Scott from Love/Hate, new comers Jane McGrath and Dermot Murphy. We also had a fine cast of the older generation if you like, such as Donal Kelly, writer Michael Harding, Deirdre O‘Meara, Marian Quinn and Conor McDermottroe.

It was great to work with Peter Martin the young camera man who shot my short film Astray and who, among others of the crew, I met through the Studio North West Forum. I really wanted to work with that crew again. Nicky Gogan and Trevor Curran from Still Films in Dublin came in to provide logistical support to the production. Nicky was also very engaged with the development of the script.

What’s your next project?

Getting Studio North West tv on a sounder footing. I’m also looking at the short film Astray and thinking of adapting it into a longer work. Based on a Seamus Heaney text, it’s a story definitely worthy of a longer film.

Well Johnny you certainly packed a lot into the last twenty five years. What advice have you got for filmmakers and writers trying to break into the business?

I think collaboration is very important, as it’s a collaborative medium. It’s great to get good mentorship as well. I know I benefited from more experienced people who were  generous enough to share their experience. Filmbase provided that kind of nurturing environment. I’m hopeful Studio North West can do the same.  You need to be open, prepared to have a go, follow your instincts and don’t be too defensive when your ideas are challenged. Because I hadn’t gone to film college I was very aware of people around me who had gone and what they might think of me and what I was doing, but you know it’s not like that. So as I said be open and give it a go.

Rose Byrne

Johnny Gogan’s short film Astray broadcasts in RTE Shortscreen’s Autumn/Winter season.

www.studionorthwest.tv

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