Tristan Heanue, Writer/Director of ‘Ciúnas’

 

Tristan Heanue gives us an insight into Ciúnas, his Irish language short film, which is screening at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh. Tristan is also nominated for The Bingham Ray New Talent Award at this year’s festival.

What can you tell us about Ciunas?

It follows a couple as they drive to the city to collect their daughter, they are in the middle of a family crisis. It focuses mainly on the parents and how they cope with the situation.

How did the idea come about?

I was visiting someone in a psychiatric hospital a few years ago and I saw a middle-aged couple sitting at the table next to me in the waiting area. They weren’t speaking and just sitting there in silence.

A few minutes later their daughter arrived, I had no idea why she was there and nothing was addressed when they met. They just proceeded to make small talk even though they both looked like they had a million things they wanted to say to her and ask her. It just stuck in my head, that old Irish thing of not being able to express your feelings or say what you feel. I started to imagine their morning before they came to the hospital and that was where the main story came from.

A few years later I submitted the idea in a paragraph to the Físín Script competition run by the Dingle Film Festival and it was shortlisted and eventually went on to win the award which came with €5000 funding and €2000 equipment rental to make the film.

You’ve a fantastic cast, including Hazel Doupe, who was staggeringly good in Float Like a Butterfly. Can you tell us about finding your 3 leads and working with them.

I saw Hazel in Michael Inside at the Fleadh a couple of years ago, she only had one scene but I was blown away by the emotion and how real she was. I contacted Frank Berry and he put us in touch, I sent her the script and thankfully she liked it.  She’s a really special talent, and takes her work very seriously, I’ve no doubt that she will have an incredible career.

Gary Lydon I have been a fan of for years, we did a film together last August and on the last day I asked him how his Irish was and if he would like to read the script. Again I was delighted he liked it and came on board, we worked very closely on his character and spoke at length in the months preceding the shoot and I think that shows in his performance.

Ally Ní Chairáin I had met through a friend and I instantly knew I wanted to work with her. She was the first person to be cast and again we spoke at length regarding her character and we worked out many ideas and subplots, none of which you see on screen but they gave her layers to her character and performance.

On set it was a dream really, the work we had done individually really showed and everyone hit the ground running. We didn’t rehearse really, apart from a few reads of it the night before we shot.

Does your background as an actor feed in to your directing?

Definitely, I love working with actors, it’s one of, if not my favourite part of the directing process. You just have a better understanding of how they think and what they may need to hear when you’ve acted yourself. You are more sensitive to their needs and can be quite protective of them.

I see you’re working with Narayan [Van Maele, cinematographer] again alongside you – what does he bring to the project and maybe tell us a little bit about working with him.

Narayan’s incredible, we have a wonderful collaborative relationship. He brings so much knowledge with him and always has so many ideas and suggestions. We usually do our location recce together and plan the shot list after. But we like to keep it kind of loose so if something isn’t working or locations change we can work together to find solutions or a better way to do it. I’m looking forward to making many more films with him.

Also you have the brilliant Michael Fleming composing the music…

Yeah, we had worked together on my previous film and I loved the experience. We agreed that this project needed a very subtle score. We decided early on that too many notes over such a delicate piece felt contrived so we set about finding sound textures that reflected the mood instead.

You were also nominated for The Bingham Ray New Talent Award at this year’s festival – what does that mean for you?

It was a real shock to be honest, they had never nominated a short filmmaker before so I really didn’t expect it. I’m hugely honoured and so happy that they liked the film and connected with it. Win or lose it’s a great boost and hopefully it helps bring the film to the attention of some more festivals and helps it on its journey. Things like this can really make a difference with an independent film.

 

Ciúnas screens as part of the Irish Talent: New Shorts 6, Fiction programme on Saturday, 13th July at the Town Hall Theatre at 10:00 as part of the 2019 Galway Film Fleadh.

 

The 31st Galway Film Fleadh runs 914 July 2019.

 

Preview of Irish Film at Galway Film Fleadh 2019

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Frank Shouldice, Director of ‘The Man Who Wanted To Fly’

Bobby Coote left school at 13 and spends most of his time in his back shed fixing clocks and making violins, but he has never lost sight of a lifelong dream to fly. He has cut a runway in a neighbour’s field and even built a hangar. And now he’s using his life savings to buy a plane! He gets no encouragement from his brother Ernie – another octogenarian in the Coote household, who thinks the whole thing is mad. But Bobby is determined to get airborne, even if it’s the last thing he does.

Director Frank Shouldice spoke to Film Ireland about his film, which is released in cinemas 29th March.

Dave Perry, the cinematographer, and myself have worked on a number of current affairs related programmes and we were looking for something outside of current affairs as a project of our own. Dave is very much into flying. He lives up near Bailieborough in County Cavan and was out flying one day in his paramotor. When he was flying he noticed this white dot in a couple of places underneath him. Later that same day, at home there was a ring of the doorbell. When he opened it,  there was an elderly man with a baseball cap standing there. He saw behind the man was this Suzuki IQ, a white one and he figures that’s the white dot. It turns out this man was Bobby and he said “was that you up there in the sky?” and he said yes and asked why. Bobby said “I want to do that”. That was his answer and that was the introduction to Bobby Coote.

The idea that this man in his late 70s at that point was having harbouring this ambition to do something that most people would deem was too late for him – it was something that got us thinking… could this be the story that we’re looking for. The premise was strong, the pursuit of a dream is always a romance in itself. But what really turned it for me was when I learnt that Bobby lived at home with his older brother, Ernie, and that the two were unmarried lads who lived in the same family house but had completely separate lives and separate front doors. That to me, if Ernie would come aboard and if Bobby was aboard, would open up a much richer vein that would be beyond the story of pursuing the flight, which would come off for not come off. It would open up into a lot of other more profound themes about isolation, ageing, love, family.

It was very much a generosity of spirit on their part that they were open to this and shared so much with us over such a long time. We ended up on a journey that from the first day of filming to the last day of the edit was five and a half years. It was inspiring getting to know these men now in their 80s – they have a full lived life experience. There’s a kind of wisdom and humour in the experience they’ve had of life. I think it is really key to the film that’s what’s there is real. It’s absolutely real. Some things just happened as they happened. When Bobby gets a very devastating phone call that brings home to him that his dream is finished… that literally happened as it happened. There was no rehearsal or preparation. It happened and actually it was quite difficult for myself and Dave to witness and almost not intervene – to throw an arm over shoulder and say don’t worry we’ll find a way around this or something. That was hard. We were literally watching someone’s dreams evaporating in front of their eyes. We had to remind ourselves we were there to make a film and not just simply to be friend.  

Five and a half years is a long time and before we showed the final cut to anybody, we showed it to Bobby and Ernie. We were a little bit apprehensive that they’d be comfortable in what they shared. Thankfully they were. They felt it represented them. If it hadn’t it would have been very uncomfortable for us because as true and close to the bone as it was, you’d like them to feel that that it does represent them rather than me exposing themselves emotionally in a way that they wouldn’t be happy with. It’s a credit to them for being so generous and it takes a lot of courage to open up and reveal the things that matter to them.

The film hangs on it being real, being genuine. We’ve just been in festivals so far but people are engaging with us. They feel that they get to know the brothers. From the outset, the ambition for me was that the audience would enter into their world for the next hour and a half. Let’s go into that world and stay in the world at that tempo, their tempo, their pace of life. It means slowing down, things don’t happen in a hurry. I hope that we have achieved this with the film. So far it seems to be happening. People accept the life and the community they see and they go with them and engage with it and support it. Maybe it’s an antidote to what else is on offer. This is the world we actually live in. It’s not a make-believe world. It’s out there… maybe we just didn’t notice it before.

 

The Man Who Wanted to Fly has a preview screening at the Odeon Cinema in Cavan Town on 26th March and opens in cinemas in Dublin, Galway, Cork and Cavan on the 29th March.

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Ross Killeen, Director of ’99 Problems’

 

The colourful and cartoonish ice cream vans across Ireland are synonymous with childhood delight, hot summers and their unmistakable chimes – but the person behind the cone is a character often forgotten about. 99 Problems is a short documentary which delves into the humorous, charming but often murky world of the Irish ice cream van trade. The unassuming ice-cream van business on the surface seems harmless, but has in fact quite a dark undertone, where turf wars are fierce. The self declared ‘king of the ice-cream men’, Pinky, works in the community where he lives. Competition is stiff, but he manages to make a decent living from it despite the challenges he faces. Through Pinky’s one liners, observational footage and animation, 99 Problems unearths unsung toils and troubles associated with this unconventional, yet humble profession.

Ahead of its screening at this year’s Dublin Film Festival, director Ross Killeen talked to Film Ireland about how his short film came to life.

 

99 Problems was something I’d had in my head for years. It all started when my wife was taking driving lessons with a guy called Ken. He was a bit of an hilarious character and turned out he was an ice cream man. So he has loads of stories about his profession and how it actually is quite violent. That there are loads of fights with other rival ice cream men. He told her how he used to be attacked and had to carry a baseball bat in the back of the van. She’d come home and tell me all these stories and we were thinking this is crazy, this would make a great little film. I don’t think people are aware that this goes on – these territorial spats between rival ice cream men. I’m a massive hip hop fan, so it was like ‘OK I’ve got the name of the film’… and then everything just kind of fell into place.

I started trying to meet as many ice-cream men as I could. It’s not something you expect to be doing –  you’re around the pub with the lads and they ask you what you’re at and I’d be saying I was out with Mr Softee or I was with Mr Jingles.

My wife’s driving instructor Ken was Mr Jingles and he introduced me to Mr Pinky (Mark Jenkinson), the subject of the film. Initially, I had this Reservoir Dogs Tarantinoesque type scenario in my head. The metaphors are all there – a man driving around getting the kids addicted to his produce; being territorial about his area and driving other dealers out of it. That was 4 years ago. After a break from production I returned and realised I needed to streamline the focus and settle on one driver and tell that story well. And after listening to Mark’s stories it was clear that the film just needed to be about him.

We focused on Mr Pinky and his route and spent some days observing him. He’s a great character and I really enjoyed hanging out with him. It also made me realise how hard drivers work and the pressure they face every day, including that of other drivers coming on their territory – there are no regulations to stop anyone from doing that. So you’re always looking over your shoulder. But they are enterprising. That appealed to me. I’ve my own company and my father was an entrepreneur before me and I’ve always admired people with a good work ethic who are out there doing their thing. That’s one of the things that drew me to Mark was how hard he worked. It struck me that being an ice cream man was just like any entrepreneur. Work hard, be tenacious and look for new opportunities. In spite of all the challenges Mark’s work ethic was always strong. As he says himself, “I could give you a list of things you’ve to put up with in the ice cream business but I go by what my ma’s philosophy was and my da’s philosophy was…. everybody has a right to make a living.”

We finally shot the film last summer. Did a few interviews with Mark. Got a really talented animator, Jonathan Irwinto bring Mark’s back-stories to life, which really works well. The whole idea was to keep the visuals quite colourful and although there’s some serious stuff there I think the film overall is quite fun.

 

 

99 Problems screens on Monday, 25th February at 6.pm at the Light House as part of the DIFF Shorts 3 programme at the Dublin International Film Festival 2019 (20 February – 3 March 2019).

Buy tickets at www.diff.ie

 

 

 

Preview of Irish Films @ Dublin International Film Festival 2019

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Shane J. Collins, Writer/Director of ‘Dub Daze’

Dub Daze is a comedy/drama set in the north, south, and centre of Dublin city. Get to know Dan and Baz, two friends looking for kicks on their last day of school; Cork medical students Jack and Seán who arrive in the capital to find their way amongst Ireland’s affluent youth; and songwriter Fi who struggles to break through on the cut-throat Dublin music scene.

Shane J. Collins talks to Film Ireland about his comedy-drama feature, “a passion project for all involved, a celebration of our love for Dublin City. I wanted to make a film that explores the different perspectives of Irish youth living in Ireland with classic themes of music, friendship and love re-examined to reflect an updated perspective of modern Dublin.

The film came about from my time in IADT. I had previously written a Northside Story. I met Leah Moore and wrote a Central story based on her. Mark O’Connor, one of my screenwriting tutors, gave me some advice that triple narratives usually work well so I thought I should really try write a Southside story and put them all together. Writing the story, I found passion and inspiration from some of Dublin’s best films, including Adam & Paul, Intermission, Kisses, The Commitments, and The Last Of The High Kings.”

Designed by street artists “Subset”

Self-financed on a shoestring budget, Shane is no stranger to taking on the various departments involved in making a film, “I had a good few jobs. I honestly think a massive challenge was doing the art department myself – that was a nightmare at times. But he insists that is not important “because when the film plays on the screen nobody cares who did all the jobs. They just care does this story work, is the acting good, am I engaged in this film – that’s the bottom line.”

The film’s soundtrack features a wealth of Irish musicians and it was important for Shane to get it right as “music plays a central role with a coming-of-age story, like Dazed & Confused, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, American Graffiti.” Musicians include Brame & Hamo, Bantum, Laurie Shaw, Majestic Bears, Makings, Noel O’Brien, Indian, Rhob Cunningham, Sammy Dozens and This Side Up, “who all gave their music so generously.”

The film features a cast of 44 new acting talent and Shane describes it as a showcase for new and upcoming Irish actors. “I was really lucky, I tapped into the acting community in Ireland and they really knocked it out of the park. We all banded together knowing what this film could potentially be for everyone.”

Talking about the film’s upcoming screening, Shane takes a deep breath. “It’s nearly 20 months since I started this. It’s taken a lot out of me physically and mentally. I think I’ve aged 10 years! But to find out that this film was getting to play is an amazing opportunity. Grainne Humphreys [Dublin International Film Festival Director] has been so kind to give us a great spot on Saturday to screen the film. It really means a lot going forward as I’m very passionate about the future of Irish film and I really want to be able to showcase so much new talent.”

 

Dub Daze screens on Saturday, 23rd February at 2pm at Cineworld as part of the Dublin International Film Festival 2019 (20 February – 3 March 2019).

Buy tickets at www.diff.ie

 

 

Preview of Irish Films @ Dublin International Film Festival 2019

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Paul Bushe & Brian O’Neill, Directors of ‘Killers Within’

Horror fans might be forgiven for thinking they are at the wrong screening when they settle in to watch Killers Within at this year’s IFI annual film celebration of all things horror. Brian O’Neill and Paul Bushe’s feature bursts onto the screen with a gritty opening that seemingly provides the set-up for a crime thriller. A mother is violently attacked and her son taken away from her by a criminal gang. From here the films takes another turn into home invasion territory, as getting him back involves a group of friends and family plotting a tiger kidnapping. Their plan is to get their hands on enough cash to pay for the son’s release. Just when the audience settle in, there’s a seismic shift; things go somewhat haywire as we enter a world of mythological monsters and here is where the horror really kicks in, applied liberally with a double dose of action. It’s not your typical horror and to say much more would take away from the delirious fun that ensues.

Paul explains to Film Ireland that Killers Within is a genre-bashing film. “We initially set out to make a pure horror and it evolved and evolved again as we wrote and rewrote it. It became more thriller and then more action, with touches of sci-fi in there. Then we introduce a different type of villain that is not as prevalent in horror films.”

The bulk of the film takes place in Springfield Castle, Limerick, the home of a wealthy banker and his la-di-da family, who are set upon by Amanda Doyle, together with her ex-husband and three unlikely allies. The cast and crew lived in the Castle for the 10 days of the initial shoot. Brian says, “It was like Evil Dead stuff – where we live; where we shoot. We had a very bizarre existence there. There was no phone signal in the castle and you had to walk around 500 metres down the driveway to get a phone signal. In a way, it was like we were in an alternative reality living in this castle.” In this particular alternative reality, the band of ragtag amateur kidnappers and uppercrust elite family come together with catastrophic results as opposites clash, worlds collide and divides are crossed.

Leading the way is Sue Walsh, who plays Amanda, the Mother of the captive son. Her journey as a character is the stand-out role in the film, from victim to empowerment; she certainly is no damsel in distress, blazing her way through the film with a nutribullet blend of maternal love, unyielding determination and a ready-for-battle steely grit. “She was someone we hadn’t worked with before,” Paul says. “We didn’t know her at all. We did a big casting job and met some really extraordinary actors. It was such a hard thing to cast that lead female role because there’s so many things she has to embody more than anybody else in the film.” Brian explains how “as the protagonist, there was a lot of elements we wanted to hit. And Sue totally pulls that off.”

That’s the good, but what about the bad and the ugly? The monsters that comes to life are certainly impressive creatures but this element wasn’t all plain sailing according to Brian. “Creating the monsters for the film provided one of the biggest challenges. We ended up re-shooting a lot of scenes. We hadn’t anticipated how long it would take. By the time we got actors on set and even though the make-up was great, everyone was just fatigued and they were shot really badly. That’s on us.” Paul adds,”It’s that logistical thing. First time doing a feature like that. Brian had done How to be Happy and myself and Brian had made loads of shorts together and proofs of concept  – but just this kind of animal of a film, with prosthetics, stunts, then it’s raining and finally we had trouble with lighting and logistics on the night. So when we got to the edit, we knew we needed to go back and redo scenes. Thankfully the producer said yes, which was great. We had the opportunity to really rethink how we did it. Really liaise better with our stunt team. Think about make-up more. Just pure logistics really. Like how can we get a stunt actor into the scene? How can we get this done in 20 minutes rather than 8 hours.”

Talking to Paul and Brian it’s obvious they are passionate about film and how horror affords them to a chance to mix it up. Paul speaks about it as being a genre “with the most subgenres… Everything mixes with it and people accept that. They’ll take comedy in their horror, romance, action, whatever it is people will take it with horror.  That’s why Horror is such a broad topic. A lot of the films we like, like Dog Soldiers, From Dusk till Dawn,  they’re all genre-blending horror films. I love my pure horror as well but I love those blending of things. That’s what this film is – taking all these things we love, or are interested in, or find curious and sticking them all in one film together. And horror lets you do that.”

For an Irish horror, Killers Within could be a story told anywhere. “We didn’t want the film to be typical Irish film but there is some Irish in there, particularly in the dialogue,” Brian says. “But yes, the film could be set anywhere in the world. That was important for us making a genre film, not to be too colloquial. Paul goes on, “that’s part of how we write in general. Our influences are international and we write the story we want to see. It’s not specific to a location. This could be in the London, the Hamptons. It could be anywhere. It just happens just happens to be set in Ireland. If you look at English break-out films like Shaun of the Dead, yes they’re set in London or where ever but again that story is universal. The themes are universal.The characters are universal. The monsters are universal. That’s what we wanted to do here.”

If there was ever a PSA against tiger kidnappings, this would be it. Avoid those monsters, buy a lottery ticket, and join us in the IFI for a horrorful bank holiday screaming… I mean screening.

 

Killers Within screens Sunday, 28th October 2018 at 23.10 at the IFI as part of Horrorthon 2018 (25-29 October)

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Mark Noonan: Director of Kevin Roche: The Quiet Architect

Mark Noonan’s documentary introduces audiences to the Pritzker Prize-winning, Irish-American architect Kevin Roche. Responsible for over 300 major buildings around the world, Roche has designed museums, corporate headquarters, research facilities, performing arts centres, theatres, and campus buildings for universities. Some of his best known work includes the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the revolutionary Oakland Museum of California, the Ford Foundation and United Nations Plaza in Manhattan, A Centre For the Arts at the Wesleyan University, corporate campuses for Bouygues in Paris and Banco Santander in Madrid.

Noonan’s film Kevin Roche: The Quiet Architect shines a light on a true Irish visionary, whose architectural philosophy is that ‘the responsibility of the modern architect is to create a community for a modern society’ and has emphasised the importance for peoples well-being to bring nature into the buildings they inhabit.

Noonan describes how the film came into being.”It began when I was approached by my producer, who had an idea about doing a movie about this architect called Kevin Roche, whom I had never actually heard of, even though I studied architecture. So I did a bit of research on him and discovered that he was quite a fascinating individual with a huge body of work, all over the world. He was born in Ireland, educated in Ireland and then left in his mid 20s to go to America. That all got me quite excited and so I started to develop the idea with the producer.

“Quite early on I approached Kate McCullough [DoP], whom I’d always wanted to work with – she was very excited about bringing her visual sensibility to some of Roche’s buildings.. We shot a short promo and started to map out the visual language that we wanted to use, which was very much trying to put the viewer inside and outside – so, if we were inside the building it was very elegant tracking shots as if they were moving through the building and then for some of his more large-scale work we talked about helicopters and drones, to give life to the buildings from above – a God’s eye view almost.

We also talked about tilt-shift lenses and using focus to actually draw the eye to different diagonals of the buildings – some of his buildings look like they’ve been created by a mad genius. They are very particular, very impressionistic. It was very important to film the buildings and describe them visually.”

Noonan started making the film without having actually met Roche, which he admits was a huge gamble, “when you’re making a film about a subject and you’re not sure what is this guy going to be like both in person and on camera. But very quickly I saw similarities between him and his work. Walking around his buildings you get this sense of calmness, this sense of stoicism… an elegant unfolding of spaces, and in person he is this very philosophical, poetic, grounded individual. So we were able to make that connection between his personality and his buildings. At some stage though in the film we try to let the buildings speak for themselves. Kevin’s so tied up in his work as you see in the film, his whole life has become his work almost that we feel like we’re describing large chunks of his personality with some of the buildings. So rather than it just be him, or other people telling us about him, we give you the buildings and let them tell the story as well.”

A major reason Noonan is able to achieve this so well in the film is because of Kate McCullough’s glistening cinematography which douses the buildings with a lofty and roaming, revealing eye. Mark is quick to praise McCullough, explaining what she brought to the project. “She’s got an amazing eye. She’d be walking around a building and suggesting shots that I would never have thought about. She has a unique way of looking at things. Plus, she’s not afraid to push the visual aesthetic, to get me and the producer to give the time and get the money to hire helicopters and get drones so that we were able to get the amazing shots that we ended up with in the film. And always not to compromise on lenses – we had this idea of doing a lot of the interviews extremely wide angled but with a soft focus in the background. We had to hire extremely expensive lenses in London that allowed us to give our interview subjects this wide angled feel that we were using in the building to connect the interviews with the building. These kinds of ways of linking the story to the people and pushing the visual aesthetic were some of her greatest gifts.”

Reflecting on his time with Kevin Roche himself, Noonan notes the parallels between Kevin and filmmakers like himself. “You live through your work. Kevin’s obsessed with architecture and I’m obsessed with cinema and filmmaking,” and how he learnt from the experience seeing “how satisfied he [Roche] was by devoting most of his life to his work. He has no regrets. Never looks back. Never questions any decisions. Trusts his instincts… but also then remains philosophical and hopeful about humans as well, even though maybe now is not the most hopeful time we’ve lived through, but still feels that what he’s doing is important and that he’s bringing joy to people. Its great to be around someone like that.”

 

 

 

 

Kevin Roche: The Quiet Architect is in cinemas from  13th October 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Nathan Fagan, Director of ‘Hum’

 

Director Nathan Fagan talks to Film Ireland about his film Hum, an intimate portrait of artist and singer-songwriter, Kevin Nolan, which recently won the inaugural Guth Gafa Short Lens competition.

 

How did the project come about for you?

I first learned about Kevin Nolan from an article he wrote in The Irish Times. He discussed the challenges he has faced as a result of his diagnosis with schizo-affective disorder and how writing and performing music has helped him through some seriously dark times. I just remember being fascinated by his story and music and so I got in touch with him shortly after.

Initially, I’d been considering trying to do a radio documentary on Kevin and his music. After our first meeting, he invited me along to a performance he was giving as part of the ‘First Fortnight’ festival, at St. Patrick’s hospital, where he’s been a service user in the past. I remember watching him walk on stage, quietly sit down in front of a keyboard, and launch into this unbelievably powerful and theatrical performance of one of his songs, ‘Drowning’. By the end of the song, I’d pretty much decided to try and make a film about him.

 

Can you describe your relationship with Kevin over the filming period?

Before we started shooting anything, Kevin and myself spent quite a bit of time together just having conversations about anything and everything. We actually share a lot of the same interests in books, art and music. So, by the time we actually introduced a camera into the situation, we were both fairly used to each other’s company.

Although the film is only 19 minutes, we actually shot it over the course of about a year, with considerable breaks in between shoot days. Initially, I think Kevin was probably surprised at how much time it takes to get enough material for a documentary. I think there were definitely times where he wanted to get back to making music without having us hanging around filming him. It was worth it in the end, however.

 

How was it for you to witness Kevin’s creative process at work?

His creative process is fascinating. He works unbelievably hard at his art – treating it like a 9 to 5 essentially – but his productivity is often interrupted by his illness.

During the writing of his debut album,’Fredrick and the Golden Dawn’, he developed this routine for himself. He would wake up around 4 or 5 am, put on a full suit, and then sit down at his desk for the entire day creating songs. This went on for close to eight years – with breaks in between where his illness might become problematic or unmanageable and he might need to spend some time in the hospital.

If you listen to the album, there’s everything on there: piano, bass, electric guitar, drums, saxophone, xlyophone, organ, cello – even the musical saw. He taught himself – over the years – how to play many of these instruments himself, so as to be able to write and record the kinds of songs he wanted to make.

He also appears to draw on very eclectic sources for inspiration: poetry philosophy, folk tales, cowboy novels, dreams.

 

What was it like filming the live performances?

Shooting these performances was definitely a bit of a challenge. Before making this documentary, I knew next to nothing about capturing audio for live music. Foolishly, I think I just assumed it was similar to capturing regular location sound. I didn’t realise the level of expertise and experience necessary to capture high-quality audio like this. Luckily, however, we had the help of two people: Caimin Agnew, who did an unbelievable job capturing sound for the performances, and Christopher Barry, who allowed us to raid equipment from his recording studio for the day and provided some extra guidance during the shoot.

As always, Kevin delivered some incredibly powerful performances that day. Experiencing him live really is something to behold. It’s amazing to watch how Kevin transforms from this bookish, somewhat soft-spoken man into this amazingly theatrical, almost bombastic persona when he gets on stage.

I was also very lucky to get our DoP, Simon O’Neill, on-board at this stage. He really went above and beyond to help us capture the energy and uniqueness of Kevin’s performances on the day.

 

Did making the film have any impact on your understanding of mental illness?

Making the film has definitely changed my understanding of mental illness. Before making it, I only had a basic understanding of conditions like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and schizo-affective disorder. Not only that, but my understanding of these conditions would have been largely gleaned from the media or popular culture.

I think there’s a tendency to sensationalise people living with these conditions in Hollywood movies, the media and popular culture. There’s a tendency to reduce individuals to their conditions and to ‘other’ them. The reality, of course, is much more complex and differs greatly from person to person. Individuals living with these conditions have full, rounded lives just like anyone else – with careers, families and relationships – but simply have the added challenge of maintaining their mental health.

I think Kevin – by being so open and honest about his experiences – can help shatter some of these misconceptions and offer a more nuanced understanding of what it’s like to live with a condition like this. That’s certainly one of the main goals of the film.

 

What was Kevin’s reaction to the film?

It’s been entirely positive – which is a massive relief. You never really know how people are going to react to seeing themselves on screen for the first time (I’m not sure how I’d react, to be honest) so that’s always an anxious experience.

We had our first official screening at the Guth Gafa festival just this month. I think Kevin was fairly nervous just before the screening – I certainly was, anyway – but it all went well. In fact, when they announced we had won the Short Lens competition and they wanted me to come up and answer a few questions, it was Kevin reassuring me, as I’m not really a fan of public speaking.

 

What are the plans for the film – screenings, etc…

We have another screening coming up at the end of this month, at the Still Voices film festival, in Longford. It’s also been selected for the Barcelona Short Film Festival and the Au Contraire Film Festival, in Montreal, who have kindly offered to fly myself and Kevin over to Montreal for the screening and provide us with accommodation. I also just received some exciting news from another festival abroad – which I’m not allowed to share just yet!

Other than that, we’re hoping some more festivals will screen it and really just to get it in front of as many people as possible.

 

You can find Kevin Nolan’s website here: https://www.kevinnolan.info/

Plus his critically-acclaimed first album can be found here: https://soundcloud.com/mrkevinnolan/sets/fredrick-the-golden-dawn-by

 

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Interview: Ciaran Creagh, writer/director of ‘In View’

Ciaran Creagh Writer Director In View

Writer / director Ciaran Creagh talked to Film Ireland about his film In View, the story of the implosion of Ruth Donnelly, a thirty-something Garda officer, whose drunken indiscretion set off a chain of events which she never could have foretold. A couple of years have now passed and Ruth’s life is one of burdening guilt dominated by rage, alcoholism, depression and self-loathing. Ruth eventually concludes that there is only one way for her to make amends with the world.

 

The subject matter of In View is particularly challenging for a filmmaker – can you tell us how the project came about?

This was one of the challenges facing me when writing the screenplay. From the outset, this film is more than just about depression and suicide. I wanted it to touch on the larger, more universal story of human guilt, the way sometimes one can never move on with their lives and also the extreme and sometimes nonsensical measures people take to placate their guilt.

I had the central idea of the story and then came up with the characters and scenarios.  While writing the screenplay I carried out a lot of research into the area and spoke to organisations working in the sector.  They all welcomed the raising of these issues into the national debate on a topic which really needs to be talked about.  Of course, the more you get into a project the more you learn and discover. This can ultimately change the direction of the script, which of course it did.

Through this process the script went from being initially a chase movie to save Ruth to the telling of a story through the eyes of one character.  The art of writing a screenplay is very demanding but I don’t feel that any particular topic should increase that challenge unless it is so close to your heart that you, as a writer, can’t step away to be impartial.

 

From script to screen – you frame the world in a particular way in the film that informs us of the main character’s state of mind; obviously working with David Grennan as your DOP was crucial to achieve this. And then there’s getting the final project through the edit working with Tony Cranstoun. 

In every feature there are three films. The script is the first as to how the writer sees it. The second is the director of photography, with the third being the cutting room. Dave Grennan is a hugely experienced DOP who brings an awful lot to the table. What Dave did is to take what’s on the page and turn it into not just pictures but the visual experience for the audience. We worked together really well and understood each other. Trust is so important and as a writer/director you are exposing yourself on film and you need this sort of relationship with your DOP. I would give an idea of what I wanted and Dave just made it come to life. Simple as that. I think that is what you call talent!

The third part of the equation is the edit. On In View this was Tony Cranstoun. Tony has an amazing CV and the breadth of his experience really helped make this film what it is. He continually pushed me and came up with solutions when none seemed possible. The pacing of In View is pretty amazing considering that the assembly was 155 minutes and the completed film 93 minutes. I suppose the key to a good editor is to figure out what the director wants and then push it way past that point to a place where you watch the film over and over again and can’t think of any further changes. Tony got me there.

 

Can you tell us about the decision to have the main character as a garda?

When I came up with the main theme of the film I then needed to create the backstory and lead character.  I love character and especially making them in some way an anti-hero. Given the story sentimentality could have crept in very easily and there is nothing worse on screen for me than having the lead as a weak character. The police deal with and protect us from the very worst in society but this cannot but rub off. It gives this inner resilience to compartmentalise awful things they encounter and this is what the lead character in this film needed. She needed an inner strength and by making her a garda, the character could take on a persona which is both believable and real.

In View - Ruth (Caoilfhionn Dunne) listens from behind the door

Caoilfhionn Dunne as Ruth is immense in the film. What did she bring to the role as an actor.

Caoilfhionn was terrific in the role and has been praised by everybody that has seen the film and has been lauded by all of the reviewers for her stunning performance. Her character is in every scene and half of the scenes in the film have no dialogue. The actor who had to play the lead character was always going to have to be terrific to carry this film. If the audience didn’t believe her portrayal of Ruth, they wouldn’t believe the film either. I know I am biased but her performance is in my opinion unsurpassed in 2016 in Ireland.

 

You didn’t do too badly with the rest of the cast either.

How lucky were we! The cast was pretty amazing and reads like a who’s who of Irish talent. Stuart Graham, Ciaran McMenamin, Gerry McSorley, Maria McDermottroe… need I go on. So much talent and ability and all so generous and understanding of what we were trying to achieve with the film. When you work with experienced actors they will know what they must bring to the film and have a level of professionalism which gives great reassurance to any director.

The balance of the characters at script stage was a real challenge since you have to ensure that  the focus is on Ruth as this film is about her journey and how she interacts with the environment that she encounters. The spark between all the actors was instant with all having a very strong instinct for the characters and an immediate rapport with each other as actors.

 

I read that the script was originally written with a male lead in mind. Can you explain your decision to change that.

I worked on the script for about one year and one of the producers, Simon Doyle, was very involved in the process. We brought the script to a really good place and we felt that it was ready for production. Out of the blue, one evening while sitting at home, it came to me, what if the main male character and the supporting female character switched roles without changing the characteristics of their individual character.  I rewrote the script in the matter of 24 hours and knew straightaway this simple change would make this film something special – showing a female in a male dominated world.  I think women are generally a lot more complex and, as a writer, this gives you so many more places you can go when exploring a character.

 

What has been audiences’ reactions to the film?

It has been pretty amazing everywhere we have been. Whether it was the Ireland, the US, Germany, Poland or Estonia the reaction has been great from the reviewers but especially the audience.  I have had a number of audience members approach me who have been touched by depression and suicide in some way and all have been so positive about In View. When we were trying to fund the film the usual funders you would approach all said that the lead character would never hold an audience. This certainly was not my experience. She is the anti-hero and you are sucked into her world.

 

Recently there was Frank Berry’s film [I Used to Live Here] about suicide clusters and now your film, which both make an important contribution to public discourse around suicide.

In View is an original piece of filmmaking which directly relates to the on-going crisis of suicide in Ireland and in many other countries around the world. Its approach, by focusing on the character and how she develops throughout the feature, is a very distinctive voice and is challenging in how it shows an individual’s view of the world and the progression of her life to what she sees as its successful completion and atonement.

This is not a popular choice of topic for a film and I do understand that – but writers are supposed to challenge and I hope in some way that I have contributed in some meaningful way to the debate that needs to happen.  Frank’s film is great and while looking at similar themes shares something in common with In View, that is the terrific performance of the lead actor, Jordanne Jones.

I hope that the audience will find the film an accurate and true reflection of a person’s life who had found herself in a bad place through circumstances of choices made. This is not about judging the character of Ruth but is about trying to understand and have compassion for her. All that she can see is all that is now gone. How many people around the world feel this every single day?

 

 

 

Caoilfhionn Dunne, Actor, ‘In View’

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Interview: Patrick Brendan O’Neill, director of ‘The Uncountable Laughter of The Sea’

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Patrick Brendan O’Neill took time out to answer a few questions about his film The Uncountable Laughter of The Sea. Structured as a visual hymn and meditation, The Uncountable Laughter of The Sea is a journey through the spirit of abundance in nature, filmed in County Kerry, Ireland, this journey follows in the poetic footsteps of a vision, in the light and presence of our rich cultural heritage, which is celebrated and shared with Pádraig Ó Fiannachta our guide.

 

Thanks for speaking to us Paddy, can you introduce us to your film?

The title The Uncountable Laughter of The Sea comes from a line in a play entitled Prometheus Bound written by Aeschylus ( 525-455 BCE ), where he describes the sparkling of the sun over the ocean as ‘anarithmon gelasma tas thalassa’. As with all human endeavour, we relate to life and nature via our conditioning. Almost all experience is filtered through language as a mechanism of the mind. What does this title or creative description of Aeschylus illustrate? Is it a bright rich scintillating trope? Or does it also contain darker deeper tones, to act as a check against vanity?.

We navigate through life and encounter what it is to be alive, coming to terms with all that is on offer, through social interaction with our own kind, as well as our interaction with Nature, Space and Time. The key stone philosophical question of antiquity was ‘what is the good life?’ – this is a theme for the film, as we observe the characters of the film in various settings. The splendour of the natural world. Amongst ruins from another time. Within the environs and descriptions of language, poetry and contemplative thoughts. All wound into the aesthetic that is sound and cinematography, keyed to inspire or provoke the viewer’s imagination and feeling.

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Irish Consular General to NYC Barbara Jones, Fr.Pádraig O’Fiannachta, Susan Sarandon (first screening of the film in Soho House NYC)

Can you tell us about the genesis of the project?

My freind Paris Kain and I wished to celebrate the riches of Fr. Pádraig O’Fiannachta’s way of life. He possessed a Scholastic Intellect, being a master of Greek, Latin, Welsh and Irish. He felt beauty was revelation as an article of his Faith. He lived a simple life, while tirelessly publishing and promoting the literary talents of others as well as his own.

We wanted to pay tribute to age, venerate the humility and wisdom that often times only those of such lived experience can share. So we conceived a film where he is not the central character, consciously wanting to steer away from the typical anthropocentric narrative; instead wishing to share some of the energies which support his calling, language, landscape and light, with him as a guide.

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 Patrick Brendan O’Neill and Rosario Dawson at Soho House LA screening

It’s a very meditative piece – what was the thinking behind its structure?

The film visually references classic themes that poets have visited from Ovid and Virgil to Dante. One being that of the journey into The Underworld, a quest. The cave of Plato. Perhaps when we encounter the death of a loved one, the frail foundations of who we are are moved. Then questions are asked and mediations undergone. The journey of the film has no particular destination. It is not a straight line per se, in fact it is circular in nature, as we revolve around the ‘tree of life’ and revisit time and again central questions of value and importance that the modern material world oftentimes distracts us from.

The film also takes inspiration from Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment ‘Laudato si’, our narrator is a young lady, Kelsey Lang McCarthy, whose beautiful voice softly shares The Pope’s reflections. These serve to lead us deeper into active contemplation of our essential relationships, with other’s with ourselves, and ultimately with Nature itself.

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Dominic West

You were blessed to have three-time Oscar Nominee J. Ralph on board.

Indeed. Ralph received an Oscar nomination for his song “Before My Time”, performed by Scarlett Johansson and Joshua Bell from Chasing Ice. For his contribution to Racing Extinction, he received his second Oscar nomination for his song “Manta Ray” co-written and performed by Anohni (F.K.A. Antony of Antony and the Johnsons). For his contribution to Jim: The James Foley Story, he received his third Oscar nomination for “The Empty Chair”, which he co-wrote with Sting, who also performs the song. In the entire history of the Academy Awards, only seven songs from documentaries have ever been nominated for Best Original Song.
I co-directed the film with a dear friend Paris Kain; he and J. Ralph are close friends for many years, I have also known J since I moved to NYC back in 2004.  We wanted to transport the viewers to another space by design…somewhat interrupt any cliched ideas with regard a soundtrack that might numb our audience via cliched stock responses, hence the design of the music was at an angle to some degree from the visuals to further enhance the modernity of the journey, or, in other words, the universal aspect of the meditation.
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Michael K.Williams

How has the film been received so far?

The film had its first screening in Soho House in NYC to a select audience; the actress Susan Sarandon was present and became a fan of the film and of Fr. Pádraig, who, at 88 years of age, had travelled to NYC to be there. It was then chosen by the Museum of Modern Art in NYC, who acknowledged it as a work of Art, screening it on December 21st 2015.

The film premiered in Ireland at The Omniplex in Tralee, where President Michael D.Higgins and the first Lady Sabina Higgins were in attendance. Over the course of the summer season there were 52 cinema screenings in Kerry, followed by 6 screenings at The Triskel Arts Centre in Cork. Aer Lingus showed the film on their inflight entertainment on Transatlantic flights from August to October and Tg4 aired the film on Christmas Eve with 68,000 people tuning in to experience it. The Irish Independent film critic Hilary Adam White gave the film four stars.

As of February 2nd the film had its worldwide release on iTunes. We also launched our website that day with a link to the iTunes page.

 

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Writer/Director Tom Ryan on ‘Twice Shy’

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Twice Shy, is a modern, coming-of-age drama that revolves around a young, unmarried couple who set off on a road trip from Ireland to London, as the result of an unplanned pregnancy. The film charts the ups and downs of their relationship by juxtaposing their dramatic journey with flashbacks to happier times in their romance. 

The film stars Shane Murray-Corcoran and Iseult Casey in the lead roles and features support from a stellar cast including Ardal O’ Hanlon (After Hours, Fr. Ted), Pat Shortt (The Guard, Garage), Mary Conroy (Ros na Run) and Paul Ronan (Love / Hate).

Film Ireland asked writer/director Tom Ryan about his second feature, which premieres at the Galway Film Fleadh

 

The idea for Twice Shy came about after I finished work on my debut feature Trampoline. Trampoline was a low-key film about trying to deal with a career that isn’t suited for you and life in a small town, I wanted to make sure that my second feature wasn’t going to repeat any of that. I also wanted it to be bigger in scope and have something more important to say. The idea of writing about a young romance that was suddenly impacted by an unplanned pregnancy really gripped me. I thought it could be engaging and complex while also having the balance of being sincere and compassionate. The trip from Ireland to London opened up the scope of the movie. We also integrate flashbacks as to how our two lead characters of Andy and Maggie met and fell in love to offer some lightness and counter balance the drama of their road trip to the UK.

I view the film as a love story first and foremost. The abortion is a means to test these two characters and see if their relationship can survive something like this. Film is a great medium to tell a story with such an important and topical issue like this. Abortion is such a divisive issue and addressing in a movie is a responsibility we didn’t take lightly. It is our aim to portray it in a sensitive, non-judgmental manner.

Shane Iseult Airpot June (1)

I was incredibly lucky to have such a wonderful cast involved in this movie. Iseult Casey and Shane Murray Corcoran (pictured above) are terrific in the lead roles of Maggie and Andy and have such great chemistry on screen. Having actors like Ardal O’ Hanlon and Pat Shortt in supporting roles was a massive boost for us. For an indie movie to have a cast like this and a soundtrack that features Gavin James (pictured below), Ash, The Corrs and Molly Sterling is incredible. Setting out to make this film, I could never have dreamed we would be as lucky as we have been in getting all of these talented people together.

Gavin James

 

Having Fionn Greger on board the project as producer was also a huge help. He has been incredibly supportive of the movie throughout its production and always had my back when the going got tough. Our entire crew went above and beyond the call of duty for this movie and I can’t thank them enough. I’m also very grateful to the Film Fleadh for premiering Twice Shy. It’s a wonderful and prestigious festival. The fact that the film was the first of this year’s programme to sell out is extremely rewarding. I’m very excited and anxious to see how people will respond.

 

 

 

Twice Shy screens at the Town Hall Theatre on Friday, 8th July at 18.30

Director Tom Ryan and cast members Shane Murray Corcoran and Iseult Casey will attend.

Take a look at our preview of all the Irish films ascreening at the 2016 Galway Film Fleadh

The 28th Galway Film Fleadh runs 5 – 10 July 2016

 

 

 

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Interview: Richard Bolger, producer of ‘Cardboard Gangsters’

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Stalker Films and Five Knight Films in association with Filmbase present Mark O’Connor’s latest feature Cardboard Gangsters. The film introduces us to a group of young men who attempt to gain control of the drug trade in Darndale, chasing the glorified lifestyle of money, power and sex.

Film Ireland caught up with producer Richard Bolger ahead of the film’s premiere at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.

 

Described in the Galway Film Fleadh programme as “an intoxicating blend of high-octane violence and crime and a sobering condemnation of the circumstances that trap people in the lifestyle with no hope of escape”, Richard Bolger, the producer of Cardboard Gangsters, explains that the film is “the story of four best friends who form a gang in Darndale. They start off selling marijuana before things start to get a bit more serious and the main character Jay, who has a kid, has to get out as the situation becomes more dangerous when they start stealing heroin.”

Jay is played by John Connors, who was involved in the script with writer/director Mark O’Connor. The pair had originally worked together on Stalker and King of the Travellers. “The original idea for Cardboard Gangsters was John’s,” Richard explains. “Mark came on board and the two of them co-wrote the script. John was thinking that maybe he would do it himself and then the idea got bigger and bigger and he brought the project to Mark. Both of them have a huge love of the gangster genre. John started writing it around King of the Travellers in 2012 and we started shooting  in September 2015 for just over 3 weeks.”

The film boasts an impressive cast alongside John. Fionn Walton (What Richard Did) plays fellow gang member Dano. Irish rappers Lethal Dialect and Ryan Lincoln complete the gang. Kiersten Warren (Fishtank) is joined by Damien Dempsey and Jimmy Smallhorne who plays Derra – Jay’s nemesis. The cast also includes Stephen Clinch (Love/Hate), plus Gemma-Leah Devereux, Corey McKinley Lydia McGuinnessand Graham Earley amongst others.

“It’s a huge and talented cast, “Richard says. “The first AD, Craig Kenny, said to me that we probably had more in the movie than you’d have in a season of Game of Thrones. That’s down to the story and the different characters the guys meet along the way, be it opposite rival gangs, friends, and the like. Obviously, the guys are dealing drugs so through that there’s a lot of people that they meet for small periods in the film.”

The title of the film is a Dublin phrase for wannabe gangsters. Richard explains that the gang “are not really gangsters; they just want the lifestyle. They are not the most organised professional outfit. They are not like the Joker’s gang at the beginning of the The Dark Knight. These guys couldn’t come up with a plan like that!”

The look of the film was created with the assistance of Irish cinematographer Michael Lavelle, who Richard is quick to praise. “He’s done such amazing stuff. He worked with Terry McMahon on Patricks Day and that’s how Mark got to work with him. Terry just said you’ve got to work with this guy. The visuals were a huge concern for Mark on this project. Gangster films look a certain way. They need to look slick and we knew these characters wanted to be like them so they had to be shot and had to be framed in a certain way. Getting Michael on board was a huge step to achieve that. He knows what is going on and the dynamic of a scene and he can figure how to work it. Mark and him watched an awful lot of films together discussing things that they felt would work for this film.”

Talking about the music, Richard says, “we were blessed on this film. We have Darklands Audio. There’s a real talented guy there called Daniel Doherty who composed the original score for the film which uses a huge amount of rap music. There’s a really interesting scene in Dublin at the minute and some of these musician are in the film and they’ve been working with Mark making tracks for the film. What these guys are coming up with and with Dan producing is amazing. He’s engineering a whole feel to the film. Mark wanted the music to reflect the realism and grittiness of the film and show what life is like for these cardboard gangsters in Dublin.”

And for Richard himself working with Mark O’Connor, “I’d always admired Mark’s work and it was great to get a chance to work with him. He has a special voice and is a real talent in the industry. He makes films that nobody else does.”

 

Cardboard Gangsters screens at the Town Hall Theatre on Saturday, 9th July at 22.00.

Director Mark O’Connor and cast will attend.

Buy tickets here

Take a look at our preview of all the Irish films ascreening at the 2016 Galway Film Fleadh

The 28th Galway Film Fleadh runs 5 – 10 July 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

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IFI Irish Film in Focus Interview: Robert Manson, writer/director of ‘Lost in the Living’

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Robert Manson’s drama Lost in the Living screens at the IFI on Thursday, 11th February 2016. The film follows a young man, Oisín (Tadhg Murphy), who travels to Berlin with his band, buzzing with the potential of a tour and escape from his troubled family life. Oisín meets Sabine (Aylin Tezel), a pretty young Berliner, who shows him the secret places that belong to the city. The band lose patience with him and move on and he decides to stay. But this time of simple pleasures is based on illusions. Oisín’s willful escapism is thrown into a tailspin when events take a dark turn.

Robert has described the film as his ‘love letter to Berlin’, a city he has been visiting for ten years and where he now lives. “I love Berlin. It’s a huge inexpensive creative metropolis, where young and emerging artists, can find and afford space to develop their craft without too much hassle. Lost in the Living is an homage to the city of Berlin in many ways. This film is a collection of anecdotes, experiences and observations I have made in the city over the years. Some are personal ones, some are of friends and visitors, to Berlin, and some are things that I have seen and overheard. I collected all these little shards and memories and worked them into a simple script about love and loss in a foreign city.

“The film took me a little over four years to make and bring to this stage. I have been living in Berlin for nearly a year now so my perspective of the city has changed considerably over time. But it’s still interesting to see and experience things with fresh eyes. I still feel that newcomer buzz when watching the film now. I have learned a lot more about Berlin since shooting this film. Including a deeper understanding of the people, the culture and the history of the city. In some ways the success of this film has given me an opportunity to delve deeper into life in Berlin. It was originally my plan to make this film as a bookend of my experiences in the city and go somewhere else to discover another city perhaps. Berlin hasn’t let me go though. I have been immersed since then, presenting the film to new audiences in the capital city.”

It turns out that this will not be Robert’s only film set in Berlin. Robert explains that he plans to make a trilogy of films there, “representing three stages of life in the city: visiting the city; living in the city and, finally, leaving the city, after spending a long time there. I am currently developing the script for the second part of this trilogy, along with two other scripts, which are set in Ireland.”

Robert had written and directed 5 shorts before taking on his first feature and points out the particular challenges he faced working on his debut feature. “Shorts and features are two completely different animals. Everything is ten times bigger, scarier and more difficult when handling a feature. The hardest part about making a feature is knowing when you’re ready to step up and start swimming against the current. Then comes the decisions about what story or script to develop. There is also the challenge of gathering a team together to work with you.

“‘Don’t wait too long or you’ll miss your chance,’ an Irish film director once told me at the Fleadh in Galway. Convincing yourself is the first stage, then you need to try and convince everyone else around you that it is going to happen. It’s like a right of passage for a director/writer. Shorts are a great way to find your feet as a filmmaker and to develop your craft. It’s important to make as many as you can at a young age and make as many mistakes as possible during the process. I made loads of mistakes along the way to finishing Lost In The Living.

“We shot a feature film, on a minimal budget, in a foreign city, with a language and cultural barrier. My producer Lisa Roling was asked at a recent screening in Berlin, ‘how did you manage it all?’ she replied, ‘I really don’t know’. We survived this process by the skin of our teeth and with all the film Gods looking down on us and guiding us. The experience I garnered on this film, I think, will put me in good stead for many years to come. It will also help me tackle, with good temperament, the challenges of future projects. I am hungry for the next challenge now.”

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For a film like Lost in the Living to work, Robert needed particularly strong performances from its two leads, which he got in spades from Tadhg Murphy, playing Oisín, and Aylin Tezel, who plays Sabine. “After watching the short film Rhinos, I thought Aylin Tezel would be perfect for the role of Sabine in my film. I got in touch with her and visited her in the Mauerpark in Berlin. She liked the script and we became friends. There were a few bumps in the road before we actually got around to shooting the film in the summer of 2013 in Berlin. In that time, Aylin had started to become really famous in Berlin and was working on a number of high-profile films and had also secured a main role in the hit German TV show Tatort. But she kept true to the film and joined up with us to shoot in Berlin and Dublin.

“I cast Tadhg a few weeks before setting out to Berlin for the pre-production phase of the film. I met him in a cafe in Dublin just after he had finished shooting on Vikings and I was bowled over by him. He was so open and generous with me. I remember him being calm and revealing stuff to me after a matter of minute that he said he hadn’t told anyone yet. I knew he was perfect for the role.

“It’s always a worrying moment when actors meet for the first time on set. Thankfully, Tadhg and Aylin got on like a house on fire from the first moment they met. Their first scene together was when they meet for the first time. I didn’t introduce them before the scene where Tadhg looks over at Aylin in the cupboard bar scene in the film. I told him to find her amongst the crowd of extras and he did. It was perfect and is still one of my favourite moments in the film.

“We worked with a lot of non-actors and real people just off the street in Berlin during, the making of this film. Tadhg was a godsend as he relaxed people he shared screen time with and also guided some people that needed a little extra encouragement. He was like an acting coach for some people. It was amazing working with both these generous, high-profile actors, and so much fun, introducing them to the madness of Berlin.”

In the film, Oisín has left behind the sadness of his mother’s death and disappointment towards his absent father and his disaffection spills over into an overt feeling of alienation – something that his character pursues. “Berlin is like the city of lost children,” according to Robert. “Maybe an inverted Tír na nÓg. There’s a strange energy in the city. I regularly find myself just wandering around the city with no real destination or appointment to keep. It’s great. I enjoy switching my brain off, grabbing a beer from a Spati and taking the long way home or then going to a party. Also if you don’t understand the language it’s easy to filter all the conversation around you on busses or trains and find complete silence in your brain. I think Oísin’s character has been through a lot in recent years and a few events at the start of the film forces him to break away from his friends and to search for some peace within himself. He seeks distraction and silence… but finds love.”

That sense of alienation is made more palpable by the cinematography of Narayan Van Maele and Gareth Averill’s sound design to create a particular sensual environment that sets the tone of the piece. “Narayan was a lifesaver for this film. I have worked with him many times over the years on short films, in and out of college. So he know my approach as a filmmaker and knows what to expect. Sometimes it can be hard to form a relationship and dialogue with a new DOP. Especially when you’re thrown in at the deep end on set. It can take years to develop a connection and professional working relationship, sometimes.

“This was our first feature film together as DOP and director. Having solid people in all of the key Heads Of Department positions on set is so important. Also, it didn’t hurt that Narayan can speak German, being from Luxembourg. We would have been lost with Narayan, if the truth be told. I think that his European pedigree for cinematography and his rich and imaginative eye for details shows up through his shot selection and the visual style in the film.

“I have worked with Gareth on many projects over the years. We have a great working relationship. I don’t need to describe too much about what I am looking for on each project. He just gets it. I send him a cut of the film to work away on and I get some of the most amazing soundscapes and scores back that I can pick and choose from. He usually sends me samples of the directions he’s going in and I can keep up to speed with him that way. For me the sounds design is always one of the most enjoyable stages of the whole process. Sound really brings everything together.”

 

Lost In The Living screens on Thursday, 11th February 2016 at 18.30 at the IFI as part of Irish Film in Focus, a focus on new Irish film and filmmakers.

Director Robert Manson will be present for a post-screening Q&A.

Tickets are available here or from the IFI Box Office or on 01 679 3477 

 

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IFI Ireland on Sunday Interview: Johnny Gogan, director of ‘Generate The State/Gineador An Stait’

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Generate The State/Gineador An Stait documents the ambitious building of the Shannon Scheme in the newly established Irish Free State of the 1920s that revolutionised electricity production and supply in Ireland. The scheme involved the construction of the hydro-electric power station Ardnacrusha at a cost of IR£5m, one fifth of the Irish state’s annual budget – and at a time of tremendous economic difficulties. Constructed by the German company Siemens-Schuckert, the plant was completed in 1929 and provided the base for the construction of a national power grid while also symbolising a determined forward-thinking independent nation.

 

The film’s director Johnny Gogan explains what brought him to the project. “On one level, the Ardnacrusha story is a typical Ireland’s Own story, a tale of derring-do from a rose-tinted glorious past. I wanted to rescue the story from that fate, peel back the wall-paper to reveal it once more to current generations who know nothing about the scale and the ambition of the project. It is a particularly relevant story for today in that we are failing so abysmally as a country – Society and Government – to address the transition from fossil fuels. The Government recently announced that we would not meet our 2020 Carbon emissions targets. Government has hidden behind the Financial Crisis when in truth the Financial Crisis was the perfect opportunity to change direction. The Shannon Scheme is the living embodiment of that opportunistic ambition.”

 

In 1923 , Dr T.A. McLaughlin proposed the idea of the Shannon Scheme, which came in for criticism at the time as it gathered momentum garnering a few opponents. Johnny says, “I heard a comment recently from the writer Terence de Vere White describing how Ireland experienced a Renaissance – that ran from the end of the 19th century with the Celtic Revival through to the end of the 1920s. The Censorship of Publications Act (1929) represented a symbolic end to this epoque. We need to see Ardnacrusha in the context of that ferment. One of the things that was not allowed to happen was for big ideas not to be quashed and for vested interests not to hold sway. We now know that for most of our history of independence vested interests have been able to hold sway over public policy. One area where vested interest may have held sway was with the powerful farmer – or “rancher” – element in the body politic. Workers were not to be paid in excess of the Agricultural Labour rate, which was incredibly low for this kind of work.”

 

Around 1,000 German and 4,000 Irish workers were involved in the construction phase between 1925 and 1929. The documentary recounts a fascinating part of the process that involved The Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union going head to head with Siemens over the workers’ conditions and wages. Siemens appointed Joseph McGrath, the former  Minister for Industry and Coinmerce, as Director of Labour. A ruthless man, McGrath was brought in as a means to oppose the Unions and avert strikes. His victory in doing so would result in injuries and deaths as many underskilled workers were put in dangerous working conditions. Johnny explains howthis post Civil War society was a brutalised place and McGrath symbolised that. He is at once a fascinating and scary individual who subsequently went toe to toe with the Mafia in the U.S. over his promotion of the Irish Sweepstakes. But yes there were many deaths which had to do with the vast industrial nature of the project. It wasn’t that there was no awareness of Health and Safety. The Germans were complaining to the Irish Government about the lack of suitability of the Irish workers who were mainly from agricultural backgrounds.”

 
Nevertheless, the Shannon scheme itself was a major success story. Indeed, the magnitude of the scheme had it dubbed “the Eighth Wonder of the World. ” Yes, it was massive,” Johnny says, “not just in Irish terms, but in European terms. It happened in a brief window between the First World War and the Wall Street Crash of 1929. Once again it has relevance today. For example, it is strongly argued that one very proactive way in which Europe could break its current economic stagnation is to adopt a very determined Europe-wide transition to Renewables – solar in the South of Europe and Wind and Ocean Energy in the North – and to construct a Europe wide grid for Renewables. We don’t have the space to go into this in the film, but we do interview one of the main proponents of this approach the Irish engineer Eddie O’Connor, founder of Airtricity.”

 

As Johnny is at pains to point out this piece of Ireland’s history has a lot to say about contemporary Ireland and the lessons we can learn, an indeed the lessons we failed to learn. “The promoters of Irish Water could have taken a leaf out of that Government’s book in how to successfully set up a public utility. The ESB – set up on the back of the Shannon Scheme – canvassed and enlisted communities when setting up the distribution system that was the less vaunted but equally massive task involved in Rural Electrification. The Shannon Scheme also tells us as a country that you can’t use a financial crisis as an excuse for not thinking and planning for the future. In fact, within every crisis lies an opportunity to change direction. As we surface from our recent economic nightmare can we really say that we have changed direction? I don’t think so.”

 
 
Generate The State/Gineador An Stait screens on Sunday, 22nd November 2015 at 13.00 at the IFI as part of its Ireland on Sunday monthly showcase for new Irish film.

 
Director Johnny Gogan will participate in a post-screening Q&A.
 
 
Tickets for Generate The State/Gineador An Stait are available now from the IFI Box Office on 01 679 3477 or online at www.ifi.ie
 
 
Johnny Gogan was founding editor for Filmbase of Film Ireland in 1987. His films include the feature films The Last Bus Home (1997), Mapmaker (2002), Black Ice (2012). He is currently working on the feature documentary Hubert Butler Witness To The Future, which will premiere at DIFF 2016.
 
 
Generate The State/Gineador An Stait screens at Limerick’s Belltable Arts Centre 13th January in advance of its TG4 broadcast.

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Interview: Alex Fegan, director of ‘Older Than Ireland’

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Alex Fegan’s documentary Older Than Ireland tells the story of a hundred years of a life as seen through the eyes of thirty Irish centenarians. Beginning with their youth and working up to their thoughts of the afterlife, each person shares their extraordinary stories of a life that has shone for over a hundred years.

Alex explains that the idea for the film came about when he met a man who was going to a 100-year-old’s birthday party. “I just thought that was amazing. I asked him what was she like and he said she was in great form. That triggered the idea and things took off from there.”

Being born before 1916 and with the centenary coming up next year, Alex felt it would be an interesting way to get an historical perspective from the nation’s older citizens. Yet, as Alex admits, the film found its own narrative and rather than Alex looking to tell a particular story, the story began to tell itself. “That’s the great thing about documentary – you can start off in a particular direction but then you can discover a whole new thing. We realised as the journey went on that the film really isn’t about history at all or being Irish. It’s about being human. I suppose more things have happened in the last century than any other century – and while that’s in the film, it’s really irrelevant. The only thing that matters is the personal stories and these are stories of relationships. That was the big discovery. Ultimately, when you reach the pinnacle of the mountain of life you know that what matters is your spouse, your kids, your family and your friends.

“Early on we had an idea of going through the decades, so the film had various narratives, starting off with the ’10s, then the ’20s and ’30s and so on, and asked them what their thoughts were about the 1929 crash or the political situation in Ireland in the ’40s or ’50s for example. But very soon we realised they weren’t that interested in talking about such things. They just didn’t have a passion for that. What they did have a passion for was their wedding day, their first kiss, telling a story about their first pair of shoes. The stuff that probably everybody else will think about when they reach 100 – things like their school days,  first girlfriend or boyfriend, how they proposed to their wife, how their husband proposed to them, their honeymoon… these are the things that they really wanted to reflect back on. You ask what was your happiest time and that’s what they would talk about. So what we initially set out to do just didn’t transpire in the way that we thought it would. What quickly became apparent was that this was a film more about their personal journey than a sociopolitical journey.”

Ultimately, this is what makes Older Than Ireland‘ such a wonderfully warm and tender film. You never feel that the people involved are being interviewed. It’s more that they are being allowed to talk and tell their stories. “I suppose what we ultimately decided was just to hold the camera up to these people and let them do all the talking, deciding to try and stand out of things as much as conceivably possible. You’ve got to remember”, Alex continues, “these people are 100 years of age and over. They’ve got a lot more wisdom then we do – they’re really authentic and they have zero pretence whatsoever. They just say it as it is. They don’t care what I think or what anybody else thinks. They just speak their mind. So, ultimately, what we wanted to do was to capture these people who are spiritually and soulfully as authentic as you can get.”

As well as offering a rare insight into the personal lives of the individuals featured in Older Than Ireland, the film also exists as a great personal archive for the families of those involved in the film. Alex talks about how families have sent on emails saying how grateful they are. “Especially for those centenarians who have since passed. It’s such a nice thing that they have this film. As well as that, we will be providing all the footage to them – we had about two hours, at least, of an interview per person, so it’s a lovely record. Sometimes you don’t take the time to put the camera on people and just let them tell their stories. One of the reasons this film got made was because when we went to the Irish Film Board with the initial idea, which they really got behind, they said to us that no matter what happened with the film, it would exist as a great archive.”

Finally, Alex hopes that the film will encourage families to visit the cinema together. “We are trying to encourage young people to take their grandparents to the film. It could be seen as a cynical ploy to get more people into the cinema but one thing we did discover making the film was that a lot of older people find loneliness to be the biggest issue. They all want to go to the cinema. They might not want to watch The Avengers but I’m sure they would like to see this film. So we are hoping that younger people will take their grandparents or elderly neighbours to see the film.”

 

You can check olderthanireland.ie for screenings.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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IFI Ireland on Sunday Interview: Clare Delargy, director of ‘Mercedes Gleitze: The Spirit of a New Age’

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Clare Delargy’s documentary Mercedes Gleitze: The Spirit of a New Age, tells the extraordinary tale of British swimmer Mercedes Gleitze. In a career that spanned from 1921-1932, Mercedes became the first European female to swim the English Channel, the first swimmer to complete the Straits of Gibraltar and completed 51 endurance swims, with half of them lasting longer than 26 hours. Mercedes’ incredible journey was to make her one of the first international sporting celebrities of the modern age.

Filmmaker Clare Delargy explains her own journey into the documentary. “I first heard of Mercedes Gleitze some years ago on a visit to my husband’s family in Cushendun. My mother-in-law happened to mention her name in passing and spoke about the excitement surrounding her visit to the village when Mercedes attempted to swim from Scotland to Ireland. Her family had a real involvement in the matter because her uncle and cousin had been on the pilot boat that accompanied Mercedes on at least one of the attempted North Channel crossings. The story intrigued me and later I came across a reference to Mercedes and her English Channel success in a Sunday newspaper and then I needed to find out more.”

Mercedes’ success was built on her early dreams of becoming a professional swimmer while working as a stenographer in London. Her determined spirit is evident early on in life in her escape attempt from Germany as a 17 year old after her family’s repatriation during the First World War. Clare points out that “to leave her  home in Bavaria and make her way across Europe in chaos just as the war was ending in the hope of making it back to England was extraordinary. Furthermore, in then attempting to swim the English Channel Mercedes may have revealed the innocence of youth but her strength of character and fearlessness were truly awesome.”

This strength of character and a “will to want to succeed” was to play its part in what became known as Mercedes’ Vindication Swim. After successfully swimming the Channel on 7th October 1927, there were those who questioned the validity of her achievement. Indeed, the English Channel Swimming Association refused to recognize her record as legitimate. Mercedes refused to let the doubters negate her achievement and repeated the feat. In doing so, she garnered a new wave of admirers who were in awe of her courage and determination in the face of adversity.

The documenatry combines newsreel with a wealth of personal archive to tell the story of Mercedes’ amazing life. Clare tells how “after Mercedes died her family came across her books of cuttings and photographs in the attic. As Doloranda and Fergus, two of her children explained to me, before then they knew virtually nothing about Mercedes’s life as a young swimmer, her achievements and her celebrity. As Doloranda began to read through her mother’s records she was becoming acquainted with a young woman whom she had never known and a life filled with surprises and achievements. It was a privileged moment when I first went to meet Doloranda and see all her mother’s press cuttings and photographs. Subsequently I contacted various archive agencies worldwide to establish if any other still or moving images existed of her and the responses that came back were just amazing.”

As the title of the films attests to, Mercedes embodied the spirit of a new age. “Mercedes Gleitze was a fearless pioneer, “Clare says, “swimming many of the most challenging stretches of water in the world including the English Channel, Straits of Gibraltar, Cape Town to Robben Island, the Hellespont. And bear in mind too that she was not just the first woman but the first person in history to swim the Straits of Gibraltar. But ultimately she was a wonderful role model for a new generation of young women challenging the status quo and taking on the old order.”

Since completing the documentary Clare began to develop Mercedes’ story for cinema. With the support of Northern Ireland Screen, Delargy Productions have now produced a screenplay based around Mercedes’ Vindication Swim on the English Channel and her subsequent attempt to become the first person ever to swim from Europe to Africa which she succeeded in achieving in 1929. The first draft has been written by Daisy Waugh, granddaughter of Evelyn Waugh.

Mercedes Gleitze: The Spirit of a New Age screens on Sunday, 20th September 2015 at 13.00 at the IFI as part of its Ireland on Sunday monthly showcase for new Irish film.

Tickets for Mercedes Gleitze: The Spirit of a New Age are available now from the IFI Box Office on 01 679 3477 or online at www.ifi.ie

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IFI Ireland on Sunday Interview: Tadhg O’Sullivan

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To coincide with the release of his documentary The Great Wall, Tadhg O’Sullivan, in conversation with Michael Ryan, will present two of his previous works, Bow Street [2010] and What Remains [2013], together with an excerpt from Terminal, a work in progress. The idea behind the screenings is to show and talk about the work that developed a lot of the styles that O’Sullivan brought to bear on The Great Wall. O’Sullivan explains that “these three films have aspects of different filmmaking approaches that are used in The Great Wall. So there’s a kind of evolutionary arc in it. It’s not that one leads to the other but just different approaches and different styles I have used over the years.”

All the works are very much infused with a sense of people and place. With Bow Street one single street becomes a theatre awash with human lives. O’Sullivan tells me that there were two starting points for the film. “One was the idea of relationship between people and place. The built environment and urban architecture and how people relate to that and how sometimes real people can get lost in the milieu around urban architecture. We tend, in an urban environment, not to see real people and the idea of the film was just to stop and shoot over the course of a month and explore that idea by slowing down and looking and watching and meeting people in a way that explores the relationship between the built environment and the human lives that operate within it.

“The other starting point for the film was for myself. As a filmmaker who hadn’t made many films, I had lots of ideas about exploring these kinds of ideas in exotic places like Palestine and West Africa. Part of me just felt that if I couldn’t make a film on a single street then I was wasting my time. So it was a challenge to me  almost taking Lars von Trier’s The Five Obstructions and using that idea of giving yourself a set of rules and exploring your own abilities as a filmmaker. The simple rule was shoot everything outside on one street and see if I could make something that is engaging and interesting and human and actually manages to explore those bigger ideas of the relationship between people and place and urban architecture.”

In the film people wander in and out of the narrative rather than ever becoming the focus of the narrative itself, something that reflects O’Sullivan’s interest in how the content of film can explore the ideas behind it. “The idea behind the film is the anonymity of life in an urban context, in a public urban context, and the anonymity of people just passing through and fleetingly meeting each other. That is very much manifest in the film. People come, people go, people are introduced, they leave and they are never seen again. We don’t find out their names. We don’t find out really much about them but we have these kind of exchanges and engagements with them. That’s a way of representing and exploring that aspect of urban life  where it is all about temporary fleeting moments with people. The city remains the same; the people move within it.”

What Remains, co-directed with Pat Collins, uses a selection of IFI archive material from the personal collections of Irish families to create an evocative examination of memory. According to O’Sullivan, the film started “as something Pat wanted to do. We had worked together a lot prior to this film and it touches on many of Pat’s central concerns to do with people and place, and shared cultural memory. I’ve worked a lot with archive over the years and it is something that’s really important to me. There is a magic to working with archive and there’s a  particular approach where you are looking for subtle hidden layers and meanings in material that was shot for an entirely different reason. And it’s just the everyday stuff of life, the incidental moments that have a poetry hidden within them. Trawling through the amazing material that is held at the IFI archive you find all these bits of film that were shot as recordings, memories, memories to be held, photographs of family members or holidays. They were shot with one thing in mind. Yet over time they gain other layers which are to do with a kind of melancholy of the passing of time and the idea that people have gone. But also there is an aesthetic and poetic element in them that myself and Pat as filmmakers were very much drawn to. The incidental things within the frames that might not have been apparent to the people who shot them but can be found within them. That is what made What Remains such an interesting film to work on. While I have worked with archive a lot, as I say, this was devoting ourselves to just working with that kind of fragmented poetry of hidden meaning and hidden layers within old material. I have to say it was one of the most enjoyable edits I have ever undertaken for that reason. There is something very free and very beautiful about it and something very human. That’s the most important thing – that the film is a poetic meditation on memory but also on humanity and the persistence of humanity.”

Finally there will be a screening of an excerpt from Terminal, a work in progress that is described as an “experimental film essay about industry, time and the cosmos.” O’Sullivan has been shooting the film for over a year on Whiddy Island, off the coast of West Cork, a place he is particularly fond of. “It’s a beautiful place, but also it’s a very storied place as well. There are all these layers of history written into its landscape  from Napoleonic-era military forts that are entirely overgrown now, through to the history of the oil terminal that was built there in the ’60s and remains there in the same form but plays a very different role now. What really interests me about the place is how you’ve had this long duration of hundreds of years of international historical things happening around the island, on the island, but human life persists and just goes on around that. These big cosmic events come and go but human life goes on regardless. That’s what I’m interested in.

“In Terminal I use material I have shot myself on 16mm in combination with archive material and that is something that I have done before but the approach to filming the 16mm material is based on my archive editing experience. I am almost shooting it in a way thinking what would it be like to shoot material and then approach it with an editor’s eye, as though it had been shot for another film. Using the grammar of archive editing in relation to new material. That is something I am quite interested in and it finds itself into pretty much all my work using that archival editing style and eye on all material, not just old material.

 

Tadhg O’Sullivan, in conversation with Michael Ryan, will present Bow Street, What Remains and Terminal (work in progress/8 mins excerpt) on Sunday, 23rd August 2015 at 13.00 at the IFI as part of its Ireland on Sunday monthly showcase for new Irish film.

Tickets are available now from the IFI Box Office on 01 679 3477 or online at www.ifi.ie

 

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Interview: Joe Lee, director of ‘Fortune’s Wheel’

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Joe Lee spoke to Film Ireland about his documentary Fortune’s Wheel, which tells the fascinating story of lion-tamer Bill Stephens in 1950s Dublin.

 

One Sunday afternoon in 1951 in Dublin’s Fairview Cinema, audiences were being transported to the exotic plains of the film Jungle Stampede, which featured a wild beast stalking its human prey – little did cinemagoers know that outside the cinema that same afternoon, Fairview was playing host to its very own beast roaming the streets as a lioness, owned by local man Bill Stephens, escaped from her pen menacing shocked locals.

Joe Lee’s documentary Fortune’s Wheel, which is currently screening at the IFI, introduces us to the events that occurred that day which ended when police were forced to shoot the lioness dead. From this point on we are led into the remarkable world of the lioness’ owner Bill Stephens, the Fairview lion tamer, whose act, ‘Jungle Capers with Bill Stephens and Lovely Partner’ (his wife, May) travelled around Ireland.

Joe gives a bit of background to Bill Stephens – “he was a welder by trade and something of a mechanic but he was also a drummer in The Billy Carter Swing Band. But he had always had an interest in animals. He bought a lion cub from Dublin zoo and he reared it alongside his own Alsatians. He soon began travelling with Fossetts and Duffys, two of Ireland’s biggest circus families. At the time of the escape in November 1951 Bill was keeping 3 or 4 lions at the back of Fairview cinema, which he used for his act.”

The escape, which is remembered in the film by a colourful cast of local people, turned Bill into a star as the story spread across the world. He became, as Joe describes, “that famous guy whose lioness escaped in Fairview” – but that fame was a doubled-edged sword as Bill had lost a very valuable animal which would prove very difficult to replace. But if he was to fulfill his ambition of taking his act to America, Bill knew he had to do it with his next lion.

The lion he replaced her with was a very difficult lion – a very aggressive one that would  ultimately lead to tragedy. Joe refers to Bill’s time with his newly acquired lion as his year of living dangerously. Seeking to emulate his hero Clyde Beatty, the famous American lion-tamer, Bill had raised the stakes, performing more and more dangerous acts with a more aggressive animal.  As Joe explains, “He was a guy in his 20s and like a racing car driver he always wants to drive that extra 5 miles per hour  to push the boundaries of what it was. All the time he would have been looking at Clyde Beatty with his 12 animals and mixing lions and tigers and wanting to do that himself. In Beatty’s book Jungle Performers it says Get an angry animal into your act. It makes it more exciting.” Unfortunately for Bill, seeking such excitement involved taking one risk too many.

Alongside his partner May, a lot of Stephens’ life has been clouded in myth, stories that had stayed untold and memories that had remained hidden for various reasons. Thankfully, Fortune’s Wheel provides a voice for those stories and a space for those memories culminating in moments of catharsis that are a testament to a remarkable man who truly dared to dream.

 

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gzUOQh99-nY

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Interview: Juliette Bonass, Producer on the Move at Cannes

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This week at the Cannes International Film Festival (May 13 – 24, 2015) 20 of the most energetic, emerging producers from across Europe participate in the networking platform, Producers on the Move. Amongst them is Ireland’s Juliette Bonass.

After working as a line producer on several film productions from 2007, Juliette Bonass moved into producing in 2010 with the short film Noreen. In 2013, she made her debut as a feature film producer on Brendan Grant’s Get Up and Go, which was released in cinemas on 1st May 2015. Since then, Juliette has worked with Ed Guiney at Element Pictures and co-produced Gerard Barrett’s Glassland, which was released to critical acclaim. Juliette is now in post-production on Darren Thornton’s comedy A Date for Mad Mary and developing David Kerr’s horse-racing comedy The Gee Gee’s.

Speaking to Film Ireland, Juliette says she feels “absolutely privileged and delighted to be named among the Producers on the Move. I am very grateful to the Irish Film Board and the European Film Promotion for selecting me.  It’s an amazing opportunity to network and meet the other 19 producers, hopefully with a view to co-production in the future, availing of financing opportunities on projects they have in development now. It’s also just really good to brainstorm on future projects with like-minded producers and hopefully establish long-forming relationships and have  working partnerships there in years to come. Also it’ll brilliant to be around an atmosphere in such an intense working environment for 4 days and hopefully will be a lot of fun as well!”

Juliette explains that the 4-day event, which runs from (15 – 18 May), “basically involves your project pitchings, discussions and one-on-one meetings with all the other producers. The European Film Promotion also give a lot of promotion to all the producer’s profiles in the international trade papers over there. Its main aim is to help the European producers find partners for upcoming projects and strengthen co-producing relationships.”

Previous Irish Producers on the Move include John Keville (You’re Ugly Too, Brand New U), Rebecca O’Flanagan (The Stag, My Brothers), Conor Barry (Savage, Love Eternal), Morgan Bushe (Colony, The Other Side of Sleep, The Last Days of Peter Bergmann), Katie Holly (Sensation, One Hundred Mornings, Citadel) and Andrew Freedman (His & Hers, The Herd, Return to Roscoff. Their experiences are testament to the effect Producers on the Move has on a producer’s career. Juliette explains, “I know a lot of them have gone forward and co-produced projects which came directly out of their experiences at Producers on the Move and I know it has raised their profile somewhat and also means something to financiers and the decision-makers. So definitely it raises a producer’s profile and helps them move forward in their careers. Obviously it comes down to how good you are and how hard you work but the exposure is a definite help. And I expect that you learn so much as well being exposed to so many talented producers in such an intense working environment.”

Asking Juliette if there’s any project in particular she’s bringing over she says that she is keeping an open mind. “There’s a few projects I’m developing with Element Pictures, which I would hope to discuss. But also I’ll be interested in talking to the producers about their projects.

 

 

The full list of Producers on the Move 2015

 

    • Mariusz Wlodarski
      Poland

 

    • Ellen Havenith
    • The Netherlands

 

    • Miha Cernec
      Slovenia

 

    • Snežana Penev
      Serbia

 

 

  • Arturo Paglia
    Italy

 

 

  • Heather Millard
    Iceland

 

 

  • Annika Rogell
    Sweden

 

 

  • Joana Ferreira
    Portugal

 

 

  • Jan Macola
    Czech Republic

 

 

  • Katja Adomeit
    Denmark

 

  • Juliette Bonass
    Ireland

 

  • Montse Triola
    Spain

 

  • Marek Urban
    Slovak Republic

 

  • Mikko Tenhunen
    Finland

 

  • Živile Gallego
    Lithuania

 

  • Svetozar Ristovski
    FYR of Macedonia

 

  • Pierre Guyard
    France

 

  • Aline Schmid
    Switzerland

 

  • Ingmar Trost
    Germany

 

  • Kjetil Omberg
    Norway
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IFI Ireland on Sunday Interview: Lisa Fingleton

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Film Ireland talks to award-winning artist, activist and filmmaker Lisa Fingleton ahead of a programme of her films, The Power of the Personal Story, which feature at this month’s IFI Ireland on Sunday – this programme includes a series of short unapologetically autobiographical films documenting pivotal moments in her life.

 

Can you tell us a little bit about the evolution of your video diaries.

It is hard to believe that You Tube was only founded in 2005 and now there are millions of ‘selfies’ and autobiographical videos online. When I started to make films ten years ago that was not the case and I was simply using the camera to help me better understand my world. All of these films were made at challenging points in my life and the act of filming helped me to process these situations and move on.

I never intended to make video diaries but I have always had ethical dilemmas about filming other people, which of course may seem strange for a filmmaker. I work a lot with groups and have always believed in the principle of not asking other people to do something I wouldn’t do myself.

I was in Art College, thinking I would be a painter, when I picked up my first video camera. It just seemed obvious to start filming myself, as I was available and willing. A year after I graduated from NCAD I was asked to speak at a seminar for artists in Galway. I was preparing for my first solo show and had participated in a lot of group shows and commissions that year. The idea of my presentation was to explain my process of working and how I sustained myself. I thought, “How perfect. I will film a week in my life and inspire them all.” I honestly thought it would be fabulous, a kind of promo video. How naïve! In fairness it all started brilliantly on the Monday morning when Catherine Marshall, then Head of Collections at the Irish Museum of Modern Art agreed to open my solo show. I was delighted. But somehow the week took a bit of a nosedive from there. I felt pressure about the show and was cursing myself for agreeing to film myself. What a stupid idea. There were issues with rats, a dead magpie, flying shoes, dreams about losing my hair. Because I always try to honour my word, I felt I had to try and pull something out of it and eventually extracted a 12-minute film called Delighted and Deranged which I showed to the group of artists. I was so nervous. My ego really didn’t want to show them, as I wanted to hold onto some credibility.

The response was amazing. Everyone laughed and many people cried. They felt that the film captured the sometimes rollercoaster emotions of a creative life. One woman said, “I just can’t believe you had the nerve to make this and show us. I thought I was the only person who felt like that.” I guess it was so honest that it hit a chord with people.

The second film in the programme is Happy Out. Again, this was never meant to be a film per se. I was a member of Ireland’s only lesbian choir at the time in Cork, Mná Mna. I loved it. It was so much fun and we had such craic under the brilliant direction of Evelyn Quinlan. I loved the fact that women often came in the door nervous and shy and within weeks were singing their hearts with the choir at public events.

After 2 years with the choir, my partner and I had decided to move to Kerry. I was genuinely heartbroken about leaving the choir. Around the same time I got accepted onto ESODOC (the European Social Documentary Film Programme). I had to make a social documentary film about a human rights issue. I wanted to make a film about the choir but it really shocked me that many of my European colleagues felt that being gay in Europe was no longer an issue and certainly was not worthy of a documentary. I was really frustrated as I couldn’t seem to articulate why it was so important.

We were meeting in Latvia at the time and I met a man one night who was really distressed about his experience of filming the first Gay pride in Riga. He described how thousands of protesters lined the streets that first year, hurling abuse at the few brave people who were marching. I read in the paper that things had improved greatly as there were only 700 protesters the second year.

With that information I felt I just had to articulate why my film was important. I had to pitch my film idea to a panel so I turned the video camera on myself. I kept asking myself “Why do I want to make this film? Why do I want to make this film?” Actually in retrospect it felt like an interrogation. Eventually it hit me why the choir was so important. When I cam out in 1997 I was terrified that would lose everyone I loved. I was so scared. And I realized that even though that was years before, I still wasn’t seeing happy lesbians portrayed in the media. There were still very few places where lesbians could come and be quiet not to mention sing. I talked and talked until I understood why I needed to make the film. I intercut some footage from the choir and pitched the film idea that afternoon.

I never had to explain again why I wanted to make the film. When I brought that back to the choir every woman without exception said they wanted to make a film. We ended up creating a musical called ‘The Farmers Daughter’ and I created a five-part installation called ‘Outside I’m Singing’ about the process. The IFI screening includes a powerful interview with the choir director Evelyn Quinlan.

As I said earlier my partner Rena and I had decided to move to Kerry around that time. We  were trying to have a baby and decided to make her/him a video diary hoping that one day it would explain the journey of how s/he came into the world. Waiting for You is a document of that five-year emotional roller coaster. We decided to make it public as we met so many people over the years who were on similar journeys.

 

How would you describe the themes that run through your work?

I am really interested in the personal story. I believe that is how change happens. I believe that when another human reaches our heart then something changes.

I am also interested in sustainability and living in a more holistic way. We grow most of our own food and are currently working towards a year of eating only food grown on the island of Ireland. I am currently preparing for a solo show at Siamsa Tire Gallery in Tralee. This show will incorporate new films as well as drawings. Last week, I was awarded the Create Artist in the Community Scheme Research Bursary.  This means that I will have the opportunity to work with artist/mentor Aideen Barry to develop film and art projects with local farmers.

I am really interested in the creative process itself. I work a lot with Julia Cameron’s Book The Artist’s Way. Delighted and Deranged (2008) is about my own artistic process. I am really interested in collaborating with other artists on cross-disciplinary projects. Corrected is a short film with Mojisola Adebayo and Mamela Nyamsa about the corrective rape of lesbians in South Africa. I spent a week at the Arthouse in Laois last summer with Hennessy Portrait Prize-winner Nick Miller as he painted 35 portraits in a week. That filmed called Sitting was screening at the Irish Museum of Modern Art.

 

Obviously in the current moment your work is of particular significance – could you talk a bit about the importance of social activism and artistic practice.

The current campaign for marriage equality is encouraging people to tell their own personal story and to engage in one-to-one conversations. Film is a great way of sharing the personal story and reaching people. On social media it is heartwarming to see the proliferation of videos in support of a Yes vote. It is wonderful to see grandparents, parents, sisters, brothers, friends and allies using their voices and standing up in solidarity in advance of this referendum. In a way everyone is ‘coming out’ and that in itself is changing the country for the better.

I really feel that we need to hold a vision of the type of country we want. Do we want an open, fair society, which values all of its citizens equally? Do we want a country where people can marry whom they love and have their love and commitment recognized by the state and constitution. Just because I marry my partner doesn’t affect anyone else’s relationship. I feel very strongly that we all have to act in solidarity with others, especially in the case of minorities.

I am very aware of the power of fear to disempower people. When we are scared we lose our power. When we feel frightened or confused we need to ask ourselves: Is this true? Is this fact or is someone trying to confuse or scare me. Being brave is always liberating. A friend said to me last week that we need to focus on the light and positivity. She said, “Imagine two adjoining rooms, one totally dark and one totally bright. If I open the door the darkness disappears as it cannot overcome the light. Light will always win.” I need to believe this and that is why I keep trying to make films which I hope will bring some light to dark situations.

The personal is very much political and I don’t want to separate art and the real world. I believe it is important that artists and filmmakers channel our energies to work towards the type of country and world we want to love in. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” I believe strongly in the power of art and film to bring about change.

 

The intimacy of Waiting for You is very touching – and has a tremendously emotive effect on the viewer.

Waiting for You is still hard for me to watch but I know it has a huge impact on audience because it is so honest and raw. It won the Audience Award at the Dingle Film Festival last year. The audience in the converted church was mainly full of men over fifty who came to see the other Kerry films in that screening about the Dingle train and Killarney deer. We were pretty nervous about how the audience would react to our film about two lesbians trying to have a baby.

The response was so touching. People kept clapping. When the screening was over it was just like a funeral, with men queuing to shake our hands. So many had tears in their eyes and were saying ‘sorry for your troubles.’

 

Your work extends beyond filmmaking – can you tell us about your community work and working with young people in schools and how that filters into your own work.

 

I have done a lot of work as filmmaker in residence with young people in Kerry, Cork, Limerick and Kildare. Everyday I work with young people convinces me that our country is in good hands. They are brave, open and strong. I am touched by their overwhelming support for this referendum and their understanding that “of course everyone should be equal”.

They also motivate me to keep speaking out and advocating for the kind of world I want to see. I don’t want young people to feel the fear I felt when I came out. I don’t want young people leaving rural Ireland for cities because they feel they want live freely and openly. We can’t afford the  loss of their wonderful energy and creativity.

 

Screening at the IFI is a great opportunity for an audience to see your work… 

I have delivered workshops for the IFI in the past and we have worked closely together for years in my role as Filmmaker in Residence. I am very excited about this screening. It is very special as it is the first time these films are being shown together. I hope they will resonate with the audience.

 

 

The Power of the Personal Story, a programme of Lisa Fingleton’s films, screens on Sunday, 10th May 2015 at 13.00 at the IFI as part of its Ireland on Sunday monthly showcase for new Irish film.

 

The films screening are: 

Delighted and Deranged (2006)
The everyday life of a struggling artist.

Happy Out (2008)
Celebrating Ireland’s only lesbian choir.

Waiting for You (2014)
Documenting Lisa and her partner’s five-year-long quest to have a baby.

 

Director Lisa Fingleton will participate in a post-screening Q&A.

Tickets for The Power of the Personal Story are available now from the IFI Box Office on 01 679 3477 or online at www.ifi.ie

 

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Interview: Moe Honan, co-producer of ‘Two by Two’

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The animated feature Two By Two is released in cinemas today. Co-produced by Galway-based Moetion Films, Film Ireland got out of the rain and took shelter with co-producer Moe Honan to discuss the process behind getting from script to screen.

 

The story of the Nestrian species has long been shrouded in mystery. Thanks to the new Irish animated feature Two By Two, out in cinemas today, we finally have an answer. The tale of rejection, survival and victory was a few years in the making. Co-producer Moe Honan tells Film Ireland that the initial idea and story developments came “between a group of us that decided to collaborate with writers and producers at the time. Once we’d worked out the story we were supported in that development by the IFB and we developed various drafts of scripts with our German partner, and that went on for approximately 3 years in total. In that time we were obviously progressing the content and making lots of plans to finance. When we felt we had the script in place in a strong way we went out to attach the additional financing partners with the support of the Film Board. The production continued over the last 18-20 months and we finished in post-production last December.”

Moe knew from the beginning she had a project worthy of the big screen. “In this process we knew quite early on when we were pitching the project among our trusted network for starters but also in the wider market, people responded very quickly and positively to it. The pitch-line that ‘we’re going to make a story about the animals that didn’t get on the Ark’ was such an original concept and we knew it also visually could allow us to create characters in a very free way that we hadn’t seen before – literally. In the imagination of the writers and the visual artists we began to develop that side of it. We felt it gave us freedom to write a very original story and also would allow itself to exploit that visually within the great process that animation brings us and be able to do things you can’t necessarily do in live action without spending so much more money! It allowed us to live in that imagination and bring quite a unique film to the market.”

Once they had completed the content of the story as regards the script, “we then move onto storyboarding,” Moe explains. “We often do what we call a ‘guide track’ [a preliminary soundtrack that gives the animator an idea of what the final track will be like] for starters. Then we cast and record the voice talent – and this is really the key point the animators are relying on – we have to have great performances and the right voice characters for the animators because that’s what they listen to and that’s what inspires them to get the right body acting for their characters. We do go through the process of storyboarding and creating 2-d drawings before we move it onto our computers where we develop and create the 3-d model for our characters and background. And we do what we call ‘blocking’ – this is where we can see the composition of the shots and we can see the perspectives and rough movements, but it’s still not animated. Then we enter the animated phase of the production – this is where the real talent of the animators come to fore. They interpret the scene and the intention and the body language – really selling a character, because if that’s not working right you’re in trouble. You’ve got to feel that the emotional aspect of the character is credible. You may be looking at this strange little Nestrian animal we’ve invented but you have to believe him and you have to empathise with him fully – and that really is where the animator’s talents come in.”

Ultimately, Moe hopes they have created a special film that is fun for all the family and not just the kids.We’ve built layers of humour and story plot to keep the adults entertained as well. From a parent’s point of view, there’s a story there for them as well as the children. They’ve bought the ticket so we have to reward them as well – we don’t want them to fall asleep! It’s what we’re aiming to do – to entertain the whole family.”

 

 Two By Two is released in cinemas 1st May 2014

 

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Interview: Frank Berry, writer/director of ‘I Used to Live Here’

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Frank Berry’s I Used to Live Here has been released in Irish cinemas to tremendous acclaim both here and internationally scoring pieces in The Guardian and The Hollywood Reporter‎. Featuring a non-professional cast of local people in Killinarden in West Dublin, the film takes a fictional look at the tragic phenomenon of suicide clusters.

Franks explains how the film was born out of an article in The Irish Times in June 2011, Breaking the Ripple Effects of Suicide and We Must Give Young People a Reason to Live. “It really struck me as subject matter for a film. My first step was to contact the writer, who happened to be Dr Tony Bates, who was the founding member of Headstrong, the National Centre for Youth Mental Health. We met. I explained that was I largely from a doc background – I wasn’t sure how I was going to go forward but I was really interested in making a film about this subject. He showed me loads of encouragement – he talked to me about his background and why he worked with young people. He introduced me to the work they were doing at Headstrong.”

From there Frank met with youth workers from the Killinarden Community Council Youth Project – a very significant meeting as Frank recalls. “They talked about young people in the area, they talked about a series of tragedies that occurred in the area over the previous years. I talked about what I was interested in doing and the research I had been doing. They suggested I start by going down to the community centre once a week and get to know the young people – so I hung around there for a long time. Then the October mid-term break came about and I offered to do a camera workshop – that was the first time they’d seen me with a camera. After that the workshops became more regular and we would develop it further – taking the camera out on to the streets. Everything was very much a softly, softly approach. That’s how the film eventually developed.”

Despite a history of making documentaries behind him Frank came to the conclusion that the subject would be better served in the realms of fiction. “I just didn’t want to put something real up on the screen for fear of contributing to exposing the audience, particularly teenagers, to real cases,” Frank explains. “I didn’t feel comfortable doing that – it requires a particular type of handling and I just felt I couldn’t provide that. But I really wanted to put something up on the screen because the reality of when a suicide tragedy occurs in a community and the effect it can have on other members of that community and to other young people in crisis, I just felt really strongly that this needed to be common knowledge. So I thought why don’t we make it fictional but be truthful, so that it had something to say about the world. I would try and make it as realistic as possible and recognisable as a world we live in but  – as stated within the film – not based on any real tragedies. As an audience, adults and young people can sit down and watch the film and take something from it that’s true and real but not actually be depicting anything that actually happened. In this way we could use it as a discussion point.”

The result is a powerful piece of social realism marked by an impressive display of naturalistic acting from its cast. Frank points out that he didn’t sit down and say I’m going to make a piece of social realism. “That never occurred to me. I do love social realism and I’m very drawn to those films. I knew this would be the genre I suppose but I wasn’t adhering to anything in particular – any rules as such. The whole process was really about following where it took me. Once you sit down in front of people, opportunities and different directions present themselves and you collaborate and learn from it and take different directions.

“I wanted it to be realistic so we could put it up on the screen and the audience would be able to take the issues in the film seriously. That they would be able to feel and discuss that this does happen. That was the driving force behind the realism. The way I did that was that I included everybody involved in the film – and there was an open door policy; whoever wanted to get involved in the film could. We never had “casting” or “auditions”. We put people in different places that suited them over a long period of time and the conversations that took place over that time all found their way into the film. It was kind of an indirect way of directing. Everyone knew what film they were in, everyone knew what we were doing. We took the word “acting” out of the process. They would read the lines over and over again and then I’d say put the scripts down and let’s see how far into the scene we get without looking at the script. The idea was for everyone to be as comfortable as possible and say the lines without acting. I believe that if a script is realistically written, if I have a scene and the dialogue is real and I’ve allowed them to change lines that they don’t feel comfortable with, then by the time you get to that stage they understand the film, they understand the scene. Then they bring their own emphasis to the lines, their own intonation, colour and flair and their own words.  The script on the page starts to sound like real conversation. In this way they were able to really act – they weren’t inhibited by the word acting, thinking this is not me, I’m not trained, this isn’t something I can do. For the most part the process worked.”

The two leads are particularly impressive, carrying as they do so much of the emotional weight of the film. Jordanne Jones plays Amy Keane, a thirteen-year-old trying to cope with the death of her mother and the reappearance of her father’s ex-girlfriend, and Dafhyd Flynn, Amy’s friend who is the victim of bullying. Frank admits that “as soon as I saw them both on camera I knew that they were extremely good – they had that relationship to the camera but also it was their personalities and the relationship I had with them that make their performances so powerful.”

Carrying around her emotional burden, which she keeps locked inside, Amy’s mental health is an issue the film sensitively tackles and provides the point of discussion Frank referred to earlier – a discussion that contributes to the awareness of mental health. “Some of the people I spoke to knew about mental health and spoke eloquently about it, while others didn’t know about it. If you don’t know you have it or what it is, how can you take care of it?”

Frank continues, “there’s also this idea that mental health equals mental illness – that there’s not these degrees of mental fitness for example. Young people need to be more aware of their mental health and ask why am I feeling this way.  It was important to put this into a film, showing Amy carrying around what I later discovered to be deferred grief, which is a common in teenagers. She’s carrying around what she never came to terms with – the finality of the death of her mum. At the end of the film she connects with her pain. I’m not saying she gets over it but she understands why she’s feeling the way she’s feeling. That’s a big step. I think that we need more young people to be aware that there’s a reason why they don’t feel great, which comes through awareness and discussion and relate to it in their own lives. There are many young people who, of course, are aware but I feel that there are a lot of young people who would benefit from that.”

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IFI Ireland on Sunday Interview: Treasa O’Brien, co-director of ’Eat Your Children’

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Eat Your Children is an essay documentary that explores Ireland’s so-called acceptance of debt and austerity. Filmmakers Treasa O’Brien and Mary Jane O’Leary, two economic emigrants, return to Ireland to explore what seemed to be Irish people’s stoicism in accepting austerity and the country’s climate of complacency in the face of the nation’s current economic position.

Treasa O’Brien explains how the idea for the film came about 4 years ago “after my good friend Mary Jane O’Leary showed me a video online of Greeks protesting in Athens. They were chanting: ‘We are not Irish! We will resist!’ Mary Jane had just finished a year studying politics in Barcelona and was working for a European think tank. I had just finished a Masters in Film in London. Mary Jane dared me to make a film about why the Irish were not resisting. I said let’s do it together, and the rest is history. As we started to make the film, we realised the rest is history. Irish history is full of rebels and resistances, so why are we now so acquiescent and accepting?”

The film molds its essay in the form of a road-trip around the country, which, according to Treasa, was a way “to structure the film and also to involve the audience – you’re coming with us! We hope the structure allows the audience to discover with us, and also to keep asking questions and draw their own conclusions rather than ‘experts’ just telling them how it is. We both love the essay form as it’s a chance to explore a topic intellectually as well as emotionally, and it also gives room for a self-reflexive kind of authorship.”

Travelling around Ireland, Treasa and Mary meet Irish people on the streets, at protests, and seek answers from sociologists, politicians, historians, economists and activists on the nature of protest in Ireland. As a result, a lot of time was spent in the edit room to whittle the film down to the 78-minute final cut. “We shot over 40 long form interviews, less than 10 of which are excerpted in the film. The volume of interviews slowed down the editing process as we became attached to so many of the points made and wanted to cover everything – at one stage we were trying to make the short history of everything that ever happened in Ireland. So we had to get really ruthless in cutting the interviews down. We transcribed them all with some help and they have become an invaluable research and reference tool for us to have structured the film and informed our own thinking on the subject.”

I asked Treasa was there one thing that surprised herself and Mary the most on her journey around Ireland. “The Right2Water movement,” she replies. “We are really heartened to see this movement grow over the last few months. It seems to be bringing a lot of various groups and kinds of people together in solidarity, and of course it’s bigger than water. Water, our life force, is bringing people together against austerity, debt, and neoliberal privatisation and inequality. However, as inspiring and hopeful as it is, the vast majority of Irish people are still not protesting, even if they might support the Right2 Water movement from their armchairs. We also see the Irish media discrediting the protests and calling them violent. With all its globalisation and high media readership, Irish politics and media can still be very conservative.”

Looking at Ireland today Treasa thinks there is “a chasm between our conservative politicians and the real will of the majority of Irish people. Or at least I hope there is! I am home in Ireland now for the next few months and I will be here to vote yes for the marriage equality referendum. It is an important temperature gauge of how conservative or not the Irish really are – I wish we didn’t have to spend time fighting for things that seem so uncontroversial and obvious (to me, at least) as basic human rights such as the right to decisions over one’s own reproduction, the right to an equal marriage and the right to water.

“We have to think in a joined up and intersectional way – marriage equality, reproductive rights and racism are seen as identity politics, while labour rights and class struggle are left to the left. But, for example, reproductive rights affect poor people more than rich people, as the latter can travel more easily. We need that more intersectional approach which joins up movements and fights for something together as well as all the individual struggles.”

 

Eat Your Children screens on Sunday, 12th April 2015 at 13.00 at the IFI as part of its Ireland on Sunday monthly showcase for new Irish film.

Co-Directors Treasa O’Brien and Mary Jane O’Leary will participate in a post-screening Q&A.

Tickets for Eat Your Children are available now from the IFI Box Office on 01 679 3477 or online at www.ifi.ie

 

 

 

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IFI Ireland on Sunday Interview: Brian Reddin, director of ’It Came from Connemara!!’

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Brian Reddin talks to Film Ireland about It Came from Connemara!!, his documentary about the legendary Roger Corman’s time making movies in Connemara.

It Came from Connemara!! screens on Sunday, 15th March 2015 at 13.00 at the IFI as part of its Ireland on Sunday monthly showcase for new Irish film.

 

It Came from Connemara!! tells the fascinating story of the B-Movie legend Roger Corman who set up his film studio Concorde Anois Teo in Tully in 1996, 20 miles outside Galway – availing of tax breaks initiated by the-then Minister for Arts and Culture Michael D Higgins and spent the next few years making low-budget commercial motion pictures, such as Bloodfist VIII: Trained to Kill (1996)Spacejacked (1997) and A Very Unlucky Leprechaun (1998). Along the way, Corman gave many Irish people their start in the film industry whilst also upsetting the unions and the tastes of cinephiles who scoffed at the lurid “trash” Corman served up. Brian Reddin’s documentary captures that time in Irish film with wild gusto.
 
Speaking to Brian, I told him I was amazed that this story hadn’t been told before. “I was also amazed that nobody had tackled it before. I can’t imagine why as it is a great story.” Brian’s own personal history ties in with Corman and was one of the reasons he ended up making the documentary. “I was always a huge fan of Corman,” Brian says, “particularly his Poe adaptations with Vincent Price. Then when I heard he was coming to Ireland to make movies, I was intrigued. At the time I was producing a movie review series for TG4 and I tried to get on his sets and get some interviews but we had no joy. So, that made it even more intriguing wondering what was going on there. Then, he was gone almost as soon as he came and we never saw any of the movies and were none the wiser as to what went on there. Then many years later I was producing a drama series out of his studios and I got chatting with a lot of the crew who worked with Corman and their stories were hilarious. I knew there was a great doc in there, so I approached TG4 and they said if you get Corman, then we are on board. It took a while to get him, but once I did, TG4 came on board and then the BAI and we got to make it.”
 
More than just getting Corman, he proves himself to be a delightful interviewee throughout the documentary looking back on his time in Ireland with an impish glee. “He’s amazing,” Brian tells me, “88 years of age and still making movies. He doesn’t have an agent or a publicist or a manager, so initially I simply emailed his production office and then made a few phone calls and eventually he agreed to be interviewed. The problem was tying him down to a date as he is always so busy. When we were planning to shoot with him, he was overseeing his latest movie Sharktopus Vs Pteracuda – which I think is a love story – and he was making that at 87! He is still incredibly prolific and busy. But, once he committed then he threw himself behind the project. He allowed us use clips from his Irish back catalogue and gave us a brilliant interview in his offices in LA. He was happy to talk about anything for as long as we wanted. He was a joy to deal with. I had lunch with him after the interview and it was like a master class in filmmaking.”
 

Alongside Corman, the documentary features a list of of legends: Corbin Bernsen, Josh Brolin and Don “The Dragon” Wilson – all more than happy to take part. Brian explains how he approached them to be part of his film: “I went through all of Corman’s Irish movies and made a list of all the stars who appeared in them. Unfortunately David Carradine [Knocking on Death’s Door, 1999] and Roy Scheider [The Doorway, 2002] are no longer with us, but there was plenty of talent to choose from. I got their agents’ details and emailed them all, and every one of them agreed to take part. It‘s the first time I’ve made a documentary where everybody agreed to do it. They all had a great time in Ireland and they all love Roger, so they were more than happy to talk about their time here. Meeting Brolin was a particular highlight. I loved him in Capricorn One and he’s Hollywood royalty but a nicer gentleman you could not meet. They were all very generous with their time and it was great to meet them all.”

 

Their love for Corman was matched by the hundreds of Irish crew that worked for him. Their fondness of the experience comes through again and again coupled with their gratitude for breaking into the business and the learning curve it provided them. “It was great to get the Hollywood stars in the film, but the heart of it was always going to be the Irish crew,” Brian explains. “They were the ones with the war stories. They worked long hours for little money in tough conditions with pretty shit scripts and they adored it. They all got the opportunity to move through the filmmaking ranks and Corman gave them that opportunity when other places did not. It was an amazing training ground. You could be an assistant one day and directing the next and you could move through departments – grips ended up in make-up and there are loads of stories of crew getting lots of experience in lots of different areas. There remains a great camaraderie amongst the ‘Cormanites’ – as they call themselves – a lot of them turned up for the Galway Fleadh screening last year and it was amazing to hear them reminisce about their time in the trenches with Corman. The list of people who went on to great things from there is huge – David Caffrey for example, who directs Love/Hate, started with Corman, Terry McMahon played a heavy in a few of his movies, even Hector worked for him. There is a long list of people working in the business today who owe a lot to Corman.”

 

The documentary is deceptively fun but contains within it an important part of the history of Roger Corman and his time working in the Irish Film industry. It’s particularly interesting to recall how Corman was seen from the outside by the filmmaking status quo in Ireland, causing ructions from unions and the so-called film cognoscenti. “I wanted to keep it fun and light,” Brian says. “It‘s hard to take it seriously when you are talking about movies like Spacejacked or Knocking on Death’s Door – however, at the same time, his time making movies in Ireland was fascinating. Apart from the people still working in the business today as a result of working with him, there was another story of people being denied work. The unions weren’t happy with Corman and the press less so and those who worked for him were definitely made to feel as if their work had no value outside of the Corman bubble. That was a shame, but it had a lot to do with a lack of information. Nobody knew for certain what was being made in Connemara and then when they saw it, they were outraged that grants had been provided to someone to make such rubbish. However, and it’s important to note, Corman paid back every penny of his grant, so he left owing nothing. Whether you enjoy the films or not, and there aren’t many who do, you can’t deny that they were professionally made by people who had only begun in the business. Nobody would consider Corman’s movies Irish and yet they were shot in Ireland with an Irish crew, Irish actors, Irish technicians – sometimes directed by an Irishman and often telling Irish stories. Yet, they are never called Irish while we’re more than happy to claim an Australian director with American money telling the story of a Scotsman.”

 

Whatever anyone thinks, Corman’s guerrilla philosophy and can-do attitude on low-budget film has a lot to say about filmmaking.He was always way ahead of his time and embraced new technologies. He was shooting digital before anyone else and also embraced the internet very early on. The best thing about Corman is that he is not a cinematic snob. He’ll make anything and he doesn’t get caught up in the aesthetic value of it. It‘s all about making money and keeping the audience happy. He’s currently making movies for the SciFi Channel. When his work wasn’t selling big in cinemas anymore, he moved to the video market and then to television and now to the internet. He just keeps working whatever the medium. Its a pity that we can’t make films the way he used to anymore. For example in the case of Little Shop of Horrors, he was given a location for free for a weekend so he shot the movie in 2 days for $30,000. Once he got an idea, nothing would stop him.”

 

It Came from Connemara!! screens on Sunday, 15th March 2015 at 13.00 at the IFI as part of its Ireland on Sunday monthly showcase for new Irish film.
 
 Tickets for It Came from Connemara!! are available now from the IFI Box Office on 01 679 3477 or online at www.ifi.ie

 

 

Carol Hunt remembers her time shooting a B-movie love scene in Roger Corman’s Galway studio for the film The Unspeakable.

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IFI Ireland on Sunday Interview: Neasa Ní Chianáin, director of ‘The Stranger ’

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Neasa Ní Chianáin’s talks to Film Ireland about The Stranger, her documentary about Neal MacGregor, an English artist who lived in solitude on Inishbofin and died alone, aged 44.

The Stranger screens on Sunday, 18th February 2015 at 13.00 at the IFI as part of its Ireland on Sunday monthly showcase for new Irish film.

 

Neal MacGregor was an English artist who died alone in 1990, aged 44, in a stone hut built for hens on the remote island of Inishbofin, off the coast of Donegal, where he lived without water and electricity. The Gaelic-speaking islanders on the rapidly depopulating island knew little of Neal during the 8 years he lived there.

Neasa Ní Chianáin’s documentary The Stranger uses interviews with those who knew or knew of him, reconstructions, poetic diary extracts and archive material to piece together the fascinating story of this mysterious recluse and ponders the question Neasa herself poses at the start of the film: “Why do some people choose to retreat – to withdraw from the world; from people; from life? Why would someone choose to live in solitude and isolation?”

Memories of Neal vary from his life in England in the ’60s as a handsome popular teacher come jewellery artist in London, Acid-victim drop out and husband, to the life of loneliness he chose to pursue on a remote Irish island, which raised various questions from the inhabitants – was he a British spy recording IRA gun-running routes? Was he trying to take control of the island? Was he crazy? Or was he just seeking solitude? The different versions of who he was is something that attracted Neasa to making the film.

“I was interested in the notion of what is left of us when we die,” Neasa explains, “the idea that the dead become a collection of memories held by those still living, fragments of a life interpreted by others, memories fused with truth and sometimes myth. Neal was interesting in that he inspired so many conflicting stories about who he was, the Neal in London was a very different person to the Neal who arrived on Inishbofin. I was interested in how the jigsaw of his life varied depending on the storyteller and of course how memory evolves and changes overtime.”

The film plays on our interest in isolation and the life of a mysterious recluse, which feeds into a certain romantic narrative that film is exploring more and more. What is this particular fascination with solitude? “I think as life speeds up it gets very complicated for people,” says Neasa. “Everybody is busy being busy, one distraction after another, no time to reflect. Neal was a thinker and communicated only when he had something to say, one of his friends describe him as being very silent (in Donegal) but his silence was very noisy. I think he was trying to make sense of it all. He was searching for some meaning, he had to reduce his life, turn down the noise, so that he could focus, meditate, whatever way you want to describe it. I think there’s a little part of that in all of us, a yearning for solitude, a yearning to find some meaning. Maybe that’s why people want to hear the stories of those who were not afraid if it, because we think they might have found some answers. I have conflicting feelings about solitude, I sometimes yearn for it, but at the same time I fear it…like silence, I know it’s good for me, but it’s difficult to surrender to it. The film is a celebration of someone who had no fear of being alone.”

 

The Stranger screens on Sunday, 15th February 2015 at 13.00 at the IFI as part of the IFI’s Ireland on Sunday monthly showcase for new Irish film.

Neasa Ní Chianáin will participate in a post-screening Q&A.

Tickets for The Stranger are available now from the IFI Box Office on 01 679 3477 or online at www.ifi.ie

The film is presented in association with Guth Gafa Documentary Film Festival, who are working with Soilsiu Films on a festival outreach strategy for The Stranger, following its two successful screenings at Guth Gafa in Donegal and Meath.

The Stranger will also screen at The Glen Centre, Manorhamilton on Friday, 20th February at 8.30pm; at the Phoenix Cinema, Dingle, Sunday, 15th March at 12 noon (as part of the Dingle Film Festival); at Century Cinema, Letterkenny on Thursday, 19th March at 8.30pm; and at Glór, Ennis on Thursday, 26th March at 8pm. 

All screenings are part of the Guth Gafa and Soilsiú Films’ collaboration, and are made possible with direct distribution support from The Irish Film Board.

Further dates to be announced shortly.

Check www.thestrangerdocumentary.com for details.

 

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Interview: Keith Walsh, Co-director of ‘Apples of the Golan’

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Keith Walsh talks to Film Ireland about Apples of the Golan, which documents the precarious existence of the Druze village of Majdal Shams in the occupied Golan Heights.

Apples of the Golan, Keith Walsh and Jill Beardsworth’s fascinating documentary, attempts to tell part of the complex story of the village of Majdal Shams in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. The opening narrative tells us that before the 1967 Six Day War, there were 139 Arab villages in the Golan Heights region. Israel seized the Golan Heights from Syria during that war – and now only five villages remain. All of the others were destroyed. Over 138,000 Syrian Arabs were forced from their homes. The documentary tells the tale of the Druze community, the people of a ‘forgotten occupation’, that live in one of those five remaining villages, Majdal Shams,

Keith Walsh explains how the film was born out of a chance encounter with human rights researcher Gearóid O Cúinn, who became the film’s executive producer. “He had just came back from the Golan Heights after having spent 3 month out there. He saw that there was a story to be told  – and after telling us about his experiences there, the idea of making a film was sold to us.”

A heartbreaking aspect of the film is that the people in the village have family in Syria they have been separated from – family they cannot visit as they are not allowed cross the ‘ceasefire line’. There is also the phenomena of the Syrian Bride (the subject of Eran Riklis’ 2004 film), whereby Druze women from one side of the border can cross to the other to be married to other Druze. But once she crosses she gives up her identity and can never return. It is personal stories such as these that were the crux of the film for Keith. “The human story was absolutely the most interesting aspect and the idea that these families were separated, divided by the border shouting messages across a minefield, known locally as the ‘Valley of Tears’. The tragedy of having a wedding or a funeral and shouting across a valley with mines to convey your condolences or congratulations is pretty striking.

“In terms of the politics, it’s an area that’s laden with politics –  there’s something political in everything there. So that was one of the challenges – to try keeping to the human stories but also to convey some of the politics, some of the forces that are impacting on the particular situation.”

Another key facet of the documentary is the evolution of a difference in opinion between the older and younger generations towards their identity, as the youth question the reality of the allegiances to a place they’ve never been. Keith explains that “here you have 2 generations that have been born and grown up on occupied Syrian land and they can’t go back to their home country. The more and more it goes on, the more and more they don’t belong in Syria in a way because they’re growing up in a different space.”

I ask Keith how this affects how they see themselves and their future. “Up to a recent point in time they still felt Arab and still felt Syrian so they would have seen their future ideally in Syria. But I think now that’s beginning to change with what’s happening as the civil war starts to deepen and the country starts to fracture. The homeland that they have been taught to love is no more. 90 per cent of the border that borders the Syrian side of the Golan Heights is controlled by the rebels – who would not be very accommodating to them – so there’s a sense of hopelessness among the younger generation. There’s been reports of a big uptake in the amount of Israeli citizenship; so anecdotally, I suppose the evidence is pointing to young people turning away… giving up hope of going back to Syria and trying to establish a life for themselves.”

So, sadly, as Keith points out, the conflict in Syria succeeded in doing what the Israeli occupation couldn’t achieve – “it divided the community. You might have had some dissenting voices prior to the conflict but for the most part they put on a public face of unity and loyalty to Syria. But now things have changed. Communities and families are divided.”

And with that comes another difficult chapter in the history of the Madjal Shams community – a community on the point of massive change.

 

Apples of the Golan is being shown on Thursday, 22nd January; Sunday, 25th January; and Monday, 26th January at the IFI. Click here for details.

The documentary will also be screened at the Regional Cultural Centre, Letterkenny on 22nd January; the Garter Lane Arts Centre, Waterford on 4th February; and The New Theatre, Temple Bar on 28th February, with more dates around the country to be announced.

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IFI Ireland on Sunday Interview: Marcus Stewart, co-director of ‘Marathon Men’

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Marathon Men is a new feature documentary from Earth Horizon telling the uplifting story of a young banker (Ken Whitelaw) and a middle-aged auctioneer (Gerry Duffy) who set themselves a challenge to run 32 marathons in 32 days in the 32 counties of Ireland with the aim to inspire people all over the country to go out and run their first ever marathons and raise funds as well as awareness for Autism Ireland.

Directed by Marcus Stewart and Marc O’Gleasain, the film came about when Marcus heard about this challenge through a friend and asked himself why would anyone want to put themselves through that? And so, Marcus explains, he “instantly knew that would make an interesting and powerful documentary story.”

Marcus and Marc then spent four years trying to get funding, but kept hitting brick walls. Everyone told them it looked like a great story but kept passing them on to someone else. In the end, Marcus says, “we just got fed up chasing people.”

With no budget, Marcus explains his approach to sculpting Gerry Duffy and Ken Whitelaw’s story into a finished documentary. “I got some of it filmed on a volunteer basis from some students looking for experience. After the event we filmed the guys who told the retrospective back story. The story is told through the voices that were there, and we had just enough amateur footage and photos combined with our own stuff to put the story together. It knits together seamlessly. This is all down to director/editor Marc O’Gleasain. His creative vision was what made it work as a film in the end.”

Marcus has had a working relationship with Marc O’Gleasain for over six years on the production side of things. “With this project”, Marcus explains, “it was my initial idea that I brought to him, but he took the reigns at a certain point and it would certainly still be on a shelf if he hadn’t taken it on. I knew I needed Marc for this as he is very strong on story structure. And this one was tricky to tell with so much amateur footage and archive, etc.

“Marc was generous to share the director title. I had the initial idea and ideas about how I wanted the film to look and feel from the start. Through the process Marc was certainly the one carving the story out of those rushes and in the end I have no problem saying it is more his film than mine. We worked together discussing different ways to tell the story, we both get on very well and understood the problems, so I would say it was a very good working relationship through the whole process. I’m delighted it got made in the end and I’m delighted Marc did such a good job with it.

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“We both feel that stories should never be left on the shelf. Just go and do it was the attitude, probably Gerry and Ken’s inspiration here… They are both inspiring people. It’s made me think it’s important for all of us to pick our own challenge that defines us. We would all learn more about ourselves if we put ourselves through these extremes and I think that’s very important in life. Different people choose different things, for some it’s Everest, for these two guys it was running 32 consecutive marathons and raising 500,000 euro for Autism.”

The film is set to screen this weekend at the IFI and naturally Marcus is excited at the prospect. “I hope it gets a good turnout and that people see it and remember it. That’s why we did it in the end. You want to make films that have an impact on people and the big screen is so important for that.”

Marathon Men screens on Sunday, 14th December 2014 at 13.00 as part of the IFI’s Ireland on Sunday monthly showcase for new Irish film.

The screening will be followed by a Q&A with directors Marcus Stewart and Marc O’Gleasain.

Tickets for Marathon Men are available now from the IFI Box Office on 01 679 3477 or online at www.ifi.ie

 

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Director Jason Figgis on ‘The Ecstasy of Isabel Mann’

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The Ecstasy of Isabel Mann is the story of a troubled teenager Isabel Mann (Ellen Mullen), who is seduced into an incredibly violent sect of day-walking vampires. Her classmates start to go missing and on the trail of the gruesome murders are two detectives – Witham (Neill Fleming), who believes her to be the prime suspect, and Barrett (Matthew Toman), who has his doubts.

Ahead of the film’s premiere at the IFI Horrorthon, director Jason Figgis tells Film Ireland about putting the film together.

After the DVD and VOD release of my horror feature Children of a Darker Dawn (2013) in the US and Canada in December of last year, I was already deep into post-production on my new feature film, The Ecstasy of Isabel Mann. Because we received some fantastic responses to the film based on its naturalistic and almost prosaic approach to Dystopian life after the Apocalypse, it made me realise that the journey to making the latter film was naturally following the same process arc.

I wanted to try and realise a horror film that was more about the relationships between the characters and the journey they were on – more than any horror that might emerge from the more genre specific aspects of the story. Yes, it is a film about vampires but the word ”vampire” is never uttered in the film itself. Perhaps it is about mental illness too? Some of these elements are more about what the individual takes away from the experience of watching the film than the film itself.

Ellen Mullen, who portrayed Cassandrain in Children of a Darker Dawn, was the natural choice to play the lead role of the troubled Isabel. She has a maturity as an actress that is uncommon in a girl of her age (16 at the time of shooting) and brought a melancholic beauty to the performance. We also brought back Adam Tyrrell from Children, this time as Isabel’s estranged boyfriend, Aaron. We needed a young actor with sensitivity to portray the vulnerability of a teenager who is unable to cope with the ultimate reality of what Isabel is going through. Several other actors returned from the previous film in supporting roles; actors I knew I could rely on. The other central roles were filled by predominately new actors, with Saorla Wright being a stand out as Isabel’s best friend Jacinta ‘Jay” Rossi.

We didn’t have any traditional funding from funding bodies so the process of realising the film was a slow one, with a lot of the post-production handled by myself. I ended up editing, grading and doing the full sound mix too. My producing partner Matthew Toman gave great support, as did Jason Shalloe as Line-Producer in the earlier stages of the production. Alan Rogers was my Director of Photography and he has subsequently gone on to shoot my latest two features – Family and Don’t You Recognise Me?, both of which are now in post-production. Michael Richard Plowman (Children of a Darker Dawn, A Lonely Place to Die, Age of Heroes) is another regular collaborator and he supplied a beautiful score that is complimented by tunes from three excellent bands – Irish chart-toppers Youth Mass (who supplied the closing song and theme), London outfit Moho Mynoki and US/Italy combo Soft Pill. We filmed the entire production in North and South county Dublin in several key locations around the city and suburbs.

 

The Ecstasy of Isabel Mann screens on Sunday, 26th October 2014 at 23.10 as part of IFI Horrorthon 2014 (23rd – 27th October). The film will be introduced by director Jason Figgis.

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IFI Ireland on Sunday Interview: Laura Aguiar, co-director of ‘We Were There’

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We Were There features the unique experiences of women in the predominantly male world of the Maze and Long Kesh Prison during the Troubles in Northern Ireland, including stories of a prison officer’s wife, prisoners’ relatives, Open University tutors, Probation Service staff and a visual artist.

Directed by Laura Aguiar and Cahal McLaughlin, the film explores how the prison impacted on women’s lives, how they coped with the absence of their loved ones, and highlights the important contribution to the peace process by educational and welfare staff.

Speaking to Film Ireland, Laura explains how the film came out of the Prisons Memory Archive (PMA) material, as part of her PhD research at Queen’s University Belfast. “The PMA recorded a wide range of experiences, from prisoners to prison staff and relatives, in 2006 and 2007, inside the empty sites. Participants were filmed by a single camera operator who followed them while they walked and talked. The focus was on the participants’ engagement with the site and on their memories of it, therefore leading questions were rarely asked. In this manner, participants acted as co-authors as they had control over the content of the interviews. Co-ownership of the recordings and the right to veto or withdrawal were also given to them.”

Laura’s own collaboration with the archive and the participants began in the post-production phase, four years after the interviews were recorded and digitised, and lasted for three years, from 2011 to 2014. “I chose to work with the female recordings of the Maze and Long Kesh prison because of the nearly absence of their diverse lived experiences in cinematic depictions of the prison and of the Troubles in general. ‘Troubles Cinema’ has been pretty much a male territory and when women are placed more centrally within the plot, their roles are often limited to the sacrificial mother, fanatic femme fatale, or the girlfriend or wife. So we wanted We Were There to go beyond these limited portrayals and to offer a more multi-layered representation by highlighting women’s agencies within the prison walls – as educational and probation staff – and outside the walls – as active mothers, as political activists, and so forth.”

The importance of recording such stories, stories that are often excluded from the traditional narrative of history, provides a valuable record of otherwise hidden people and stories which can deeply enrich our understanding of the past. Laura tells me that “We all at the PMA believe that personal stories are crucial to history, especially when the human side is privileged over the political, as it can help reduce, rather than reinforce, the sense of othering, which is so common in divided societies, as Northern Ireland.

“In We Were There, we did this by intercutting the stories according to what united these women – their diverse experience of the same site – rather than what separated them – their contrasting political affiliations or religion – and we refrained from adopting a ‘reconciliatory’ tone. As one of the participants of the film rightly put it, We Were There uses personal stories to tell the history of the prison in ‘a more multi-faceted way, not one side or the other, but many sides, many truths, many journeys, many stories’. These were her own words.

“However, when one works with personal stories, special attention must be paid to individual versus collective needs and aspirations and the public/private boundaries of sensitive stories. Some experiences may be too personal to be shared and can lead to embarrassment, harassment and even life-threatening situations for participants. That’s why working closely with participants, sharing authorship and ownership of the film with them can be key in minimising these risks. Minimise, not eliminate, as we can never know how stories will be publicly received, especially in sensitive places such as Northern Ireland.

“Furthermore, as war history is highly male-centred – and that’s not just me saying it but just think about all the war movies you have seen – personal stories are a powerful way to uncover women’s plural experiences of war and to deconstruct some of the myths of femininity and masculinity that have been reinforced by institutions such as the Church or the military.”

Also through these stories the film provides both a record of and moving insight into how the suffering of prison extends beyond the prisoners to relatives, partners and friends.It definitely goes beyond the prisoners,” Laura explains. “Estimates suggest that over 100,000 people have been directly affected by imprisonment during the Troubles. That’s a considerable number for such a small population of over 1.5 million.

“However, it is very important to acknowledge not just the women’s suffering but also their agency within the peace process and the history of the conflict. At the same time as the men were enduring the hardships of imprisonment, women on the outside were becoming not only the de facto head of the household but also more politicised and active, with many joining women and community groups and even paramilitary groups in some cases.

“The welfare and educational staff also played a key role, including in the peace process. A lot of them were responsible for planting the seeds for the talks that emerged in the prison. Their educational and welfare programme helped some of the men reflect on the armed struggle and opt to follow a more peaceful route after their release. It is very important to acknowledge their importance, as they often think that their stories matter less than the relatives’ stories. And this is not true; all stories are unique and equally important to the overall history of the prison and the conflict.”

I ask Laura to tell me about the editing process of the project.I regularly met Cahal McLaughlin, the PMA’s director and the film’s co-director, and carried out four individual meetings with participants. In these encounters we discussed the rough cuts and made joint decisions on the inclusion and exclusion of parts of the recordings and on the addition of visuals of the prison, soundtrack, and text. Hence, consent was an on-going process of negotiation, not just a single signature at the beginning or end of a project and ensured that the participants’ earlier role as co-authors was maintained throughout the editing phase.

“We agreed to let participants narrate their own stories and to use visuals of the prison, text and soundtrack minimally to support the women’s own voices. We favoured the contemporary imagery recorded by the PMA and eschewed adding other archival material, for example BBC newsreel or newspaper photographs. Text was used only to offer basic details on events, dates and location. We also agreed that the music should not be too intrusive nor too ideological and collaborated with sound designer Liz Greene, who produced a soundtrack that enhanced the ambient sound of the recordings, without intruding upon the women’s testimonies or guiding audience’s emotions.

“Since the film has been completed, participants have been invited to attend the screenings and take part in panel discussions, which have given them the opportunity to see how their stories impacted an audience and to engage in dialogues with them.”

We Were There screens on Sunday, 19th October 2014 at 13.00 as part of the IFI’s Ireland on Sunday monthly showcase for new Irish film.

This screening will be followed by a Q&A with directors Laura Aguiar and Cahal McLaughlin and participants.

Tickets for We Were There are available now from the IFI Box Office on 01 679 3477 or online at www.ifi.ie

 

 

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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.

 

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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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Interview: Simone Kirby

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Simone Kirby is in good company on the set of Alice in Wonderland: Through the Looking Glass in London’s Shepperton Studios alongside the likes of Johnny Depp, Mia Wasikowska, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, Stephen Fry, Alan Rickman and Michael Sheen. Speaking to Film Ireland, Simone says, “Things are going well. I’ve only done a few days. I’m playing Tyva Hightopp, the Mad Hatter’s Mother – you don’t see his parents in the first movie but we meet them in this one. It’s a great experience so far” – and an experience that is obviously very different from her last cinema role, playing Oonagh in Ken Loach’s Jimmy’s Hall, the true story of Irish political activist Jimmy Gralton, which has been released on DVD and Blu-ray and is the reason we’re chatting.

Looking back gives Simone a chance to reflect on her experiences of the film. I ask her about her memories of how audiences reacted. Simone picks out Cannes and Ireland among her highlights of the film’s reception. “It was really nice to go to Cannes with a Ken Loach movie because they’re such huge fans of Ken’s films over there. And then we came home and did the Irish premiere, which got a great reception. It was great that people who hadn’t heard of Jimmy Gralton before now knew about him and what he had done. That was one of the most satisfying things, to be at the Irish premiere and to be there for people’s reaction after the film. It’s nice to be a part of people finding out who he was and that the movie politically stayed true to who he was and what he did.”

Preparing for the role meant Simone had to immerse herself in the history of the film’s subject matter. However, it was her feet that led the way. Simone  tells me how herself and Barry Ward, who plays Jimmy Gralton, first learned to dance together before going to Ireland and meet up with the rest of the cast. “We then did a lot of history lectures and political debate and went around Leitrim and Jimmy Gralton’s homestead. We all got very well versed in the politics of the time and who the man was and we all read a book called The Cause of Ireland that Ken had suggested to us.” Has she put those dancing skills to use since? “No! I’d love to but I haven’t had the chance. I love the Jive, particularly the Shim Sham. I had done a little bit of set dancing when I was younger, so it was great to revisit that and I’d love to go to the odd ceile!”

Of course, we need to talk about Ken. Simone explains how working without a script and shooting in sequence with Ken worked for her as an actor. “In terms of filmmaking it’s very rare – when we were auditioning we weren’t even doing characters from the film, we were just improvising scenes that Ken was coming up with for him to get an idea of what we were like and who we were. It’s an unusual way of working but really exciting. And then shooting in sequence is very helpful for the actor as well – Ken is very kind to actors that way.” How does that come out in the wash?I think it’s very authentic. And that’s what he aims for. Everything is there at your fingertips. He tries very hard to make it as authentic for people as possible, and that shows on screen I think.

“There’s a lot to be said for shooting in sequence – very often you won’t have played the scene beforehand, so you kind of don’t know what you’re aiming for and if you’ve shot the end of a movie before you’ve shot the beginning there’s little room for movement because you already know where it’s going; whereas if you shoot something in sequence it really helps you to be free to try things out – there’s no consequences because you haven’t filmed the next scene yet. That allows for improvisation and movement and leaves things a bit more open. When you’re playing everything in the moment it’s very real and the stakes are very high all the time. You’re going with how you feel every day. You’re not holding back or aiming for anything because you don’t know exactly what the shape of the film is going to be.”

 
Jimmy’s Hall is available on DVD & Blu-ray from 26th September, 2014

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