Neasa Ní Chianáin’s talks to Film Ireland about The Stranger, her documentary about Neal MacGregor, an English artist who lived in solitude on Inishbofin and died alone, aged 44.
The Stranger screens on Sunday, 18th February 2015 at 13.00 at the IFI as part of its Ireland on Sunday monthly showcase for new Irish film.
Neal MacGregor was an English artist who died alone in 1990, aged 44, in a stone hut built for hens on the remote island of Inishbofin, off the coast of Donegal, where he lived without water and electricity. The Gaelic-speaking islanders on the rapidly depopulating island knew little of Neal during the 8 years he lived there.
Neasa Ní Chianáin’s documentary The Stranger uses interviews with those who knew or knew of him, reconstructions, poetic diary extracts and archive material to piece together the fascinating story of this mysterious recluse and ponders the question Neasa herself poses at the start of the film: “Why do some people choose to retreat – to withdraw from the world; from people; from life? Why would someone choose to live in solitude and isolation?”
Memories of Neal vary from his life in England in the ’60s as a handsome popular teacher come jewellery artist in London, Acid-victim drop out and husband, to the life of loneliness he chose to pursue on a remote Irish island, which raised various questions from the inhabitants – was he a British spy recording IRA gun-running routes? Was he trying to take control of the island? Was he crazy? Or was he just seeking solitude? The different versions of who he was is something that attracted Neasa to making the film.
“I was interested in the notion of what is left of us when we die,” Neasa explains, “the idea that the dead become a collection of memories held by those still living, fragments of a life interpreted by others, memories fused with truth and sometimes myth. Neal was interesting in that he inspired so many conflicting stories about who he was, the Neal in London was a very different person to the Neal who arrived on Inishbofin. I was interested in how the jigsaw of his life varied depending on the storyteller and of course how memory evolves and changes overtime.”
The film plays on our interest in isolation and the life of a mysterious recluse, which feeds into a certain romantic narrative that film is exploring more and more. What is this particular fascination with solitude? “I think as life speeds up it gets very complicated for people,” says Neasa. “Everybody is busy being busy, one distraction after another, no time to reflect. Neal was a thinker and communicated only when he had something to say, one of his friends describe him as being very silent (in Donegal) but his silence was very noisy. I think he was trying to make sense of it all. He was searching for some meaning, he had to reduce his life, turn down the noise, so that he could focus, meditate, whatever way you want to describe it. I think there’s a little part of that in all of us, a yearning for solitude, a yearning to find some meaning. Maybe that’s why people want to hear the stories of those who were not afraid if it, because we think they might have found some answers. I have conflicting feelings about solitude, I sometimes yearn for it, but at the same time I fear it…like silence, I know it’s good for me, but it’s difficult to surrender to it. The film is a celebration of someone who had no fear of being alone.”
The Stranger screens on Sunday, 15th February 2015 at 13.00 at the IFI as part of the IFI’s Ireland on Sunday monthly showcase for new Irish film.
Neasa Ní Chianáin will participate in a post-screening Q&A.
Tickets for The Stranger are available now from the IFI Box Office on 01 679 3477 or online at www.ifi.ie
The film is presented in association with Guth Gafa Documentary Film Festival, who are working with Soilsiu Films on a festival outreach strategy for The Stranger, following its two successful screenings at Guth Gafa in Donegal and Meath.
The Stranger will also screen at The Glen Centre, Manorhamilton on Friday, 20th February at 8.30pm; at the Phoenix Cinema, Dingle, Sunday, 15th March at 12 noon (as part of the Dingle Film Festival); at Century Cinema, Letterkenny on Thursday, 19th March at 8.30pm; and at Glór, Ennis on Thursday, 26th March at 8pm.
All screenings are part of the Guth Gafa and Soilsiú Films’ collaboration, and are made possible with direct distribution support from The Irish Film Board.
Further dates to be announced shortly.
Check www.thestrangerdocumentary.com for details.