Cinema Review: Songs For Amy

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DIR: Konrad Begg  WRI: Fiona Graham, Ford Kiernan  PRO: Howard Gibbins, Fiona Grahan, Ford Kiernan, John McDonnell, Mairi McLellan, Angela Murray  Ed: Scott Flyer  DOP: Duncan Telford  DES: Francis Taffe. Mus: Ultan Conlon, Jim McKee  Cast: Sean Maguire, Lorna Anderson, Patrick Bergin, James Cosmo, Kevin Ryan, Ford Kiernan, Ross McMahon

Set in Galway, Songs for Amy follows Sean O’Malley (Maguire), a struggling Irish musician from a band called Lost and Sound, who writes an album dedicated to his ex-fiancée and great love, Amy (Anderson) after their relationship ends. Intercut with the recording and performing of these songs are roughly chronological scenes from Sean’s life, from the beginning of his relationship with Amy, to an outrageously bacchanalian stag night, to his life in the aftermath of his failed nuptials, and his unexpected promotion to hotel manager after a sudden death in his family.

This second-act diversion is sorely needed, but is not as well-managed as it may have been. Although it’s well-structured and builds towards its conclusion nicely, it becomes a bit thematically burdened, and almost entirely from Sean’s perspective, leaving little room to expand on other characters or enrich existing strands. (The lack of development of Amy herself, for example, is disappointing: we are given no reason to really like or care about her, other than the fact that Sean likes and cares about her.) There’s an issue of paternity woven into Sean’s already emotionally-burdened narrative, which is so flippantly resolved as to feel almost completely unnecessary. It’s curious too that a man who spends the entire duration of this film working on songs about his ex has no creative energy to expend on not knowing his real father, or mourning his dead sister.

The link to Galway is foregrounded twice in the film, with the same voiceover from Sean bookending the film, at two tonally-opposed moments, claiming that ‘Galway is a special place,’ a musical place, as it is where he grew up and where he met Amy. Shots of Sean lingering before Galway Bay, with and without Amy, drive it home as a meditative place of contemplation, somehow ‘expressing the inexpressible,’ in the words of Adolus Huxley from the film’s title card.

For yes, Songs for Amy opens with a quote from Huxley: ‘After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.’ The realization of this in the film could be handled a little better. While the idea that Sean is much more articulate and to-the-point in his songwriting than without music is an appealing one, it often feels like a bit of a crutch for the film, relying too often on minor chords and bluntly on-the-nose lyrics to emotionally anchor the film. The music in the film is pleasant enough, but bland, lovelorn acoustic-guitar driven ballads with no real breakout song emerging in the style of Falling Slowly from Once, for example.

The tone of this film is also rather confused: It’s hard to reconcile strange scenes of dancing gypsies and orgiastic scenes at Sean’s stag party – during which hard-living blues band Alabama 3, playing themselves, serve up a cocktail of poitin, absinthe and hand sanitizer while snorting cocaine off naked groupies – with the film’s core theme of a sensitive, jilted musician questioning the whys and wherefores of his life.

Director Konrad Begg has described the film not as a rom-com or a drama but as a ‘darkly comedic love story’, its humour deriving from ‘misfortune and struggle,’ and this is where the film lands the most blows, due in no small part to its broadly-talented cast. A scene-stealing taxi driver, tasked with driving the band from Limerick to Galway on the proverbial ‘morning after’, whereas a clichéd but enjoyable scene of Sean drunk-dialling Amy to play her his songs is perfectly pitched by Maguire. Similarly, the members of Sean’s band have a believable, easy chemistry, even if their dialogue feels a little unnatural and forced by times; and Kevin Ryan does his best with the one-dimensional guylinered lothario J.J. Fitzgerald, a world famous rock star and rival for Amy’s affections.

There is a point in Songs for Amy when Sean informs his bandmates that they’re not going to release the album they’re working on to the general public because it is just for Amy. This attitude is rightly ridiculed by the rest of the band and unfortunately highlights one of the key issues with the film – it’s too individually-focused, Sean too fixated on Amy, the film too fixated on Sean, meaning it can be hard to care about what other people might want, or feel they’ve been promised by investing time and effort into such a venture.  Ultimately, the tight structure and hard-working cast of Songs for Amy carry the film for as long as they can, but the film’s narrow focus, not to mention its schitzophrenic tone, jars with any moments of meaningful romance its premise may have promised.

 

Stacy Grouden

16 (See IFCO for details)
103 mins

Songs for Amy  is released on 2nd May 2014

Songs for Amy  – Official Website

 

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Interview: Konrad Begg, director of ‘Songs for Amy’

Seven Songs for Amy

 

Songs for Amy is a ‘darkly comedic love story’, inspired by the music scene of the West of Ireland. Set against the stunning background of Galway, the story follows musician Sean O ‘Malley (Sean Maguire), as he writes an album for Amy (Lorna Anderson) – the fiancée he jilted at the altar – in the hope of redeeming himself. Along the way he finds himself involved in various uncompromising situations, no thanks to his eccentric band members.

Film Ireland caught up with the film’s director, Konrad Begg, ahead of the film’s release in Irish cinemas.

 

How did you originally get involved in the project?

I was looking for scripts to make a short film, I had met with quite a few people and was thinking about a few projects between my day job directing for the BBC. Meantime my old friend Fiona [Graham] was working on a script and she sent me it, I read it and I just thought there was something special about it.

 

I read that you were working on the film for three years.

I suppose before pre-production I spent just under two years on it between my other work. Fiona and I worked together on the story and casting, we worked with the musicians and travelled around scouting and researching. It was a lot of fun.

 

You’ve had a successful career as a television director in the UK, what made you decide to move into film?

Well I actually started out making a short film then I wanted to make more but my financial situation drove me into television.  I’ve been lucky enough to make some really creative stuff and in particular I loved making drama documentaries, but I was often frustrated by the lack of creative freedom that many of the shows I worked on allowed. At the end of the day I always knew I wanted to make a feature, it was only a matter of time.

 

And what challenges did you face?

Well not many. I had made some pretty big budget TV and commercials with some very talented people; so surrounding myself with the right people was important. Maintaining conviction is so important as a director especially when you’re a first timer like me. I guess the biggest challenge is that a feature is a marathon, not a sprint.

 

You worked with some great actors on the film, in particular Patrick Bergin and James Cosmo – how was that and what did they bring to the project?

James and Patrick are both wonderfully talented guys who would really lift the performances around them, we were very lucky to have them on board. I think Patrick embodied the spirit of the ageing troubadour and his character is key to the strength of our third act. James embodies the fearful Scottish father-in-law; his physicality and his presence are fantastic. I’m happy to say we had a really great cast on Songs. I was very adamant that we had a two-week rehearsal period, which I think was key to the dynamic of the band. Sean [Maguire] for me really nailed it. He is an incredibly hard-working actor and just poured everything he had into the part.

 

The film begins with the Aldous Huxley quote, ‘After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.’ Can you tell us why you chose to open the film with this?

The quote is from Music at Night [1931 collection of essays] and it really resonates with me; it sums up how I feel about music and creativity. So I decided to put this quote from it at the top of the film very early on as more of a statement of intent for myself and for the character Sean.

 

It’s interesting how Sean is able to express his emotions for Amy through song; and that when he actually gets the chance to tell her how he feels, words fail him.

Many musicians aren’t great at expressing themselves in conversation, yet when they play people listen and understand. I wanted Sean to have this trait; I wanted the emphasis to be on his music both as a cathartic thing for himself but also a message from him to Amy. No one is saying that Sean is Bob Dylan or Richard Thompson, and his songs certainly won’t change the world, he’s just a heartbroken man pouring his heart out.

 

There is this sense of heroic failure to the film.

I think it’s one of my favourite comic devices. We didn’t want the band or Sean to be conventionally heroic, (though they are drawn at times to vaguely heroic behaviour). They are just ordinary folk making their way through life. There are very few true heroes in real life but many noble strugglers.

 

You catch the beauty of Galway in the film and there’s a real sense of place – were you familiar with Galway before the film?

The West of Ireland really is one of my favourite places on earth and I’m very lucky to have had the opportunity to shoot there. I had spent time in and around Galway, Kinvara and County Clare. I was always struck with the skies and the changing light, the weather systems off the Atlantic and the feel of being on the edge of something.

 

The film is driven by the music and you’ve got some wonderful musicians involved: Ultan Conlon, Jim McKee – who pops up in a brief cameo as a busker – and Alabama 3 of course, who actually play a major role in the film. How did they all get involved?

Yes, Jim and Ultan kind of epitomise the character of the place. When we all sat around and discussed the script and the sentiments and themes they just kind understood. So it was a great process. Alabama 3 on the other hand were a very fortuitous find. Fiona and I were struggling with casting a well known band within the film. Fiona was out one night in Galway and met them. The next day she called me and said I needed to check them out as she thought they would be perfect. She was right. They were such great fun and I loved working with them. Any group of actors would struggle to pull off what they do!

 

The film has been described as a ‘darkly comedic love story’.

Myself and Fiona didn’t want the film ever to be a rom-com, we wanted it to have dark humour, we wanted the laughs to come mainly from misfortune and struggle … and Declan! [Ross Mac Mahon’s character].  We both love the film In Bruges and in particular the way that the story weaves a clever path between very dark content and hilarious sometimes slapstick comedy. If we have achieved a modicum of this I’m happy.

 

 

Songs for Amy is released in selected IMC Cinemas on 2nd May.

 

 

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‘Songs for Amy’ selected for Boston Irish Film Festival

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Songs for Amy has been officially selected for the Boston Irish Film Festival and will screen on Saturday 22nd March at 8pm, Somerville Theatre, Davis Square, Boston. Tickets are available now from http://www.irishfilmfestival.com/songs-amy

 

“This is a fantastic opportunity and great recognition for Songs for Amy”, according to Fiona Graham, writer/producer of Songs for Amy. “The film will be theatrically released in the USA, specifically New York and LA so the to be able to show case the film at the prestigious Boston Irish Film Festival just prior to its release is really great news.”

 

Sonny and Skye have partnered with Traverse Media, based in LA, to release Songs for Amy in Ireland and the USA both cinematically and on digital platforms. In order to raise much needed funds to promote the film, they have created an Indiegogo campaign www.igg.me/at/songsforamy to help make the release a success. Fiona Graham explained, “Independent films like Songs for Amy have to look outside of traditional models to fund distribution as they do not have access to budgets for promotion of the film like studio films or films who are backed by large scale corporations. The campaign seeks to involve the public where the campaign sells perks associated with the film such as limited edition cast and crew t-shirts, downloads of the film and soundtrack, premier tickets and opportunities to meet the cast. Every cent will help the film’s launch and ultimately its ability to reach audiences.”

 

Songs for Amy will premiere at The Screen in Dublin on May 1st and then screen in both Galway and Dublin in IMC cinemas. If the film has a successful launch in these cities it will be rolled out to other IMC cinemas throughout the country.

 

http://songsforamymovie.com/
https://www.facebook.com/SongsforAmy
https://twitter.com/songsforamy

 

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The Gersh Agency represents ‘Songs for Amy’ for world-wide sales

The Gersh Agency is pleased to represent Sonny and Skye’s Irish feature film, Songs for Amy for world-wide sales  headed by Jay Cohen, partner at The Gersh Agency.

 

The Gersh Agency has offices in Beverly Hills and New York and rivals other agencies in its influence and diversity with 58 years of experience representing some of the most sought after talent in the industry as well as the next generation of stars.

 

The film’s producer/ writer Fiona Graham and director Konrad Begg met with Jay Cohen of Gersh in LA this week.  Following the meeting Fiona Graham said, ‘We are absolutely thrilled to be represented by Jay Cohen and The Gersh Agency. This is a fantastic opportunity for Songs for Amy to reach a global audience with the experience and enthusiasm of one of the most influential agencies in the world.’

 

Jay Cohen of Gersh said, Songs for Amy is a love story with a lot of heart that will appeal to audiences in the US and throughout the world. We’re excited about the potential of this feel-good film. It is beautifully shot with great performances and a fantastic original soundtrack.’

 

Songs for Amy is a love story filmed in Ireland and New York about a musician who writes an album for the love of his life in an attempt to redeem himself.  Sean Maguire stars as musician Sean O’Malley and is supported by a terrific ensemble cast of Irish and Scottish talent including Lorna Anderson (Mausam), Kevin Ryan (Copper), Ross Mac Mahon (This Must be the Place), Gavin Mitchell (You Instead), Ford Kiernan (Gangs of New York), Patrick Bergin (Sleeping with the Enemy) and James Cosmo (Braveheart, Game of Thrones) and hell-raising rock band, Alabama 3 in a cameo role.  The film features original music by Irish musicians Jim McKee and Ultan Conlon performed by Sean Maguire as well as tracks by Alabama 3.

 

Songs for Amy premiered at Newport Beach Film Festival, winning the Jury Award for ‘Outstanding Achievement in Filmmaking’ and held its Irish Festival Premiere to a sell-out audience at the Galway Film Fleadh in July.

 

www.sonnyandskye.com

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‘Songs for Amy’ awarded ‘Outstanding Achievement in Filmmaking’ at US Film Festival.

Cast & Crew – Songs for Amy
Left to Right Mairi McLellan (Ex producer) Ross Mac Mahon (who plays Delcan) Fiona Graham, (Writer/Producer) Kevin Ryan (who plays JJ) Konrad Begg (Director) Sean Maguire (Lead Role – Sean O’Malley) Lorna Anderson (who plays Amy) Aindrais De Staic (who plays James the Chef) Duncan Telford (DOP – Director of Photography)

 

Feature film Songs for Amy was awarded ‘Outstanding Achievement in Filmmaking’ at the Newport Beach Film Festival, in California, where 400 films screened from 50 countries.

The film premiered on 1st May  and screened again on 3rd May. Both screenings were sold out with the film ranking 4th out of 400 films on the audience ratings. The film was highlighted under Irish Spotlight and Music Spotlight.

Director Konrad Begg said, ‘It was great to see the film play to an American audience and I was overwhelmed by the response – both screenings sold out! They really got the humour and emotion of the film. It couldn’t have gone better.’

Key cast (Sean Maguire, Lorna Anderson, Kevin Ryan and Ross Mac Mahon) attended the US festival, along with Director Konrad Begg, Producer/ Writer, Fiona Graham, Exec Producer Mairi McLellan and musicians Jim McKee and Ultan Conlon, who created an enormous buzz at the festival, playing songs from the soundtrack.

On winning the award, Konrad Begg said, ‘It is a great honour to win the award on behalf of the cast and crew and it’s fantastic to get the recognition from the jury at Newport Beach.’

Songs for Amy was filmed in Galway and New York last summer and will be premiering in Ireland at the Galway Film Fleadh in July.

 

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