InConversation with Tom Hall



This episode of InConversation features Tom Hall. Tom is a Dublin-born writer and director, who, in 1995, co-founded High Hat Productions with fellow filmmmaker, John Carney, with whom he co-wrote and co-directed November Afternoon and co-directed Park. He was the writer, director and co-creator of Bachelors Walk, the IFTA award-winning comedy/drama series. In 2010, Tom wrote and directed Sensation, a film inspired by reports of a farmer’s home-run brothel. Tom has recently directed episodes of the TV series Trivia and Red Rock.


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Irish Film ‘Sensation’ released on DVD and On Demand from Volta from 6th April


Directed by Tom Hall and starring Domhnall Gleeson and Luanne Gordon, Sensation follows the fortunes of a Donal, a farmer’s sole heir who is left some land; but Donal hasn’t inherited much in terms of social skills. Despite the encouragement of his best mate, he finds it hard to talk to women, and in frustration turns to the internet. He hooks up with Kiwi call-girl Kim, who has a business plan to see her off her back and behind a desk, greeting punters at her own brothel. Donal’s newfound wealth might provide her with the money she needs, but what might Donal be getting out of the deal? And what demand is there for the services of prostitutes in rural Ireland anyway?

‘Sensation’ is released on DVD and On Demand from Volta from 6th April.


Cinema Review: Sensation – Film of the Week


DIR/WRI: Tom Hall • PRO: Katie Holly, Kieron J. Walsh • DOP: Benito Strangio • ED: Nathan Nugent • DES: Tamara Conboy • CAST: Domhnall Gleeson, Luanne Gordon, Patrick Ryan, Owen Roe, Kelly Campbell, Eleanor Methven

The second feature by writer/director Tom Hall, Sensation tells the story of a Tipperary farmer who trades in his wellies for a pimping cane.

Domhnall Gleeson plays a shy and randy 26-year-old, Donal Durkan, who’s been left his family’s land after his father passes away. Not quite a boisterous ladies’ man, like his buddy Karl (Patrick Ryan), Donal ends up striking out with the fairer sex and instead orders a professional for a ‘full service’ with his newfound wealth.

What begins as a just another job for seasoned, sex-worker Kim (Luanne Gordon), thanks to some burly gangsters, quickly grows into an unlikely friendship. Using Donal’s inheritance and Kim’s knowledge of the trade, the pair make big plans to open a local brothel – although things don’t quite go as planned for the budding entrepreneurs.

Although Sensation starts slowly, offering some excruciatingly uncomfortable moments in the beginning, the pace really picks up making it a strong, gripping drama. Overall the performances are excellent, however Donal’s descent from odd misanthrope into shrewd businessman is somewhat unnatural. This can be easily forgiven as the developing chemistry of the anti-heroes adds an unexpected sweetness to the film – leaving it just shy of tragic.

Gemma Creagh

Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details)
Sensation is released on 4th November 2011
Sensation – Official Website


IFI Open Day

After the success of the IFI Open Day last year, the IFI will once again open its doors to the public for a day of free film screenings. This event will see a selection of new release previews, specially selected classics and films that reflect the different programming strands that the IFI runs all year round such as IFI Stranger than Fiction, IFI Family and the IFI Irish Film Archive. There will also be an online poll giving audiences the abilty to select the film for this year’s Audience Choice screening.

This year’s exclusive sneak previews include Jack Goes Boating, the directorial debut from Philip Seymour Hoffman; Cell 211, an action-packed Spanish film; Armadillo, a new documentary that asks tough questions about the ‘war on terror; and Sensation, a new Irish dark comedy on sex in rural Ireland combining the talents of director Tom Hall with Domhnaill Gleeson in the lead role.

Tickets for all films will become available at 11am on 11th June at the IFI. Tickets will not be available online or by phone. There is a maximum of four tickets per person, all allocated on a first come, first served basis.


IFI Open Day Schedule

Jack Goes Boating 12.30pm

Labyrinth 12.30pm

Sunrise 12.30pm

Life, Above All 2.20pm

Donnie Darko 2.30pm

I Can’t… I Can’t 2.30pm

Pierrot le fou 4.15pm

Meet the Programmers 4.30pm

A Night at the Opera 4.40pm

Cell 211 4.45pm

The Honeymoon Killers 6.20 pm

Who’s Afraid of Virgina Woolf 6.40pm

Sensation 7.00pm

Armadillo 9.00pm

Audience Choice Film 9.10pm

Cave of Forgotten Dreams (3D) 9.20pm




'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.


Wide Open Spaces

Wide Open Spaces

DIR: Tom Hall • WRI: Arthur Matthews • PRO Paul Donovan • DOP: Tim Fleming • ED: Kristina Hetherington • DES: Laurel Wear • CAST: Ardal O’Hanlon, Ewan Bremner, Owen Roe.

This film, written by Father Ted co-writer Arthur Matthews, gets off to a bad start. The first scene has two friends Austin (Ewan Bremner) and Myles (Ardal O’Hanlon) drunk in their city flat before they move to work on a yet-to-be built famine themed park in the midlands to pay off a debt. Acting drunk is easy to do badly, hard to do well and unfortunately the banter between the two is forced in this opening scene and throughout. When you’re trying force comedy you’re always going to struggle.

There are bright points; the cinematography is good, with great use of the barren ‘wide open spaces’ of the midlands. There is some interesting dead Celtic Tiger use of abandoned rural housing developments as locations and in one scene the characters drive along the road, past rural house after house with abandoned scaffolding or unfinished building work outside each.

Owen Roe raises what few laughs there are as their shady boss Gerard but the whole project just doesn’t work. When surreal is funny, it’s funny, when it isn’t funny it’s surreal. This film is the latter, unfortunately.

Gordon Gaffney

Rated 15a (see IFCO website for more details)
Wide Open Spaces is released on 17th July 2009
Wide Open Spaces – Official Website

Rated 15a
Wide Open Spaces is released on 17th July 2009