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’)

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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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