IFI Ireland on Sunday Interview: Kevin Liddy, director of ‘The Suffering Kind’

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On Set: Shooting The Suffering Kind

The Suffering Kind is an intimate drama about an inner-city priest and a sanitation worker trying to maintain his sobriety. Director Kevin Liddy spoke to Film Ireland ahead of the film’s screening this Sunday at the IFI as part of its monthly showcase for new Irish film. The film screens alongside Kevin’s first cinema short, Horse.

Kevin’s earlier films, Horse, Soldier’s Song and Country, were marked by their use of the rural Irish countryside. In his latest work, Liddy has shifted the focus of location to the urban setting of the Hudson Valley in New York. Filmed by Oscar-nominated Declan Quinn, The Suffering Kind is a beautifully poignant portrait of a life less lived.

Kevin explains the genesis of the project:

“I had moved to America in 2010, after a feature script I’d been developing for 4 years fell apart and the coup de-grace of being shortlisted for a Signatures project then rejected. I had known Declan Quinn for close to 30 years, having initially worked with him on Fergus Tighe’s Clash of the Ash in the mid ’80s and Declan approached me to be script editor on his Rory Gallagher script.

“While working on it, we discussed making a short film in the Hudson Valley using local talent and getting me back in the directing saddle. I used to have to drive past the town of Newburgh on my way to Declan’s house and was always intrigued by this town with its wide, panoramic main street – Broadway- and its evocative mixture of elegant brownstones and inner-city decay, its inhabitants struggling with the onslaught of advanced capitalism where industry had come, needed workers, and left, leaving great areas of depression and crime. I wrote the script set in this town, thinking it would be smart to have a project set not too far from Declan’s house and availability.

 

“I wrote the piece over Christmas 2013, sent it to Declan who really liked it and we decided to co-produce the script together and see how we’d fare. Declan had a 35mm camera he owned and had a groovy long lens – the ones that give you those ’70s light flares – so we thought we were half way there.

 

“Within a few months we were prepping and breaking down the script, location hunting and casting, and Declan was accessing  his contacts for more camera gear, film stock – Kodak in America gave us 10 rolls of 35mm stock for free, getting a small crew together filled with professional and learner alike and we picked my birthday as a date to start shooting. I prevailed upon my brother, Dermot, to invest in the thing and he put 15 thousand dollars on the table – that was its genesis.”
 

The film is about the power of delusion and the longings that haunt us and Kevin explains how he came up with the character of Michael Hannan and his situation to play out the film’s themes.

 

“It was a mixture of dramatic supposition and autobiographical evidence, an observation of a lower-case, the guys who slip through the cracks. I had come up close and personal with middle-age angst and was striving to let go of delusional life models that were crumbling under this weight of longing and despair and what I was going through seemed like what all of America was trying to wake up from; a great betrayal the society was in denial about. You could see it on the streets, unemployed men like ghosts hanging around the streets, a shell shocked look on their faces, wondering how on earth they ended up here while all around them the wheels of life grinded on, oblivious to their pain.

 

“I wanted to capture that exquisite decay, that undoing of character in the face of the cold light of day, but we wanted to frame it, mount the narrative in handsome brush strokes so the form might ameliorate the more depressing elements in the story.”

 

These brush strokes were achieved with Declan Quinn and provide visual evidence to the film’s themes by being shot on film rather than digital. “It was imperative for me to shoot on 35mm,” explains Kevin, “to prime the canvas with a certain elegiac subtext, to bear witness to the more analog characteristics of the human heart lost in the insatiable needs of an uncaring world.

 

“Finding the right locations is half the battle really, painting with battered walls that were found as opposed to ‘designed’, taking our lead from these locations, designing shots to avail of existing light and supplementing with the artificial of which we didn’t have much of. Declan’s experience is vast and his qualities of empathy are very strong so it was a matter of refinement and the throwing out of the rococo. He’s also very susceptible to listening, allowing me to riff off on the philosophical while guiding me back to the concrete and we had a shared literacy of film and film’s quiver of possibilities so it was how to marry our choices with what was possible.
“The thing is, when you have a face in front of the camera that looks like it came from those streets as opposed to central casting it provides you with inspiration to take the road less travelled, to capture this less seen dignity, to realise the fact that the back of buildings are more beautiful that the grand entrances they support. We shot the piece in 5 days and Declan was a delight to work with, a wonderful cinematographer with a great sense of empathy.”

 

Alongside the visual, composer Rori Coleman brings a beautiful original score to bear upon proceedings, carrying with it a strong sense of sorrow that achieves an elegiac lament yet is never sentimental. Kevin explains how he came to work with Rori and what he brought to the film.

 

“I had always had a strong relationship with composers, believing that cinema is closer to music than prose in its rhythms and pace, its effect on the subconscious, etc., and had started out on Horse working with Donal Lunny. Brian Willis [producer] suggested Rori to me and we met up and started talking about the world of the script, its fever and longings, the characters’ bridges all broken behind them; and so we started teasing out the musical expression of that forlorn but previously fecund state the characters lived in.

 

“The trick is to be open yet deliberate in this hunting down of timbre and Rori is not only a very sophisticated man but old enough – sorry Rori – to recognize and empathize with this life pall. Agreeing on a common language which comes gradually anyway, I remember having discussions with him about jazz and how that might give us an entrance to this world or not, how jazz for me was too loose limbed and how for us the score must have a predetermined, rigorous alignment with the images, so it was a question of using jazz instruments supported by strings, etc., to marry the  interplay into a precise interdependence.

 

“What Rori brought to the film was an understanding of the poetic, the inner drama of peoples lives hinted at, their beautiful miseries made visible. Not only is he a craftsman with a broad knowledge of the technical, but he lets in the paradox and is impressionable in the best sense of the word. I couldn’t talk more highly of the man.”

 

And so for Kevin it is obviously a tremendous moment to experience the film in all its glory on the big screen in the IFI. “Yes, but like all filmmakers you’re worried about how the Digital Cinema Package will perform as opposed to a print, how the colours and blacks hold up, how at my age I’m still fucking around with shorts as opposed to features, blah, blah. The wonderful part is when, for a moment, you can forget those concerns, when the cut from one swell to another works powerfully and, for an instant, you are a filmmaker like any other, impressed by the autonomy of the piece as if it had nothing to do with you, where its life is no longer dependent on you and the magic of cinema takes over.”
The Suffering Kind screens on Sunday, 14th September 2014 at 13.00 as part of the IFI’s Ireland on Sunday monthly showcase for new Irish film.Kevin Liddy will participate in a post-screening Q&A.

Tickets for The Suffering Kind 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: Martina Durac, director of ‘Mairéad Farrell: Comhrá nár Chríochnaigh’

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On the 6th March 1988, Mairéad Farrell, Sean Savage and Daniel McCann, three members of an unarmed IRA unit, were shot dead by British SAS forces in Gibraltar in extremely controversial circumstances. Martina Durac’s film, Mairéad Farrell: Comhrá nár Chríochnaigh, explores the life and death of one of the IRA’s most iconic female members. The journey is guided by Professor Bríona Nic Dhiarmada, who spent many hours in discussion with Mairéad in the year before her death, and travels back to Belfast, Gibraltar and England to revisit her memories of that time. The film screens this Sunday at the IFI as part of its monthly showcase for new Irish film.

Recalling how the project came about, director Martina Dulac tells Film Ireland how a number of years ago she was researching a documentary series that she was going to make for TG4/BAI about women who served in the IRA and Republican paramilitary organisations during the last 40 years and more – “I felt their stories had not been told before, in their own words.”

As Martina was working on this and seeking the women who would be involved, she began to think more about Mairéad Farrell, whose story she was broadly familiar with. Mairéad joined the IRA in her late teens; spent over ten years in Armagh Women’s Prison for planting a bomb at the Conway Hotel in Dunmurry; was appointed the OC of the women in the Armagh jail; went on hunger strike along with Mary Doyle and Mairead Nugent seeking the same five demands to be met as the men in Long Kesh were; was tipped to occupy a very significant role in the now changing Republican movement in the late ‘80s when she was released; attended the University in Belfast for a short while; and was shot dead in Gibraltar by the SAS.

“It seemed to me a life story waiting to be explored,” Martina explains. “Speaking with the commissioning editors in TG4 I said I wanted to make a film about her. That’s when I discovered that Bríona Nic Dhiarmada, who I already knew, had been planning to make a film also and had been writing a book [unpublished] about Mairéad just around the same time that the killing in Gibraltar took place. Myself and Vanessa Gildea [producer of the film] went to meet with Bríona and we decided to work together. I would direct the film and Bríona would get involved as consultant. However, as I delved into the research more it seemed to me that the best way to tell the story would be for Bríona to be our on-screen guide as she revisited the events of that time and what they meant for her as well. When she agreed to this we set off on the journey along with Vanessa and Paddy Jordan, the cameraman, and we travelled with Briona from Dublin to Leitrim, Belfast to England and then on to Gibraltar and Spain, in search of the story.”

Bríona Nic Dhiarmada had had a very particular relationship with Mairéad Farrell for about a year and a half before her death while writing her book and because she also had a strong family connection to the North of Ireland and had been visiting it quite regularly from the mid-1970s, her role as “on-screen guide” is vital in bringing a better understanding to Mairead’s life. “I felt she was well placed to tell the story, Martina says. “It was important for me that we did not attempt a straightforward chronological biography as I don’t think it would have been the right way to approach this. How do you get inside the head of someone who lived through these times, did what she did and died as she did? The film was always going to be partial, in a sense, an exploration and a series of questions and reminiscences. Bríona brought a humanity and a curiosity to the project and I think she’s a compelling on-screen guide through what was a complex story. Even so, it was not possible to look into every facet of the story in detail as we are hidebound by the exigencies of making a 52-minute film.”

Martina points out that Mairéad’s journey from a middle-class upbringing in Belfast to a high-profile member of the IRA is seen as being somehow different from most of the other IRA activists because she came from a comfortable background and might have been more expected to end up in university than jail. “I’m not sure this distinction entirely made sense as she was definitely exposed to what was happening in Belfast and beyond all throughout her childhood years but this sense of otherness did add to the mystique that surrounded her after she was released from prison and became a spokesperson for the new direction into which the IRA and Republicanism in general was headed. She was, in a word, charismatic. From looking at old interviews with her it’s possible to see both the charm she possessed and the real determination to succeed in her aims even if that meant risking her own death and the deaths of others. This is something we do not ordinarily come face to face with in our own lives and I was drawn to explore it. She was as complex a person as we all are and she lived through a time in Irish history that is indelibly etched into the psyche of the country and has had long-lasting effects on how communities on both sides of the border viewed and still view each other. I wanted to see if we could explore this in some way in the film that would offer any inkling of understanding.”

Reflecting on the experience I ask Martina if is there one thing above all else about Mairead that she came out of the experience with a better understanding of. “I think it’s fair to say that I went into the making of this film believing that there had to be very strong reasons for Mairéad Farrell acting as she did in getting involved with the Republican movement so young and becoming an active service volunteer in the IRA while in her teens. Bríona says it in the film and it comes across to me also from the accounts of other people – Mairéad Farrell was a product of her times and the history of her people. It’s impossible to have made this film and not see that. She didn’t start out with a desire to hurt or kill other people; I think she started out with anger, the anger of the young at injustice, and I think she set out to do what she thought was necessary at the time to stop this injustice. In the light of so many actions, resistances, uprisings and revolutions across the world that we’ve seen since then, how many can we say are really successful for their protagonists and bring them what they think they fought for? Maybe very few, but I think I understand the desire for change and the deep frustrations that drove her to do what she did a bit more now that we’ve made this film.”

Mairéad Farrell: Comhrá nár Chríochnaigh screens on Sunday, 27th July 2014 at 13.00 as part of the IFI’s Ireland on Sunday monthly showcase for new Irish film.

Martina Durac, Vanessa Gildea and Bríona Nic Dhiarmada will participate in a post-screening Q&A.

Tickets for Mairéad Farrell: Comhrá nár Chríochnaigh are available now from the IFI Box Office on 01 679 3477 or online at www.ifi.ie

 

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Interview: producer, Craig Moore and director, Bertie Brosnan – Jacob Wrestling With The Angel

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Jacob Wrestling With The Angel is a visionary tale of a painter who is obsessed with a dream and finishing his masterpiece. He wrestles with his tenuous grip on reality but finds solace in a young lady who haunts the inner workings of his mind.

Ahead of the film’s screening at this year’s Cannes Fim Festival as part of the Short Film Corner, Film Ireland caught up with producer, Craig Moore and director, Bertie Brosnan.

 

Can you tell us about how the film came together and your involvement.

Craig: Well, the ball had been rolling with Jacob courtesy of Bertie and Cormac [Daly, co-writer] long before I came along. They had their script finalised and the pre-production process had already started. Bertie approached me during the fundraising to get involved and record behind-the-scenes images and videos for the crew. It was from there that I became involved further, helping him with PR and such while maintaining my duties as behind-the-scenes recorder. My role really became expanded afterwards as the film entered post-production, where I handled the organising of our screenings, constantly plugging the film to the public. It was great because doing these multiple roles allowed me to be on set a good deal of the time, and I was able to observe and learn plenty of things myself, especially from Bertie and Alan Markey, who is one of the best ADs I’ve seen. Everyone else is super too, all totally committed. I’m realy grateful that I was given the opportunity to move up and plug this film outside of a set – at the very least, it’s been a lot of fun.

You funded it yourselves – how difficult was that?

Bertie: Well it was difficult for sure – the pressure was on; but we got there in the end through using different methods of fundraising and crowdfunding, plus we hosted a ‘Filmmakers & Actors Speaker Event’, which raised us about a grand, which in today’s climate is a major success.

But we still didn’t have enough money especially for post-production and distribution, which was quite worrying to me personally but I never lost faith in the power of the project, and then John Turner literally came in and saved the day for us and the film. John is a close friend from Tralee also and I hadn’t really spoken to him in a long time and when I got a call out of the blue that he was going to basically fund the rest of the money I was pleasantly gob-smacked and over-awed by the generosity. John was supporting and watching us online unknown to myself and anyone else; so that really solidified our views on the power of social media and self-promotion. Someone is always watching!

John is now the executive producer and we did a deal that he will be involved in my first two features so it’s a great deal for John too. I’ll never forget that call when I received it, it showed me the project was, and is, special. John resides in Australia and will be back at some stage next year. I wouldn’t recommend doing what we did unless you are willing to work extremely hard and you love the project with all your heart plus you will have to fight for every cent!

How was casting – I heard you had a last minute re-cast?

Bertie: Well, casting is so vital and it was difficult. It’s extremely hard to really know what you’re looking for until you meet ‘The One’ and then you know. It’s kind of like dating in a sense, when you just click with one person. The casting process is like that – the minute I met Mike O’ Sullivan I knew we had our man. The qualities I was looking for was ‘presence’ and ‘depth’ and in another way ‘A King-Like Stature’ and Mike has all these. I knew the second I saw him on camera – he was ‘The One’ and he didn’t disappoint!

The downside though in casting Jacob was I felt that we cast way too early if I’m honest. Firstly, the project wasn’t fully developed and set in stone so it meant we actually had to let one actor go because the story changed to three characters instead of four.

Secondly, I feel casting several months before the shoot is risky because actors could literally be doing different projects and/or life circumstances change. In our case, our female actor got sick and had to pull out, which was so unfortunate because we really liked her and we were really deep into pre-production and we only had a week to go until the principal photography was about to start; so needless to say the pressure was on. But, I had to have faith and after the ‘John Turner’ incident I felt like anything was possible and that this was the right thing because everything else worked out right so far – the pressure was on for a few days, but thankfully actors aren’t too hard to find in Dublin so I put it out there online that we needed a female actor fast and lo and behold we got about 7 auditions out of about 100 applicants. And like what I said about MJ [Mike], when I met Amy Hughes, I just knew! She was the girl. And she had a great voice too, which actually enhanced the role for me. She was beautiful but not just that she had a grip on the dialogue and the context of the piece and it was so effortless to her. And like MJ, Amy didn’t disappoint.

As for casting myself well I just looked in the mirror and said “You got the role Bert!” – you can’t wait around for auditions and casting directors/agents forever!

I did okay in the end!

Craig: Yeah, in the end it worked out pretty well for us. Amy’s got such a great presence and voice on the screen, as does Michael, and as does Bertie himself. It didn’t run as smoothly as I’m sure Bertie had hoped, but in the end the product and the strength of the script ironed out any of the kinks that we had. The dedication to bringing the story to life drove everyone forward.

The interior and exterior locations are vital to the film’s feel.

Bertie: For sure, ‘Vital’ is the word. This film isn’t the usual run of the mill film – it’s mainly arthouse so it’s more about the ‘feel’ rather than a through line in my opinion even though there is a through line running underneath everything.

Craig: The locations are as much of a character in the film as the actual characters are. They’re perfectly reflective of the story’s different stages, and the feel, as you say.

Bertie: Yeah, in my opinion it’s like a moving painting in lots of ways so that coincides with Jacob being an Artist. So the locations were vital to demonstrate the look and feel of the film. Getting the locations like everything else almost worked out despite ourselves. We did a lot of running around Dublin, Drogheda, Dundalk and North County Dublin and we ended up getting all the locations in North County Dublin pretty much except for the ‘Interview Scene’ which was shot in my apartment at the time.

The word ‘contrast’ was high on my list when writing it, so what really floats my boat is expansive and intriguing locations so when we found the ‘forest’ and the ‘beach’ we wanted we were quite happy. We found ‘St. Ita’s, Portrane’ first, which actually had several other films and TV shows filmed there, which was great because they were used to dealing with film people and were so accommodating! Finding St. Ita’s was a godsend because the forest location was on there land too. St. Ita’s provided the corridor that we needed and this corridor couldn’t have been more perfect for the most important scenes of the film. These locations were so perfect it was like ‘The One’ moment in casting, location scouting is like dating too! [Laughs] I need to find a real date! The lines between film and my real life and getting too blurred.

Then we found the beach that we really liked which was Rush Beach, which was looking out towards Lambay Island. We were a bit worried though, at how expansive the shot could be without having civilisation interfering with our opening scene; but we found a good spot and then by another stroke of good-luck ‘Rush Golf-Club’ was just over the sand-dunes and they really helped us as a base of operations when shooting on the beach.

And lastly the ‘Waterside House Hotel, Donabate’ provided another location which was amazing and again they were so nice and friendly – so “A Big Shout Out” to Rush, Donabate and Portrane for being great areas to film in!

In the film the artist struggles with obsession, but beyond that theme the film tackles the wider issue of mental health.

Bertie: Martin Luther King Jr. said “Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted.” This quote really signifies something deep routed for me and to follow up on what you stated, I believe so, and this was definitely brought to light after some screenings and reviews. I’m not going to lie and say I purposefully wrote the script to tackle any issue but when writing this script it was ultimately most prevalent in my mind: How a young Irish/European man deals with certain traumas; and relationship struggles; and his art!

For me personally art and the expression of it, can be a burden as well as a wonderful gift. I have personally struggled with separating my art from my own personally life and my relationships. I believe that in lots of ways artists struggle with mental health issues and of course as a nation Irish people are very creative and artistic so naturally from the point I’m making we struggle with our mental health; but I’m not saying it’s the reason why we struggle with our mental health, it could be just a factor.

I think in today’s generation ‘Mental Health’ is not such a huge taboo subject like it used to be just like other topical issues because of Media and Awareness; but still it’s definitely not a usual conversational piece and it is hard for people to live in the World with mental health issues.

I think our film looks at mental health through a different lense and for sure raises one or two questions. I think it’s great when everyone has a different interpretation of the film – not any two people have said the same thing to me after watching it, which is truly a dream come true for me and that’s what I set out to do.

Craig: Yeah, I’d agree with a lot of that. I’ve screened the film a number of times at this stage – including to three different groups of transition year students in Rochfortbridge Secondary School, who had a lot of different things to say. Being so young, there’s a number in that group who are constantly exposed to the single type of blockbuster film and hadn’t a clue what to make of Jacob, and as such wrote it off as nonsense. But there’s something there that spoke to a number of others, who recognised certain themes and elements working together to create a particular effect. The mental illness theme is one that you wouldn’t speak of openly and as such ironically tends to disappear to the back of your mind, until its awoken by something. I think that Jacob definitely is that something to a lot of the people we’ve shown it to. There’s definitely recognition there, and I think Bertie succeeded in bringing something different to the screen.

The film is beautifully shot; you had Blaine Rennicks on board, who’s building quite a reputation for himself these days. How did that relationship work for you?

Bertie: Blaine was more than on board, Blaine was my partner the whole way through right until today and we have plans for a feature in the works. So, to answer your question our working relationship is extremely solid and I have the greatest respect for his work and Blaine as a person. His attention to detail and his hard-working nature suits me perfectly as I’m also a very hard worker and I will not let things go and I like to get things moving and working – Blaine is exactly like this and that’s why I love working with him. To be honest, I see us making a lot of films together because I believe we suit each others style – I’m not going to lie I’ve wrecked his head because I’m very particular and can be quite strong-minded but we have an understanding and a patience to know that the right thing comes out in the end through discussion and respecting each other. Blaine was a huge creative influence in lots of small ways also in developing the project and the script, also he has helped me tremendously with the technicality of filmmaking, which I lack but I am learning.

I heard Quentin Tarantino say that before making Reservoir Dogs he was being tutored by Terry Gilliam and he was asking Terry about making films and how to do it properly. Terry simply stated that as a director your job is to ‘Articulate your vision of how the script should look and then you hire the technical crew to carry out that vision’ – this is why Blaine was the perfect cinematographer to work with, I articulated my vision and he shot it.

Jason Fernandez’ jazzy score really enhances the dreamlike quality of the film.

Bertie: Couldn’t agree more – Jason is awesome! Simple as that. He is an American living in California and although I’ve never met Jason face to face our working relationship is also very good and dynamic, Chris Kato introduced me to Jason’s work. We have worked together on three projects to date and we have already gotten to work on ideas for my feature film which is in development. What we tried to do was run themes through the film along with the different layers of subconscious – I basically had ideas of what I wanted and with a lot of tireless work and phone-calls, emails and file transfers we got exactly what we wanted. Again, it was a lot of feeling the ideas out and seeing what felt right and ultimately we ended up with one of the most powerful aspects of the film plus there are some hidden gems in the music score, which if you really listen you will hear. I think Craig has a lot to say about the music also…

Craig: Well, to me, music and sound is possibly the most important thing about films such as this. Even more simply, look at all the great films that have ever existed, and one of the great things about them is the music. I still remember the first time I sat down and viewed the final cut of the film and Jason’s music overpowered me, especially in the hallway sequence where he absolutely hits all the emotional buttons out of the park. But that’s just one moment where it’s more obvious that we have a musical score, and the most impressive thing is that overall, Jason’s music is always there. It’s never overshadowing the visuals, it’s always working with them  and still manages to be a good listen on its own. And to me, that’s what makes a good score.

You both must be thrilled to be selected to play Cannes. What’s next for you?

Bertie: Well thanks we are super excited by the whole Cannes acceptance. Being a part of the Short Film Corner provides us with the opportunity to move up to the next level as regarding as careers with this film and the next projects.Going to Cannes and attending the festival, the talks, the meetings and the parties will provide us with some brilliant opportunities to network and possibly sell our film. Also it gives us the platform to pitch our next projects and ideas, which is very exciting. For me, personally, Cannes is the stepping stone to starting my actual career as a filmmaker because all along I was an actor who wrote films also but now my main aim is to be a film director and this is a great start as far as I’m concerned.

After Cannes, I will be writing my feature-length screenplay for my first feature film to direct. The treatment I’ll use as a sales pitch is pretty much down and I’m happy with that. I have the second in the trilogy of shorts that I want to make written also, it’s called Kingdom Come and it’s the follow on film from Jacob Wrestling With The Angel. I will definitely go to the Irish Film Board for funding on both projects. I will seek funds from the funding authorities on everything I do from here on in; not expecting anything but welcoming anything especially the experience of making applications. I believe this is the next step also, to make my career official,  to get funding as this really helps in the submission phase for the bigger festivals in Ireland and sometimes abroad. I’m focusing on bringing film to my local area also,  Tralee, Co. Kerry as I have loads of interest here from people who want to be involved in the film scene, plus FAS have a great facility down here with top end equipment that is available for usage.

Craig: I would be at a similar stage, although Bertie has a bit more experience than I have. I’ve just wrapped up my college degree and I’ve done a number of things over the past year, such as music videos and promotional videos. I also write a lot, and we’ve just got the ball rolling on a short that I’m directing and will hopefully be shot on location in the Westmeath countryside before the end of the year. Hopefully Bertie has enjoyed working with me enough to warrant another collaboration at some point. It’s all about persistence and taking things one step at a time for me, so Cannes will definitely help raise the bar on those terms – and at the very least it’ll be quite an experience to get over there and absorb the atmosphere, something I think I’ve proved to be quite good at.

 

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=80-8BlokRoU

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

Seven Songs for Amy

 

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

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

 

How did you originally get involved in the project?

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

And what challenges did you face?

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

There is this sense of heroic failure to the film.

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

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IFI Ireland on Sunday Interview: Aoife O’Sullivan, producer of ‘Tasting Menu’

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Tasting Menu is a feel-good comedy with elements of farce that has charmed audiences on the festival circuit with its delicious tale of overlapping lives on the closing night of a three-star Michelin restaurant in Catalonia. A young couple come together a year after their marriage fell apart and set in motion an evening that will have a profound impact on their hosts and fellow diners.

This weekend the film comes to Dublin, screening as part of Ireland on Sunday, the IFI’s monthly showcase for new Irish film.

Co-written and directed by the award-winning Spanish director Roger Gual, Tasting Menu is a co-production between Dublin-based production company Subotica Entertainment and Zentropa Spain, the Spanish arm of Danish director Lars von Trier’s Zentropa Entertainment. Among the array of talent that make up the ensemble cast are Irish stars Stephen Rea and Fionnula Flanagan.

Aoife O’Sullivan, one of the Irish producers of Tasting Menu explains how Subotica  were introduced to the project by the Spanish producer David Matamoros and Danish producer Peter Garde. “Both are connected to Zentropa in Denmark – David runs Zentropa Spain – and we have worked with Zentropa on numerous occasions in the past so it was a natural fit. The director Roger Gual had envisaged some of the situations and actors as Irish so it made sense to set the film up as a Spanish-Irish co-production. We were drawn to the interesting premise of the film, the talented young director and Spanish cast and of course the fact that we’d be working with Fionnula Flanagan and Stephen Rea.”

Tasting Menu is Roger Gual’s third feature following his impressive debut Smoking Room (2002) and Remake (2005). Gaul was instrumental in getting the two Irish actors on board meeting them personally and, according to Aoife, “the response was very enthusiastic. Both Fionnula and Stephen were very receptive and liked the freedom that Roger gave to the actors. He’s very open to letting actors make suggestions and bring some of their own creativity to the film. And of course spending some time in one of the most impressive spots of the Catalonian Costa Brava in a three-star Michelin restaurant also helped!”

Fionnula Flanagan and Stephen Rea are joined in a strong ensemble cast by the likes of Claudia Bassols, Togo Igawa, Jan Cornet and Vicenta Ndongo, among others, which brings with it particular rewards and challenges. “The reward is to see how they all work together with everyone bringing their own individual experiences and talents to the story. The characters come from all over the world so the audience is treated to a rich palette of accents and dialects as well as varying cultural approaches to dramatic situations and the experience of fine dining. The challenge is to make it look organic. From a production point of view, there are a lot of scheduling and communication challenges on a daily basis. The biggest challenge is to make it seem easy – so the director has to work harder to achieve that.”

David Matamoros, the film’s Spanish producer, worked for over two years on the development of the project. “When he first got the script, he felt like it needed to appeal to international audiences,” Aoife explains. “The premise remained the same – it was always a great one. Some characters were dropped and some others were added. The restaurant in the story is based on real life three-star restaurant El Bulli – and a bizarre case of life imitating art unfolded during development. While Roger and co-writer Silvia Gonzalez were writing initial drafts of the script they were getting advice from Ferran Adria, head chef of El Bulli, but during this period he actually made the decision to close the doors of El Bulli. So just as in the script, the last night became something really treasured. It was a lot of fun for the creative team to see that happen in parallel to the development, but there was also the challenge to be faithful to the story that they wanted to tell and not be distracted by real events.”

Aoife talks about the advantages of European co-productions citing two main advantages. “On one side, the sources of finance are bigger when you work with other countries. So a film like this can benefit from national film boards, broadcasters, investors, etc., and it somehow makes it more international. A film like Tasting Menu has travelled to places like Russia, Bulgaria, Korea, Australia, New Zealand, US, Brazil, Latin America, which it may have found harder if it was a smaller indigenous Spanish production.

“On the other hand, creatively it can be a great experience. For Tasting Menu we had actors from Ireland, Catalonia, Spain, Croatia, USA, Japan, the UK and Holland. The DoP was Andorran, the composer Irish, the director Catalan… in line with the foodie theme of the film you could call it a veritable smorgasbord of talent.”

This foodie theme brings with it a luscious symbolism that is integral to the film’s feel and affect. Spanish producer David Matamoros details the concept behind the Menu. “We consulted Ferran Adria, Carme Ruscadella, El Celler de Can Roca and Irish chefs. At the end of the day, Vicenta Ndongo the actress who plays the Chef was the key: her father is from Guinea, her mother from Andalucia, and she’s Catalan. So we wanted to create a Mediterranean trip, join all flavours from Africa, Spain, Italy, Greece… So the menu becomes a journey; every dish has a meaning. And we were able to create that. When we introduced it to Joan Roca, the chef at Celler de Can Roca, he remained silent for a minute and then he added ‘there is a lot of Gin and Tonic behind this concept. I will use it in my restaurant for the next season.’ And then we knew we were on the right track.”

Although it’s based in a seaside Spanish restaurant, several parts of the film are shot in Ireland. The mansion of Fionnula’s character, Countess D’Arcy,  was shot in Howth Head, Dublin airport features and the restaurant where Claudia Bassols’ character, Rachel, has lunch is the Rustic Stone in Dublin. Most of the love scenes were shot in the centre of Dublin. The railway station where Stephen Rea’s character, Walter, takes the train back home is in Kilkenny. Aoife remarks that “it is so beautifully integrated that you don’t notice the seams. To have the Spanish crew merging with the Irish was a great experience and some of them have become very good friends. Roger moved to Dublin to do post and to work with Stephen McKeon on the score of the film.”

Tasting Menu screens on Sunday, 23rd March 2014 at 13.00 as part of the IFI’s Ireland on Sunday monthly showcase for new Irish film.

The film will be introduced by producer Aoife O’Sullivan. 

Tickets for Tasting Menu 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: Leticia Agudo, director of ‘City Wild’

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When Whackala began a crowd-funding campaign in 2011 to raise money to make City Wild the company set out to produce a short film. Since then City Wild has evolved to become a feature documentary. Steven Galvin caught up with Leticia Agudo, who co-directed the film with Paul McGrath, to find out more about Whackala’s first feature-length documentary, which shines a light on the people who live and work in Dublin’s Phoenix Park.

The film screens this weekend as part of Ireland on Sunday, the IFI’s monthly showcase for new Irish film.

Most people who have spent time in the Phoenix Park have at one time or another wondered in true Through The Keyhole-style ‘who could live in a house like this’. Leticia Agudo and Paul McGrath asked themselves the same question and decided to make a documentary that would provide some answers. As Leticia tells me, ‘Both Paul and I love the Phoenix Park, and, being nosy filmmakers – let’s call it curious, it’s more professional – we each, at separate times, saw people coming out or going into a couple of the lodges, and then we got really curious about who they were and what life inside the park was like. Before that, Paul thought the lodges were empty and used for storage, so it was a great surprise. I personally love documentary because you can get right into a world and close to people you normally wouldn’t, and this was one of those instances where we both really wanted to find out more. From the start, we liked the angle of it being “a bit of the country in the middle of the city”, as some of the characters refer to it.”

The park is home to 40 families or households, mostly park staff, past and present, whose lives and stories are intertwined with those of the park. For the documentary, Leticia and John looked for people who, aside from having interesting stories, contrasted each other in their experiences and personalities. The people involved are the essence of the documentary and their findings inform the film enormously, in content and style, providing a rich insight into the Park’s history. One of them was Brendan Costello, a retired ranger from Strabane, who, according to Leticia, “aside from being incredibly open and generous with his stories and knowledge from the start, had reels of Super 8 footage of his family and events in the park, mostly during the ‘70s. We loved it and wanted as much as we could use in the film; it showed the private and public nature of their lives in the park, which was interesting, they had been part of some of the biggest historical events in the country.”

Brendan also helped in getting others on board. “There was one person who was very reticent from the start even though he was one of the first people we met, but we kept at him, because we were won over by his life story and his humbleness; in his case, and also in the case of others, Brendan, whom we got very close to, interceded in our favour; he trusted us from the start and saw the good in what we were doing and was the best ambassador of the project amongst other residents. Paul and I normally end up being quite close to some of the people we film; we made three good new friends from the park who we see regularly.”

As a result the film balances the personal stories of the residents, the day-to-day running of the park, as well as its history. Something that Leticia admits was difficult to achieve. “It was a very lengthy edit. I got carried away with the personal stories in the first cut and Paul looked at it and said: “where’s the park?” Finding the narrative took going back and forth between structures on paper and the edit. I came up with the opening very early on and we both liked it; except, we eventually added images of the park waking up too, as Paul thought the park itself had to be another character in the film throughout, so he kept tabs on me, since I would quite happily have made the whole film about the people and their stories. Our loose large structure was: the past, the present and the future of the park, represented by the characters that dominated each section: retired staff first, then the active staff and, finally, Terry, the deer keeper and aspiring park resident, representing the future and hopes for the park.”

Leticia herself took on the difficult job of editing down the 60 to 70 hours of their own footage. “Both Paul and I like constructing documentaries  that use no voiceover or guiding texts, although that makes the edit a lot harder; we have to find all the content from what the contributors say and make it make sense with what images and music it’s juxtaposed against, since I also prefer contrasting, rather than illustrating a point. It’s a challenge, but when a sequence, or even a moment, works, it’s a real pleasure.”

The film is set to screen at the IFI and as Leticia insists her 3 plans for the film are:“Get it seen, get it seen, get it seen! I’m still applying to a couple of international festivals, but it’s not really a festival film; we’ve gotten great feedback from a previewing audience of over 50 year olds, some of the initial funders of the film, who really engage with it and its characters, and we’re really happy targeting the documentary at them. We entered into a contract for broadcast with RTÉ in 2012 but they want a younger, lighter and more current approach, so I’m also editing that version at the moment, which is, essentially, a different film. It took us a long time to detach ourselves from the slow reflective film that it turned into, and that we’re quite happy with.”

Steven Galvin

 

City Wild screens on Sunday, 19th January 2014 at 13.00 as part of the IFI’s Ireland on Sunday monthly showcase for new Irish film.

Directors Leticia Agudo and Paul McGrath will participate in a post-screening Q&A.

Tickets for City Wild 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: Des Kilbane, director of ‘Croí Trodach’ (A Fighting Heart)

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Steven Galvin chats to Des Kilbane, director of Croí Trodach (A Fighting Heart), the epic story of Johnny Kilbane (1889–1957), the longest reigning World Featherweight Boxing Champion of all time. The film screens this weekend as part of Ireland on Sunday, the IFI’s monthly showcase for new Irish film.

When Johnny Kilbane, the Cleveland-born son of Irish emigrants from Achill, became the World Featherweight Champion on 22nd February 1912, defeating the six-year reigning champion Abe Attell in a 20-round bout in Vernon, California, he entered the realms of legends. He returned to Cleveland on St. Patrick’s day to the largest gathering in the history of the city with a turnout of around 200,000 people. According to his biography: Newspapers canonized him. Children idolized him. Parents even named their new born sons “Johnny Kilbane”. Kilbane would go on to beat Attell’s record and become the longest reigning World Featherweight Boxing Champion of all time holding the title for a staggering 11 years from 1912 to 1923.  Kilbane fought more than 140 fights in his career losing only 4 times – a sporting feat that has lead to him being considered one of the top 5 Featherweights of all time.

Croí Trodach (A Fighting Heart) tells the epic story of Kilbane’s life, a story that stretches from Achill Island to Cleveland, Ohio, taking in so much along the way.

Irish director Des Kilbane, himself a distant relation of Johnny, tells me how the genesis of the film dates back to when his own father used to talk about Johnny Kilbane visiting Achill in the early 1920s when Johnny was still the champion of the world. In the mid-1980s, Des picked up a copy of The Book of Lists, where celebrities select their favorites in their chosen fields, and read that Mike Tyson, heavyweight champion of the world at the time, had picked Johnny at Number 7. “I was amazed, ” says Des. “So the idea was always there but the wherewithal wasn’t. When I completed my film studies in 2009 the idea arose again to make a film on Johnny’s life. I found Kevin OToole’s website on Johnny (Kevin’s great grandfather) and it all took off from there.”

It’s a surprise to learn how in fact Johnny’s path into boxing was by chance. Des explains how Johnny always wanted to be a star of the vaudeville stage. “He was a great dancer, he played the violin and he could hold a tune. But having to survive working on the docks as a 10 year old honed his fighting skills. His nemesis as a boy was his neighbor Tommy Kilbane and they fought on the street regularly. A friend suggested he contact Jimmy Dunn a local boxing trainer. They met up and the rest is history.”

Croí Trodach (A Fighting Heart) charts Kilbane’s sporting career but also extends well beyond it relating a rags-to-riches story that begins on Achill Island, from where his ancestors originated and his father emigrated, and finishes in Cleveland, Ohio, where Kilbane grew up. “Johnny had a very tragic childhood,” Des tells me, “losing his mother when he was 3 years old and his father becoming blind when he was 7. So he had to leave school to earn money to keep the family going.” He went on to fight his first professional fight in 1907, became a lieutenant in the US Army during the First World War and would serve his community after his impressive boxing career. “After he retired from boxing, he made a lot of money but lost it all in the crash of 1929,” explains Des. “He had to re invent himself as a boxing promoter and then as a politician, which he became very successful at.”

The film also works as a particular story of Irish Emigration and the building of the Erie Canal, the US’s first major transportation system, linking the waters of Lake Erie in the west to the Hudson River in the east. As Des says, Achill Islanders had been emigrating to Ohio from 1820s onwards to work on the Erie Canal, which was one of the great American engineering constructions of the 19th century. “From those beginnings other emigrants from the West of Ireland followed, particularly during and after the Famine and a large Irish community was established in Cleveland which still exists today.”

There is some wonderful archive footage throughout Croí Trodach, including rare footage of Kilbane’s World Title fight that has never been seen before, which “was discovered by Kevin O’Toole (Johnny’s great grandson) in his Grandmother’s attic when she died in 1995,” says Des. “This very volatile nitrate film, over 100 years old, is very expensive to convert but with the help of Frank Stallone, Sylvester Stallone’s brother, Kevin managed to convert the last 4 rounds of the Kilbane vs Attell fight, which has never been seen before and is shown in the film, for the first time. We also found some very rare footage of Johnny at home with his family and Johnny on the election trail as a candidate.”

The film features a specially commissioned original soundtrack by Portland musician and award-winning writer Willy Vlautin, founder of the band Richmond Fontaine.

Initially Des self-funded the project, travelling to the States for research purposes. Midas Productions then came on board as co-producers, and in late 2011, TG4 signed up as broadcaster. In 2012 the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland approved funding which allowed Des to finish the film.

The finished documentary is a fascinating and insightful account of the life and times of one of sports greats.

 

Steven Galvin

 

Croí Trodach (A Fighting Heart) screens on Sunday, 15th December 2013 at 13.00 as part of the IFI’s Ireland on Sunday monthly showcase for new Irish film.

The film will be followed by a Q&A with Des Kilbane.

Tickets for Croí Trodach (A Fighting Heart) are available now from the IFI Box Office on 01 679 3477 or online at www.ifi.ie

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From the Archive: Lens Flair – an interview with Director of Photography PJ Dillon

 

 

 

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pic: molodist.com

PJ Dillon is one of Ireland’s most respected cinematographers. His long list of impressive credits includes his work on Vikings, Ripper Street, My Brothers, Kings, The Runway, Rewind – his directorial debut and Earthbound, Alan Brennan’s Irish sci-fi comedy, which opened in Irish cinemas earlier this year. Dillon has just been nominated for Best Cinematography in Television Drama by the British Society of Cinematographers. Steven Galvin caught up with PJ Dillon to discuss his craft and his work on Earthbound.

 

 

Can you tell us a little about your introduction to the film business?

 

I graduated from DIT in 1989. I’m from Listowel in Kerry and fortuitously at that time Jim Sheridan was making The Field. John B Keane was my neighbour and he knew what I was studying in college and trying to get a break into the film industry. He came over to me one evening and told me about The Field and said, ‘Do you want me to see if I can get you a job?’ Of course! So he took me to meet Jim Sheridan on a recce and I got a job as a trainee clapper-loader on the second unit.

 

It was always my intention to be a cinematographer – when we were making films in college I always gravitated towards being a cameraman and that side of things. After college I tried all the usual routes and getting onto sets pestering cameramen and production managers but had no success at all, but there weren’t actually that many films being made at the time – maybe two or three a year at that time. The other way into the business was to work on commercials. But at that time it was inconceivable that you would come out of college and start working as a cameraman. Back then you had to go through the hierarchy of starting as a trainee clapper loader, becoming a clapper loader; then a focus puller and a camera operator and then after you’d gone through all the levels eventually a cinematographer.

 

Which I presume is a great learning curve?

 

Yes – a fantastic learning curve. Even today it stands to me. It gives you a real appreciation of the difficulty in other people’s jobs. And standing on set seeing other people solve problems is a great way to learn how to solve problems! And of course there’re times when you’re looking at people working and you say, ‘Well I’m never going to do it like that!’ It can work both ways.

 

Which also feeds into an understanding of the collective nature of filmmaking itself.

 

Absolutely. And it is completely a collective, collaborative effort. It is one industry where if you isolate yourself you won’t do very well. Your work will be better the more inclusive you are in the film industry.

 

What was it that attracted you to cinematography in particular?

 

Probably like everyone else I went into college thinking I wanted to be a director. While there, I got my first experience of actually working with film cameras, shooting film, and the whole process of actually exposing film, watching it in a screening room was completely magical to me. And I thought ‘this is it for me. I’m not going to find anything better than this.’

 

So the technical, practical side fascinated you?

 

Well, yes – and it was being able to use the technical practical tools in an aesthetic way. I remember we’d shoot our own college films on 16mm and of course we’d be delighted we made this but then I’d go to see films in the cinema of artists at the top of their game and I’d be thinking ‘how did they make it look like that?’ And as you get better and start to achieve that, there’s a real thrill and something deeply satisfying about it.

 

And I presume that would still be a part of the way you work as a cinematographer – figuring out how you achieve a certain look, like a puzzle. There’s a script there, there’s an idea there, and you have to work out how to get what you and a director want.

 

Absolutely. For me, references play a huge part in any discussion I have with a director. Once I read a script and get a feel for what it’s about, the next step is to talk to the director and what can they compare it to and what are their references. The references might not necessarily be films; they may be photographs or paintings – it can be quite abstract. But they’re about tone and mood and emotion and all of those things that go into getting what you want.  It’s not that you’re not trying to copy something else but more about the feel of it. So yes, looking at other people’s work and asking how they achieved that.

 

You’ve recently worked on Ripper Street and Game of Thrones. How does working for television differ from film?

 

There are differences. With Game of Thrones the budget is 7 or 8 million an episode and, funnily enough, you probably have more money and more time than you would shooting a low-budget feature. But generally shooting a film is quite different in that you do have more time. I think TV is very much story-orientated; it’s about getting into scenes quickly and getting out quickly. Being very efficient. With films you tend to have the freedom to linger a little more. There’s more breathing space.

 

Ripper Street and Game of Thrones – they’re very stylized and there’s obviously a certain look that has to be adhered to. How does that work across a series with different DOPs?

 

It depends. With Game of Thrones the first DOP to shoot on it the year I worked on it was Kramer Morgenthau. And he was incredibly helpful to me, telling me what he was doing and involving me in his testing period. He wanted me to be able to continue the look that he was developing. That was particularly rewarding. But I’ve also worked on TV shows where there’s been no communication between DOPs. That can happen, sometimes, for budget or scheduling reasons. And sometimes it could be a different director with a different vision or the producers might want you to disregard what’s come before.

 

Moving on to Earthbound. How did you originally get involved?

 

Alan [Brennan, director] and Heidi [Madsen, producer] rang me out of the blue. They handed me a script. I read it. I thought it was really funny and quirky. I met the two of them, liked them and agreed to do it.

 

And working with Alan?

 

It was Alan’s first feature so it was quite daunting for him, but he met it brilliantly. I thought he was inventive and temperamentally just great. Alan has great quirky ideas and he did a great job executing them, particularly working with a limited budget and schedule – it was a 4-week shoot. Alan had a clear idea what he wanted and the kind of films he liked. In this case there were a lot of comic book references we discussed to capture the mood of the film. It was great fun to do.

 

Can you tell us a bit about the format you used?

 

We shot anamorphic. We were shooting on RED with anamorphic lenses for widescreen. And that was for two reasons really – Alan wanted to get that ’70s American sci-fi feel. Also anamorphic is used in a lot of major action movies. It’s got a very particular look – that widescreen look. What anamorphic lenses do is they squeeze the image, which is then unsqueezed again when you project. They have some very particular characteristics which viewers might not be aware of but subliminally the anamorphic lenses are working in a particular way that give you that epic widescreen Hollywood look.

 

The other thing about them is that they have a characteristic where they flare in a different way to standard lenses – that blue flare you get when for example headlights are on screen – that’s a classic artifact of anamorphic lenses. That’s what Alan was looking for.

 

Obviously, there’s much debate at the minute about the digital revolution in filmmaking. What’s your own preference – shooting on film or digital?

 

If I’m to be brutally honest, my preference would be to shoot on film, though the choice very much depends on the specific project and I’m quite happy shooting on digital formats. Certainly there’s greater immediacy with digital – you’re now shooting on high-definition formats and viewing on hi-def monitors on screen. Pretty much what you see is what you get – though obviously there’s a certain amount of grading that goes on afterwards and so on – but that was not the case on film. On film what you were looking at was a video tap – the on-board monitor. You weren’t looking at the end product. That immediacy appeals to directors and producers because they really know what they’re getting.

 

As good as the Arri Alexa is, which would be my personal favourite of all the digital formats, I still don’t think they have the subtlety that film can achieve. However that gap has closed radically even in the last three or four years.

 

You used the Arri Alexa on Ripper and Game of Thrones.  What is it about it that you prefer?

 

I think it has a greater dynamic range and the camera themselves feel more film intuitive. If you’ve come from a film background, the Alexa just feels more like a film camera.

 

Do you have any particular advice for someone looking to get started in the business?

 

Persevere. It’s funny; some people have it as a life ambition while others just seem to fall into it by accident. But what I would say to people who want to be DOPs is ‘shoot’ – just go out and shoot. If no one’s asking you to shoot for them, generate stuff yourself. The technology is really affordable now. When I started you couldn’t just go out and shoot because a roll of film cost 100 pounds and you’d have to rent a 16mm camera and you’d have to process it. To shoot something was an expensive thing to do. That’s not the case anymore. Anyone who’s serious can get the money together, get their hands on a decent inexpensive camera and start learning to shoot! Shoot as much as you can. That’s one of the reason Filmbase was founded – to make filmmaking accessible and that is even more so the case now. Technology is getting cheaper all the time. And getting better.

 

This article originally appeared in Film Ireland magazine, Issue 143, 2013

 

 

 

 

 

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Interview: Serafina Steer, who will perform her live re-score of ‘Amer’ at the Cork Film Festival

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The Cork Film Festival present an evening of all things “giallo”, with The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears from Belgian filmmakers Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani, alongside a revisiting of their earlier Amer with a commissioned live score by harpist and songwriter Serafina Steer. Plus a midnight movie of Dario Argento’s classic, Suspiria, from 1977.

Serafina Steer is a harp-playing multi instrumentalist and vocalist. Her third album, the Jarvis Cocker-produced ‘The Moths Are Real’ was released on 14th January 2013. She will perform her live re-score of Amer ,accompanied by Danish percussionist Jacob Smedegaard, in Triskel Christchurch as part of Giallo Night at the Cork Film Festival.

Steven Galvin caught up with Serafina to ask her a couple of questions about her appearance at the festival.

 

How did you first get involved in performing live scores?

 
I’ve worked with Philip Ilson at Brancage Film Festival before. We were lucky to get some Women Make Music funding from PRS for a live soundtracked night of animations.
 

The film’s soundtrack boasts some of the Italian greats –  Morricone, Cipriani and Nicolai – is their giallo sound something you’ve tackled before – and what particular challenges do they present?

I have to say that it isn’t! And I haven’t tackled it this time. I wanted to make something very loud and frightening, as viscerally frightening, repulsive and surreal as some of the scenes in the film are.

What approach do you take preparing for the event?

I know the Triskel Arts Centre a bit. I was imagining drones and distorted harp echoing around the high stoney space. Then I made a rough sound track to the extract of the film. Then myself and Jacob (Smedegaard) worked out how we could best recreate it live, with enough freedom to improvise.

What instruments are involved?

A drum sampling pad, laptop, keyboard synth and harp going through a few different guitar pedals.

I assume that the lack of dialogue in Amer brings with it a terrific opportunity to play around with the stunning visual imagery on screen.

Yes!

The film is marked by its use of colour and its sensual aesthetic – is this something that feeds into what you bring to the score?

I hope so. Though what I have written is intentionally very dark. I don’t find the film sexy. I think I understand the visual tropes of the genre- the knives/ blood /scared hard nippled women for example, and I am only working on the first section of the film where that hasn’t quite kicked off yet but I didn’t want to make a Morricone smug pastiche sound track ( very arrogant to assume I could!) I hope what we do will inspire real fear. Which is sensual after a fashion of course.

Giallo Night takes place on 15th November at 21:15 in Triskel Christchurch

Tickets € 15.00 / 240 Minutes

Book tickets here

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IFI Ireland on Sunday Interview: Michelle Deignan, director of ‘Breaking Ground: the Story of the London Irish Women’s Centre’

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Breaking Ground: the Story of the London Irish Women’s Centre is a feature-length documentary that reveals the story of the radical organisation founded in the early ’80s by women in order to represent and support generations of Irish women in London. The story of the Irish in England has always very much been the story of Irish men in England, but Breaking Ground documents a little known history of Irish women’s success story and records the history of Irish feminism in London.

The film’s director Michelle Deignan recalls how the project initially came about when “back in November 2011 I was asked to exhibit a short film of mine, Red Cheeks, in an exhibition at the London Irish Women’s Centre. In this film an actress reports anecdotes about me as an Irish artist and filmmaker in London, within the context of a tour of three Irish spaces there, including the London Irish Women’s Centre. After seeing Red Cheeks in the exhibition Claire Barry, the Centre’s director, asked me if I’d write a proposal to make a documentary on its history. I was really surprised not least because it was the first time I’d been asked to pitch for a documentary project. I thought, what a great opportunity to make a funded film about Irish women in London, a subject that other films of mine had addressed but in completely different ways. So I went ahead and wrote a detailed proposal, which Claire later told me blew her away. She also told me that when she saw Red Cheeks in the exhibition at the Centre she hadn’t a clue what it was about but thought it looked very professional and it was on that basis only she asked me to pitch for the documentary!”

It comes through clearly in the film that the wave of Irish women emigrating during the ’80s was very much on a proactive level as London seemed to offer Irish women an opportunity to break free from certain restraints – economic, political and cultural – in Ireland. According to Michelle, “Irish women are more migratory than Irish men, which indicates that women have more reasons to leave Ireland.” The documentary tells us that in the ’80s Irish women made up 10% of the female population. Michelle continues, “For some of these women 1980s London, though not without its hardships, was a place to escape from the repression of the male dominated Irish state, religion and culture. It was this generation of women who began the London Irish Women’s Centre.”

The documentary provides a real insight into how the Centre functioned as an alternative to the traditional notion, and way of life, of the Irish in London. “The aim of the centre was to meet the needs of a diverse range of Irish women who didn’t necessarily conform to the established order of what either Irish or British institutions perceived were legitimate expressions of Irish womanhood,” Michelle explains. “At the Centre all versions of being an Irish woman were possible. It’s also important to mention that first, second and third generation Irish women used the resource. Originally it was a feminist collective, a practical resource to help Irish women live their daily lives, as well as a space within which to question notions of cultural and gender identity. Brid Boland, one of the original workers at the Centre, points out in the film that is was important to them that Irish women would aim to integrate with all parts of British society reaching beyond the confines of an Irish only community.”

One of the strengths of the film alongside the interviews from leading members is the great array of  archive footage, which brings so much of the history to life. “The archive footage and photographs in the film are from a huge number of sources,” says Michelle. ” The London Irish Women’s Centre supported a group called Video na mBan, who recorded many events and interviewed many guests and users of the centre. Most of that footage has been long dispersed but there was one cupboard left full of U-matic tapes. These turned out to be footage from 1987/88, mostly of the Irish Women’s Conferences that the Centre had organised over a five-year period in London. This was the archive we started with and it gave us some fantastic clips. Many of the women we went on to interview are featured in these.

“The Centre did a lot of self publishing in the form of reports and newsletters and they astutely had a lot of their events documented by professional photographers. Most of the black and white photographs in the film were taken by Joanne O’ Brien and Sass Tuffin, who had both been employed by the Centre to document events at different times. Colour photographs were from the personal collections of some of the interviewees and others we found in the the Centre’s archive. We also used some fabulous archive from Anna Liebschners’ short film A Free Country’(1983), about the Prevention of Terrorism Act and how if effects the Irish community in the UK.”

Ultimately, the Centre functioned as a space for Irish women and as a vital source of support that could provide for their needs and also take up the challenge to agitate for change. “Angie Birtill  – one of the women who worked at the centre – made a great point that women were supported and encouraged to not be victims but to do something about what they wanted to change. In a space where all opinions could be expressed and all grievances could be aired, opinions were shared and support groups for various different causes were formed. This was collective power in action. Women were coming to the centre and galvanising support for many causes from protests about the strip searching of prisoners to reproductive rights campaigns. It’s inspiring stuff.”

Steven Galvin

 

Breaking Ground: the Story of the London Irish Women’s Centre screens on Sunday, 10th November 2013 at 13.00 as part of the IFI’s Ireland on Sunday monthly showcase for new Irish film.

The film will be followed by a Q&A with the London-based director Michelle Deignan.

Tickets for Breaking Ground: the Story of the London Irish Women’s Centre are available now from the IFI Box Office on 01 679 3477 or online at www.ifi.ie

 

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Interview: Paul Duane, director of ‘Very Extremely Dangerous’

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Jerry McGill spurned a rock’n’roll career for a life of crime, robbing banks and running from the FBI while touring incognito with legends of country music and appearing in movies. After three jail sentences, aged 70 and suffering from terminal cancer, he announced his return to recording. Very Extremely Dangerous follows a heavily armed McGill and his long-suffering fiancée Joyce through four states as he stole whatever’s not nailed down and charmed his way into and out of trouble.

Film Ireland spoke to director Paul Duane to find out more about his compelling film and the “original rock and roll outlaw”.

Very Extremely Dangerous turns the camera on Jerry McGill, a pill-popping, crime addicted, gun-toting, rock’n’roll renegade. Not only did he not play by the rules, he burnt the rule book and urinated on its dying embers. Missing in action for the last decade, Paul Duane’s 2012 documentary follows McGill at the age of 70 as he attempts to return to recording music and perform his music to a live audience again.

McGill died earlier this year at the age of 73 leaving behind him a reputation as the “original rock and roll outlaw,” and described by Robert Gordon, the film’s producer, as “a really gruff charmer…If you didn’t like his sweet talk, he’d show you the muzzle of his gun.”

McGill was a singer, songwriter and guitarist who recorded for Sun Records, releasing one single in 1959, ‘Lovestruck’. Yet already by this stage in his life McGill had become a notorious criminal – claiming himself that he was arrested 97 times for various offences, including armed robbery.

Under the pseudonym Curtis Buck, McGill spent most of the ‘60s and ‘70s on the road – bringing crime with him – with country star Waylon Jennings, who described him as “crazy” and wrote that “While I was singing, he’d go find the girls, and if we needed drugs, he’d go find the dope.”

By the late ’70s McGill had disappeared from the music radar, spending most of his time being arrested, tried, and occasionally convicted, for crimes that included possession of illegal weapons, drugs and attempted murder.

Duane’s interest in making the film that would become Very Extremely Dangerous began when he received an email saying that McGill had surfaced after a ten-year vanishing act, was suffering from terminal cancer and wanted to make a return to recording. At that stage, “I’d really only 2 sources to go on,” recalls Duane, ” one was Robert Gordon’s book It Came from Memphis, which had quite a lot of stories and legendary stuff about McGill, stories told by people who had known him in the ‘50s and ‘60s and the early ‘70s. The other was the William Eggleston’s Stranded in Canton, which has scenes of McGill that turn up in Very Extremely Dangerous where you can see what sort of a person he was.  It was all second or third hand information.”

Duane made contact with McGill in Alabama and was one of the first people to speak to him for a while. “Jerry hadn’t spoken to any of the Memphis heads who knew him way back. So I sort of tracked him down. That was a strange feeling. Nobody else had heard from him in many, many years. From there we had a couple of long conversations on the phone.”

Armed with little ammunition, Duane headed over to meet McGill. “It could have been a wild goose chase – it was a big risk to go to the USA never having met this guy and start filming and then see if it was something worth chasing further.”

After watching the film it certainly was worth it. Maybe not quite what was first imagined though. Duane recalls how originally he had “certain aspirations. I enjoyed The Story of Anvil very much and liked the notion of maybe someone missing their opportunity to become a star and having a second go at it With  his undeniable charisma and openness on camera plus the added pathos that he was under a death sentence from cancer there seemed to me to be the ingredients there for what could really be a redemptive, positive and funny, sweet story of this guy rediscovering his musical abilities after 50 years of living a very, very difficult and dangerous and illegal kind of life.  That was our initial idea. That was how we pitched it to ourselves – but it didn’t quite work out that way. “

As the film testifies to, McGill was not an easy subject to engage with. His erratic behaviour and drug addiction gave rise to abusive behaviour and threats of violence toward his fiancée, Joyce. McGill’s on-screen behaviour proved so problematic that Duane was forced to end proceedings when things came to a head. Duane admits reaching that stage during filming when “two things became clear to me – no audience would stay with our story beyond the point we’d reached, Jerry’s behaviour had crossed a line; and I wasn’t willing to go with him on this journey for another step.”

McGill’s sometime producer and song-writing collaborator Jim Lancaster has said about him that “He was an outlaw down to his soul.” What’s interesting about the documentary is how much this outlaw seems to be a constructed image that McGill plays up to. Duane admits that McGill was indeed charismatic but “clearly unreliable and can be problematic to be around. Part of the reason Jerry was excited about the film was that he always wanted to be a star. Point a camera at him and he starts to perform.”

Welcome to “Jerryworld”.

“When you’re entangled with someone who is playing a game and how far they can go and being goaded on by the presence of the camera to do more and more, you wonder whether the principle of observing this person is making them do the things they’re doing and maybe if we stopped observing him he’d have a more normal life and wouldn’t damage himself and other people. Also there’s the fear of ethically being in some way responsible for his behaviour. And also the fact that I personally couldn’t take it anymore – at a certain point as a human being you just go I can’t be involved in this any longer. And also as documentary filmmaker one of the most difficult things, one of the most indefinable things you have to have – no one can teach you – is knowing when you’ve reached the end of your story. When you’ve filmed the scene you know is the end – that’s when you walk away.”

Very Extremely Dangerous is not about being judge, jury and executioner. It’s a film that asks more questions than it answers, perhaps the most important being how do you decide about a person. Asking Duane about looking back now on the whole experience, he’s quick to focus on the positive. “My best memory of Jerry, and the one I want to hang onto, is the last time I saw him when he came to Memphis. We had a sneak preview of the film – the film’s first screening – and he travelled to see it. We had agreed it see it before anyone else. We sat in a hotel room and watched it – by this stage he was off his painkiller addiction and was living a much more moderate life – he was shocked and horrified by what he saw but he was able to take it on the chin and say, ‘Look it’s an honest portrayal of how I was at that time. It’s difficult to watch but thank you for doing it.’ He sat through it again with an audience that evening and it must have been very, very difficult for him to sit there in a room full of people while you’re threatening to break your girlfriend’s jaw on screen. But he sat through it and came out the other side and people applauded him at the end, which was maybe a surprise to him because I think they understood that even just by being there showed a certain amount of moral courage and I was very proud of him. Proud of the way he responded; proud of the way he didn’t shirk or blame or attempt to evade responsibility for his actions. That’s the mark of a real man – at that point he showed himself to be a grown-up and much more so than I’d ever seen from him in any of his behaviour before then.  That was the real Jerry – his fiancée Joyce always makes the distinction between Jerry McGill and Curtis Buck – Jerry being his alter ego and the guy who is the devil incarnate and Jerry, who is genuinely a sweet, nice, loving, kind, creative guy. Thankfully I got to know both of them before he died. It’s a real shame he went the wrong way and became a criminal because he had all the positivity to be pretty much anything he wanted to be. He has a lot of positives and a lot of negatives and they’re all there to see on the screen in the film.”

 

Very Extremely Dangerous is in cinemas now.

 

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Interview Florian Zapra, Founding Director of Dublin International Short Film and Music Festival

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Steven Galvin spoke to Florian Zapra, Founding Director of the Dublin International Short Film and Music Festival, which runs 4 – 6 October 2013.

Tell me about the festival.

Dublin International Short Film and Music Festival is an independent festival from filmmakers for filmmakers. Our aim is to bring together filmmakers and musicians from around the world in a forum to celebrate short films. I personally want to thank all the people who submitted their work and to congratulate all the successful ones whose films will be screened at this year’s festival.

This is the second annual festival and this year we received 567 submissions from all over the world and we have selected 106 short films. We have 40 world premieres. 33 films screening at the festival are from Ireland and the rest are from Germany , UK, Brazil, France, Sweden, Finland, Italy, Romania, Israel, Belgium, Spain, United States, South Korea, Canada, Turkey, China, Greece, Netherlands, Taiwan, Iran, Egypt and Switzerland.

The screenings will take place at 4 Dame Lane and The Sugar Club. We also have bands performing live music at The Grand Social and The Sugar Club. The awards ceremony will be held at the Sugar Club on Sunday, 6th October.

What was the thinking behind setting the festival up?

I have produced four short films and I’’ve screened at a few festivals but still not enough for the amount of work put in on a short film.  Also I’ve seen that every single festival is different from another. I was thinking that more people need to see short films because there are some amazing stories being told in the short form that are never going to be seen by an audience. So I decided that a short film festival needed to be set up here in Dublin, and with the right people and the right attitude we can have a wonderful festival where filmmakers  can come and enjoy the screenings, discuss their work, meet people and have fun. Myself and Brian Walsh met a few years ago at the Gaiety School of Acting, and with him and Wale Atoyegbewe, we organised the first edition of DISFMF last year .

For this year’s festival we have more people that want to work with us; people that love short films, music and want to be part of the festival –  Arber Sul, Timothy O’Connell, Stephen Brady, Natasha Efole, Craig Moore, Bart Chowanski, Stephen Fennesy and a few others. If there are any others that want to be part of the festival and work with us they can send me an email at info@disfmf.ie

Any particular highlight from last year.

The biggest surprise last year was the variety of people interested in watching short films.  So many different nationalities made up our audience – from Brazilians to Italians, Irish, Romanians, Polish and many others. This shows again that Dublin is a multicultural city. We had people that weren’t involved in the film industry but they were interested in watching the short films and this shows that real audiences can be brought to watch short films .

Why did you choose to marry film and music?

In my opinion music is one of the most important part in filmmaking. Having live music gigs, composers and other people related to music, would bring a bigger audience in front of the screen. I believe that if someone is interested in music, definitely there is an interest in film.

Can you tell me a little about your background.

I was born in Romania in 1977 where I graduated. I came to Ireland in 2000 with no English and got a job in catering and at the same time studied English. Then I decided that it was time for me to do something that I would love to do for the rest of my life. So I went to the Gaiety School of Acting, where I did drama. I then produced my first short film and here I am after 13 years, proud to be part of the hard-working Romanian community integrated into Irish society.

Tell me about the awards.

It was an idea of mine that I wanted to do something different from other festivals; something that is related to arts, so I got the idea to give paintings as awards. As a filmmaker I would love to get a painting as an award. Every decision we take and everything we do it is from the filmmakers point of view –  what I would like to get, what I would like to see and how I would like to be treated as a filmmaker if I attended a festival.

What do I do if I want to submit a film next year.

Next year we are planning to open for submissions in February and if you want to submit just upload your film to http://www.reelport.com/ or https://festhome.com/ and you will find us there, or go on our website and you will find more details http://www.disfmf.ie/

You can check out the programme for this year’s festival here

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Interview: Anne Maree Barry, director of ‘Missing Green’

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Missing Green is a poetic journey through Cork Street, Dublin. Two parallel stories inter mesh to create one underlying narrative.
 
Anne Maree Barry’s exploratory research involved the role/place of social housing, the perception of Cork Street within the psyche of Dublin city, development and developers, dereliction and regeneration. Chambers and Weaver’s Court, Cork Street is a crucial example in the film. The land where these social housing complexes were once situated is now a field and an allotment. Through conducted interviews with Councilor John Gallagher, architect Gerry Cahill, author and journalist Frank McDonald and sociologist Aileen O’ Gorman the viewer discovers an area in Dublin that has gradually but dramatically transformed, in the last 80 years. Combining documentary research with documentary drama – the interviewees become the film’s narrators whilst the camera captures a girl’s journey through the urban landscape, of which they speak.

Steven Galvin spoke to Anne Maree Barry about her film, which screens on Saturday, 28th September in the Documentary Shorts programme of the IFI Stranger Than Fiction 2013.

 

Can you tell me about the origin and idea behind Missing Green.

I was always interested in the history of the Coombe/Liberties area and in 2006 I attended a meeting organised by Councillor John Gallagher, (whose voice acts as one of the main narrative guides in Missing Green) concerning St Luke’s Conservation plan. Cork Street and The Coombe area, which were once thriving industrial areas, had become an example of what is called the ‘doughnut effect’. This describes the physical form that cities take on during the decline of their historic centre, with the development of the outer ring leaving a hollow core at the centre. I lived in the area, frequently walking the length and breadth of Cork Street and had an idea for a film based on a girl walking this never ending street/road. Following this, I conducted extensive research into regeneration, social housing and architecture as I wanted to know what happened to people who left their homes as a result of urban regeneration in the Dublin 8 area. My 2010 film, Rialto Twirlers, explored a subculture in Dublin 8 and it seemed a natural progression to further examine the social and psychological impact of urban voids and the process of regeneration by combining my research with an element of fiction. Eventually all these layers came together to create Missing Green.

It’s a film very much about space and how it is shaped, which is something you’ve explored before in your work.

Yes, the idea of what has happened in a space before or the potential of that space really intrigues me. Previous works concentrated solely on empty spaces and the hidden narratives they contain e.g. Covered Road (2006 – Winner – Best Irish Short Darklight Film Festival). With Rialto Twirlers (2010) I captured a subculture outside of their competitive domain in a nearby warehouse in Crumlin, which was originally a storehouse and distributor for books and information during the nineteenth century.

In Missing Green there are significant layers to the chosen space – the history of Cork Street, how Dublin as a city has changed, the triumph of the car and how land became more important then people. It was obvious that the idea of land and ownership entered the urban sphere during the property boom. However, it had always been in the Irish psyche. I recall Jim Sheridan speaking about The Field in a Q&A session at his retrospective at the IFI a few years ago and what always stuck with me from that talk was how he said that many property developers had gone up to him and said The Field is my favourite film. I found this very interesting.

There’s talk of an “interstitial space” in the film – a space the girl journeys through?

Yes, my intention was to merge my research interests with the girl’s journey. The architect Gerry Cahill speaks about an interstitial space, or gaps in the urban landscape. In an interview I conducted with him we discussed Chambers and Weavers Court, a social housing complex that formerly stood on Cork Street. It was never properly defined and was knocked down for the purpose of a development, which never came to fruition. It is now a field, in which occasionally a Circus takes place and where Weavers Court once stood is now a successful allotment. However, more recently a petition has been launched to transform that ‘field’ into a park/green space for the community.

There’s a tremendous sense of loss and missed opportunities at the heart of the film.

There is a loss of a very different Dublin, a very different street – the past going into the future. John speaks a lot about that – he has been a pillar of the community for the Liberties and surrounding areas. I met him through majorette competitions and he is an inspiration really. On a personal note, circumstances change, cities change, people change – whatever happens the wheel keeps on turning but perhaps sometimes it is good to look at what is lost in the past in order to go forward in the present.

Throughout the film there are several mentions of surfaces and what lies beyond them and that sense of past and present.

Cork Street is a very interesting and visual street. Alot of old signage and other remnants of the past, including a tiled building, are still in evidence there. At the same time the allotment also represents a significant change in the city, with people using the earth and going back to basics within a site that was primed for urban re-development.

The music plays a significant role in the film and the journey it takes.

The music/soundscape was composed by my friend Eoin Bradshaw aka Famous Eno. He’s an Irish music producer in London whose main focus is grime, dance hall and bass heavy dance music. My brief to him was to bring an emotional beat to the piece like a heartbeat or a punch – industrial, slightly ominous but occasionally uplifting. Steve Fanagan and I worked closely on the sound design – this was crucial in merging the three elements – drama, documentary interviews and sound.

The Documentary Shorts programme screens at 14.00 on Saturday, 28th September 2013 as part of IFI Stranger Than Fiction 2013.

Tickets for all IFI Stranger Than Fiction films and panel discussions are on sale NOW at the IFI Box Office on 01 679 3477 and can also be booked on www.ifi.ie/stf where you can find out full details for all the films and events in IFI Stranger than Fiction.

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Interview: Van Poynton, director of ‘The Late Men’

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The Late Men, the first feature from Irish director Van Poynton premiered at the 14th Melbourne Underground Film Festival and the film received a special “Award for Innovation in the New Cinema” as well as Don Baker being awarded Best Supporting Actor for his role in the film. The awards follow on from the film’s nomination earlier this year in South by Southwest (SXSW), Texas, for Excellence in Title Design – you can check out the sequence below. The Late Men was produced by Ciarán Fogarty, Luke Page, and Poynton, and co-written by Poynton with partner Matthew J. Keats, who are together known by nom de guerre The Executive Branch.

Steven Galvin spoke to Van to find out more about his “apocalyptic crime thriller”.

 

First off, congratulations on a successful Melbourne…

It was great news. Richard Wolstencroft (MUFF festival founder/director) was so enthused about it – it was really exciting, additionally so because he agreed to give the last short we made, Flesh/Blood, its world premiere. And they did this really well-programmed retrospective of screen heavy Lawrence Tierney [mastermind Joe in Reservoir Dogs], with his nephew as festival guest. Our slot followed the Robert Wise noir Born to Kill. What a festival! We were happy with all that alone, so with getting a specially created award for direction, and the richly deserved acting award for Baker, we now officially love MUFF! And Wolstencroft says the Award for Innovation in the New Cinema is now an annual category, so the honour is truly great.

 

How did The Late Men originally come about?

Reading about peak oil and climate change I realised terrible things are afoot, so I decided to give up filmmaking to pursue issues of ecology and justice for the rest of my life. Luckily my long-time collaborator, the notorious Matthew J. Keats, was having none of it. Demonstrating a sharp appreciation for the dramatic potential of global catastrophe, he convinced me to simply weave my apocalyptic concerns into the crime thriller script we’d been working out. I couldn’t resist and so I let reality slide, in a sense, to refract it through make-believe. And The Late Men became, for better or worse, a singularly unsparing motion picture experience.

 

What influences are bubbling beneath the surface?

Dead Man’s Shoes (Shane Meadows, 2004), Pusher (Nicolas Winding Refn, 1996), and Tin Can Man (Ivan Kavanagh, 2007). I also think the novels No Country for Old Men and The Road, which I read in quick succession six years ago, in a way inform the story and its imagery. And just generally, for a picture our size or where economy counts at all, Detour (Edgar G. Ulmer, 1945), the definitive shoestring noir, is one every director combining limited resources with an honest worldview must check out before shooting a frame. Same applies to Tin Can Man, which was made with probably even less, materially, but is at least as unforgettable.

 

Can you tell us a little about assembling the cast

Luke Page (producer) helped me cast over the course of several long days in Ballybough Community Centre, who were great. Luke ended up filling in one of the roles too and viewers will, I’m sure, agree he excels on screen. Through Vinny Murphy’s first-rate acting class, The Screen Project, I found Stephen Murray and Clyde Mowlds, and I remembered liking Andie McCaffrey-Byrne from his class too. Fishpond was a huge factor in casting, I spend months on it. Siobhán Callaghan came from a class taught by Stephen Murray.

Neil Sheehy gave such a breath-taking audition that I cast him even though he’s nothing like how we imagined the character. I had to rewrite the role for him (not entirely successfully, which protracted the edit somewhat.) But neither Keats or I could ever have come up the characterisation Sheehy brings. He’s just one of those ethereal factors that afterwards you’re thankful you risked, the wonder stuff.

My initial plan was to play Smithy myself. But somebody who I’m now indebted to told me that casting myself (a non-actor) in one of the major roles, in what was my feature directorial debut, could prove a humiliating disaster. Consequently, then, the unstoppable Stephen Cromwell was cast and history made.

And Don Baker and Tony Murphy were both so energised by the script and so enthusiastic to play their respective roles that – like with Sheehy – their casting altered the characters with, I think, sublime effect. They share no screen time but they’re both a force of nature.

 

And the crew

The cast lead to the crew, unexpectedly. Ciarán Fogarty (producer, props) came recommended through Murray and Murphy, who’d both just been cast and were eager to help. Ciarán then brought on John Doran (stunt coordinator) and Colin McKenzie (assistant director), who’s a DP by trade but, as a pro, could see we badly needed an AD and, then perhaps just out of human decency, stepped in! Luke was really just helping out but ended up doing so much for the shoot he got a well-earned producer credit. Without those four guys there wouldn’t be any Late Men, or at least anything worth seeing.

 

You used Don Baker for the Soundtrack

Don was eager to explore the possibility of him contributing music but I’d been dead set against using incidental score or anything beyond a few minutes for super-specific scenes. He gave me a really rough recording of him playing – that initially, being a total philistine, I didn’t even think was that good! – so I started cutting the title sequence to it, and overnight the music was indispensable. He gave me other pieces too, all fresh recordings. Everything he gave me is superb but it’s only used four times in the movie, never at great length, so the remainder will be used on trailers, etc. It gives the picture that something extra special it so richly deserves. Don really seals it, and steals it, with the harp. And then he acts. Don’s The Late Men’s greatest gift.

 

You’ve been writing with Matthew J. Keats for a while now.

In 2009 Keats and I wrote a 30-minute short called The Late Men, set mostly in a school building with characters called Pidz and Smithy, which we naively believed could get funded despite us not knowing anyone. Those elements are virtually all that survived the transplantation of the script from Greater London to Greater Dublin – I’d moved back to Dublin after years in London – and its extension from 30 to 90 minutes. And what was originally just a psychological crime thriller became an apocalyptic crime thriller. It is still quite psychological but apocalyptic psychological crime thriller is quite a mouthful. Keats and I are known together as The Executive Branch, and we write pretty much everything together.

 

What was the move from Shorts to Features like?

By the time it came to the shoot it had been three years since I’d shot anything – since award-winning horror short Where the Monsters Go, so without the pro crew I think things could’ve gotten ugly. It took me a few days to get into the swing but what made allowances was the sheer speed setting up when of shooting with (mostly) natural light. Having become accustomed to the time it takes to set up lights, it was liberating to be able to pretty much just shoot without waiting for a whole department to make their magic. If one (non-human) thing rescued this picture from its out-of-shape director it’s the extra time using available light gives you.

 

Have you any Future Projects lined up?

The Nightmare of My Choice is hot on the heels of The Late Men. It’s a Christmassy psychological thriller, more madness in monochrome. Keats and I co-directed this one and I’m cutting it right now. The public has the rest of 2013 to prepare themselves for the Choice, and for the indomitable screen presence of Ross Forder, our lead, a mystery Englishman in Dublin. We’re rather excited about that one. And soon we’ll commence different projects as directors, still in close collaboration, but Keats’s will be set and shot in England so we don’t care about that. Mine, however, will be set and shot here in Dublin, is nearly fully cast and should be another visceral thriller. Keats’s promises to be similarly diabolical and, as always, I can’t wait to read whatever it is he’s been cooking up.

 

 

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IFI Ireland on Sunday Interview: Paula Kehoe, director/producer of ‘An Dubh ina Gheal’ (‘Assimilation’)

PaulaKehoe Director
Paula Kehoe: Director/Producer

 

An Dubh ina Gheal (Assimilation) is a revealing exploration of the relationship between Aboriginal Australians and the Irish in Australia. Steven Galvin caught up with Paula Kehoe, the film’s director/producer, to find out more about her fascinating documentary.

An Dubh ina Gheal (Assimilation) screens at 13.00 at the IFI on Sunday, 15th September 2013.

An Dubh ina Gheal (Assimilation) is a documentary that explores the relationship between Aboriginal Australians and the Irish in Australia. Produced and directed by Paula Kehoe, the film is structured around Irish poet Louis de Paor’s journey back to his once-adopted homeland to explore a hidden story of the Irish in Australia. A story that takes in the existence of a new colonial identity in Australia – that of the ‘Aboriginal Irish’, proud to be Aboriginal and proud to be Irish – while at the same time exploring how the Irish, as white Australians, were also complicit in the dispossession of Aboriginal people.

Since the British first established a colony in Australia in 1788, Aboriginal Australians have had their land stolen from them or destroyed, become victims of new diseases brought in by sailors and convicts, and became targets of genocide. By the late 1800s, the indigenous population had been reduced from up to an estimated one million to only 60,000. During much of the 20th century, the government adopted a policy of assimilation by removing mixed race children – many of Irish heritage – from their parents and adopting them out to white families or placing them in mission schools in an effort to eradicate traces of Aboriginal culture and language. An Dubh in Gheal explores the story of this “stolen generation”, and also that of an Aboriginal resistance lead by ‘Shamrock Aborigines’, who saw theirs as a shared struggle against a common oppressor.

Paula explains how she had “brewed over the film for quite a long time. I actually started thinking about the subject area before I ever started making films. Since then it had always been at the back of my mind as a story that should be told. I wouldn’t have felt comfortable trying to tackle it in Australia as an Irish-Australian filmmaker for a lot of complex reasons. It was only really when I was in Ireland and with Louis on board that I felt comfortable with the fact that this was also an Irish story that could be told from an Irish perspective.”

Louis de Paor

Louis de Paor: Presenter/Co-Writer

Paula, who moved to Ireland in 1994, tells me how it took the years she had spent immersed in indigenous culture and language in Ireland “to raise my consciousness and deepen my understanding of the society in which I was raised. As a result my growing awareness of and engagement with Aboriginal life, culture and politics in Australia became entangled with a very Irish perspective. When I looked deeper into the recent past in Australia, the Irish dimension of the Aboriginal story was starkly apparent. It is remarkable how many Aboriginal people have Irish heritage, political activists, politicians and members of the Stolen Generations among them, and they are very proud to claim it. Yet conversely the Irish were embedded, and themselves assimilated into ‘white Australia’ and all that it entailed.”

Having first heard Louis de Paor reading the two poems that feature in the documentary in 1997 in Club Áras in Galway, Paula recalls how “they suddenly reappeared in my consciousness in 2010 while I was researching this subject.” Louis had lived in Australia and had responded to the plight of the Aboriginal people through his poems, ‘An dubh ina gheal’ and ‘Didjeridu’, which inspire the film’s narrative.

“These poems have powerful things to say about Indigenous Australians”, whom Louis feels a natural affinity with as an indigenous Irishman according to Paula. “Yet, as ‘Didjeridu’ acknowledges, the Gael, as a founding people in the story of white Australia, were also complicit in the dispossession of Aboriginal people.The fact that the poems were written in Irish is crucial. When I explained to contributors that the documentary would be bi-lingual, half in ‘Gaelic’, they were much more open to it. English is the language of the coloniser for both the Irish and Aboriginal people, and certainly the Aboriginal people I spoke to have a very keen awareness of those paralells.”

Paula first approached TG4, who liked the proposal, then wrote it up for the BAI, and it got commissioned. “Then Louis and I started working on it together and shaped it beyond my initial proposal to embrace the personal stories and the contributors who came and went and also to incorporate what Louis brought to it. So it’s evolved in various different stages. I couldn’t have done it then without Louis. He was the key to making it work. He gave it a moral centre from an Irish immigrant’s point of view. It was a fabulous experience and such a privilege working with Louis on this project.”

An Dubh ina Gheal explores the story of the ‘Stolen Generations’, but also how, despite the circumstances, out of these multi-racial unions new identities have been formed. Paula points out that “there is now a whole generation of indigenous Australians of Irish descent. During the ’60s and ’70s political activists of Irish descent were called ‘Shamrock Aborigines’, “who saw theirs as a shared struggle against a common oppressor. They recognised that the Irish have also suffered under British rule. So there are strong associations there.”

Bill Brock-Byrne & LdeP

Louis de Paor & Bill Brock-Byrne

Bill Brock-Byrne, a member of the Stolen Generations, features in the documentary and explains how he thought the missions were there to protect them from the government, and yet part of that was protecting them from their own culture and from their own beliefs.

Previously there had been little to no research done on the offspring of Irish and Aboriginal parents so Paula couldn’t rely on archival sources and “that’s why finding someone like Bill Brock-Byrne was crucial because his family history tells us so much.”

Paula admits that the documentary was the most challenging project she has ever undertaken. “It’s a sensitive area so it was important to be respectful and aware on every level. The archive film and photographs proved a tremendous challenge as there is so much kept by so many different institutions and there’s so much protocol involved in using any archive material that has indigenous content. While it wasn’t an easy journey, it has been without any doubt one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I hope that it does justice to all of those involved.”

The result is a fascinating document that achieves a balance between the historical, the personal and the poetic, crystallising the intimate and complex ties that bind the Irish and Aboriginal Australians and how that relationship is envisaged and in doing so reveals a hidden history of the Irish in Australia.

 

An Dubh ina Gheal (Assimilation) screens on Sunday, 15th September at 13.00 as part of the IFI’s Ireland on Sunday monthly showcase for new Irish film.

The Australian Ambassador Dr Ruth Adler will attend and there will be a post-screening Q&A with filmmaker Paula Kehoe.

Tickets for An Dubh ina Gheal (Assimilation) are available now from the IFI Box Office on 01 679 3477 or online at www.ifi.ie

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Interview: David Byrne, Underground Cinema Film Festival Director

Dave

 

 The 4th Underground Cinema Film Festival (12 – 15 September 2013, Dun Laoghaire)

 

The 4th Underground Cinema Film Festival runs from September 12th to the 15th featuring a fantastic selection of short films from award-winning filmmakers from all over the world and a feature film program with something for everyone. This year’s opening film is Dark by Noon, an Irish sci-fi thriller directed by Michael O’Flaherty and Alan Leonard. The closing film is the Irish fantasy film adventure The Shadows directed by Colin Downey.

Festival Director David Byrne took time out from his busy run-in to the festival to tell Steven Galvin about the history of the festival and what people can expect this year.

What was the thinking behind setting up the festival?

 
Back in 2009 Underground Cinema began screening a selection of short Irish films on a monthly basis in the Kingston Hotel in Dun Laoghaire.  The idea was to showcase emerging young Irish filmmakers on a monthly basis.  As these screenings grew in popularity we realised that there was a need for a film festival that specifically championed independent filmmakers

 

Can you tell us a bit about your background and how you got involved in Underground Cinema.

My background is in theatre.  I first started treading the boards back in 1985 and turned professional in 1991.  A number of young actors that I worked with in Dun Laoghaire formed one of the first professional theatre companys in the town called the Blue Moon Theatre Company.  Since ’91, Blue Moon Theatre Company has staged over 50 shows all over Ireland and the UK.  During those years I did some TV work and worked on the odd film here and there.  It wasn’t until 2008 when I was directing Dracula in the Pavilion Theatre that I realised how big the independent cinema scene was getting.  A number of the cast members used to turn up late for rehearsals.  The reason why they were late was because they were working on various different short films.  When they explained to me the story lines of the films they were working on I used to get excited and say, ‘when are we going to get to see this film?’.  I’d then get the same reply, ‘Maybe if it’s accepted in to the Galway Film Festival or the Foyle Film Festival, etc. etc. you’ll get a chance to see it’.  It was then that I came up with the idea of Underground Cinema which was to become a platform for independent filmmakers to showcase their work and to get the recognition that they deserved 

 

How has the festival evolved over the last 4 years?

The first festival was a short film festival held over two days in the Screen Cinema in Dublin.  It went down really well with independent filmmakers and we knew that we were on to something good.  There weren’t too many film festivals out there that championed independent work.  We therefore decided to make the 2nd festival even bigger with the introduction of workshops and feature films. 

In early 2010 I had met Terry McMahon over a cup of coffee in the Twisted Pepper in Lower Abbey Street.  He had a new film he wanted me to take a look at called Charlie Casanova.  Without even seeing it we discussed the possibility of Underground Cinema doing a private screening of Charlie in the Screen Cinema.  The idea was to showcase the film to the cast and crew and to a selection of those people who were in the industry and that were involved in independent filmmaking.  To be honest I don’t think Terry even knew what he had.  I think he felt that he’d either made something incredible and brilliant or something that could end his career.  He needed an honest opinion from an audience that wasn’t going to biased.  It was only when I got home and watched Charlie Casanova that I realised what Terry had done.  He had broken all the rules of conventional filmmaking and created an incredible piece of independent filmmaking.  Although our private screening fell through in the Screen Cinema (it eventually went on to have its private screening in the Sugar Club), I did approach Terry to submit Charlie Casanova to the 2nd Underground Cinema Film Festival.  I was delighted that he accepted our invitation and the rest, as they say, is history.  The film generated enormous interest within the industry and helped put our event firmly on the film festival map in Ireland.

As word got around on how well the second film festival went, it was inevitable that the next festival was going to be even bigger.  It was a big ask for us as your continuously asking yourself, how are we going to top this one.  Our third year saw us changing the festival from a three-day event to a four-day event.  It was a bit of a gamble, but it worked out well for us.  By extending the festival an extra day meant that we could introduce more workshops and offer an even bigger selection of screenings. 

 

Looking back, is there one particular personal highlight that springs to mind?

I think the Q&A session that I did with Roddy Doyle prior to the 20th Anniversary Screening of The Commitments was one of my favourite highlights over the past four years.  He was such a great guy to interview, very relaxed and down to earth and he was just brilliant with our audience.  Earlier in the day I had been sitting down chatting with another hero of mine Jim Sheridan.  I was with Terry McMahon and we were discussing filmmaking in general.  Terry excused himself from the table for a few minutes and while he was gone Jim whispered to me ‘What do ye think of that McMahon fella’, I just told him with a smile ‘He’s one to watch out for in the future’.  Jim smiled, he knew exactly what I meant.  So that whole day was quite surreal for me, chatting away to some of our working class heroes, which was the theme for the festival that year.

 

Tell us a little bit about Dun Laoghaire as a location.

Some of the best film festivals are beside the sea.  Galway, Cork, Foyle, Waterford, Dingle and Fastnet are all located by the sea.  Even the most prestigious film festival in the world, the Cannes Film Festival is located by the sea.  Dun Laoghaire is a beautiful seaside town undergoing an enormous rejuvenation project.  By 2014 Dun Laoghaire will see the completion of a €65m library and civic centre.  Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council Community Development Department, the Arts Department and the Planning Department are working around the clock on numerous different projects to ensure that Dun Laoghaire will be one of the most important artistic hubs in the country.  The Pavilion Theatre has also recently installed a state of the art 4K Sony Projector which we will be using to screen the opening film [Dark by Noon] this year.  It is our intention to use the Pavilion a little bit more next year.  The town is extremely easy to get to with a regular bus services to and from the city centre.  The town is also along the DART line, which makes it easy to get to North Dublin or all the way to Greystones.

 

 What can people expect from the festival this year?

This year’s festival will see another 100 films from all over the world being screened.  It will also see the introduction of music to the festival, a giant inflatable screen for screening outdoor movies and  the introduction of the Underground Cinema Expo.

We have 12 bands from all over Ireland playing at the festival.  At the end of each day these bands will play live every night in the Dun Laoghaire Club.  There will be a party atmosphere there every night with a Barbeque each evening, freshly made popcorn, slushee machines and our festival bar with drinks served at club prices.  We will also be screening some classic films on our giant inflatable screen that we had shipped in from America.  You’ll be able to sit down under the stars and watch on the giant screen the 30th Anniversary Screening of Return of the Jedi and Sidney Lumets classic, Dog Day Afternoon.

Finally we have the Underground Cinema Expo.  The exhibition that takes place on the opening day of the festival will see some of the country’s leading service providers there to meet filmmakers who may be interested in working alongside some of these businesses.  The whole idea is to create a networking event that is mutually beneficial to exhibitors and filmmakers alike.  We’ve no doubt it’s going to be enormously popular.

 

Can you tell us about this year’s workshops?

I had met John Dawson twice before.  Once was at an Underground Cinema Screening and the second time was after a show I directed called The Woolgatherer in the New Theatre.  He’s a guy that is extremely passionate about the arts.  I had heard great things about his classes by a lot of acting friends who had attended. He was a natural choice for us for the festival.  His workshop ‘Acting for the Camera’ is almost completely full.

The first time I met John Phelan was at the first Underground Cinema Awards in Fitzpatrick’s Castle back in 2010.  John’s film No Justice, which he had produced had picked up two awards at the ceremony, Best Score for Joe Conlan and Best Director for Alan Walsh.  After the ceremony we got chatting at the bar and I was amazed at his knowledge on Section 481.  Section 481 can be quite complicated and difficult to get a grip on, but John made it sound so simple.  I knew I had to have him at one of our festivals to give a talk on the subject.  Again John’s talk looks like it will be full to the rafter.

The very first film screened at Underground Cinema back in 2009 was a film called Duality by Noel Brady.  It really was a great piece of independent filmmaking.  Over the years Noel and I collaborated on a number of corporate projects together and it was during this time that I found out that Noel did various different workshops for the Attic Studio.  These workshops were unique and quite fun so it went without saying that I would ask Noel to do one for us this year.  Noe’ls workshop this year is entitled ‘Filmmaking on the Fly’.

Finally, our Makeup Workshop with Debs Leonard is a result of a visit by Karen Hughes (assistant festival director) to Closer2Fabulous, a beauty boutique based in the heart of Dublin.  Karen was so impressed by Debs’ work that she invited her to participate at the festival this year.  Debs is also the Beauty Editor for the Irish Wedding Diary Magazine.  This is also another workshop that will have big numbers.

 

This is an exciting time to be involved in Irish independent filmmaking.

As technology allows greater access to short and feature films as well as filmmaking tools, an increasing number of people are turning to filmmaking as a form of expression and an opportunity to explore creative freedom. The fact that we received 200 more submissions in this category than last year speaks to that. Within them we saw a wave of truly original and outrageously distinctive films united by their uncompromised spirit. 

 

Anything in particular you’re most looking forward to?

I’m looking forward to so much at the festival it’s hard to pick out a favourite.  I’m particularly looking forward to the outdoor screenings as this is something that I will like continue throughout the year, weather permitting.  We’ve already had a number of requests from different organisations to bring the big screen to various different locations around Dublin.

Some of the features to watch out for this year would be Dark by Noon, The Shadows, Plot For Peace which won the Best Documentary Award in Galway this year, Stalker, Demon, Wrath of Crows, The Last Days of Joe Blow and Harry, Hamlet and I

 

Tickets for the Festival are available at the  Box Office on the Top Floor of the Dun Laoghaire Shopping Centre or at the Box Office in the Royal Marine Hotel.  You can also book tickets online at www.undergroundcinema-filmfestival.com/apps/webstore/products

For the full program visit  www.underground-cinema.com

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IFI Ireland on Sunday Interview: Aisling Ahmed, producer of ‘Amazing Azerbaijan!’

Amazing Azerbaijan Header

 

Ireland On Sunday presents Amazing Azerbaijan!, a revealing portrait of an oil-rich state where all is not as it seems. Steven Galvin caught up with Irish producer Aisling Ahmed to find out more about this tale of two countries.

Amazing Azerbaijan! screens at 13.00 at the IFI on Sunday, 25th August 2013.

In 2012 Azerbaijan staged the Eurovision Song Contest. The capital city Baku played host to a glamorous spectacle that showed off the profits of a 40-year oil boom proudly around its neck like a gold chain. But behind the veneer of glitz and glamour lies tales of government corruption and abuse of power that have been quietly accepted by Europe in its hunger for oil.

The irony of the country’s evident wealth on offer for all to see at the Eurovision was the fact that it also drew attention to some of the means allegedly used to achieve it. In the build-up to the Eurovision a growing activist campaign claimed that the tens of millions spent were a smokescreen to deflect attention from the government’s dire human rights record.

Amazing Azerbaijan! investigates the abuse of human rights in Baku and explores the semblance of a thriving democratic republic and the reality of a repressive and corrupt country. The film portrays a country that denies freedom of expression and political assembly, forcing evictions upon its citizens, arresting bloggers on false charges, beating peaceful protesters, and imprisoning journalists (one has been killed), all in an effort to maintain the façade.

The film is produced by Aisling Ahmed for Crow Hill Films, which she founded in 2009. The origin of the project was its director Liz Mermin, an American based in London, who had worked previously with Aisling on the feature documentary Horses.

Aisling spoke to Film Ireland: “Liz had the idea of using the Eurovision as the hook to put together a documentary on the country. She knew things were tricky over there so we started to look into it and felt there was a strong story that needed to be told.” Aisling goes on, “Azerbaijan is seen as democratic but effectively it’s a dictatorship. The same family have been in power since it became independent.”

The country is led by the authoritarian president Ilham Aliyev, who has maintained his family’s rule for two decades when he came to power in 2003, and was re-elected in 2008 with 87% of the vote – an election boycotted by the opposition and criticized by Western observers. Aliyev recently amended the constitution to end term limits and tighten his grip of control. Despite criticising every election The Council of Europe has refused to sanction the country in any way.

 

Amazing Azerbaijan Euro

 

The Eurovision proved the perfect foil for Liz and Aisling to get into the country and investigate what was going on in this oil-rich state strategically located at the edge of Europe, between Russia and Iran, and allowed them the opportunity to pitch the film where they may not otherwise have been able to do so. Aisling describes how they first flew into Azerbaijan in January and put together a 52-minute version ready and out in time for Eurovision 2012. “At the time there was a lot of media coverage of what was happening in Azerbaijan in the run-up to the Eurovision and things moved on once the Eurovision was over and it disappeared from the media. Obviously we didn’t want to be a part of that. So we got a little bit more funding and got a grant to update the film and show what happened afterwards. We did a bit of an update and made it into a 60-minute film to show what happened in the months since the lights went out on Eurovision. This made it far more relevant for a 2013 audience and was picked up by human rights festivals like One World in Prague.”

Once in the country Liz and Aisling were able to assemble the subjects they felt would work best for the documentary. “We spoke to people on the ground in terms of the groups that are working to support human rights groups in Azerbaijan and through them we were able to tap into people that were very active.”

Among these are Khadija Ismayilova, an Azerbaijani radio reporter, who has uncovered several corruption scandals linked to Aliyev’s family; Jamal Ali,a rock musician who has performed at anti-government rallies; and Emin Milli, a writer and dissident from Azerbaijan, widely known as the “donkey blogger” for his role in a video lampooning Aliyev’s government.

According to Aisling, “We felt that especially with Khadija, Jamal and Emin that their stories really stood out from a journalistic point of view and that they were stories people would really hook onto.” All 3 claim to have suffered at the hands of Aliyev as a result of their campaigning –   demonstrated to devastating effect in the film. The 2013 updated version of the film shows exactly what happened to Khadija, Emin and Jamal in the months post-Eurovision.

Dealing with such people in the film, Aisling sees something Irish audiences can relate to. “Khadija’s story would have a lot of echoes in Ireland with Veronica Guerin and what happened with her – in an Irish context I think a lot of people could relate to that unwillingness to give in under pressure and she’s prepared to sacrifice everything for it. Jamal and using music as a form of protest in Ireland has a lot of resonance as well.”

Also the updated film features an interview with Loreen, the winner of Eurovision 2012 and the only contestant to meet with the human rights groups in Baku.

Aisling expresses her hopes for democratic change in Azerbaijan, but is aware of the challenge that lies ahead. “There’s a presidential election coming up – will it even be monitored this time? The opposition is stifled. But it feels like something is building and a younger generation are bringing with it a level of momentum and a passion for change; but they’re really up against quite a machine.”

The documentary is part of that momentum and Liz is delighted that “the life of the film exists beyond its production. We received outreach support from an organisation in the UK called BRITDOC. They run something called the BRITDOC/Bertha Connect Fund and we got a small grant from them to help get the film out there, host screenings and panel discussions in a number of cities around Europe. Through that we realised there was a huge outreach potential for the film, to help activists and human rights groups engage the decision-makers in a direct way on the issue. We also learned that it has a lot of educational potential and we’ve been approached by a number of NGOs who have asked to use the film to train and inspire other activists in countries like Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova and Russia.”

Liz is delighted that the IFI are presenting the film in Dublin, and, as well as the screening, “Rasul Jafarov, an activist from Azerbaijan, will be present at the screening and will participate in the panel discussion afterwards. Building on the successful outcome of the Sing for Democracy campaign around the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest, Rasul and his organisation, Human Rights Club Azerbaijan, decided to build on the momentum and convert the campaign into Art for Democracy which was launched last year. The screening and discussion at the IFI will give an Irish audience an opportunity to engage with Azerbaijan beyond what they say through Eurovision and perhaps think about institutions like the Council of Europe and decisions our politicians make there and how they influence people on the ground in those countries.”

Amazing Azerbaijan! screens as part of Ireland on Sunday – the IFI’s monthly showcase for new Irish film.

The screening is at 13.00 on Sunday, 25th August 2013 and will be followed by a panel discussion with Liz Mermin (director), Aisling Ahmed (producer) and Rasul Jafarov (Chairman of Human Rights Club Azerbaijan and the ‘Art for Democracy campaign’ and member of the Civic Solidarity Platform).

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

 

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Interview: Claudio Simonetti

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Claudio Simonetti (left) with Italian director Dario Argento

Composer, producer and keyboard player Claudio Simonetti is bringing his band to Dublin to perform live the classics of horror movie scores by seminal Italian progressive rock band Goblin, featuring a set list that includes pieces from the soundtracks of Suspiria, Tenebre, Dawn of the Dead, Creepers, Demons and more..

Brazilian-born Claudio started out his career in Italy  in 1971 with the band Il Ritratto di Dorian Gray, which was heavily influenced by  prog rock and the like of Genesis, King Crimson, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Gentle Giant, Yes, ELP, and Deep Purple.

His career took a turn in 1975 when Italian director Dario Argento contacted him and asked his band to perform the soundtrack for his new film Profondo Rosso (1975). Goblin were born and went on to produce a number of albums including one of the true great horror soundtracks when they composed the score for Argento’s classic film Suspiria in 1977.

Goblin split up in 1978 but Claudio has successfully continued to collaborate with Argento on many of his films. He has also composed the scores for a number of other films working with some great directors along the way and performing his scores live with the Simonetti Horror Project.

Irish fans now have the opportunity to catch horror rock maestro Simonetti performing a selection from his nightmarish soundtracks from a host of horror films when he plays in The Button Factory on Wednesday, 14th August.

Steven Galvin caught up with the former Goblin legend to find out more about the man who dreams of screams.

 

How did your relationship with Dario Argento first come about?

At the time I was in the band Oliver. We meet Dario the first time in 1974 while we were recording the album Cherry Five and we also met with Daria Nicolodi (Italian actress and screenwriter, who created the basic script for Suspiria). Our producer, Carlo Bixio, was also a publisher of the soundtracks of the films of Argento, who was looking for a rock band for his film Profondo Rosso at the time.

At that time Dario Argento was a very famous director and we were very honoured, and a little scared, to have been choosen to realise the soundtrack for his film. Dario asked us to compose the main music for the film and so Goblin was born. After the huge success of Profondo Rosso we started our career composing soundtracks.

Can you talk us through the collaboration process of working with Argento on a film score?

Normally I start to write the music after watching the film with the director telling me, more or less, what kind of music he wants. I’m always inspired by the scenes of the movie. But with Dario it is different. I have a great relationship with Dario. After a first meeting, with some suggestions, he lets me free to decide what music to put in his films.

Your 1975 Goblin debut score for Profondo Rosso was a massive success, blending jazz, prog rock, and heavy metal in a way that immediately announced your distinctive style. Selling over 3 million copies was testament to the music’s ability to stand alone from the film.  Did its success surprise you?

In fact, this success has surprised us a lot and still continues to amaze me. When we recorded the soundtrack it was a period pop groups were very fashionable so I was surprised we were able to have success playing music that wasn’t so commercial for the time. Also I am surprised by the fact that our music continues to have such a big audience worldwide, today more than ever.

You scored Suspiria in 1977 with Goblin; a truly mesmerising score that really twists the terror of the film into the viewer’s mind.  Is it your most satisfying moment? Also it’s known as a highly experimental score – what was the thinking behind this at the time?

I think Suspiria was one of the most innovative works we’ve ever done, we used a very innovative sound, which is still very modern, especially by considering the time in which it was made [1977]. It’s definitely the best soundtrack and the most famous film we did.

Through the ‘80s you worked steadily composing for Italian genre films working with a who’s who of great directors.

I was very lucky to have worked with directors as Dario Argento, Ruggero Deodato, Lamberto Bava, Lucio Fulci, George Romero – with each of them I have lived different and incredible experiences!

You have continued to work with Argento throughout your career – what are the rewards of such a long-standing collaboration.

Now I have a relationship with Argento plus a long friendship. We started in 1975 with Goblin with Profondo Rosso and Suspiria and then our relationship continued into my solo career – Phenomena, Opera, The Card Player, The Third Mother, Jenifer, Pelts, and Dracula 3D, released last November, which was my fourteenth film with him.

You’re bringing the Simonetti Horror Project to Dublin; what can people expect?

Simonetti Horror Project was one of my very successful albums released in 1991. I recorded the great scores of Argento’s films with new arrangements. The band is formed by me on keyboards, Titta Tani at the drums and Bruno Previtali at the guitar (who are also in my other two bands New Goblin and Daemonia). In the concert we will present excerpts from many horror films, not only Argento but also tracks like ‘Halloween’ (Carpenter), ‘Tubular Bells’ (Oldfield), and even Bach’s ‘Toccata and Fugue’, which I think is one of the scariest pieces of music history – which is what the public expects from me … at least … well, I hope so.

 

Tickets for Wednesday’s event at The Button Factory €24:50 from Tickets.ie + http://simonettihorrorproject.eventbrite.com/

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Simonetti Horror Project – LIVE [feat Claudio Simonetti of Goblin]

Wednesday August 14th, 19.30 @ The Button Factory, Dublin.

Simonetti Horror Project – LIVE [feat Claudio Simonetti of Goblin]

Claudio Simonetti (Goblin) & band will perform the horror movie scores
of Suspiria – Goblin – Profondo Rosso – Tenebre – Dario Argento – Dawn
of the Dead – George Romero – Creepers – Rollers – Hallow’een – John
Carpenter & more…with selected projected visuals from the movies to
accompany the concert.

+ School Tour – LIVE
+ DJ/VJ Stefano ‘Giallo’ Galvino

LIVE – for the first time ever in Ireland, Claudio Simonetti (Goblin)
& band will perform the classics of horror movie scores by seminal
Italian progressive rock band Goblin, Simonetti himself and possibly
one or two curve-balls ! Horror rock maestro Claudio Simonetti will
fulfill fans’ dreams and nightmares as the band perform the notably
eerie soundtracks from Suspriria, Tenebre, Dawn of the Dead, Creepers,
Demons and more! This epic show will also feature an intense A/V
screening element featuring the electric scenes from some of these
revered classics of horror and giallo.

Claudio Simonetti, composer, producer, and keyboard player, was born
in Sao Paulo in Brazil. He studied piano and composition in the Santa
Cecilia Conservatory in Rome. Claudio started his recording career
with Goblin; he wrote and recorded the soundtrack of the film Profondo
Rosso (AKA Deep Red) directed by Dario Argento, which sold 3 million
copies in 1975. With Goblin he also wrote and recorded the soundtracks
for: Suspiria (directed by Dario Argento) and Dawn of the Dead
(directed by George C. Romero), a great box-office success in the USA.

After two more albums, the group split up in 1978. Claudio started his
solo career and began to work as a successful producer. In 1982 he
wrote the soundtrack for Dario Argento’s film Tenebre. The successful
collaboration with the director continued in 1984 with the soundtrack
Phenomena (AKA Creepers), in 1985 with Demons and in 1988 with Opera
establishing Claudio as one of the leading soundtrack musicians of our
era.

Not only all this, but Claudio Simonetti was also one of the
heavyweights of the Italo Disco era d’oro with his groups Easy Going,
Kasso, Crazy Gang & Capricorn. An inspiration to us all!

After years of live concerts with his group, Claudio Simonetti
recorded the album, Simonetti Horror Project, in 1991. In the first
few weeks after its release the album sold more than 120,000 copies
and it was at the top of all the Italian charts. It is an album of
Rock-Horror music and includes all the most famous songs written for
Argento’s films presented in totally new versions.

Support from DJ & VJ Stefano ‘Giallo’ Galvino with an exclusive mix of
soundtracks, dialogue, horror, spoken word, atmospherics & giallo
visuals to set the horrorama in motion.

Tickets €24:50 from Tickets.ie + http://simonettihorrorproject.eventbrite.com/

www.simonetti.org
www.newgoblin.com
www.claudiosimonetti.com
www.goblinweb.com

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From the Archive: Irish Playwrights & Screenwriters Guild: Claire Dix

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Claire Dix is an award winning writer and director of short films and music videos and also works in documentary TV. After winning the Zebbie for Best Short Film Script for her short film Downpour last year, Steven Galvin caught up with her to find out about her approach to writing.

What did winning the Zebbie for Best Short Film Script mean to you?

It’s always wonderful to win an award but the Zebbie was special because it was the first prize I’ve received for scriptwriting. Members of the playwright and scriptwriters guild voted so that was also a real honour to be acknowledged by other writers.

Can you tell us a little bit about the genesis of Downpourfrom idea to script?

The Irish Film Board runs a funding programme called Short Shorts, which they theme each year. When I entered, the theme was ‘Ireland, I Love You’. Sometimes it’s nice to have a framework or to be given a set of rules to work within. I remember at college working on a lot of projects with no theme or without any guidelines and often feeling completely at sea. In hindsight it was good training because that’s how all my projects start these days but Short Shorts was a refreshing break from the open slate.

I wrote two other scripts for the scheme before hitting on the idea for Downpour, which was simply that if you really love something, you love it warts and all. The rain makes Ireland the country that it is and this film aims to celebrate our love/hate affair with it. Downpour has travelled well, winning several awards at festivals both in Ireland and abroad so the rain seems to have struck a chord. Fran Keaveney in the Film Board was extremely supportive during the development process. I have a habit of redrafting and rewriting up until the bitter end, mainly because the script is a living thing for me and I find it hard to stop ideas coming right up until the end of the whole filming process.

So when did you know you wanted to write scripts?

I started writing stories and prose when I was very young and I have a collection of fantastically embarrassing poems and short stories at home about endangered animals, orphaned fairies and chocoholics. The best or worst example from this era is a poem that was published in Ireland’s Own about autumn. The inspiration came mainly from a thesaurus I found at home and the discovery of writery-sounding words like ‘russet’ and ‘burnt umber’. Thankfully the poetry came to an end but I continued to write stories. When I started working in television after college I began to adapt some of these stories into scripts. My writing had always been visual and I was interested in creating atmosphere and what I now know to be a cinematic feel in my stories. Then I saw Wim Wenders’ Paris, Texas and I thought – I want to do that.

How do you make your characters come to life?

To begin with I usually base my characters on real people. They eventually take on a life of their own and evolve depending on their relationship with each other and to the plot but in order to get a real sense of them I first have to see them as someone I already know and have a feel for. I’ve started a lot of scripts based on a character that I want to develop only to reach a dead end with the plot. So I have a lot of fully realized characters waiting in the wings for the right story. There’s one in particular who is based on one of my grandparents and I have to find a script for her soon.

Sometimes I think the best characters are ones that can be slightly intimidating at first or ones that have intriguing personalities that take a little while to figure out. I’d like to work more with these kind of characters but it takes time and pages to develop this kind of depth and so far I’ve only written shorts for the screen. Some characters you know almost too well and there isn’t enough space to express them in. This is where great actors can come to the rescue, however.

Downpour was an exception to how I usually start a script, as it was based more on the concept of seeing the rain in a new light, or learning to appreciate something that we usually complain about, rather than beginning with a character. I work a lot with improvisation in rehearsals. We usually start with figuring out the subtext of each scene and understanding what the character wants. Once that’s determined the actor is free to change dialogue and stage direction until we’re all happy that the scene works. This is one the most exciting parts of the process for me but also one of the most daunting because it doesn’t always work the first time.

After writing two successful short films what’s one of the most important things you think you’ve learned about writing?

The main thing I’ve learned is that you have to put your head down every day or on the days you’ve planned to write regardless of whether or not you’re in the mood. Also, I think it’s important to write about what you want to write about and not about what you think will win funding. The worst feeling is when you realize that your idea has already been done or you come across a similar concept in another film. If you’re still hooked on your own idea I think it’s still worth exploring because it could take you on a journey or down a road that you couldn’t have imagined if you hadn’t started writing.

I’m in pre-production on a short at the moment for the Film Board called Alia about an Afghan family living in inner city Dublin. It’s a story about how a family struggles to stay together and understand each other in this new culture they find themselves in. This script evolved out of a completely different story about a psychic and a young Dublin man. Two of the characters in this script grew into the main characters in Alia. I can’t remember where along the line that happened only that I kept writing and eventually realized that the story I thought I was writing had changed into something else.

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Profile: Curved Films

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Curved Films screen their short films tonight  at the Light House cinema. Film Ireland found out more about this new exciting group of filmmakers.

Curved Films is a collective of filmmakers who have pooled their skills to form a rotating film crew, thus enabling each member of the team to make their own film with the others’ help.

All the members of Curved Films met on the 3-month Digital Filmmaking Course run by Filmbase at the beginning of 2012. Run over 12 weekends, this hands-on course takes the student through the filmmaking process from script to screen, culminating in two groups shooting two short films. Over the 3 months the students gelled together well and when the course finished there was an appetite to continue to apply and improve the skills they had learnt.

11 students from the class went on to form Curved Films. One of them, Carl Murphy, talked about the benefits of the course. “It gave us a broad understanding of the filmmaking process from intial ideas, writing and refining a script, pre-production, shooting and post-production. The course is really practical and gave us the skills and above all the confidence to go out on our own and make more shorts. The onset experience of shooting 2 shorts in three days was invaluable and seeing the final product at the culmination of the course was great and really energised us not to stop at that. Pretty much all the tutors are working professionals which makes such a huge difference. Filmbase, and in particular Tristan Hutchinson, have also been really supportive with what we’re doing ever since.”

Carl points out that what happens with a lot of these types of courses is that “at the end, a lot of energy is generated but people don’t know where to go with it. One of the guys on the course, Sam Uhlemann, really made an effort to galvanise everyone to stick together, form a collective and continue to build on what we’d learnt by making more short films.”

Part of the course involves short Scriptwriting and development. As a result, a couple of people wanted to pursue getting the scripts they had written made into films and others had other short film projects they were already developing. So, as Carl explains, “it seemed completely natural to pool our resources and form a collective that acted as a rotating crew, thus enabling each member to make their own film with the other’s help.”

And so Curved Films was born bringing together several new filmmakers to combine their skills and talents to create movies and films. “We’re definitely an eclectic bunch, ” Carl says, “with a great mixture of backgrounds and talents.  Although quite a few of us would like to pursue filmmaking as a full-time career, for most it is currently still a part-time pursuit and we have to hold down full-time jobs in other areas to pay the bills. We are all still very committed, despite our jobs and other demands on our time, we’ve managed to make another 4 shorts since the course.”

The group range in ages from 20 – 50ish and have a wide range of interests, including producing, writing, directing, cinematography and production design. “People are always willing to take on whatever needs to be done,” says Carl, “with the possible exception of the dreaded AD role! We also found that some of the skills people bring from their other lives have been useful – we’ve a couple of project managers in our midst who make excellent producers/production managers. We also have an architect who has come in very handy for building sets.

So far Curved Films have made 6 films. The first 2, Clues (written by Rosie Haghighi & directed by Kathy Kelly) and Evacuation (written by Ian Herridge & directed by Gareth Williams) were made as part of the DFC course. Since then there has been Confessions (written & directed by Tom Lynch); Believe It Or Not –(written & directed by Carl Murphy); Confidentially Yours (written & directed by Sam Uhlemann); and most recently Fatal Reservation (written & directed by Ian Herridge).

Carl is particularly proud that for the last 2 films. The team built the sets themselves from scratch in a warehouse that “we luckily have the use of. One being an office inspired by the Edward Hopper painting ‘Office At Night’ and the other a run-down spooky motel reception.”

All 6 completed films are being screened tonight on Thursday 18th of July at the Light House cinema. Carl explains the reason for the screening that “it’s just over a year since we shot our first two shorts on the course making a total of 6 films. So we thought it was a good time to catch our breath and mark our achievements after a year together.

“Another of the main reasons for having the screening is as a big Thank You to everyone who has supported us over the last year – to our family and friends who have helped us in innumerable ways; to the actors, composers and others who have made our projects possible; to the Filmbase tutors who taught us and have  been so generous with their time since.

“It’s also a way to gradually introduce ourselves to a wider network of professionals working in the industry, some of which we hope we can collaberate with in the future.

“Finally, it’s a good excuse for a night out, and who doesn’t want to see their work up there on the big screen!”

Steven Galvin

 

www.curvedfilms.com

www.facebook.com/curvedfilms

twitter.com/CurvedFilms

 

 

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Interview: Richard Bolger, producer of ‘How to Be Happy’

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Film Ireland caught up with Richard Bolger, one of the producers of How to Be Happy, which has its world premiere on Sunday at the 25th Galway Film Fleadh.

The comedy feature film How to Be Happy stars Brian Gleeson as Cormac, a marriage guidance counsellor who starts sleeping with his clients, and Gemma-Leah Devereux as Flor, a private detective hired to investigate his antics. The film is set to premiere at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh on Sunday, 14th July. Due to demand a second screening has been organised. Both screenings are now sold-out.

Written by award winning writer/director, Conor Horgan (One Hundred Mornings), How to Be Happy is directed by Michael Rob Costine, Mark Gaster and Brian O’Neill. The development of the script was a collaborative effort between Conor and the students of the Filmbase/Staffordshire University MSc Digital Feature Film Production Course, which prepares filmmakers for the reality of writing, developing, pitching, producing, shooting, editing, posting and distributing feature films in digital formats.

Richard Bolger, one of the producers of the film, relished the experience of working on his first feature film. Cutting his teeth as a producer on the short film Death Can Wait, the course provided him with a great opportunity to step up to the world of features, embracing the challenges such a venture brings with it. “For me as a producer, moving from shorts to features means more complications, such as casting – you need people for longer; you need to get contracts sorted; you need locations and equipment for longer; so there’s all these obstacles. We were doing our film at the lower end of the budget and that makes things harder. I love it though. I like all the phone calls, the paperwork and the stress – I get an energy of that!”

Reflecting on the challenges he faced producing his first feature Richard points out that  “whereas a short film is like a sprint; a feature is very much a marathon. For most people in the class it was their first feature film and it’s trying to get across to everyone that every day is really, really important. When you can only shoot for 17 days everyone’s got to be giving it 110 per cent every day. And that’s hard when you’re working long hours, 6 days a week. It’s trying to keep everyone’s energy up. That’s tough; but the guys were fantastic – and I was lucky in that sense.”

Richard stresses how important teamwork is when coping with the complexities of putting a feature film together. “The dream is that everything runs like a Swiss clock – but that’s never gonna happen. And it’s like putting out fires to keep things running as smoothly as they can. But with everyone rowing in the same direction, everyone with the same vision, everyone with the same drive, it’s a lot easier to deal with obstacles as they present themselves and get the job done.”

The film benefits from some great casting and as well as having Gleeson on board also features the likes of Carrie Crowley, Gemma-Leah Devereux (below), Brian Fortune and Rebekah Wainwright.

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“We had 3 directors working on the film [Mark Gaster, Michael Costine and Brian O’Neill] – and that was one of the things I stressed to the lads from the start – casting is so important and so much time should be dedicated to it – whenever you’re reading the script you’re asking “who is that?”. And we really punched above our weight with the actors we got. We were so blessed to have such great talent willing to get involved. You only get to do your first feature once so we aimed for the best cast we could and it was fantastic that we got practically everyone we wanted. And their performance and energy in such a short space of time was amazing to have.”

With How to Be Happy ready for its world premiere this weekend in Galway, Richard is looking forward to this year’s Fleadh and delighted that both screenings are sold out, “which is absolutely fantastic for everyone involved and it’s great to be screening at the Fleadh on the weekend. There’s such a buzz down in Galway and all the filmmakers are there as well. I was only at the Fleadh myself last year for the first time but the greatest thing about it is that you can walk up to any filmmaker and people in the film industry and chat away to them – people you would normally never get access to – and that’s a great opportunity.”

 

How to Be Happy screens on Sunday, 14th July in the Cinemobile at 11.00 & 12.30

 

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Interview Miriam Allen, Managing Director of the Galway Film Fleadh

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The 25th Galway Film Fleadh (9 – 14 July, 2013)

The Galway Film Fleadh, which kicks off today, celebrates its 25th anniversary and if this year’s line-up is anything to go by there’ll be many more anniversaries to come. The first Film Fleadh opened on 19th July 1989 and ran for five days. Its opening screening featured Venus Peter, the last film to feature the late Ray McAnally, directed by Ian Seller.

Miriam Allen, Managing Director of the Galway Film Fleadh, recalls how it all started in 1998 when the world premiere of Reefer and the Model was held during the Galway Arts Festival. “Such was the response to that screening and to film being screened outside its general kind of context that the Fleadh was born,” and it was headed by a management team that included Miriam herself plus Leila Doolan, Joe McMahon, Bob Quinn, Steve Woods and Bridie McMahon.

The Fleadh has a tremendous history, has welcomed some great filmmakers to the city over the years and treated audiences to some memorable premieres of Irish film and filmmaking talent. Among Miriam’s favourite memories are “when we had the screening of Adam & Paul. That was incredible. Similarly with Once’s premiere at Galway. That was such a special film – we viewed that on a laptop – a rough cut DVD and the reaction was fantastic. You remember such great moments.”

This year is no different – with so many Irish films set to premiere in the New Irish Cinema programme, plus an abundance of Irish documentaries, an extensive Irish shorts programme and Irish animation, the festival maintains its reputation as a hub of Irish film.

Miriam reflects that “When we started back in an 1989, there was no Film Board, but there were people making film – Bob Quinn, Joe Comerford, Cathal Black, Thaddeus O’Sullivan, and there was the college out in Rathmines and Dun Laoghaire producing shorts. But there was no platform really for their work to be viewed – and that was definitely a space we were hoping to create. We have maintained that right through the 25 years of the Fleadh – that we would be the first port of call for Irish filmmakers to have their worked viewed by a general cinemagoing audience plus their contemporaries and peers.”

The Fleadh has always had a reputation of being an inclusive festival with an emphasis on fun. Something Miriam is proud of. “Everyone is together. We do try not to have an ‘us and them’. Filmmakers interact with filmgoers, and it’s a wonderful opportunity for all sorts of people to meet in an informal environment. It’s a great vibe. There’s a real sense of community over the 6 days.”

Long may it continue. Check out this year’s programme here at http://www.galwayfilmfleadh.com/index.php

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Ireland on Sunday Interview: Mark Byrne and Rob Dennis, directors of ‘Under the Hood’

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Ireland On Sunday presents Under the Hood, a revealing portrait of life in Belarus. Steven Galvin chatted to directors Mark Byrne and Rob Dennis about their film ahead of its screening this Sunday at the IFI as part of their monthly showcase for new Irish film.

 

Under The Hood is an intimate look inside Belarus, the  “alienated zone” – a country we know little about; an autocratic regime built on a political system of state control. The film’s directors, Mark Byrne and Rob Dennis, are known for their previous documentary, Beyond the Wall (2010), which examined the communist era and its legacy, illustrating the endurance of the human spirit in the face of political dogma. Filmed in the Czech Republic, Germany and Poland, Beyond the Wall humanized life under Communism and the complex issues that still face the region. Under the Hood continues on in that vein. The film is constructed through the voices of the Belarusian people who speak about their lives, providing a fascinating insight into life in a country that has been called “the last true remaining dictatorship in the heart of Europe”.

‘We were interested in the Stasi and the KGB and the Cold War,’ Mark explains about the reasons behind the documantary being made. ‘So it seemed a very natural extension to go to Belarus where a post-Soviet State still exists. And what you find is a lot of parallels exist between what was happening 20/30 years ago in East Germany or wherever and what’s happening in Belarus.’

The film eschews historical narrative and “expert” talking-heads and instead lends a voice to the people of a country, who tell their own stories, establishing an accurate and discerning picture of what is going on. ‘I think people are always more interested in people’, Mark insists. ‘What we were especially interested in was to have a look behind the news story and get inside the country and meet the people, because from very early on we always believed that people are interested in people and we wanted to get in to the country and have them tell their story and let the news headlines fall to the background.’

The advantages of such an approach bear fruit in the film as rather than merely being a predictable outsider’s perspective of a country run by “Europe’s last dictator”, replete with tales of rigged elections and alleged human-rights abuses, we instead see a more personal communicative portrait of a country that is divided between its people – those who support President Alexander Lukashenko and those who do not.

Rob explains that ‘one of the things we found was that there is quite a lot of support for Lukashenko – because he’s brought stability, which, given the country’s history, is something that’s very attractive to a lot of people.There certainly is a divide there; older people who’ve lived through communism do crave stability. And there’s a lady in the film who says about Lukashenko that “he doesn’t increase wages; but he increases pension” – even if it is often a couple of months before an election! These people crave stability.’

This divide is not just generational but also geographical – there’s a rural/urban divide, with Lukashenko’s strongest support being in rural areas. As Mark points out, ‘this is a country where the wages are around $250  a month. Things that are very cheap there – vodka, cigarettes and diesel gives the illusion of stability to people living in the countryside – it’s a dubious form of stability…’

Rob explains that ‘there’s an attitude amongst the younger, more educated group that these people are being brainwashed. You’ve got State TV telling these people what to think and they’re swallowing it whole. And on the other side you have people saying, “Look these are Western-supported opposition guys – they don’t give a damn about me. There is a disconnect between these two groups and perhaps a lack of understanding of exactly why each believe what they do.’

 

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Th flm’s title Under the Hood is a local expression meaning on the radar of the KGB: under surveillance, suspected, followed, threatened, intimidated. This constant fear in people’s lives leads to a heightened state of paranoia, something that comes across strongly in the film. As Rob says, ‘From the very moment you arrive in Belarus, you’re aware people are scared. People accept that they’re being watched.  You hear the word paranoia several times a day – if you’re stopped at traffic lights people are aware of the car next to them. They talk about being paranoid.’

Mark admits that ‘It’s accumulative. Even me – on our last trip there during the elections there was a heavy police presence and you do start to feel a sense of whose watching; what’s that car doing; waiting for the knock at the door. It does get to you. I can’t imagine what it would be like to live with that day in day out.

He adds that ‘you’re constantly looking over your shoulder. But what worries me is that people have come to accept this. Citizens of Belarus accept that they cannot leave the house without their passport, which they must carry when they leave the house and they must be prepared for document check and even if you have your passport you can still be taken in because they might want to check your passport – and that can take a couple of hours. And this to a large extent has become accepted – certainly by many young people who may not have known any other way. They’re not fazed by the constant police involvement in the daily life in Belarus – even young people who would lean toward the opposition.’

Both directors talk about their fears for Belarus and that maybe this paranoia has led to a strong sense of self–censorship through fear. Both Mark and Rob fear that the revolution nearly happened in 2010 and got crushed and Belarus’ opportunity may have passed them.

2010 marked a high point of major anti-Lukashenko protests, when crowds gathered in Freedom Square in the run-up to the elections to protest against Lukashenko’s regime. Why that particular moment? ‘Sometimes the planets just align’, Mark believes. ‘When Lukashenko won the election by 79% and even though that was a more subtle landslide than previous elections, people were ready and moved quickly. According to Rob, ‘it was like this is our moment – we have tens of thousands in the square and a real sense of it’s happening now – but it didn’t and the following summer they came back again and tried to build the momentum again and again it was crushed. And that can only happen so many times before you lose faith.’

Perhaps one factor is that the difference between Belarus and East Germany or the former Soviet Union is that the people can leave, can travel – so, as you see in the documentary, some people just leave believing it’s just not worth it. Rob agrees: ‘The fear of being tossed in prison, the paranoia, the fact that the opposition is riddled with KGB, so they don’t know who to trust – the fact that they can go West and build a life for themselves… a lot have done that. And that’s watered down this movement. It’s hard to see it growing to that level again but then who knows – who would have known that the Berlin Wall would come down when it did.’

Mark breaks in: ‘I wouldn’t like you to think that there’s no will for it. The will is strong and the will is there. As stability wanes a certain amount of people are questioning whether Lukashenko’s the best thing for the country – there is a will to create a new life something along the European model. The lack of leadership, the lack of strong leaders is a strong factor. Small pockets of workers are striking – if that grows who knows how things will develop.

 

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We go on to talk about the practicalities of making the documentary. Belarus is not a country where you can simply set up camera and film. As Mark explains, you’re not allowed use video cameras on the street. ‘Anything that looks like it’s media related or semi-professional is simply not allowed. So very early on we decided we would use any sort of camera we could get our hands on. It became apparent that we couldn’t gain access to the country as media people – we would be refused Visas, and once refused we couldn’t change our story and say we were tourists – so we decided from the start to say we were tourists and we grabbed a couple of domestic camcorders and headed out to Lithuania back in Aug 2011. We set ourselves up in Vilnius because it’s only 200k from Minsk and about 30 minutes from the Belarusian border. We got an agency to organise visas, which we got in August 2011. Loaded up the car and headed to Belarus – only to discover that it really was like entering an old Soviet Empire.

‘Our first queue was 4/5 hours to get across the border and there’d only be 4 or 5 cars in front of you! But you queue and you queue. You drive in – a lot of military, and a lot of paperwork and a lot of questions – they love a stamp –, being searched but we got in. When you get to Minsk, there’s no setting up a tripod or anything… you just can’t do it. So we were thinking are we going to end up doing our entire movie in people’s apartments and in the backs of cars. We were restricted – even when you go to the countryside you cannot arrive in a village and just take a camera out.  Our Belarusian friends were particularly nervous in the countryside – the older generation in the countryside see people speaking English and think they’re spies and that they better call the local KGB office.

Mark recalls how they spent a week on their first trip to work out what the practicalities were. ‘We realised we couldn’t bring cameras and microphones across the border; we cannot use a tripod outside; we can’t linger anywhere; we can’t film near any national monument or government building. You don’t have to do a lot to get into trouble. And our problem was that we wanted to spend some time to get to know people, so were always concerned that if we were arrested once that would be the end of the film.

‘The way people ended up in the movie or not was whether we actually formed a relationship with them. Whether we liked them and they liked us – more importantly whether they liked us! There had to be a high level of trust between us. We were very lucky with the people we ended up with in the film.’

 

Under the Hood screens as part of Ireland on Sunday – the IFI’s monthly showcase for new Irish film.

The screening is at 13.00 on Sunday, 7th July 2013 and will be followed by a post-screening Q&A with Mark Dennis.

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

 

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Interview: John Moore

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From Dundalk to Hollywood, John Moore has made quite a name for himself bringing action to the big screen. His feature film career began when he directed Gene Hackman in Behind Enemy Lines; he then remade the classic Flight of the Phoenix, shot a film version of Max Payne – a video game with over 11 million players, remade The Omen, an iconic horror, and has now directed the latest instalment of Die Hard.

Steven Galvin talks to the Irish director who’s making a big bang on the action scene.

You started off at Dublin Institute of Technology and spent time at Filmbase – can you tell us a bit about your memories of that time?

Well, happy, excited. Honestly, if I had stopped to think about it, I would have been terrified, would have thought ‘You better get a real job’. But there WAS this sense of ‘collective’. Remember, no mobile phones, no internet, no social networking so the only thing to do was gather at a coffee shop or at Filmbase (which was a run-down, wonderfully dusty little nook), and chat and feed off the collective belief that we could make stuff, make images, movies, music…so exciting. Honestly? I haven’t really captured that sense of wonderment since then. I think I was very lucky in that I was around a bunch of people, a little older than me and mostly Dubliners who I looked up to, thought were really smart, impressive individuals I could learn from – I felt genuinely grateful to be allowed ‘in’. It was SO damn exciting and we had nothing, really nothing: no money, not a lot of equipment… just this damn excitement that we could actually FILM something and that someone might watch it!!!

You then worked as a news cameraman and moved onto shooting commercials – that must have been a great learning curve.

Well, what happened was a short intro to video camera stuff at RTÉ, then SKY was allowing guys to be around camera, then a rejection from the BBC, and then we formed the ClingFilms collective, consisting of Harry Purdue, Paul Fitzgerald, Damien O’ Donnell and myself. We’d all been at Rathmines together and so we did our thing in music videos for a while, some shorts including the wonderful 35 Aside, which Damien wrote and directed. I started working as an assistant cameraman or clapper loader during that wonderful boom in Irish production in the early- and mid-1990s. I then did some fake commercials to get a showreel going and got picked up to go work in South Africa. They were just emerging from the apartheid regime and their economy and advertising industry really boomed. Exciting times – I didn’t really know what I was doing: 25, in a strange city, alone! But I knuckled through, fake it ‘til you make it. Then I started getting work in Dublin, London and eventually the US and that work led to the movies. I was lucky.

Behind Enemy Lines was your first feature film – there’s an interesting story behind you getting that…

More luck. I did a relatively big commercial for a new games console (which promptly tanked, taking Sega with it!). It aired to some pomp and self-importance at the MTV Music Video Awards – remember this is 1999, music vids were bigger than the Oscars®! So the story goes that an executive at Fox saw the commercial and brought it to their boss, studio head Tom Rothman and he was working on making Behind Enemy Lines happen with producer John Davis (who has made some landmark movies like Predator and Waterworld) and they were looking for a director. They literally called me – I was shooting an Eircom commercial with Riss Russell in Budapest at the time. I jumped on a plane, met them and they hired me!

And was it daunting being in control of such a massive Hollywood production for an Irishman’s first feature?

Again, I didn’t stop to think. It was too exciting to be daunting. And I had gained a bit of experience by then, so I thought, ‘Just go for it’.

What was it like working with Gene Hackman?

Quite surreal but thrilling. He was so damn professional and kind, really all you have to do is point the camera at Gene and he does the rest. And I know how to point – everyone does!

Bruce and John Moores Beard use an ipad CMYK

Coming to Die Hard, what do you think it is about the series that has made it so successful?

Bruce – he’s charming and unique, real and identifiable. Harry Callaghan, Popeye Doyle, John McClane…

You’ve said that you made a conscious decision not to make it ‘overly jokey’.

Well, indeed. There’s no need: Bruce provides the unique John McClane brand of humor, so no need to pile on top of that. In fact, you go the other way: make it super-serious so that McClane’s humour plays in contrast.

What’s it been like working on a film of this scale?

I was lucky to have my first movie be relatively biggish, in terms of production, so this wasn’t anything we hadn’t attempted before. But it’s not easy, there’s a lot that can go wrong when you’re trying ideas for big stunts and action set-pieces, a lot of moving parts.

And working with Bruce Willis?

I started with Gene Hackman, went on through Dennis Quaid, Liev Schreiber and Mark Wahlberg, all tough, opinionated guys, good at what they do. So Bruce was a natural progression. I know what makes these guys tick.

You opened up the set of Die Hard to Dundalk Institute of Technology student Blaine Rennicks for two weeks.

Yep, something I hope more Irish directors, DOPs, etc. will do – pay it forward, pass the break along and help someone move forward in their career. It’s essential for the growth of the business that we do everything we can to ensure guys like Blaine get the help they deserve to develop a career. It’s an obligation, not voluntary.

You used miniatures on Flight of the Phoenix and have spoken about being on ‘dodgy ground’ with CGI. How did that work for you on Die Hard?

CGI improves almost exponentially – we had a good experience on Die Hard but we still did a huge amount of stunts live-action. Always will.

When you’re working on something so massive, do you ever have moments of ‘Jesus, I’m directing Die Hard!’?

Not really. Does the pilot of a 747 ever have moments of ‘Jesus, I’m flying a Jumbo!’? I hope not!

In general can you tell us a bit about directing action sequences?

Well, that’s a whole big, fun conversation, but the rule is: get great stunt guys who’ll really put it out there for you to film. Action is editing, so lots of cameras, please! And forget masters! You always end up cutting them to bits. That’s it, in short. Oh, and invest in some good ear protection.

What’s the draw for you directing action films?

I love the planning – the idea of being meticulous in the ridiculous. It’s a thrill to plan something for months, years even, and see it all come together in 30 seconds of wonderful, loud mayhem.

You’ve talked before about the fact that story and action don’t have to be mutually exclusive – can you say a little more about this?

What I meant by that was ‘integration’. Action should be a natural, ruling part of the story. A movie shouldn’t feel like it stops for a gratuitous action set-piece – though they often do and the film is the poorer for it. I’ve done it myself and regretted it.

Are there specific things you look for in a script?

Pages. And that they be unstoppably turnable.

What is the development process within the studio system like?

You’ve read Dante’s Inferno? It’s tough, horrible, but like Churchill said about democracy: it’s the worst system, apart from all the others.

How involved are you in the post-production process?

Totally and integrally – it’s the best, most creative, least stressful period of a film’s production. Get through shooting, you’ll be fine…

Would you like to take a break from action and take on a different sort of story – perhaps something on a smaller scale?

No– why would I? I love it – but I always am looking for the stories to be better. Zero Dark Thirty is an action movie.

You’ve worked outside of Ireland for most of your career – any plans to return to Ireland to make a film?

I just don’t really know how to answer that. Yes, but what use are plans? I’d love to, but it won’t come out of thin air. I need the right script, the right producer. That’s a hint for anyone reading this.

And finally, what advice would you have for Irish filmmakers working outside of Ireland?

None. Directors don’t take advice – that’s why they’re directors!

 

This article originally appeared in Film Ireland Magazine, Issue 144 in 2013.

 

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Interview: Emer Reynolds, ‘Here Was Cuba’ co-director

 

Here Was Cuba has its world premiere at the Sheffield Doc/Film Festival.

Directed by Emer Reynolds and John Murray, Here Was Cuba tells the inside story of the Cuban Missile Crisis, exploring how in October 1962 the earth teetered on the very brink of nuclear holocaust. In the first major feature documentary on the subject, the film brings to life the three central characters Kennedy, Castro and Khrushchev and explores how the world’s most powerful men fell into an abyss of their own making and what courage and luck it took to climb out again. With nuclear brinkmanship high on the international agenda today, the events of October 1962 hold invaluable lessons for a generation too young to remember just how close we came to the end.

Steven Galvin got to chat with co-director Emer Reynolds about this landmark documentary

I was surprised to learn that this is the first major feature documentary on the subject. How did the project come about for you?

We were surprised too, that there had never been a major feature documentary on the subject. Happy and surprised! Both John [Reynolds, co-director] and I are kind of obsessed with the Crisis, and as the 50th Anniversary drew closer we kept talking about what an amazing moment in history it was, how dramatic and utterly scary, and how frighteningly prescient it is for today in terms of current nuclear brinksmanship. We approached the Irish Film Board and PBS and began the research phase in 2010. We filmed many interviews for research at that stage including Ted Sorensen, who was Kennedy’s key advisor during the crisis, and that proved so fortunate as he sadly died shortly afterwards. We were so lucky to have his first hand account of events from deep inside the White House. That set the tone of how we would approach the rest of the filming  we would try to hear and tell the story through personal experience and in doing so perhaps be able to tell the events as though happening live.

There’s a quote in the film: “The world almost came to an end in 1962. It’s not fiction. It’s not speculation. It almost happened and in terms of probability, it should have happened” – That’s quite a chilling statement…

There is no doubt in my mind that had a nuclear weapon been launched, ANY weapon, from any side, all out Nuclear War would have unfolded. The were enough nuclear weapons at that time to wipe out humankind many times over. Still are.

That’s the unique thing about Nuclear Weapons  their potential for utter devastation. I love the quote at the end where one of our contributors says,” It comes down to a question of our willingness to end civilisation.” It is chilling when you think how we dice with this unique fragile planet and our existence. And when you think just how close we came to the unthinkable during the Missile Crisis; a mere matter of hours, and how in the end it really came down to personality and individual choices; it’s doubly chilling.

Can you tell us a little about gathering such an impressive array of archive, both visual and aural.

We had two amazing researchers, Zlata Filipovic and Aoife Carey, who along with producer, Siobhán Ward, went on a major archive hunt for a whole range of archive – from actual material during the crisis (news reports, etc.) to all kinds of weaponry, submarine footage, radio broadcasts, etc., from the US, Russia and Cuba. I wanted to approach the archive in quite a visceral way  not as general background imagery but to use it as drama footage; to cut it, in particular, as though we were watching the drama unfolding in real time. This approach in the film I think (I hope) is one of the reasons the film feels so frightening- for although we, as the audience, know the outcome (the world didn’t end) we are able to experience the events unfolding in front of our eyes and almost forget how it turned out. The other archive element that is very strong in the film are the Kennedy tapes, the secret recordings Kennedy made of the Excomm meetings where they deliberated the US response (from immediate Airstrike to diplomacy and all avenues in between). Evesdropping on the various personalities arguing the toss  a.k.a. fate of the world  is gripping.

The film contains interviews with key witnesses and experts including Sergei Khrushchev, son of the former Soviet premier and, as you mentioned earlier, in one of his last ever interviews, Kennedy’s trusted advisor Ted Sorensen.

We were privileged to interview Ted Sorensen shortly before he died which was extraordinary; his recollections are truly wonderful and insightful. Hearing Sergei Khrushchev, son of Nikita Khrushchev, who was just a young man at the time, tell of walking with his father as he wrestled with events, was momentous. Hearing a personal memory recounted, of a major moment from the history books… and suddenly History becomes real. Equally, interviewing so many people from all three sides of the conflict, who were personally involved, was humbling and we felt honoured to be able to listen to such amazing first-hand accounts. I was particularly moved by Alexay Ryapenko, who was just a young soviet soldier at the time, who happened, as he put it, “to be at the end of a chain” in being the person who was ordered to fire the missile that killed the only casualty of the crisis, the US U2 pilot, Rudy Anderson. Seeing the lingering effects of that death on his face now, more than 50 years later, was a deeply moving moment.

The music plays an important role in the film.

Ray Harman, our tremendously talented composer, wrote a fabulous, tense, thrilling and very modern score for the film. It played such an important role in making the events seem to unfold in real time, not in the dusty old past! We have collaborated with Ray many times and feel he brought an incredible amount of tension, poetry and emotion to the story.

We also used some songs as part of the narrative, for example Ane Brun singing “It all starts with one” as the missiles turn their sights on each other, and late on used a song that is commonly thought of as a Christmas song ” Do you hear what I hear?”, but which had actually been written during the crisis, as it’s authors Noel Regney and Gloria Shayne frighteningly felt they faced the imminent end of the world ..

The other key creative element in the film is the impact cinematographer Kate McCullough had on the storytelling. We were very keen to explore Moscow, Havana and Washington in fresh ways and also explore imagery to illustrate and play with ideas of espionage/being watched/ not being clear about the other side’s hand/satellite images recording our lives, and Kate brought a very iconic visual dynamic to the film.

All feeding into, I feel, the hopeful visceral impact of the film.

I know you were also involved in the editing process, I’m sure that took up alot of time.

The editing of the film was fun but intense! We filmed and also sourced archive over many many months so material was flowing in constantly, and we were endlessly redefining how we might approach the story. As co-director and also editor, I would take some weeks alone in a dark room wrestling with the narrative and archive, and John, my co-director, was able to act as very fresh eyes and pull me back from the brink! It was a very fruitful and collaborative process.

The film goes beyond its historical narrative to explore the impact a Nuclear War would have on the Earth and, with recent developments in India, Pakistan, North Korea and Iran, posits the threat it still holds.

We wanted to explore the impact a Nuclear War would wreak on this fragile planet, and to shine a light of debate on the threat posed today, where along with the substantial nuclear arsenals of the ‘traditional’ countries, there are so many disturbing nuclear developments in India, Pakistan, Israel, North Korea, Iran… In just this past April, Fidel Castro wrote to Kim Jong-un, urging North Korea to remember it’s duties to others, saying the tensions on the peninsula posed one of the gravest risks for nuclear holocaust since the Cuban Missile Crisis. The lessons of the Crisis are that mankind is infallible. We can’t afford to be complacent. This is not a threat that has passed. We wanted the film to sound a loud warning bell. However, disarmament is obviously still very current and complex issue. As Sergei Khrushchev says ” First we have to change human nature… and I don’t think we can change human nature…”

But maybe if we really listen to lessons from history we can change? In the words of George Bernard Shaw: “If history repeats itself, and the unexpected always happens, how incapable must Man be of learning from experience?”

 

Here Was Cuba receives its world premiere screening at the Sheffield Doc/Film Festival (12 – 16 June). Screening on Fri, 14th June at 12:45 in Showroom 3 and again on Sun, 16th June at  18:15 in Showroom 4.

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IFI Ireland on Sunday Interview: Maurice Galway, director of ‘Pauline Bewick: Yellow Man, Grey Man’

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Ireland On Sunday presents the Irish premiere of Pauline Bewick: Yellow Man, Grey Man, Maurice Galway’s portrait of the artist. Steven Galvin chatted to the director about his film ahead of its screening this Sunday.

On Sunday, 9th June the IFI’s monthly showcase, Ireland on Sunday, presents Pauline Bewick: Yellow Man, Grey Man, an intimate portrayal of one of Ireland’s most acclaimed artists. Directed by Maurice Galway, himself an artist and the CEO/Artistic Director and founder of the Dingle International Film Festival, the documentary examines, in a creative way, the hugely successful series of works by Pauline known as The Yellow Man, and illuminates an equally important, but much less well known, series of works, the Grey Man Drawings.

Maurice had always been a great admirer of Pauline’s work before eventually befriending her “12 or 14 years ago”. He recalls meeting her for the first time, when he walked into her studio and there was an old Russian painting she’d found many years ago of a fox – “We had this wonderful conversation about foxes and immediately got on very well and a relationship formed. I’d meet her now and again. Then I had an exhibition in Siamsa Tire called ‘Gimme Shelter’. Pauline had a very powerful crucifixion piece she’d done a few years beforehand. I asked her could I exhibit the piece. She asked me about my own work, a short film I had made called Fallen Angels, with 2 wooden angels hand-carved in 1846 – one I set alight; one I put out onto Barrow Beach and drowned. It’s a very emotional piece and when Pauline watched it, she cried. She said, ‘I’ll exhibit the crucifix beside that film.’ That was the start of working with her.

“I was always interested in her; her stories are fascinating. So I approached the idea initially with her that I would curate an exhibition around her and that it would be film-based; but out of that came this film, as I knew I wanted to do something more about her.”

And so the film is more than simply a retrospective of her career and it’s clear Maurice wanted to explore Pauline as an artist and as a person, capturing her talking about herself on a more emotional level, and rummaging around the questions of who is this Yellow Man and who is this Grey Man that appear in her work.

“I wanted to get to know her a bit more and find out what she feels and what she thinks. How is she emotionally when she’s making this work? I knew from talking to her over the years that the Yellow Man did stem somewhat from her time with Utanga, who she had an affair with in the South Sea. Although she first drew The Yellow Man in Tuscany.”

The Yellow Man, which Pauline is best known for, represents an ideal life style and philosophy, but what about the Grey Man, that up until now had never been exhibited? “They are one and the same,” Maurice explains, “two parts of a whole.” Pauline first exhibited the Yellow Man in the RHA in Dublin in 1996. Maurice recalls how Anthony Clare, the psychologist, opened the exhibition and he talked about how the Yellow Man was a “celebration of life; encouraging us to remove ourselves from the bustle of life and to sit back and admire things. But around that same time Pauline started drawing the Grey Man, as she would call it.  That came about because she was seeing a gestalt therapist. During a session with her she did a drawing that appeared as this dead figure. Going through the process of analysis she realised it was her father, who had abandoned her when she was about two and a half years old. This was the first time she began to acknowledge what this was and that throughout her life she’d had a great lack of trust in men, blaming them for all the wrongs in the world, but when she began to realise that this all stemmed from her father abandoning her she began to change her attitude.”

But Pauline never exhibited the Grey Man. Only now were the drawings shown for the very first time at the Dingle Film Festival in March – up to then they’d never gone on public display and now, appearing in the film, will be the first time many people have seen them.

“Pauline attributes the Yellow Man to her Mother, who was a very free thinker, a radical – and she gave Pauline a tremendous sense of freedom and insists that she was an artist. This freedom is a major attribute of the Yellow Man. Whereas in contrast, the Grey Man represents those restrictions in life and represents a ‘down time’ as Pauline calls it. Like many people Pauline gets down at times, and the Grey Man very much represents that.”

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Yellow Man in Fig Tree (1935) – Pauline Bewick

The film achieves a level of intimacy that is obviously a reflection of the trust between the filmmaker and his subject. Pauline’s openness is both celebratory and revealing and makes for a beautifully insightful and fascinating documentary. “There’s a wonderful piece by her,” Maurice says, “it’s a self-portrait where she’s on all fours, naked, pregnant – and I asked her about that piece once; she just said how horrific it was to be pregnant, like this wild animal with this being inside in her – and that was her being honest. Pregnancy didn’t suit her, she didn’t like it.  She’s always been open about her life – even be it her affair going off to the South Seas and living with a ripped-up young man for 6-7 months.”

One of the things that shines through the film is Pauline’s tremendous sense of humour, which Maurice identifies “has been in her work all her life.” She attributes humour to getting back with her husband Pat. “They saw a marriage counsellor and Pauline told me they laughed and laughed in every session and it reminded her how much she loved him.”  Throughout the film, that humour is manifested in her bond with nature that is a constant reference point for Pauline. At one point she posits that “women who like frogs are very well adjusted.”

The film begins with the quote “to marvel is the beginning of knowledge and where we cease to marvel we may be in danger of ceasing to know.”

“It’s a Greek quote,” Maurice explains, “it’s been attributed to Plato but I’m not 100 percent sure. Going back to Anthony Clare, he actually used the quote when he opened the Yellow Man exhibition and he said that Plato asks us to marvel at life and this is what the Yellow Man is asking us to do – to marvel at the beauty that surrounds us.”  Pauline tells us in the film that the Yellow Man has a tiny penis that is “not for use” and, according to Maurice, “it’s important to Pauline that he’s not a sexual being and he can walk around naked at one with nature and sexuality doesn’t interfere with him; he is able to simply marvel at what surrounds him.”

There’s a wonderful sequence in the film of a dancing fox. Maurice recalls ringing Pauline and telling her that he’d had a dream of dancing with her as a fox and “she got terribly excited telling me that it was the perfect symbol because to her, she’s always tried to capture nature in her work and in her life and she finds nature both cruel and beautiful. The fox is that symbol. So that dance becomes a waltz between beauty and cruelty.”  Similarly so with the Yellow Man and Grey Man, both intertwined and an inseparable part of the other.

Despite being made for little to no money, Maurice was able to call upon the talents of friends of his to help give the film its own beauty. Eugene O Connor was DOP, who has worked on The Beatles Anthology, Fr Ted and countless music videos. And, providing the music was Nico Brown, who has worked with Mike Leigh, Alan Parker, and PJ Harvey, among others. Nigel Cole provided the wonderful stills for the film.

“Everybody worked for free. There was no financing. Nico Brown and Martin Brunsden doing the music – the music is very important. When I started, Pauline gave me access to everything – she went away on holidays –  her house, her studio, all her archives for a 2-week period. At that point, Nico Brown had written 3 pieces of music for me so I was listening to that, which really helped me create images for the film while I was working at Pauline’s. A lot of the cutaways are done on a small Sony camera I have. Martin came on board at the end and they composed and performed everything for the film.

“And I worked closely with the FAS Film & TV Training course here in Tralee. I’ve a good relationship with Brian Nolan and Paul Dolan there so the deal was, I bring Eugene O Connor on board and they provide crew and equipment; so their students are getting on-the-ground experience and I get to use the RED Scarlett, a Canon XF305, tripods, lights and the like; so again massive savings. Brian Nolan, who’s an editor himself, worked with me afterwards on the film, cutting it and grading it, so all done for a few shillings – but I had to make them all dinner and cook too during the shoot!”

The film is set to screen this Sunday and Maurice is delighted the IFI are screening the film. “I spent a lot of time there when I was a student so it’s very exciting. It was Ross Whitaker who suggested that I contact Sunniva [O’Flynn – IFI Curator] about the Ireland on Sunday programme, which is what I did. Sunniva took a look at the film, liked it and programmed it.

“At the minute now I’ve started making submissions to different festivals. So far I’ve been really lucky with the IFI screening and RTE have picked it up with the plan to screen it a couple of times over the next two years. Obviously as well I’d like to get it out it to a few festivals.”

 

Pauline Bewick: Yellow Man, Grey Man screens as part of Ireland on Sunday – the IFI’s monthly showcase for new Irish film.

The screening is at 13.00 on Sunday, 9th June 2013 and will be followed by a Q&A with Maurice Galway.

Tickets for Pauline Bewick: Yellow Man, Grey Man are available now from the IFI Box Office on 01 679 3477 or online at www.ifi.ie

 

 

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Interview: Keith Jordan, writer/director of ‘Flyboy’

 

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Flyboy is a web series from Modcot Films.

 

A twisted comedy of superheroes and sexual assault, heroism and heart ache, Flyboy tells the tale of an ineffectual superhero battling against the brutish forces of Dublin’s underworld.

 

Blacker than midnight in a room with no windows, Flyboy is a balls-to-the-wall subversive comedy that dares to ask the age-old question: What does it mean to be a man?

 

Written and directed by Keith Jordan and produced by Séamus Connolly for Modcot Films, the five part series features the acting talent of Des Daly, Sharon Clancy, Amy Kelly, Aidan Corrigan and Stephen Thompson.

Steven Galvin caught up with Keith Jordan to find out more about the man under the cape.


How did the idea behind Flyboy come about?

It’s based on a comic book I created as a kid, about an overly confident superhero who could fly but had no other amazing abilities. I drew this early version of ‘Flyboy’ when I was going through an incredibly dark period about the age of ten or eleven. Up until then I had been conditioned by comic books and VHS to believe that good always triumphed over evil, that the just and true always came out on top – then I got smashed in the face with the lump hammer of life and everything changed. The comic was basically a chronicle of a deluded fool getting his ass handed to him and suffering countless indignities. I realize now that Flyboy was me, and that I was using humour to mask a very real sadness that was pouring out from within. So I kind of wanted to go back and revisit it through the prism of who and where I am now, to do it all over again, basically.

 

You achieve that fine balance between the subject matter and the gags…

With subject matter like this, we were aware that there’s a very fine line to walk but, to be honest, the show is nothing like what you expect reading it on paper. It’s not gratuitous. Obviously some people are going to be disturbed by the subject matter, but in many ways the show is an exercise in twisting people up in knots. We want to make them feel lots of different things at once. It’s just as much an exploration of people’s attitudes towards certain taboos as it is a humorous meditation on failure. I love how different people take different things from it. Some laugh from start to finish, some wonder where the jokes are, others find themselves oddly moved. It’s not really like anything else, and that’s the point. It’s desperately funny and it’s wonderfully sad.

 

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What was the thinking behind adapting Flyboy as webisodes.

We set a goal for ourselves that when each episode ended the audience should be left saying ‘I didn’t see that coming’. The first episode sets it up as one thing, and then suddenly it takes a sharp left. Then the next episode rolls with it and goes into a completely different direction. And so on and so forth. It starts off all zany superhero comedy, and then evolves into this bizarre stylized melodrama-cum-revenge thriller black comedy, then evolves into something else as moments of poignancy begin to stab their way through the schadenfreude. The idea was to take people on a journey. A very messed-up journey, where things never turn out how they thought they would.

 

Tell us a bit about the filming process.

We had a blast filming it. It was a pure passion project. We shot it for next to no money – borrowed equipment, roped in famly members to supply locations, and convinced some of our preternaturally skilled friends to crew for free.

We were very lucky in landing our two amazing leads. Desmond Daly and Sharon Clancy.

Des, who plays Flyboy, is my real-life hero. He did an incredible job playing this ridiculously over-the-top superhero caricature, and then this destroyed, broken mess of a man forced to question everything he ever thought he knew about himself. He makes you sympathize with him even while you’re laughing at his misfortune. I could watch him forever. He just nails it.

Sharon Clancy plays Claire, Flyboy’s wife, and her character is very much at the heart of the piece. I find their relationship endlessly fascinating, because while she clearly loves her husband to death, she’s also culpable in a lot of ways for feeding into his deluded worldview. Watching this sugary sweet adoring wife who’s bought into this bizarre lie the man she loves has told himself, and observing them trying to deal with something horrifically real, is hilarious.

 

The music has very distinct eighties feel to it.

We knew that the obvious choice would have been to riff on a Superman style orchestral theme, but there’s something about those Don Simpson / Jerry Bruckheimer scores that I instantly equate to my childhood.  We wanted it to be Lethal Weaponesque. It probably shouldn’t work, but it does. And that’s all thanks to genius of Andy Kirwan, who not only supplied all the music but did our sound edit as well. The guy is beyond talented.

 

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The series is from Modcot Films – tell us a bit about your relationship with them?

The producer, Séamus Connolly, and I founded Modcot Films last year. We’ve both been working in the industry in different capacities for the last eight years or so. We originally met while working as runners in a post-production company and just hit it off. We have very similar sensibilities; he’s a talented, technically minded cinephile and a great friend, and we just decided to finally make a go of it, go out and start shooting. We’ve made a good number of music videos and comedy shorts, but we’re always trying to push the boat out. Give people more than they expect.

 

Flyboy is a four-part series; any plans to develop it further?

I have an idea for where I’d like to go for a second series, but I don’t know if people could handle how far I’d take it. I don’t even know if I could take it. I couldn’t sleep for two days after I wrote the treatment. I kept listening to Neil Young and crying into the mirror. Which makes me think I might be onto something.

 

What other projects are you working on?

We have an excitingly cinematic music video in the pipeline, and a horror short set to shoot at the end of the summer.

 

You can check out episide 2 below – As Flyboy deals with the aftermath of his horrific assault, he finds himself faced with a new dilemma: Just what will he tell his wife?

Facebook: www.facebook.com/flyboywebseries

Official website: www.flyboy.tv

Company website: www.gotmodcot.com

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Interview: Alan Lambert, writer and director of ‘The End Of The Earth Is My Home’

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The End Of The Earth Is My Home is a science-fiction adaptation of the traditional Asian stories of the Monkey King and Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

 

Written and directed by Alan Lambert, the film tells the story of a young boy, who witnesses a failed assassination attempt at an airport on the island of Hai-Wan.The assassin, a young woman called Mei, abducts the boy and brings him to her superior, the Metal Dragon. The Metal Dragon is the last of an old order of immortals living secretly in Hai-Wan. He resides on the top floor of the Gold Hotel, from where, via ‘all-seeing’ security surveillance, he presides over the four dragons of the island’s districts. These dragons are mortal men. Despite Mei’s objections the Metal Dragon imparts the secret of long life to the boy before banishing him onto the streets of Hai-Wan

 

The film has been described as a sensory experience rather than a narrative one and is an intense trip into a stunning visual and auditory dreamworld.

 

Steven Galvin caught up with director Alan Lambert to find out more about this unique colourful audio-visual experience.

 

How did The End Of The Earth Is My Home originally come about?

The origins of The End Of The Earth Is My Home go back quite a long way and have several inroads. Firstly I was making low-budget music videos and live visual mixes for Irish techno acts in the late nineties, but I was simultaneously doing most of my commercial artwork in Asia. So all of the footage I collected in China and Japan, which was all Super8 and Hi8, provided the backbone for my video work. After a few trips, and a lot of time spent in hotels in Shanghai, which was only just opening up to the West at the time and was undergoing massive reconstruction, I reckoned I could shape a film of some sort from the footage I already had if I set it in hotels and mostly at night. But I would need some sort of premise that would let me have a lot of my characters simply viewing all the outside action on screens in rooms. That would enable me to reshoot all my Super8 from TV monitors and shoot the actors in hotel rooms in Dublin. I also wanted to avoid the constraints of a shooting schedule. I wanted to be able to work on it bit by bit. So I needed a premise that could provide 3 or 4 distinct environments that could be mini-projects in themselves.

On the last Shanghai job, in ’98, I picked up a paperback copy of‘Monkey, and read it on the flight. Monkey is the legend of the Monkey King that we know better as the famous Japanese TV series Monkey Magic. It gave me everything I needed. The Buddhist world of the stories provided 3 separate time zones, with the differences in time between Heaven, Earth and the Underworld. The immortality of the characters gave me the freedom to move them around from one time zone to another without continuity problems. And the abstract nature of many of the environments that Monkey happens in – mountain plateaus, cloudbanks and so on – made it easy to translate the basic situations into dark hotel rooms.

As a director you take a very poetic approach to the material…

The poetic approach to the material comes partly from a very tangential method of adapting the material. Although I had referred to Sid Field’s famous script paradigm. I didn’t really want to go down the road of tackling a script head on as that wasn’t really where the project was coming from. So I took a much more holistic approach. I simply went through Monkey (and I added Dracula to it because I was reading it at the same time and it overlapped in many areas, particularly in terms of immortality) and I underlined anything that caught my attention and copied into a word document, without any notes or formatting. I then discarded the source material and regarded that wall of text as my first draft. On reading that, any thematic or stylistic threads that started to telegraph through I then identified as characters. Go through that a few times and then re-format it as a script and you will have something that works almost entirely as poetry. And the abstract nature of the environments I had already established lent themselves well to this oblique approach.

What influences were at play creating the film?

Apart from very obvious filmmakers like Kubrick, Lynch and Kurosawa, my main influences in terms of film are much more experimental. I’ve always loved re-cutting commercial films, making found-footage collages (which does touch on live visual mixing ) and one of my favourite experimental filmmakers would be Joseph Cornell. He made a wonderful, seminal experimental film called Rose Hobart, which is a Hollywood movie East of Borneo, but with all the action cut out. So, all you see is what precedes and follows the action – a door beginning to open, a shadow disappearing from a balcony. Watching it really heightens your awareness, you look at all the details instead. You also lose your sense of time because, like many experimental film practices, you are not given the normal cues that audiences are accustomed to in a commercial film that tell you how long to expect the film to be. In The End Of The Earth Is My Home I think I wanted to create something like that, a film which, although containing all of the above, would also give the viewer a sense that they were witnessing all this from a unique perspective. Almost like a film flipped on its back, wearing all its subtexts and stylistic devices on its sleeve with the main storyline submerged.

Can we talk a little about the international cast you use and the locations of Japan, Egypt and Dublin…

Yes, to backtrack a little bit –  what I have discussed above was the first incarnation of the project, around the turn of the millennium, which only resulted in 3 music videos. I actually then shelved it until 2010, by which time I had also expanded my commercial work, and experimental film curation work, to North Africa – Egypt in particular. With a bit of a break from the project, I had moved on from the Asian footage I had originally collected and felt that a more international mix was better, the source material was after all, changed beyond recognition. And as a visual artist I found the prospect of blending Far Eastern backgrounds with Middle Eastern ones irresistible. There were all kinds of little juxtapositions that I found interesting, like seeing a Japanese street but hearing an Arabic song on a radio – or seeing an Egyptian marketplace with a traditional Chinese Er-Hu playing somewhere in a side street. It does remind one of that other very obvious point of reference and classic hybrid, Blade Runner.

Junshi_Murakami_Teoteimh

Junshi Murakami

In terms of the cast, I was very happy with the cast I managed to assemble. They are all based in Ireland, or have Irish connections, but of course bring something of their own cultural background into the mix. Not all of the cast are professional actors, but they are all involved in the arts in a professional capacity so we were always able to find a common ground. Junshi Murakami and Mona Gamil are both performing artists, so I related to, and worked with them, in mainly visual terms. I found that they both moved very gracefully and their expressions were subtle but clear, and I built the shots around that quality.

Mona_Gamil_Teoteimh

Mona Gamil

Dominique Monot does a lot of voice-over work, and I gave him all the dramatic and romantic Bram Stoker dialogue – which perfectly suits his continental delivery. I gave him points of light beside his eyes, so even in the dark hotel room you can see where he is hovering as you hear the disembodied voice. Keshet Zur is also a performer and fine artist and I trusted her and actor Ademla Oladeji to get a chemistry of their own going as the younger generation of characters. But then in another more authoritative role, similar to Dominique’s character, I let Fionnuala Collins bring her own flare to the Police Chief, the only character that I thought it would be fun to make clearly Irish (in keeping with the Hollywood tradition that New York cops are Irish).

Dominique_Monot_Teoteimh

Dominique_Monot

Vicky Langan I probably trusted most of all to simply bring her stage presence as a performance artist into the mix, which she does, holding down the final dinner scene with a steady gaze. Some of the best portrait photography I’ve done in my career so far I think I achieved in this film, with the help of this particular cast.

Vicky_Langan_Teoteimh

Vicky Langan

The film was made on a super micro-budget, with funds raised entirely from a crowd-funding campaign, which you were one of the first to do – how did that work out?

That worked very well, it ran very smoothly. Everybody got their rewards and I only went over schedule by 3 months. The nicest thing about it now is that it has come back to me again and again that the funders did appreciate the film and funded it not only because they appreciated my project and wanted to support me, but because they also actually wanted to see the film. They liked the idea of it and they did watch it when they got it. So it works as funding and distribution all rolled into one.

Can you tell us a bit about the production techniques you used for the VFX sequences in the film?

Most of the artistic experience in my life so far I have acquired without computers, so I tend to try to solve problems in real space, not in software. So, although there is some green screen in The End Of The Earth Is My Home, most of what you’re looking at is achieved in camera – with back-projection, models, or just lighting and atmospheric sound. For example, there are scenes where you see Junshi Murakami ( the boy character, based on Monkey ) speeding through a tunnel on an unspecified vehicle (the cloud which Monkey flies around on). He is simply leaning forward towards a windscreen with the tunnel footage projected onto a screen in front of it, with hairdryers below the camera line blowing back into his hair, and I’m shooting it hand-held over his shoulder. When he looks back to see two bikes following him, they are static models, with small key-ring torches fitted inside them. They’re standing in front of a projected background and then I’m shooting it hand-held from a low angle and shaking the camera to create the impression of motion. In other sequences we see what appears to be a vehicle turning a corner in a psychedelic Chinese street. What you’re looking at is actually a simple matte technique ( achieved mostly digitally now ). A still of the street is simply printed out, the area of action cut out and then the same key-ring torch is shot through it and then recombined with the original shot. These are all simple photographic techniques that were practiced in studios for most of the last century – this is how the Méliès was making films in Paris over 100 years ago – and this is how Charlie Chaplin worked. Screens, lights, stands, cutting holes in things, turning the camera upside-down. In other words, Fun!

Filmmaking has to be fun!

Check out this video outlining some more of the VFX techniques:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0N5_wMwWVWw

The soundtrack is integral to the film’s experience  – how did you end up working with  European Sensoria Band on the film?

European Sensoria Band are Dave Carrol, Anto Carrol and Fergus Cullen. I knew Dave and Anto from their first band ‘Wormhole’ – we used to jam together and we had a joint release as the last release on the Dead Elvis label in 1999. I met up with the lads again around 2008, after they had formed ESB. We did another gig in The Shed, joined by Gavin Duffy from Thread Pulls. We improvised for about 2 hours and that reminded me of how well we had clicked years earlier and it really gave me the taste for more live stuff.

So, for the last DEAF festival in 2009 we did a similar improvised set in the basement of Filmbase (where I shot some of the film). This time we were joined by harpist Junshi Murakami, who wasn’t attached to my film yet. It was a great gig and Junshi’s presence, combined with some kind of zither type slide guitar contraption that either Gavin or Fergus had rigged up on stage, set Asian undertones and a vibe that was as oblique as a ‘Rose Hobart’ – and I came away thinking, I should just lay that gig down on the timeline of my editor intact and start to build the film on top of it, which is pretty much what I did.

The film is screening at the Triskel Arts Centre, Christchurch Cinema, Tobin St., Cork City – what are your future plans for the film?

Well, each time I’ve screened it so far it’s been a slightly different version, and each time it has been a different but equally ideal context. I was delighted to be able to Premiere it at Darklight last year, it was the perfect platform to launch it and they did a great job of integrating it into the VFX themes of last year’s festival. When it was invited to the Kerry Festival it was in the inflatable cinema, which really extended the atmosphere of the film out into the screening venue, with subtle Christmas tree style lighting across the arched ceiling over the screen. But the Cork screening will be the first screening of the newly finished sound-mix.

So, for the future, I have several discussions going in terms of international premiere, most likely an Eastern European screening in September, collaborator TBC ( and will probably involve some sub-titling ) or an NY premiere in early 2014, again, collaborators TBC.

But the most immediate next step is to do a 20 minute cut for Super-8, subtitled, for club and party screenings with live soundtracks, and to arrange another event in Dublin, perhaps in one of the haunts that spawned the project in the first place.

What other projects are you working on?

I want to keep the momentum going, and I want to build on both the crowdfunding model and the lo-fi VFX techniques. But now I’d like to make something less psychedelic and a little bit more drama driven. So, my next project is also a Sci-Fi, but it’s based on the possible future of climate change, and is loosely inspired by John Wyndham’s The Chrysalids.

It’s called Pushtar and is set in the Himalayas in 350 years time. I’ve started another crowdfunding campaign on Rockethub to run over the summer. I’d call it an environmental sci-fi.

 

You can find out more about Pushtar here:

http://www.rockethub.com/projects/26350-pushtar-an-environmental-sci-fi-film

You can watch the early music videos ( for D1 Recording artists ) at this link – just scroll down the page:

http://www.thearchiver.net/data/video/video.html

 

The End Of The Earth Is My Home is screening on Friday, 31st May 2013 – 6.30pm at the Triskel Arts Centre, Christchurch Cinema, Tobin St., Cork City.

For screening details and to book tickets, please visit:

 

http://triskelartscentre.ie/events/2339/the-end-of-the-earth-is-my-home/

 

Websites: TEOTEIMH: http://www.teoteimh.com / METAL DRAGON: http://www.metaldragon.net

 

NOTE:

THE CORK SCREENING IS IN COLLABORATION WITH BLACK SUN CINEMA AND IS ALSO SUPPORTED BY DUBLIN CITY COUNCIL

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Interview: Tobias Lindholm, writer/director of ‘A Hijacking’

Tobias-Lindholm-Kapringen

Tobias Lindholm has written several episodes for the Danish TV series Sommer (2008) and the BAFTA-winning Borgen  and was co-writer, together with Thomas Vinterberg, on Vinterberg’s films Submarino (2010)  and The Hunt. The prison drama R (2010) was a writer-director collaboration between Lindholm and Michael Noer and marked their debut as feature film directors. A Hijacking (2012) is Lindholm’s second feature film.

A Hijacking features the cargo ship MV Rozen, which is heading for harbour when it is boarded and hijacked by pirates in the Indian Ocean. Amongst the men onboard are the ship’s cook Mikkel (Pilou Asbæk) and the chief engineer Jan (Roland Møller), who along with the rest of the seamen, are taken hostage in a cynical game of life and death.

With the demand for a ransom of millions of dollars a psychological drama unfolds between the CEO of the shipping company, Peter C. Ludvigsen (Søren Malling) and the Somali pirates.

Steven Galvin sat down with writer/director Tobias Lindholm to find out more about this tense hostage thriller.

 

What was it that brought you to making this film?

My father was a Special Forces frogman and sailor before I was born. He never talked that much to me about it but I always thought that the area on a ship would make a great dramatic arena – guys in a small space; caught in the elements out there, nowhere. I just never had a proper angle on it. Then in 2007 the first Danish ship was hijacked by Somali pirates. I followed that in the press and became very connected to it. I had done a prisoner film [R] before A Hijacking and I liked dealing with characters caught in a situation from which they cannot leave.

Then I started to do a lot of research and the project really started taking shape after meeting Gary Porter, who plays Connor Julian, the negotiator in the film. He’s a real negotiator – a hostage negotiator in real life – so with him on board I had an angle.

 

How did you meet him – was that set up?

No. What happened was we put out a press release saying that I was making A Hijacking. He read it and contacted me saying he would like to get involved. I immediately fell in love with the guy – he was so professional  and very specific in details. So I asked him to come out to Nordisk Film, our production company, and that we’d pretend that we were a shipping company having a ship hijacked. We asked him to brief us on what to do. He did that for 4 hours. We were filming it – my DoP was there.  Afterwards, when I watched it back, I called him right away and asked him to be a part of the film. In fact I wanted to build the film around him.

He introduced me to a Danish CEO who’d had a ship hijacked. He opened up and told us everything they had experienced – from the hijacking itself to the negotiations they’d had with pirates. That gave me the idea of the CEO and so I introduced him as a main character as well.

 

The CEO is a very interesting  character – he sets out to try to negotiate the smallest ransom for the release of his ship and crew, but develops beyond mere calculation into something much more human. 

My brother brought me up with the idea of rich people being evil, that they stole money from poor people. Of course I realized by the age of 12 that wasn’t the whole truth. So I always wanted to tell a story about a wealthy guy who is also just a human being. The easy part would be to make him corrupt and evil. I didn’t want to do that – so meeting the real McCoy, who’d had a ship hijacked, who was negotiating with pirates at the time, really opened up that part of the story.

 

And the ship you used in the film, the MV Rozen,  was the ship that had actually been involved in a hijacking by pirates off the coast of Somalia in 2007.

Yes. The most beautiful thing was that when we rented the MV Rozen we didn’t know that the crew members who are actually part of the film were the same crew that had been taken hostage 2 years before that, so they knew everything about it. The ship had been part of the story that we were retelling and now we had the crew also. They gave us details of the hijacking – not general ones but specific everyday life details of that ship and being hostage on it. That made me change a lot of stuff in the script because they knew the reality of it.

 

So the film’s evolving into a kind of docudrama as it’s becoming more and more authentic through the people involved and the ship itself  – all adding to the reality of the situation.

For me reality rules. I don’t find myself interesting; I find the world around me interesting. I like the logic of reality, which is different to the logic of screenwriting. I want to make what’s on the screen feel real.

As an audience we bring our experience of reality to every situation. I don’t think that’s something you put away when you go into the cinema; you can actually use that in storytelling. That’s the idea behind reality rules. It means that instead of going for the obvious turning points, the clichés, we need to go around them and find the realistic situation.

For the film for example, we spent 2 or 3 hours in the negotiating room to get what we wanted. These things made the film more real.

 

So you’re pushing to re-create that reality rather than create it.

For sure. The film is a story that’s structured around 9 phone calls. All the phone calls in the film are real. When we are calling back home from the ship we are actually calling Copenhagen. Pilou calls and Søren doesn’t know what Pilou’s going to say.  So I may have prepped them saying a phone call was coming but a lot of the times I lied to him saying Pilou is going to call you and say this and this. Then Pilou would call him and say something totally different. So the surprise in his voice, the echoes, the delay, the emotion, the sound pollution on the line, all of it adding to the realistic atmosphere. From that we get a good story.

 

It’s a re-acting rather than acting method of direction.

Shooting on the ship I would put Roland, Pilau and the ship’s captain in a room but I wouldn’t tell them when we would start to shoot. So they’re sitting there in 50 degrees and once in a while we would open the door and throw a swarm of flies into the room. I’d tell them we’re not starting yet and slam the door shut leaving them with a 100 flies in there! When we eventually started to shoot they didn’t need to act that they wanted to leave the room; they didn’t need to act they were hot, they didn’t need to act that they wanted to go home – that was already there.

Also we were sailing the ship toward Somalia shooting so the waters looked right and the actors felt the right atmosphere. We had armed guards with us – so the whole ship was afraid during the shooting.

Similarly with the meeting room of the shipping company– we definitely didn’t want to shoot it in a studio, so we made a deal with the company that we could shoot in their space; in the actual room where they’d had the negotiations, with their own employees. So we went out there. I felt that was necessary to get a sense of what really happens.

 

How do the roles of writer and director differ for you?

Directing is much more demanding for me. I can be a good father and a good husband and a good writer at the same time – but I can’t be a good father and a good husband and a good director at the same time. Directing takes everything from me so I can’t direct that often. With writing it’s more like I’m a drummer in Vinterburg’s band. I keep the rhythm and he’s in front with Mads Mikkelsen in The Hunt. I feel safer.

 

You can give away your writing but directing is all you.

Yes. Screenplay is not a piece of art; it’s words on a paper. Someone else makes it art.

 

Which I suppose begs the question what made you want to direct this film?

In the early stage I knew it was story that I couldn’t give away. I have that with my next project and I had that with R, the prison film, which was very personal to me because a childhood friend of mine spent 8 years in jail and I got to know the Danish prison system through that experience. I needed to make a film about that and I wanted to tell that truth. The only way I could do it was to do it myself so I needed to learn how to direct. I’d never been on a film set before that.

I felt the same with A Hijacking.

 

But it all starts with the story.

No matter what, the story is made with the screenwriter. You cannot go shooting with a bad screenplay and expect a great film from it. You really need to do your homework. Filmmaking is the practical art. Screenwriting is where you’re king – where you can kill everyone, do what you want – and that is where the total freedom is. But of course it’s fun to have the idea and bring it all the way through to the editing room, through the sound to the premiere. Like you’ve given birth to that film. It’s yours. That’s very satisfying in another way, but it’s also a lot of hard work. For me it’s not something I can do without feeling it’s completely necessary.

 

Getting back to the film,  you obviously made a decision to omit the more emotional aspects of the drama and focus more on the chilling reality of the hostage situation. For example, there’re no scenes of families crying…

I don’t like melodramas. For me the characters are not supposed to cry; the audience is. I don’t like the easy emotional points in films – I find them boring. In my work I try to find the obvious way to tell things and then move a little to the left, a little to the right,and in that way tell the same story but in a way the audience didn’t expect or hasn’t seen before.

 

You’re directing the film and not directing the audience, which is the case in so much modern film.

Yes. If you’re feeding people exactly what they expect, they’ll get bored. Obviously in some way you do guide the audience. But I don’t want to take responsibility for the audience’s feelings. I take responsibility for the story. That allows us to have real life in the film, real feelings from the audience; instead of manipulating feelings. For me that’s the goal.

 

The film’s very much pinned down by Pilou and Peters’  situations, which mirror each other – both of them reaching points of desperation and meltdown.

The idea was to take 2 guys and put them in the same situation. One is a hostage in a small room in a ship and the other is a hostage in a small room in a company. Both cannot leave the situation until it is over. When it is, they cannot become the same person they were before.

 

These are the ones who are going to live with the trauma and are inextricably linked for the rest of their lives because of what’s happened to them.

That was the idea. As people before the events, they have nothing in common – culturally, financially, family-wise – nothing in common at all, and suddenly they have everything in common and are probably the closest to each other on the planet despite not seeing each other at any point in the film.

 

A Hijacking is in cinemas now

 

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