‘The Pipe’ Wins at Japan Wildlife Film Festival



The Pipe was awarded the Global Issues award at Japan Wildlife Film Festival. The festival was held from the August 8th to 11th in Toyama at the Toyama International Conference Center. Directed by Risteard O Domhnaill, The Pipe is a story of a community tragically divided, and how they deal with the Corrib Gas Pipeline that could bring economic prosperity or destruction of a way of life shared for generations.

The Pipe is available on DVD in Ireland and the UK online at:http://thepipe.myshopify.com/. For more info seewww.thepipethefilm.com


From the Archive: Self Distribution

Pyjama Bus CMYK

Pyjama Girls

With self-distribution becoming more widespread, Film Ireland talks to three Irish filmmakers who made the decision to release their own film.

Competition for screens is at an all-time high with more films than ever before being released every week. Economic conditions put pressure on cinemas and films must perform on their first weekend if they hope to stick around. For distributors it makes it harder for them to take a punt on films that might not make an immediate impact. For filmmakers it makes it harder to find a distributor that will take on their film and at the right price. It makes sense then that more filmmakers are looking at the possibility of self-distribution with the advent of the Irish Film Board’s Direct Distribution scheme making it a more attractive proposition.Not every film can be released in this way and, if anything, it seems that documentary might be most suited to self-distribution. Documentary films can gather an audience from the outset of production, making partnerships with interested groups that can help when the time comes to release the film.

The Pipe and Pyjama Girls are two Irish documentaries that have done well having been self-released. So why did they choose to do it?

‘We looked at going with different distributors here but once we saw the terms and conditions we decided that we should do it ourselves as we felt that there was already a community of people interested in the film,’ says Rachel Lysaght, producer of The Pipe. ‘There were a lot of things to take into consideration including ownership of the film and how long the term was going to be. We just felt that rather than giving away all of the rights for a number of years it would be better to retain ownership of the film. We weren’t expecting it to be a huge box-office smash but we felt that a film that addresses these issues and is a David and Goliath story wouldn’t necessarily have a short lifespan and it could be a grower, so we didn’t want to tie up all of the rights with anyone.’

‘I always had that interest in distribution, stemming from a mobile short film channel that I ran for years on Vodafone called Wildlight,’ says Nicky Gogan of Still Films. ‘We went down traditional routes with Pyjama Girls and showed it to the distribution companies that are in Ireland. They liked it but they felt they would have to put too much into it to get a return because of the model they use. That was fine but I really knew there was an audience for the film, so the IFI agreed to put it on for a week and it sold out the whole week. They moved it from Cinema 3 to the much larger Cinema 1 early on in the week and it was a great success. That prompted us to act on the idea of doing something wider with it, so we spoke to access>CINEMA and the Irish Film Board and put together a list of contacts. We weren’t so concerned about rights but it certainly helped us to hold onto more of the profits from the cinema because there were fewer people involved. We try not to give anything away exclusively now. With a previous film we did an exclusive deal with a company for three years and they made a great sale near the beginning but they really have only made one sale, so that was disappointing.’

The Pipe Roadblock CMYK
The Pipe

For The Pipe, the timing of the release in December 2010 proved to be tricky. One of the biggest snowfalls in history covered the country and cinemas all over Ireland shut their doors.

‘The cinemas at that time were taking in a week what they would usually do on a Saturday night. The weather was horrific. That really damaged us but relatively in terms of how all of the other films were doing we did quite well and we were featuring on the box-office charts. Harry Potter was out at the same time though and that’s something we learned along the way. We couldn’t afford a film print so we went with a DCP (digital cinema print) and DCPs can only show on digital screens and they were in some cases being taken up with 3D movies, so if it was a toss-up between playing Harry Potter or a small documentary about a Mayo community, guess which film gets the screen! We did loads of Q&As and we went everywhere. A lot of the people from Westport also came to screenings and I think the audience really appreciate that and if they know a director is coming it’s more of an event and it’s more likely that you’ll get an audience. If those people engage in it then they become your advertisers because it really gets out through word of mouth.’

For the team at Still Films, the networks built up from years of running the Darklight Film Festival was a huge advantage in marketing the film. ‘We went about things in a way that we have been doing for gigs and the Darklight Film Festival in the past, like posting A3 Posters around the place and getting on blogs and also just using the goodwill of our media contacts to help us get the word out,’ says Nicky Gogan. ‘We had essentially three goes at it with the festival release, the IFI release and then the wider release. We used the usuals like Facebook and Twitter and we approached friends who might have big mailing lists. It was a case of managing all of the networks that we’ve built up over the years with the Darklight festival. The cinemas themselves also do their own marketing, which helps as well.’

‘We were working with access>CINEMA so we did a lot of community screenings,’ says Rachel Lysaght. ‘The Pipe had 6000 friends on Facebook and we tapped into specific groups that already existed that we thought would be interested in the story we were telling – human rights, Irish interest, environmental groups, anti-corporate groups. This was our target audience and if it moved beyond that all the better. We did a lot of community screenings. We also set up an area on our website where people could request a screening in their town and people would email us and if there were enough calls for a screening in a certain area we would contact them and find a venue and in some cases we might project it on a wall. Then I negotiated with the cinema owners as to what percentage we would get at the box office and we did the same thing with access>CINEMA. In the case of access>CINEMA, we pretty much screened off DVD and we agreed a minimum or a percentage there. When it came to individual or community screenings we would mostly do a deal with the venue. You might have a screening in a university where there could be eight people there or there could be eighty-eight people there and you’re not going to know until the night of the screening. So we would agree a minimum amount or whatever percentage of the box office. It might be, purely for example, a minimum 100-euro for the screening and 50% of the box office over that. At least then you know you are getting a minimum for the screening and there’s also an incentive there for the person organising the screening to gather an audience and we would also help by providing posters and online marketing and we would do local press.’

Having a group of people already interested in the topic of your film or a film around which you can build an event is key to finding your audience. ‘Each film is different,’ says Gogan, and therefore the approach will differ each time.

‘I think there are certain films that suit self-distribution. I think with Pyjama Girls it suited a slightly more traditional route and we did screen it in quite big cinema chains. With Nightdancers, an upcoming film about dancers in Uganda going to London to take part in a big show, there could be a live dance element to it and we could tour the film with their live dance show. That could generate a bit of buzz for the film by playing to the audience for the film. That could be the core audience and then moving out from that there might be the documentary audience and the arthouse audience. We’ve talked about doing something like that in the UK and then maybe something similar here in Ireland. It would be an event-based release and we would be thinking of alternative venues as well as cinemas for the film. And the director, Emile Dineen, is really up for it too and since we started talking about making the film we’ve been talking about how fun it’s going to be to get it out into the world. We’ve also been thinking about the possibility of doing a day-in-date release because there might be a limited amount of events based around urban centres, so it would be great to have the film available to the audience through VOD. So it’s a matter of tying in the complementary options that are open to you rather than being completely independent.’

Lili Taylor Gerard Hurley CMYK
The Pier

When distributors didn’t go for his film The Pier, Gerard Hurley released his feature-length drama himself in thirteen cinemas in Ireland. ‘I know exactly what my film is. Distributors want big boobs and explosions, they want slick production values and big names. I really had none of the above. I felt a release in Ireland was a possibility and because I’d done it with my previous film in the States on six screens, I felt some confidence that I could release it myself in Ireland. I just got out there and hit the pavement. One of the things I did was make up 400 small film posters and put up those posters myself personally. I drove around from town to town and I met people and I would get into conversations a lot with people and I’d tell them about the film. In the independent world I found that very effective because overall for me the film was very well received.’

Hurley’s plan was to get the film into as many cinemas as possible and he persuaded 13 cinemas to take the film on. ‘My plan was to release it in as many cinemas as possible around Ireland and try to get any media I could to support what I was trying to do. If you stagger the release too much, the national media you do can be lost. You might release the film in Dublin but people will have forgotten about it by the time you get to Cork. It’s really tough trying to get the film into cinemas. It’s a business for them and they want to know what the bottom line is. Some are more sympathetic than others but it’s all about rejection and you get kicked in the balls over and over again but you can’t take it personally.’

Making a connection with your audience on a limited budget is not easy and Hurley found it particularly so because his audience wasn’t the typical cinema-going target market.

‘I wasn’t making the film for the male 15–25 age bracket, the ‘golden horde’. My audience was a lot older. It’s hard to get to them but when you do, they talk to people and help to get the word out. The Irish Film Board were very helpful in supporting the film but you have to have a big budget to go out there and get people’s attention. You need an advertising budget or you need to come up with a creative online campaign. But even getting that right can be as rare as hen’s teeth. Every filmmaker bitches about not having enough money. Even filmmakers with a $10-million budget say, ‘we had very little money’ but I know that if I had another 25k I really could have kicked some ass in Ireland because strategically I worked out that I could have done a certain kind of radio campaign and I think radio is one of the most effective tools for hitting people in rural Ireland.’

All of the filmmakers agree that self-releasing your film is not to be taken lightly. ‘There is a huge learning curve. You can’t say strongly enough that this is a job usually done by someone on a full time basis, so nobody can wander into that territory and expect it to be easy. But I also think that if you really believe in your film, nobody will push it as much as you will. You might not have all the knowledge or connections when you start out but you’ll learn that along the way and hopefully people will see that passion in you and respond.’


This article originally appeared in Film Ireland Magazine, Issue 143 in 2012.


New! Directing the Documentary Course with 'The Pipe's Richie O'Domhnaill in Filmbase

(The Pipe director Richie O’Domhnaill)

Filmbase have announced a new weekend ‘Directing the Documentary’ course given by ‘The Pipe’s Richie O Domhnaill which will take place on 16th /17thJuly.

Have an idea for a Documentary? That’s a great start but have you thought about your audience, the research required, not to mention post production.

These are but a few of the many questions you need to ask yourself before embarking on a documentary. The course is divided into four key areas and is aimed at anyone considering directing a documentary. Practical elements are an integral part of this course.

Course Content

  • Developing the idea
  • Pitching
  • Writing proposals
  • Interviews
  • Shooting set up
  • The editing process

TUTOR: “I began filming on the Corrib story in late 2006 as a news cameraman. As someone also living locally, I felt that the true story of the locals living in the path of the pipeline was being lost among the hype, sensationalism and spin in the media. I, unwittingly, became drawn in by the dignity and intelligence of these people and over the next 3 years followed them in their daily lives, while at the same time researching into the historical and political reasons as to why this project was so controversial. I was amazingly privileged, not to mention unbelievably lucky, to have been there to record practically all of the key events over those 3 years, and experienced at first hand how the locals responded to challenges of Goliath proportions. I have a degree in Theoritical Physics from Trinity College Dublin but I feel my education only began the day I stepped foot in Rossport!”


Cost: €200 waged / €180 unwaged (Deposit: €100)
Dates: 16th and 17th July
Times: Saturday 16th: 10.30am – 5pm; Sunday 17th: 11am – 5.30pm

For full details contact grainne@filmbase.ie

Payment/Booking: To book a place on any of these courses please contact Filmbase reception in person or call on 01 679 6716. Filmbase Reception opening hours 9.30am – 5.30pm, Monday to Friday.

VISA, MasterCard, Laser, company or personal cheque, cash (all in Euros) are all acceptable terms of payment.

See http://www.filmbase.ie/training/long_courses.php for more details including our cancellation policy.


Read Aoife Kelleher’s interview with Richie O’Domhnaill in Winter 2010 issue of Film Ireland here

Read that ‘The Pipe’ receives European award here


‘The Pipe’ receives European award

Risteard O’Domhnall’s acclaimed documentary The Pipe has won in the Best Documentary category at Circom at a meeting in Frederikstad, Norway, this weekend.


With a membership of over 300 television stations spread across 38 states, Circom is a European-wide federation of regional television broadcasters.


The Pipe is a compelling documentary of Rossport’s struggle against the economic might of Shell and the tragic divisions that have split a once-peaceful and close-knit community. The film captures the anxiety, anger and disillusionment of years of conflict as well as their connection to the local environment, and the spirit, humour and heroism that sustains them.


The Pipe received an Honourable Mention from the IDFA Green Screen Jury and was officially selected for the London, Toronto and Palm Springs International film festivals and will screen in the Culinary Program of the Berlinale next week. It has also been nominated for the Cinemas For Peace Awards in Berlin, which highlights the human condition and human values.


Produced by Rachel Lysaght for Scannáin Inbhear, The Pipe was financed by BSÉ/IFB and TG4.


The Pipe is also to air on TG4 on Saturday 14th May at 8:10pm.



LIT FF: 'The Pipe'

The Pipe

LIT Film Festival

Millennium Theatre, Limerick Institute of Technology
12th April.

As part of the LIT Film Festival in Limerick, there was a special screening of the award-winning documentary The Pipe in the Millennium Theatre in the Limerick Institute of Technology on Tuesday, 12th April. The film, directed by Risteard Ó Domhnaill, documents the conflict between the residents of a tiny village in Rossport Co. Mayo, Shell Oil and the State about the laying of an underwater gas pipe which could potentially ruin the livelihoods of farmers and fishermen.
The film opens with an aerial shot of the West of Ireland which shows the beauty of the unspoilt landscape. The camera hones in on a fisherman – Willie Corduff in his boat talking about the generations of fishermen in his family. This highlights the crux of what is at stake if Shell manages to lay a gas pipe through this idyllic village. A battle of rights ensues.

In 1996 a natural gas source was discovered off the shore of Rossport. The State and Shell Oil decided that the gas could be pumped underwater to a refinery. Initially it promised economic prosperity and new jobs, but at what cost? The residents would effectively be sacrificing nature and its resources for Shell.

However, the residents were not informed of the dire consequences of a natural gas pipe running through their land. Not only was information withheld, but the residents of Rossport were not asked permission concerning the laying of the pipe. This raw, high energy gas pipe would run underground close to the homes of the residents. They were effectively bullied into accepting that the pipe was going to be laid despite their protests against it.

Their human rights, civil rights and safety were at stake. This caused immense frustration and resentments against Shell and the State for allowing this to happen. The fishermen ascertained that their livelihoods and the traditions of the land were at stake because of Shell’s greed for economic wealth, and that there was a constant threat over their jobs. Regardless of the lack of consent by the residents of Rossport, Shell Oil insisted on laying the gas pipe. This inevitably led to protests and numerous arrests for blockading the Shell workers.

Protesters were forcibly removed by brute force by Gardaí with some people receiving a beating by batons. The use of a handheld camera in the middle of the action effectively conveyed the aggressions and tension that was rife during the protest. Five men who continuously stood up for their rights were arrested by Gardaí. They became known as the ‘Rossport Five’. They spent 94 days in Cloverhill Prison for not adhering to a court injunction that allowed Shell workers to enter their land to lay the gas pipe. However their attempts for justice were in vain: the pipeline was laid in 2009 much to the dismay of the residents.

The Pipe is an insightful documentary that delves into conflict, injustice and the struggle to maintain lifelong traditions.

The LIT Film Festival will continue until Friday, 15th when there will be an awards night in the Millennium Theatre, Limerick Institute of Technology.


Preview: Limerick Institute of Technology Film Festival


Eleanor McSherry previews the Limerick Institute of Technology Film Festival, which runs from 11–15 April, 2011.

The LIT film festival returns for its second year and it has extended its run to five days. Last year the festival was only open to third level entrants and was a one day event while this year the event will be ambitiously run over five days and the competition was opened to the general public. In its inaugural year (2010) the festival boasted strong attendances and there is no doubt that this will be the same this year.

There will be a variety of talks, workshops, film viewings, an awards night, an industry exhibition and much more – all given by industry professionals.

The opening session is on Monday 11th April where the LIT Film Festival meets the Limerick Film Forum. This will feature a rehearsed reading by Dermott Petty of his feature film Time Travel & The Leaving Cert at 8pm at the Belltable Arts Centre. Dermott is a well-known independent filmmaker. He recently had a short chosen as a finalist for Republic of Telly ‘wants you’re funny’. There will be a Q&A with Dermott afterwards.

Tuesday will include a Media Industry Exhibition from 10am – 5pm with companies such as Tyrell CCT, AppleBox Media, L.I.T., SarMar Studios, D&P Products, Sony Professional and Avid Technologies exhibiting at the event. This is a must for anyone not only looking to buy film equipment but who also want to have a chat with industry experts. At 2pm there will be Sony and Online Editing Workshops, one of which is run by Rory Gavin of Reelgood Facilities, Dublin in the LIT’s Millennium Theatre. That evening there will be a screening of the award winning film The Pipe, with a Q&A with the producer Nigel O’Regan and the director Risteard O’Domhnaill, afterwards.

Wednesday has the first of the two competition screenings, which starts at 2pm in the Millennium Theatre, then later at 7pm will be the ‘Behind the Scenes’ film forum in the Absolute Hotel. Thursday has the second of the competition screenings again at 2pm in the Millennium Theatre. While at 5pm there will be a scriptwriting workshop with myself, where I will discuss a number of things including ‘freeware online script’ programs. Finally at 7pm there will be the premier screening of the short film Scumbag Millionaire, with a Q&A afterwards with the filmmakers.

Friday at 2pm will see a session dedicated to social networking for film, which everyone knows is the way the industry is going and it should be a good discussion. The week will end with the awards ceremony at 7pm in the Millennium Theatre, promising to be a very glam affair. Again the awards ceremony will be online and available to watch on live video stream on www.litvchannel.net. The judging panel will consist of members of the professional media industry, who represented technical and non-technical areas. So even if you’re not there you can tune in!

This festival is a must for any filmmaker or potential filmmakers on the West Coast.

Eleanor McSherry


'The Pipe' to Air on TG4

Risteard O’Domhnall’s acclaimed documentary The Pipe will screen on TG4 this evening at 9:30pm and will be repeated on Saturday 12th February 10:10pm.

The Pipe is a compelling documentary of Rossport’s struggle against the economic might of Shell and the tragic divisions that have split a once-peaceful and close-knit community. The film captures the anxiety, anger and disillusionment of years of conflict as well as their connection to the local environment, and the spirit, humour and heroism that sustains them.

The Pipe received an Honourable Mention from the IDFA Green Screen Jury and was officially selected for the London, Toronto and Palm Springs International film festivals and will screen in the Culinary Program of the Berlinale next week. It has also been nominated for the Cinemas For Peace Awards in Berlin which highlights the human condition and human values.

Produced by Rachel Lysaght for Scannáin Inbhear, The Pipe was financed by BSÉ/IFB and TG4.


'The Pipe' director Richie O’ Domhnaill to attend Siamsa Tíre Screening for Q&A Session in Kerry on Tuesday, February 1st

The Pipe

The Kerry Film Festival and Club Head Bang Bang are delighted to announce upcoming screenings of Richie O’ Domhnaill’s ‘The Pipe’.

The Pipe is a fascinating documentary that tells the story of the Corrib Gas Pipeline and its effect on Broadhaven Bay, Glengad beach and the tiny village of Rossport. The unique nature of the coastline has sustained generations of farmers and fishermen but is also, to Shell Oil, the perfect place for the Corrib Gas Pipeline.

The film follows three members of the small community and details what became of their quiet rural life after Shell Oil arrived and the resultant fear and anxiety which followed. Not only are the residents flung into a tumultuous struggle with Shell and the state, but they are also forced to battle with elements within their own campaign who seek to divide and control, as their community is torn apart by the stresses of choosing to support or oppose the oil company. Yet, despite the seriousness of the events surrounding them, their resilience and humanity never wane and, even in their darkest moments, their wit and humour shine through.

‘It’s a fascinating subject,’ says Richie O’ Domhnaill, director of the film, ‘and probably one of the most dramatic culture clashes in modern Ireland. The rights of the local farmers to their own fields and of local fishermen to their traditional fishing grounds have come into direct conflict with one of the world’s biggest and most powerful oil companies and when the citizens looked to the state to protect their rights, they found that the state put Shell’s rights above those of its own citizens.’

Richie will attend the Siamsa Tíre screening of the film, which takes place on Tuesday, 1st February  at 8:00 pm. The film also screens in St. John’s in Listowel on Thursday, February 3rd and in The Carnegie in Kenmare on Thursday, 17th February.

‘The Pipe’ is a story of a community which has been tragically divided and how the members of that community have dealt with a situation that could, if handled properly, bring economic prosperity for generations. Against that it will destroy the traditional way of life which has been for generations.

‘And while the story is completely modern it echoes themes that have been discussed for generations,’ adds Richie. ‘For example The Field, by Kerry writer John B. Keane, plays with many of the same themes. Who really owns the fields? The farmers who work them? Or can those with the money simply buy off the state?’

And while those are very topical questions in Ireland, the film has had huge success outside the country with The Pipe playing at the prestigious Toronto Film Festival in September 2010, while it was recently selected for the equally as prestigious Berlin Film Festival, where it will screen in February 2011.  The Pipe has been nominated for an Irish Film and Television Award in the Best Documentary Category and has also been selected for the upcoming Palm Springs Film Festival in California.

For more information on the Kerry Film Festival please log onto www.kerryfilmfestival.com or call +353 66 712 9934.


The Pipe

The Pipe

DIR/DOP: Risteard Ó Domhnaill • PRO: Rachel Lysart, Risteard Ó Domhnaill • ED: Nigel O’Regan, Stephen O’Connell

This provocative and absorbing documentary tells a story of defiance against all the odds. The Pipe captures the events surrounding the Corrib gas controversy. While first and foremost being a tale of human spirit, the film tells a sorry tale of misinformation, corruption, political opportunism, corporate bullying, profits over people, state brutality, abuse of human rights and €420 billion worth of natural resources being given away to oil companies. And in doing so, says much about the times we live in.

The story looks on from a human perspective. Its focus on the individual and community battling to protect their livelihoods and prevent the destruction of their local ecosystem allows the dignity of the people involved at the heart of this story to shine through. The Pipe gives a voice to people such as Pat O’Donnell, who was branded a ‘thug and a bully’ in court by judge Raymond Groarke. Similar claims were also being bandied about by The Irish Times and on RTÉ television as Shell to Sea protesters were reduced to the cliché of an incendiary mob of lunatics.

Ó Domhnaill’s keen photographic eye, access to the campaigners, acceptance by the community, brave camerawork and tight storytelling, coupled with Nigel O’Regan’s skilful editing of the material ensure that the end result is never less than enthralling. The Pipe is a human story that functions as an admirable reminder that the machinations of government and industry are sometimes no match for the human spirit.

Steven Galvin

Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)

The Pipe is released on 3rd December 2010

The Pipe – Official Website

Film Ireland presents a screening of The Pipe and Q&A with the filmmakers at 6.15 pm Monday, 13th December (Q&A 7.45 pm).

You can reserve your tickets (€5) by emailing info@filmbase.ie or calling reception on 01-679 6716, tickets can be picked up and paid for from 9.30 am on the day of the screening.

Read Aoife Kelleher’s interview with Risteard Ó Domhnaill.


The Pipe: Interview


The Pipe

Aoife Kelleher talks to Risteard Ó Domhnaill, director of The Pipe, winner of Best Feature Documentary at this year’s Fleadh.

Completed in the year which has seen the largest marine oil spill in history, The Pipe, Risteard Ó Domhnaill’s brilliantly observed and provocative documentary, is a timely examination of the experiences of a small community as it comes up against the might of the petroleum industry. The film chronicles the struggles of the inhabitants of the maritime village of Rossport, Co. Mayo, as they seek to protect themselves and their livelihoods from the dangers posed by a proposed gas pipeline. In doing so, they find themselves pitted, not only against Shell, but also against the State, An Garda Síochána and, finally, against each other.

Filmed over three years, The Pipe follows the conflict as it moves from the fields and waters around Rossport, to the Department of the Marine & Natural Resources in Dublin and, ultimately, to the European Parliament. Keenly aware of how the protesters have been portrayed by the news media, Ó Domhnaill allows the stories of these farmers, teachers and fishermen to unfold without any recourse to onscreen narration. In the process, he grants the people of this abandoned and divided community the opportunity to articulate their own plight.

Screened at the Galway Film Fleadh, where it won the award for Best Feature Documentary, and, more recently, at the Toronto Film Festival, The Pipe has consistently won over audiences with its depiction of a modern-day David vs. Goliath.

Tell me a bit about your background and the background to the documentary.

I got into filmmaking by accident. I did Theoretical Physics at Trinity and then I did a degree in Irish and History in Galway. I worked as a substitute teacher for a year in Dublin – just as a stopgap – and did a night course in Film and Television in Griffith College. Towards the end of that, I got work experience in Loopline doing assistant editing and then got a job as a production assistant on a TG4 arts programme called Soiscéal Padraig. I worked there for a year before I got the opportunity to move back to Mayo. Mayo is my second home, really – my mother is from Mayo, my uncle lives there and I would have spent all my summers there as a child. We’d go to Mayo and spend the summer on my uncle’s farm, which is very close to the gas.

So I moved back to Mayo, lived with my uncle and worked with Gillian Marsh. That was in 2006, after the Rossport 5 were released from jail. Then, in May 2006, the State sent in about 200 guards to break a blockade by the local community of the Shell refinery at Ballinaboy. Out of pure curiosity, because it was only down the road, I started filming and, because the place was very isolated and it’s hard to get a news crew up there, I was able to send footage to TG4 and RTÉ News and get a fee for it. It was just a handy little earner – I wasn’t really trying to make a documentary about the gas. This went on for a few weeks and one thing that struck me was that these people weren’t lunatics, they were just normal people who wanted to protect their community and had genuine fears for their safety. I thought the media was turning their story from one of farmers and fishermen versus an oil company into a story of ideologically damaged people who had a problem with the State and just wanted a row. A lot of the stuff that was being reported was completely overhyped – there were stories of IRA involvement and of anarchists, and it was really set up as a story of extremists versus the guards. While this went on, the refinery was being built, so Shell and the government were quite happy with this distraction from the real issues, which were health, safety and the environment.

I kept filming and, about six months later, I had a massive amount of footage. I went to Alan Maher in the Film Board and he was interested in it. I also went to TG4 – I cut a little promo myself and they were taken with it, so I had the Film Board and TG4 on board. I got a producer and had him for two years. That didn’t work out and that’s when I got Rachel [Lysaght] on board.

Did you approach the film with a particular style in mind?

The style kind of evolved. I didn’t know how to shoot a documentary really and, at the start, I was filming it like news. Gradually, I started to film more with the characters and began to just stay with them. I was shooting on a Sony Z1 HDV camera, which is very inconspicuous, so the protestors, the guards and everybody else just ignored me. I had great access because there wasn’t that barrier that goes up when you have a big news camera and crew and I just kept filming out on the boats with the fishermen and in the fields with the farmers. I’d put a little radio mic on them and follow them around for a few hours and see what fell out the other end. The material that started coming out was really incredible and I thought: ‘OK, we’ll make a half-hour doc out of this, it’ll be great.’ But the story kept evolving and things kept moving on and, from 2006, it was another three years before I got to the end of the filming.

How did you craft a film from the material?

We went into the edit with Stephen O’Connell for two months in 2009 and we basically ran out of money. I then approached Riverside TV in Galway – I’d cut a doc with Nigel O’Regan and I found him really good – so he and I started editing in November 2009 and then on and off for about eight months. I came to Nigel with a three-hour timeline and we got it down to about 83 minutes. It was just a hatchet job really, for a lot of it. I had been trying to put two documentaries into one. There was the human interest story of the people on the ground that I’d been filming but I’d also been researching into the political and historic context of Corrib right back to the mid-seventies. Justin Keating – who was then the Labour Minister for Industry & Commerce – put in place Norwegian-style oil and gas terms where the State would get a 50% stake in any oil and gas that was discovered. Subsequently, in the late eighties and early nineties, Ray Burke and Bertie Ahern tore up his legislation and basically privatised Irish offshore and handed it over to the oil companies, with very little room for any regulation. So I did a lot of research into that: I interviewed Justin Keating before he died and I interviewed a lot of people who brought me through the story up until the gas was discovered in 1996 by Enterprise Oil, who were very close to Fianna Fáil. They were a donor to the party and they got some great drilling concessions and it was in one of those drilling concessions that they found Corrib.

It took a lot of time for me to let go of that context and make it a completely human story. Eventually, we started throwing out the expert interviews and voice-over and the more we took out, the more the human story came to the fore. Whenever we took something out, we always found something in the rushes – because we had 400 hours of material – to bridge that gap. The people could always tell their story so elegantly and effectively, much better than any voice-over or expert could. It was a hugely painful process and we spent a lot of time in the edit arguing the points and cutting away, letting go of all the traditional-style doc stuff to get to the real story.

Did you seek any cooperation or contribution from Shell?

I had a good relationship with Shell and I would have known their PR people through shooting for news. I sent them material and emails and tried to get them on board for an interview but they would never agree to an open interview – there was always a lot of preconditions and we couldn’t do that because you can’t allow one particular body’s PR department to control what does and doesn’t go into the film. Eventually we had to draw a line with Shell – we gave them a deadline and they didn’t come back to us in time, so we just put a text box up at the start of the film so people would know from the start that we don’t have a contribution from Shell.

Do you think that makes the documentary unbalanced?

You can’t say it’s a balanced documentary. I don’t know if there’s any such thing as balance. It’s the story of a community. What I tried to do was concentrate on the people in the path of the pipeline and try and tell that story honestly. It’s not a PR film for these people. You see them losing it at times: you see them cursing, you see their good side but you also see their weaknesses. It’s not balanced, but it is an honest portrayal of what happened there in the community.

You mentioned that, because it was just you and a small Z1 camera, you were almost like a piece of the furniture, but there’s a difference between shooting protests for news and filming in people’s homes and boats and actually taking on their stories in a more comprehensive way. How did you negotiate the process of gaining access?

I never set out to make a documentary; it evolved. I was shooting it as news but, since I would have spent all my summers up there as a child, people knew me, so I was never seen as an outside camera crew – it was just me with a small camera, filming stuff. If I called up to somebody with the camera in their home, they just got on with it. Also, when they had community meetings or when what was happening would have been sensitive to the community, I was able to be there and they wouldn’t really notice or change their behaviour. Whereas, if there had been a bigger crew and not just one person they would have been more reserved or wouldn’t have let me in in the first place.

Was there a moment, then, when the participants signed on to a feature documentary?

Not really. I filmed it before I got release forms from them. It was a surprise to them when they came to Galway and saw the film because I was there for so long that they’d given up on me actually doing anything big or special. I don’t know did they know what to expect.

You mentioned the screening at the Galway Film Fleadh, which was the premiere of the film and also the first screening for the community. What was the response from the community and also from the general audience at the screening?

Galway was the first screening, so I was apprehensive. You don’t know how people are going to react because you’re baring the soul of a community on a big screen and there are some very uncomfortable bits for them watch. But I was blown away by their reaction, both during the screening and at the end, when we got a standing ovation. People really appreciated it – even though a lot of it was tough to watch for some of them, they appreciated the fact that, for the first time, their story was portrayed as honestly as it could be.

Not everyone was happy with it. A lot of people were uncomfortable with the fact that I showed so much of the community meetings because people don’t like to see their dirty linen aired in public but all in all they were appreciative. They were really emotional after the screening – some people were in tears. To have everything brought back to them in the space of 83 minutes was like being hit by a steam train for some people – everything from the jailing of the Rossport 5 to the baton charge and the stress on the community all came back in one chunk. It was a lot for them to take in, but it was an incredible reaction, really good.

On top of that reaction from the community you also won the award for Best Feature Documentary.

Winning the Best Feature Doc – I won’t say it was an anti-climax but I was so burned out from the screening that I didn’t quite appreciate winning the award at the time. We started to appreciate it when we began to get calls from festivals and distributors. Even though Galway is a small festival, it’s really respected around the world. It’s got a great reputation and it does feature on the radar of people in the industry, so Galway really was the springboard for getting into Toronto.

Tell me about Toronto: how was the experience of attending the festival?

When we were selected for Toronto, I didn’t know what kind of a festival it was. The more we started finding out about it, the more we realised that it’s right up there with Cannes and Sundance. It’s also the place for a doc if you want to get distribution: it’s where the deals are done and it’s where all the distributors are. We went over to Toronto for a week and it was just a rollercoaster – the amount of media coverage we got was incredible. We had a publicist over there and we got seven minutes on CBC, on a prime-time news show. We also got a great review from Variety. The reaction from the audience in Toronto was incredible and we got a standing ovation the night we premiered. We had wondered whether the film would travel – the Canadians are a bit conservative compared to us, so would they get the humour, the emotion and the concepts? Would they actually understand what people are saying? When they seemed to get all that and really engage with the film emotionally, it was a huge relief.

Off the back of Toronto, then, we got great interest worldwide. We got accepted for London, the doc festival in Amsterdam – IDFA, Palm Springs and loads of other festivals. Also, in Toronto, we signed with our North American sales agent, Cinetic, and they’re a dream to work with.

Presumably the BP oil spill in the Gulf had also raised awareness around the issues you dealt with in The Pipe?

The timing was really fortuitous. There was a lot of delay in getting the film finished but it was worth it because just when we were finishing in the edit, the Gulf oil spill happened. Now, it was a real tragedy – there were ten people killed in it and a lot of pollution – but it brought the issues that were raised in The Pipe into the mainstream media and made them very topical. There were other problems at the time: the day before our premiere in Toronto, a gas pipe blew up in California and a whole neighbourhood was burnt to a crisp, so when they were watching the film, the people in Canada were very aware of the context, more so than they would have been a year ago. In the Q&A after the screening, those issues came into the questions and really informed the debate.

Would you consider making a follow-up?

I would. As I said, the political and historical context of how Corrib came about needs to be explored. It’s a reflection on how things were done during the Celtic Tiger era, when regulation was very lax, huge amounts of control and leeway were given to private companies to the detriment of the citizens of Ireland. The politicians didn’t show leadership, they didn’t have the backbone to stand up to private companies and say ‘We have to do things properly; we have to do things sustainably for the interests of the people of Ireland and in the interests of employment, safety and the environment, all rolled into one.’ Responsible, long-term thinking didn’t happen and it was the same in a lot of other areas in Ireland – in building, in the banks, you name it. So this is just another microcosm of the direction we took during the Celtic Tiger, which was to the short-term benefit of private companies and to the detriment of private citizens, whose rights and whose future were sacrificed.

How do you feel the documentary has impacted on the community in Rossport?

Because it hasn’t been shown widely, I don’t think that the documentary has had a huge impact on the community nor do I know that it will. People’s trust in the State and their relationships with others in their community have been so damaged that it will take a long time for things to heal. Even if this Corrib fiasco is resolved in some way and a solution is found, the scars will last for generations. The fact that there’s no real effort to find a solution isn’t helping. I don’t know what my documentary can do – it may even open the wounds a little more. Hopefully it will raise awareness in Ireland and abroad about how damaging something like this can be: when the politicians turn away and the media doesn’t step up to the plate. One thing that’s worth saying is that these people were never against the gas, they just wanted it done in a sustainable way, according to industry standards, which didn’t have to railroad their rights or their health and safety. They wanted the gas and the economic prosperity it would bring, but not at that price.

What’s next for the film?

We’re still in the middle of trying to get it distributed. We’re trying to get it into cinemas in Ireland, starting from the 3rd of December, so that’s what we’re aiming for at the moment: to get it out in Irish cinemas, then getting it out on TG4, our broadcaster. We also have a sales agent in Europe and North America and we’re hoping to hear back from them soon. We hope to get some sort of theatrical release in the US and Canada and then get it broadcast in Europe and around the world.

Rachel [Lysaght] has been fantastic in terms of publicity, in pushing us to make the film as good as it can be and in how she has dealt with broadcasters and funders. She has great people skills, which has been really important because it’s a difficult production – we’re trying to make the most out of limited resources, so you have to bring in any favours you can and try to cut down on costs and Rachel has been at the centre of that, driving us forward.


Film Ireland’s screening of ‘The Pipe’ and Q&A with the filmmakers at 6.15pm Monday 13th December (Q&A 7.45pm) has being postponed until 2011, for more details click here.

The Pipe reviewed here.


The Pipe to be screened at The Model


The award-winning Irish documentary The Pipe is to screen at The Model, Sligo, from 8th December. Also a special screening will take place on Saturday 11th December followed by a Q & A with the film’s director, Risteard Ó Domhnaill, producer Rachel Lysaght, and some of the characters portrayed in the documentary.

The Pipe is a documentary about Rossport’s struggle against the economic might of Shell and the divisions that have split a once-peaceful and close-knit community.

Following the success of its sold-out screenings at the BFI London Film Festival last month, The Pipe will be screened at The Model in Sligo on 8¬–11 December.

The Pipe has already picked up the Best Documentary Award at the Galway Film Fleadh 2010, as well as being highly acclaimed by audiences at the Toronto International Film Festival earlier this year. The film recently attracted a sell-out audience at the Cork Film Festival.

For more info on the film and tickets at The Model visit: themodel.ie/film


'The Pipe' and 'Sensation' at the BFI London Film Festival 2010


Dr. Garin Dowd of Thames Valley University, London, reports from the BFI London Film Festival where Risteard O Domhnaill’s ‘The Pipe’ and Tom Hall’s ‘Sensation’ were screened recently.

In reflecting on the Irish presence at this year’s London Film Festival one cannot help but be struck by how both in content and in context it offers up compelling symbolism both for the present state of film funding and the larger geopolitical and economic determinants which have impinged on the recent past and chaotic present of contemporary Ireland.

While the UK Film Council has been axed under the coalition government in Westminster, one of the two Irish features on show at this year’s festival (the other being Tom Hall’s ‘Sensation’), ‘The Pipe’, is funded by the Irish Film Board, its equivalent on this side of the Irish Sea. Risteard O Domhnaill’s documentary was therefore screened in a programme which included what will be one of the last films to be funded by the Film Council, John Akomfrah’s ‘The Nine Muses’. The films are linked by more than funding. ‘The Pipe’ features a maritime location (the Mayo coast) while ‘The Nine Muses’ alternates between Alaska and archive footage of immigration from the West Indies to Britain is a film largely set in maritime space (the coasts of Mayo and Alaska respectively).

One of the astonishing effects of ‘The Pipe’ was to make the work in progress off the shores of Mayo (the titular conduit) of the giant petro-chemical company Shell almost already a ruin. ‘The Pipe’ concerns the 10 year (to date) resistance of the local community in the area surrounding the village of Rossport, Co. Mayo, to the laying of a high pressure gas pipe intended, in a departure from standard practice worldwide which sees the gas treated and refined at sea, to bring untreated gas from the Corrib gas field to a refinery on the mainland.

At the time of the premiere of ‘The Pipe’ at the Galway Film Fleadh this summer one of its main subjects had just been released from seven months in prison for the very infringements of public safety laws filmed by O Domhnaill in the making of his film. His hand never far from the unmistakable classic packet of 20 Major, Pat ‘The Chief’ O’Donnell’s canniness, clarity of thought and purpose, and powers of articulation are extraordinary in the face of police intimidation as his small fishing boat floats in the imposing shadow of “the celebrated Solitaire” (the world’s largest pipe-laying vessel) as the local retired schoolteacher turned activist, Maura Harrington, puts it.

Despite the Chief’s main argument being based on the safeguarding of his livelihood and his defiance on a sense of his individual rights as a fisherman licensed to fish the waters, he is not without comprehension of the larger geo-political context. Thus when his boat is impounded he removes, he says with great reluctance, its tricolour because in this act the Gardaí are not acting for the state but for Shell – or, as the director puts it, the state-Shell conglomerate.

The Chief’s courage on the seas is quietly mirrored on land as the main ideologue of the local Shell to Sea group, Maura Harrington, goes on hunger strike. Meanwhile the exclusively legal battle pursued by the third main subject of the documentary, Monica Muller, makes significant gains for the local community, while the farmer Willie Corduff is the film’s voice of the householders who feel a direct threat in the face of a high-pressure pipe which is at that stage to be laid in a bog. “Bogs have their own technology” he comments with arresting sagacity.

The film dispassionately observes the contending forces within the community, and in some sense, while showing the unity of purpose and in particular a unity in anger and defiance, is also able to show how unavoidably post-political this struggle is. Setting aside any triumph the local community or activist groups may have had and may yet have in this particular case, the image of long lines of security guards drawn from private firms working together with the Gardaí on the beach to safeguard the illegal operations of the invisible and monolithic Shell, offers a disquieting summing up of Ireland, in particular, but in general of the supplanting of state regulatory functions by corporate interest groups over the last two decades.

In this respect the film entered into a dialogue with another more experimental documentary showing at the festival – and soon at the IFI – Patrick Keiller’s ‘Robinson in Ruins’. Keiller’s Robinson sets off on the third of his idiosyncratic tours often using defunct or existing infrastructures from military and petrochemical industries as his guides. Interesting too is the fact that both films address the question of common land. Robinson visits Newbury and nearby Greenham Common, making links between riots against the enclosures of 16th century and the post-war history of the common. ‘The Pipe’ considers the ‘commonage’ bogland jointly owned by 22 members of the community of Rossport which are threatened by the proposed laying of the pipe. Both films ask to whom a landscape belongs in an era wherein strategic public sector assets are taken over by the private sector and often by consortia in part or entirely outside the state.

The back-story of The Pipe is the highly controversial and short-sighted legislation established in 1987 and 1992 by the corrupt and thoroughly discredited Haughey regime which handed over all potential future profits from gas and oil exploration to the multinational petrochemical giants (a longer narrative which the director decided it would not be possible to contain in the film). In this sense the longer narrative predates the Celtic Tiger phenomenon. Historically Ireland has looked to the western island as a symbol of mythic unity before the chaos of conquest. With the recent publication of Lorna Siggins’ book on the same topic, this documentary serves to remind us that the neo-liberal ceding of sovereignty by the state, abetted by the state’s commitment to corporations rather than its citizens, is at the root of the ongoing struggle in a remote outpost of Ireland.

If, insofar as it addresses a story with its real beginnings in the late 1980s, ‘The Pipe’ is a film which is concerned in part with the pre-Celtic tiger economy, Tom Hall’s latest film ‘Sensation’ is located very firmly in post-Tiger Ireland, where the developers are sitting on land which is falling in price and where apartment projects lie abandoned. The film attempts to forge an unfamiliar path.

The opening scene may initially look at home in the world of ‘The Riordans’ or ‘Bracken’, but only until we catch up with the protagonist and his masturbation aids in the midst of the sheep droppings. Into the symbolic desolation, both economic and emotional, of this Ireland walks the New Zealand prostitute, Courtney/Kim (Luanne Gordon) with whom the recently-bereaved 26 year old Donal (played by Domhnall Gleeson), is inheriting his father’s farm and savings, forms a bond first as paying-customer, then as lover, then as business partner, and of course given that the business is a brothel as partner in crime. One of the director’s avowed intentions is to highlight how sexuality, mediated via the sex industry in the broad sense, has so rapidly displaced other forms of cultural exchange in the Ireland of the last two decades. The film attempts to present a blackly comic portrait of a society which has leapt eagerly into this along the myriad routes opened by broadband. Hall seeks to display his characters not as innocent dupes of ‘pornification’ but as knowingly complicit and parastic upon it.

Donal’s apology at one point, ‘I’m sorry I called you a whore’, is intended to suggest he is developing an awareness of Courtney not entirely filtered through pornography and commodification, as earlier in the film the utterance which announces his first non-self administered orgasm suggests. Yet at this point he is providing the local male farmers with the services of sex workers, including her. In a telling gesture towards the rise of racism in contemporary Ireland, one punter, a farmer who has earlier conned Donal into selling his sheep for too little, chooses the white Irish girl over the black economic migrant from England, but asks that the one dons the fetish attire of the other.

In short everyone in ‘Sensation’ is exploitative in a network without any centre. Dublin is as far away or as near as Hong Kong. Significantly it is only Courtney who makes the trip to the capital. The raison d’être for her trip – cosmetic surgery – however serves little purpose in the film other than to facilitate the gratuitously sordid scene between Courtney and Carl, played by newcomer Patrick Ryan, which follows her return; indeed it jars in an unconvincing manner with the apparent embrace of a plot of mutual strength through improbable romance which the film pursues. This, like most of the second half, steers a determined course, to the detriment of the film, along certain genre coordinates, including some the film would have one believe it avoids, ‘this is not “Pretty Woman”’ Kim declares during one of her first encounters with Donal. While ‘Sensation’ is keen to interrogate an Ireland in which liberalisation and neo-liberalism marched perhaps too eagerly to the rapid tempo of the market, the film makes more frequent recourse to the clichés of provincial backwardness than its makers would perhaps acknowledge.





'The Pipe' nationwide release

The winner of the Best Documentary at the Galway Film Fleadh, The Pipe is a documentary of Rossport’s struggle against the economic might of Shell and the tragic divisions that have split a once-peaceful and close knit community.

Risteard Ó Domhnaill’s documentary, produced by Rachel Lysaght (Underground Films), for Scannáin Inbhear, has been highly acclaimed by audiences at the Toronto International Film Festival earlier this year. Fresh from three sold-out screenings at the BFI London Film Festival, The Pipe goes on general release nationwide from Friday 3rd of December, with a Gala Preview taking place at the IFI on Thursday 2nd of December.

The Gala Preview of The Pipe at the IFI on Thursday 2nd December will be attended by director Risteard Ó Domhnaill, producer Rachael Lysaght, and members of the Rossport community including characters from the film Willie and Mary Corduff, Pat O’Donnell, Monica Müller and Maura Harrington.

Visit www.ifi.ie for more details on this event.