Review of Irish Film at Galway Film Fleadh: Fís Na Fuiseoige

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Shane Croghan takes a birds-eye view of Aodh Ó Coileáin’s Fís Na Fuiseoige, which screened at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.

 

Fís Na Fuiseoige (The Lark’s View) is a gently-paced reflection upon the long-standing Irish relationship between land, literature and our own sense of self. Merging modern techniques of aerial cinematography with the words of Irish language poets dating as far as hundreds of years back, this documentary is a thoughtful examination of our heritage and an affectionate celebration of the relationship between person and place.

Director Aodh Ó Coileáin displays a clear passion for, and understanding of, the value of the Irish language in his handling of the topic. The informative, co-dependent relationship between person and place is evoked in the simple, yet effective, directorial decisions employed throughout Fis Na Fuiseoige. Introspection is encouraged in the slow movement of the camera, the considered cadence of the poetic delivery and the natural beauty captured by the swooping overhead drone. Even when we venture into the urban cityscapes, which are implemented later on in the piece, the reflective style of the documentary is never abandoned in favour of anything overtly dramatic. Instead, an almost meditative viewing is encouraged. The inclusion of these urban locations is an important addition, offering a contrast to the earlier rural settings and providing the viewer with a more complete snapshot of contemporary Ireland.

Though the beautifully crafted sequences of poetry and landscape imagery may set the tone of Fís Na Fuiseoige, the interviews with local people at each of the documentary’s locations are also an important component, serving to root the narrative in reality to some extent. Their affinity for their heritage, alongside their wealth of knowledge regarding their homeland, contextualises the more metaphorical, visually-driven sequences and further reinforces the theme of the film, that our proximity to the land allows us to better grasp a sense of our own existence. As well as presenting us with an affectionate exploration of our relationship to the land, Aodh Ó Coileáin offers an insight into the value of the Irish language and the potential loss of identity which can arise when a language begins to decline.

Fís Na Fuiseoige is an impressive directorial debut from Aodh Ó Coileáin. Both grand in scope and intimate in execution, this documentary is a warm study of our language, our land and ourselves. Director of photography Colm Hogan has captured some truly staggering images, presenting the topography of Ireland from a bird’s-eye perspective and providing his director with the ideal fodder for the narrative. This film is timely, given the recent centenary celebrations, and more importantly, it is delivered with conviction and brimming with genuine emotion.

 

Fís Na Fuiseoige screened on Friday, 8th July 2016 as part of the Galway Film Fleadh.

 

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Review of Irish Film at Galway Film Fleadh: Lost in France

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Shane Croghan gets lost in music watching Niall McCann’s latest doc examining the rise of Scotland’s independent music scene.

 

Following on from his acclaimed 2012 documentary Art Will Save The World, director Niall McCann has delved into the world of indie music once again, and emerged with the charming Lost in France. Travelling to the north of the United Kingdom this time, McCann has assembled a compelling cast of characters to examine the rise of Scotland’s independent music scene in the ’90s, with a particular emphasis on the trailblazing record label, Chemikal Underground.

Though the narrative spans nearly twenty years, from the mid ’90s all the way through to 2015, the past and present are threaded together by the reprisal of a notorious 1997 trip to Mauron, a tiny French town which played host to a small music festival back in the day. McCann’s camera invites the viewer onto the tour bus, to join Alex Kapranos (Franz Ferdinand), Stuart Braithwaite (Mogwai), RM Hubbert and Chemikal Underground founders The Delgados as they head back to France, attempting to piece together their memories of the 1997 trip along the way.

McCann has struck gold with these subjects. Their effortless rapport drives the narrative, offering everything from nostalgic anecdotes about the origins of Chemikal Underground, to acerbic commentary on the state of the contemporary music business. As the gang on the bus attempt to recall the events surrounding the original trip eighteen years ago, we are treated to an insightful reflection on creativity, friendship and the transformative power of music. These contributions are coupled with archive footage, hobbled together from the libraries of those involved with the scene over the years, adding to the reflective tone which characterises much of the film.

Despite the far-reaching impact of Chemikal Underground upon the wider British indie-rock scene, this documentary is extremely personal, exploring the rise of the label from the internal perspective of those who helped to build it from the ground up. The sense of camaraderie amongst the musicians serves to forge an intimate connection between the viewer and the events unfolding on-screen. As Kapranos and company attempt to stitch together an image of that 1997 trip to Mauron, the audience is right there with them, leafing through weathered photographs and struggling to fully recall the booze-soaked debauchery that took place eighteen years ago.

Unsurprisingly, Lost in France is wonderfully soundtracked. From the feedback-drenched noise-rock of Mogwai, to the chart-cracking indie anthems of Franz Ferdinand, with a few acoustic interludes from the likes of Emma Pollock and RM Hubbert, the music is a key component in the eighteen year journey from past to present. In particular, the decision to cut between archive of old gigs and the present day performances in Mauron is an effective method of conveying the passage of time, as well as the timelessness of music.

Lost in France is a nostalgic trip down memory lane, neatly packaged with easy-flowing banter, a cracking soundtrack and some lovely shots of rain-soaked rural France. These aspects alone would’ve made for a charming little documentary, particularly for fans of Scottish independent music, but, thankfully, McCann has crafted a film greater than the sum of its parts. Not simply a music documentary, Lost in France is an insight into the communal power of music, the necessity of art and the freedom that creative endeavour can allow to those willing to fully embrace their idealistic dreams. Speaking alongside some of the featured musicians, McCann offered the film as a retort to the contemporary notion that “you’re supposed to just do any shit job and be grateful for it”. Lost is France is more than a just an entertaining watch, it’s a self-affirming experience for young DIY artists.

Lost in France screened on Friday, 8th July as part of the 2016 Galway Film Fleadh

 

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Review of Irish Film at Galway Film Fleadh: The War Against Women in Eastern Congo

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Shane Croghan reviews Dearbhla Glynn’s powerful documentary The War Against Women in Eastern Congo, which screened at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.

 

The War Against Women in Eastern Congo is a harrowing, unflinching look at the horrendous acts of sexual violence which are perpetuated with staggering frequency in the war-torn Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Through her brave exploration of a nation in seemingly endless turmoil, director Dearbhla Glynn has produced a powerful, eye-opening documentary.

Glynn leaves no stone unturned as she delves into the scattered populace of Eastern Congo to conduct interviews with everyone from victims to perpetrators to military generals, visiting conflict-stricken villages and overcrowded, under-policed prisons. The victims, women of all ages, some shockingly young, speak bravely, and frankly, of their horrific experiences and the consequences which have resulted from their sexual assaults. Resisting the temptation to blink, and look away for even a moment, Glynn’s camera is concentrated, unmoving, as these women recount their tales. As the camera remains fixed, the viewer feels the pain of these victims, unfiltered and raw.

Keen to examine the exorbitant rates of sexual violence from a diverse range of perspectives, Glynn has also attained, perhaps at some risk to her own safety, interviews with some of the men who have committed the rapes, at one point even bringing her camera into a ramshackle, overcrowded prison. These men appear remorseless, as if they cannot grasp the true nature of their actions, evidencing the deeply engrained use of rape as weapon in Congolese military culture. The actions of the soldiers stem from the hopelessness of their own bleak existence, with many drafted into the conflict as children and forced to follow the example of cruel, barbaric leaders. The cyclical nature of their abhorrent acts becomes somewhat clear when we begin to understand the context of their military service and the reality of day-to-day existence in Eastern Congo.

Amongst the soldiers and countless fractured military groups, The War Against Women in Eastern Congo manages to find one of its most intriguing protagonists, Mamadou Ndala, a colonel in the FARDC. A rare breed of military leader, tactically brilliant and morally sound, Mamadou is keen to put an end to the sexual violence which has characterised much of the conflict, going as far as punishing his soldiers if they commit acts of sexual assault. Inevitably, like many of his ilk, he is brutally cut down before he can begin to impose his envisaged changes upon a corrupt system. One of the few glimmers of hope present in the film, he is extinguished and the brutality rages on, unimpeded.

The War Against Women in Eastern Congo is a difficult, draining experience for the viewer, as is necessary for the correct handling of such a troubling topic. Dearbhla Glynn keeps the bells and whistles to a minimum, employing a realistic tone throughout, to ensure that nothing of the violence is lessened in its transition to the screen. Her directorial style is entirely befitting of the subject matter and the resulting film benefits greatly from her desire to document the experience of both victims and perpetrators. As well as highlighting the rampant sexual violence in Eastern Congo, this documentary serves as a stark reminder of the ramifications of long-lasting conflict and the horror of war in general.

 

The War Against Women in Eastern Congo screened on Friday, 8th July 2016 as part of the Galway Film Fleadh.

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Review of Irish Film Galway Film Fleadh: The Wall

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Shane Croghan takes a look at David Kinsella’s The Wall, the story of a young female poet in North Korea, which screened at Galway Film Fleadh 2016.

The Wall, director David Kinsella’s highly inventive tale of a young North Korean poet, was publicly screened for the very first time at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh. Drawing on his own experience growing up in a troubled Belfast, Kinsella has managed to offer the viewer an insight into an extremely secretive state, through a Northern Irish lens.

The film, fittingly, is a multicultural production, shot in North Korea and Belfast, with Norwegian animation and a script penned in Amsterdam by Klaas Bense. This diversity is apt considering the nature of the story, a globe-trotting comparison piece that serves to highlight the universal nature of human experience in spite of cultural and political differences.

The story behind the making of The Wall is fascinating in itself, with Kinsella originally setting out to shoot a documentary he found that all the footage he obtained was pure fiction owing to the behaviour of the North Korean government, who brought in extras and effectively forced the director to shoot propaganda. Not to be deterred, Kinsella changed his approach and set about gathering material that could later be altered with animation. This unique set of circumstances has led to an altogether original style of visual storytelling.

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Although the North Korean narrative dominates much of the running time, The Wall opens and closes with scenes set in Belfast, contextualising the tale of the North Korean poet Yung-Hee and reaffirming the director’s intention to compare the fear and paranoia found in these two troubled nations. In Belfast, three young Protestant boys play football beside a large wall. The Catholics are on the other side of the wall and the young men waste no time in making us aware of their disdain for those across the divide. These opening moments are extremely effective in setting the tone of the piece and there’s even some comedy to be found in the performance of the young actors, one of whom is playing the role of Kinsella himself.

Soon, the boys stumble upon Yung-Hee, mysteriously sitting alone on a bench by the big wall. After some introduction, the loss of the football and a number of racially charged comments from the three lads, we find ourselves transported to North Korea as the poet relays her tale of crushed dreams, totalitarian control and a complete absence of free thought. A particularly neat visual touch is employed throughout the North Korean scenes to convey the extent of government control, with wires seen attached to citizens, suggesting that they are merely puppets on strings. The muted colour palette of the suitably dreary shooting locations finds a nice contrast in the colourful splashes of animation which feature prominently throughout the film, giving a visual representation of the often metaphorical language of Yung-Hee’s story. Indeed, it is the beauty of Yung-Hee’s words, exemplified in her poem, that ultimately frees her from the tyranny of a controlling state and drives home the point of her story for the young David, who is very convincingly portrayed by Corey McKinley.

The Wall scooped the award for Best Human Rights Feature at this year’s Fleadh, and deservedly so. David Kinsella has managed to embrace the rather strange journey which led to the creation of this film and draw inspiration from any limitations he may have encountered. By utilising his own life experience, he has produced a moving piece that highlights the misguided thought process which permeates states driven by fear and paranoia.

 

The Wall screened on Thursday, 7th July 2016 as part of the Galway Film Fleadh

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