Irish Film Review: Katie

DIR: Ross Whitaker • PRO: Aideen O’Sullivan

Ross Whitaker lands another knockout with this comprehensive character study. Katie is a beautiful, complex piece of cinema, as nuanced and fascinating as the superstar herself.

In a world fueled of vapid hubris, where 19 year-olds release autobiographies, reality stars flog lipgloss liners and careers have been launched via snapchat, Katie Taylor is an unboundedly refreshing figure. You won’t find her spewing casual racism or throwing railings through bus windows, Katie’s motivation is, and always has been, fuelled by her love of boxing. At an age when most people’s career highlights would be a pay rise or successfully sneaking naggins into their college nights out, Katie was changing the entire world of women’s boxing. In fact, she was instrumental in getting this sport in to the Olympics, and through diligence, faith and a quiet self belief she continues to make her mark today.

A fantastic piece of cinema, Katie is the classic comeback story. The narrative kicks off in the aftermath of Katie’s disastrous and heartbreaking defeat at the 2016 Olympics in Rio. That devastating loss, teamed with the estrangement of her father, coach and mentor, Pete, has Katie on the proverbial ropes. This feature tracks her career, as Katie takes on the monumentally difficult challenge of turning her hand to professional boxing.

Director Ross Whittaker torments the audience with tension. National sports victories are few and far between; you’d be hard pressed to find anyone on this island who isn’t following Katie’s career as if they’d been boxing aficionados all their lives. Nevertheless, this feature has you reliving her wins and losses as if they were happening in real time. While this documentary hits all the satisfying emotional highs and lows you’d expect from any decent sports film, what really sets it apart is the heart behind it; Katie Taylor is an introverted, spiritual, unstoppable force and during these 89 minutes we, as an audience have absolutely no choice but to fall in love with her. Whitaker does a fantastic job articulating her journey – sometimes on her behalf – as she grows from a fierce, young upstart into an articulate, inspirational woman.

Gemma Creagh

89 minutes
12A (see IFCO for details)
Katie is released 26th October 2018

 

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Ross Whitaker: What I Learned Making ‘Between Land and Sea’

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Photo by Kevin Smith

 

Between Land and Sea, which chronicles a year in the life of the big wave surf community in Lahinch, Co. Clare, has been touring Ireland for the last two months. The surprise hit has been critically acclaimed as well as attracting sold out audiences around the country. As it prepares for its last few screenings (at the Mermaid, Bray on May 15th and IFI, Dublin on May 16th) in Ireland and for its international market bow at the Cannes Film Festival next week, Ross reflects on the experience of making a surf film from the perspective of a complete outsider. (Screening info via BetweenLandAndSea.com)

 

When I was approached to direct Between Land and Sea by the producers at Motive Films, I was excited but very scared. Excited because it was something completely new with a blank page to work from (after about six years working on my previous film!) and because I knew that I would be filming in a spectacular place. And scared because I knew nothing about surfing and because I knew I’d be working from a low budget in a genre where films are rarely less than spectacular. Indeed, hadn’t there already been a brilliant surf film made just a few years ago, Wave Riders? And the director of that film, Joel Conroy, was a surfer himself who knew the world inside out.  Still, I figured it was too great an opportunity to dismiss and decided I’d just have to learn how to make the film as I made the film.

 

Here are some of the things I learned making the film.

 

1. Know what you do and don’t know – one of the most daunting but ultimately helpful aspects of starting this documentary was realising that I had very much a blank page in front of me. I knew very little about surfing, so I tried to turn that into a positive in two ways. Firstly, by making sure I played to my strengths, chiefly to try to make my characters comfortable enough to be themselves on camera. And secondly, I kept an open mind to everything and everyone in Lahinch, who could educate me about surfing, and tried to use that information to portray the surfing world as they saw it.

 

2. Find someone who knows the world you’re in – as I started the film, the producers (Anne McLoughlin and Jamie D’Alton) said to me, “it would be great if you could find a local person who could work with you on the ground.” Thankfully, this happened and I was very lucky to meet Kevin Smith, a brilliant young filmmaker living in the area who was happy to collaborate on the film. I had to overcome my instinct to want to make the on-the-ground creative decisions myself and open myself up to the expertise, knowledge and connections of a locally based person. The rewards, in terms of what we were able to capture with a small but dedicated team, were massive.

 

3. Adapt your style to what’s in front of you – while Between Land and Sea maintains many elements of my previous films (I hope it has a sense of character intimacy and is interested in some of the same themes), I wanted it to also be specific to its environment. After a little time there, it struck me how different and special the light is in the west of Ireland and I wanted to get this across at all times, so I decided that everything should be naturally lit and that we would use no lights in the making of the film. I hope this gives the film a more natural light and reflects to some degree what it feels like to be there. Another thing that struck me in Clare was how it sounds very different to the east coast, so in the edit we tried to bring that to the film too. The pace of the film also tried to reflect the pace of life in the town. While a lot of surf films attempt to be high octane, the day-to-day life of coastal towns really isn’t like that, so that’s another thing we tried to reflect.

 

4. Explain what you plan to do and then do that – the people who I filmed in Lahinch were hugely generous with their time and energy and increasingly so as filming went on. I came to understand that people in surfing communities are well used to outsiders coming along and filming them but that they have also grown a little tired of this, particularly when people make promises that they don’t keep. So, from quite early on, I tried to be clear about my intentions and how I thought things would pan out. I think as people saw that I was serious about what I was trying to do, that a mutual respect developed and this was key to being able to capture people naturally.

 

5. Work with an editor who gets it – the editor of the film is Andrew Hearne and I really wanted him to cut the film, not just because he’s a wonderful editor but because he also grew up in a seaside surf town. Andrew grew up in Tramore, a great surf town in Waterford, so when he was cutting the film, he really understood the rhythms of life and the motivations of the characters. He contributed a huge amount to getting the feel of the film right because he had lived in a similar place.

 

6. Don’t underestimate the potential reach of the film – despite being a low-budget, obscure film and not in position to get distribution (with broadcasts coming soon and without Irish Film Board support, we were not an attractive proposition for distributors!), the film has surprised us in how it has managed to find an audience. I must remind myself in future that audiences do want to see honestly made films about other human beings and throw in some lovely landscapes and surfing and you might be amazed at what a film can achieve. Facebook has been key for us in getting the word out and a good trailer can spread the word fast about a film. Since my last film, Unbreakable, was distributed two years ago the media landscape has shifted and social media has become even more important. In addition, there are more media outlets than ever and if you cater to their needs, a film can get a lot of exposure even without a publicity budget. Finally, I’ve learned that a good local story can have international resonance and we’ve been delighted by the response of international sales agents who really seem to get the universal themes of the film.

 

The film will screen at the March du Film at Cannes Film Festival and we’ll soon find out just how far this little film might travel!

 

 
Mermaid Wicklow Arts Centre, Bray (with Q&A)

Monday, May 15th @ 20:00 (Buy Tickets)

Dublin: IFI Cinema (with Q&A)

May 16th @ 18:30 (Buy Tickets)

Ennis: glór

June 1st plus BBQ @ 18:30 (Buy Tickets)

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‘Between Land and Sea’ Gets Limited Cinema Release

 

Ollie Rileys

Directed by award-winning filmmaker Ross Whitaker (When Ali Came to Ireland, Saviours, Unbreakable: The Mark Pollock Story), Between Land and Sea is a year in the life of an Irish surf town at the mercy of the Atlantic Ocean.

This observational feature – at times intimate, at times epic – embeds itself in the Big Wave surf community to present a thoroughly engaging and visually stunning portrait of the ever-changing life at land’s end.

Against the backdrop of Ireland’s stunning west coast, this film digs deep into the day to day lives of the surf community, taking the audience beyond the bluster of the typical adrenaline fueled film to create a very real portrait of those who choose the surf lifestyle.

Directed by Ross Whitaker and featuring some of the biggest waves and best surfers in Ireland – as well as a thrilling cameo by Hawaiian legend Shane Dorian –Between Land and Sea succeeds in being exhilarating while giving a moving, humourous and thought-provoking account of the ocean-going natives of West Clare.

Ross Whitaker said, “I’m delighted to be bringing Lahinch and its folk to screens around Ireland as I found it to be a surprisingly special place. I set out to make a different kind of surf film, one that went beyond the hype of some surf films to find the quiet truth of what it means to choose to be a surfer, how it impacts your entire life in myriad different ways. Living at the edge of the Atlantic in Ireland’s wild west is hard – rain is heavy, winds are strong and waves are monstrous. But for the right person it’s a cold paradise living along that incredible coastline.”

 

Ticket and venue info will be available from www.betweenlandandsea.com

 

VENUES –

IFI – from March 5th

Garter Lane, Waterford

The Model, Sligo

Eye Cinema, Galway

The Glor Theatre, Ennis

University of Limerick

The Gate Cinema, Cork

Mermaid County Wicklow Arts Theatre, Bray

University College Dublin

 

 

 

 

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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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InConversation with Ross Whitaker

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In this episode of InConversation, we speak to Ross Whitaker, writer, producer and documentary filmmaker.

Ross Whitaker’s first feature film, the self-funded Saviours (2008), was selected for theatrical release in Ireland and acclaimed as one of the “100 Best Irish Films of All Time” (Sunday Times).

Ross’ award-winning short documentaries include Bye Bye Now (2009) and Home Turf (2011) and he has been involved in many successful TV projects, including the the epic television documentary Blind Man Walking and the Prime Time political documentary The Bailout.

Most recently, Ross’ film Unbreakable: The Mark Pollock Story enjoyed a successful Irish release in 2014 and is being released in the UK.

Ross is currently working on his latest film – a year in the life of a seaside town, Lahinch, on Ireland’s wild Atlantic coast.

 

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Irish Doc ‘Unbreakable’ Gets UK Release

Mark Simone Corridor (1)

After a successful Irish release in 2014, the Irish documentary Unbreakable is to have a limited release in the UK from October 9th, including screenings in London at Picturehouse Central and Manchester at the Irish World Heritage Centre. Unbreakable will be released by True Films in conjunction with Picturehouse and the Cinema Partnership and will be available on VOD and DVD from October 23rd.

A tragic fall left blind athlete, Mark Pollock, paralysed. Unbreakable is the story of how he found his courage again.

Directed by award winning filmmaker Ross Whitaker (When Ali Came to Ireland; Saviours), Unbreakable: The Mark Pollock Story follows the almost unbelievable tragedies that life has thrown at Mark and his resolve to move beyond them. Unbroken by blindness at 22, Mark was a Commonwealth Games medal winner and competed in ultra endurance races across deserts, mountains and the polar ice caps and, ten years after losing his sight, he became the first blind person to race to the South Pole; a race that allowed him to finally put the demons of blindness behind him. But then, just four weeks from the day of his planned wedding to fiancée Simone, a fall 25 feet from a second story window left Mark near death and paralysed from the waist down.

This film brings the audience to Mark’s bedside in the acute ward of a spinal hospital – blind, now paralysed and broken. Six years in the making, it tells the story of Mark’s eventual rehabilitation and his mission to find and connect people worldwide to fast track a cure for paralysis, a mission which gives the audience a glimpse of the frontiers of robotics and medical science.

Unbreakable also documents how Mark and Simone have funded their cure exploration through Run in the Dark. This year over 25,000 people will join this global fundraiser at one of the official events in London, Manchester, Belfast, Dublin and Cork or at one of the 45 pop-ups that take place from Sydney to San Francisco.

 

 

About The Mark Pollock Trust

“We believe that the cure for spinal cord injuries simply requires enough of the right people having the will to make it happen. It is our mission to find and connect those people worldwide to fast track a cure for paralysis.”

To find out more go to www.markpollocktrust.org

 

 

Director Ross Whitaker tells Film Ireland 5 things he learned making Unbreakable: The Mark Pollock Story

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5 Things I Learned Making ‘Unbreakable: The Mark Pollock Story’

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Ross Whitaker’s latest film, Unbreakable, tells the story of Mark Pollack’s rehabilitation from an accident that left him paralysed from the waist down, his search for groundbreaking cures in the worlds of robotics and science, and his unbreakable spirit.

 

Here Ross shares with Film Ireland some lessons he learned making the incredible film.

 

Taking this film from start to finish was a six-year struggle and I learned a lot of things along the way:

 

Love Rejection
I’m going to call bullshit on this straightaway. Rejection is horrible and who could ever love it? But in this game there is plenty of it. This film was rejected by funders a number of times before it was financed. It has been rejected by festivals and left unreviewed by newspaper critics. It’s a punch to the gut every time you don’t get what you need to make your film work out and it’s extra work to figure out what to do next. So, you must accept rejection and keep going and don’t let it drown you. Stay creative and stay committed to making your film as good as you can because…

 

The Audience is Everything
The response to this film from audiences has been overwhelming and surprising. I think it might be because the audience is maybe starved of real, truthful experiences at the cinema. Maybe filmmaking has got a little too slick. Maybe that’s why Ken Wardrop’s His & Hers was such a giant and deserved hit – simple, beautiful storytelling. We’re finding that audiences are really connecting to this story. The most important relationship is between the audience and the film and if you make something real and truthful then audiences will react positively. And the amazing thing is that an engaged audience will tell their friends and act as your best publicity. The boundary between audience and filmmaker is smaller than ever because…

 

The Internet has Changed Everything
My first feature – Saviours – was released in 2008 and back then Facebook was still really in its infancy and Twitter didn’t exist. The world has changed immeasurably since then and the fact that you can speak directly to your audience makes a big difference. Also, your audience can talk directly to each other and recommendations on Facebook, Twitter and through email are very helpful. In addition, if you’re not getting the newspaper coverage you want, maybe it’s time to start thinking a little differently. Online publishers like The Journal and RTE Ten actually have a massive audience and can be extremely useful in getting the word out. It’s important to have a strategy and to go as wide as you can. When we released our trailer we had a call to action for people to go ahead and buy a ticket and we put it out as far and as wide as we could. Within a few days our opening night was pretty much sold out, which in itself created buzz.

 

Hold On To Your Kitchen Sink
Watching the film now on the big screen, I’m glad to have had such a good editor in Andrew Hearne. There were times in the edit when I wanted to throw the kitchen sink at it, hire copter cams and do timelapse shots but Andrew felt it was better to keep things more focused on the story and not distract the audience with unnecessary visual flourishes. There’s a constant pressure to ‘be cinematic’ but there’s nothing more cinematic than a good story that sustains the duration of the film and keeps you engaged. So, sometimes it’s best if you don’t throw everything at it.

 

The End is Just the Start
“The end is just the start” is a line from the film but it could also describe the process of finishing the film and then beginning the new job of getting it out there into the world! It’s not easy and we’re learning a lot but I think the big thing is having a plan and implementing it. Our plan was to really get out there and meet people and hope to create enthusiasm around the experience so that the audience would get involved and recommend it to their friends. We are touring the country and doing Q&As almost every night. We’re meeting people and talking to them about their experiences and their lives. And we’re being extremely open with people about our experiences and the background to the film, giving them a unique understanding of the story and our motivations. It seems to be going well and it provides audiences with a real, tangible experience. At a later date we’ll reflect on what we’ve done right and wrong but for now we’ll just keep moving on to the next screening and Q&A. Maybe we’ll meet you somewhere along the way.

 

Unbreakable: The Mark Pollock Story is currently screening in the Light House Cinema in Dublin and touring the country. Screening information at www.markpollockfilm.com/screenings

 

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Unbreakable: The Mark Pollock Story

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DIR: Ross Whitaker • CAST: Mark Pollock, Simone George

Struck by blindness at the age of 22 in 1998, Mark Pollack went on to become an elite athlete, winning bronze and silver medals for Northern Ireland in the 2002 Commonwealth Rowing Championships and running six marathons in seven days the following year with a sighted partner across the Gobi Desert. In 2004, he completed the North Pole Arctic Marathon and succeeded in becoming the first blind man to reach the South Pole. Such achievements themselves make for a remarkable story, but in this case they are the background to an even more astounding story of achievement.

In July 2010 Mark was left paralysed from the waist down after he broke his back in three places falling from a second-story window. Ross Whitaker’s latest documentary takes its lead from here on in and follows Mark’s arduous road to recovery as he rebuilds his life and battles to walk again.

‘Inspirational’ is a word that gets bandied about as a one-size fits all adjective about stories of human endeavour but in this case it is deserved – Mark’s courage and conviction is truly something to be in awe of as he ploughs a route towards spinal cord injury recovery through aggressive physical therapy and robotic technology. There are moments of incredible insight into his essence as a human being such as when he talks about his wanting his recovery not to be about him and sets out on a mission to campaign, educate and promote research into spinal injury recovery.

Director Ross Whitaker has weaved six years of work into a spellbinding narrative that is driven along by Mark’s incredible fight against the odds and the steadfast support and love of his fiancée, Simone. As a director Whitaker lets the subject become the film rather than the film be about the subject. It is to the director’s credit that his role as messenger makes for a particular level of contact between subject and audience that opens up the experience of the viewer to the everyday struggles that Mark faces. Rather than ramp up the storytelling with predictable big narrative moments it is the minutia of the everyday that makes this film so compelling. It is in this small detail that the story is crafted and a hero is made.

 

G (See IFCO for details)

86 minutes

Unbreakable: The Mark Pollock Story is released 3rd October 2014

Unbreakable: The Mark Pollock Story  – Official Website

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ovMHiql5EE

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