Review of Irish Film at Galway Film Fleadh: Further Beyond

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Tony Tracy takes a journey Further Beyond, which screened at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.

 

Having established a reputation across a range of media, notably theatre, during the mid 1990s, ‘Desperate Optimists’ – the working title of the creative partnership between Christine Molloy and Joe Lawlor – have more recently come to the fore in the world of Irish film through two highly original and intensely atmospheric features: Helen (2008) and Mister John (2013). These films, and their work in general – as they characterize it in the opening voice over of this ‘documentary’ – deal with their abiding fascination with ‘outsiders, wanders, rovers…people who have been displaced, adrift, at sea, people who are not sure where they belong, and because of that, who they are.’

Here their focus is Ambrose O’Higgins (1720 –1801), an Irishman born on his family’s estate in Ballynarry, Co. Sligo, before being dispossessed and evicted with his family and moving to Meath, then later to Cadiz and South America. After a period in Argentina and elsewhere he crossed the Andes into Chile where he eventually rose to become Governor General and later viceroy of Peru. (His illegitimate son, Bernardo O’Higgins was the chief architect of Chile’s independence). The film begins by wondering upon who this man was, and what propelled him from such origins to such heights in a land and culture so far from his own? O’Higgins’ life (or part of it anyway) becomes the starting point for the film-makers reflections about a series of inter-related themes about the construction of identity, film, history and memory.

The voice-over (more of which in a moment) wonders aloud how this long gestating bio-pic might begin. Now another narrative strand emerges, closer to the present and more personal: the story of Helen, an Irish woman born in the Bronx to Irish parents but sent back to her relatives in Ireland alone, aged just 11 months, aboard a trans-Atlantic passenger ship. Later, Helen became Joe Lawlor’s mother, although this is not entirely transparent, as he is referred to as ‘my mother’ by the male VO actor who checks with an unseen director if the audience will understand this. That slippage is not accidental; it is part of the film’s preoccupation with a range of overlapping tensions: between one’s present and past; memory and identity; place and destiny. The hermeneutics of biography are slippery, even when – especially when – its your own. In an inspired clip we see Helen recounting the story of A Playboy of the Western World, a touchstone text of making yourself up as you go along.

Funded under the Irish Arts Council and Filmbase’s adventurous and important Reel Art initiative, Further Beyond is an extended meditation on history and memory, an interrogation of words, images and ideas that might, more commonly, take place off-screen in a notebook or pre-production meeting. It begins with an extended set of questions, digressions and other Brechtian alienation devices by two voice actors who may, or may not, be surrogates for the filmmakers. Calling it a documentary (as it is listed in some descriptions) is inadequate: It is an essay film. While this hybrid form of ‘filmed philosophy’ has steadily increased in popularity in recent years (in Ireland, most notably, through the films of Pat Collins and Tadhg O’Sullivan – also recipients of Reel Art funding), Nora Alter locates the origins of ‘a new genre of film’ in German avant-gardist Hans Richter’s 1940 essay ‘Der Filmessay: Eine neue Form des Dokumentarfilms’. Parsing Richter, she writes:

Unlike the documentary film, which presents facts and information, the essay film produces complex thought that at times is not grounded in reality but can be contradictory, irrational, and fantastic. This new type of film . . . no longer binds the filmmaker to the rules and parameters of the traditional documentary practice . . . rather it gives full reign to the imagination, with all its artistic potentiality.

Certainly this is one of the ambitions and achievements of Further Beyond. Its early sections in particular are rife with theses and anti-theses: ideas, interruption, digressions, self-commentary and irony. There are references to other directors and their process: Robert Flaherty and his anxiety about making a start on editing, Stanley Kubrick’s search for the perfect image of a tree in a field with which to begin Barry Lyndon.

O’Higgins significance to Latin American history is immense but the filmmakers admit that are more interested in the less documented parts of his life – in Co. Meath and Cadiz where he ‘re-invented’ himself (as ‘the Baron of Balinarry’) before he began his epic journey across half the earth. On a more meta-textual level, the problems of making of a bio-pic are foregrounded in the voice-over including where to begin, location issues (Cadiz could never be shot anywhere but in Cadiz), who will play the young Ambrose (three Irish actors come to mind) and an interview with a man who played him in a TV mini-series. An interview with a waitress in a café in the Andes where they go looking for a location is followed by self-reflexive re-enactments (there’s not enough snow) and a soaring ‘heroic’ score which is abruptly cut. Meeting an expert historian in Santiago, they (but not the audience) hear details of Ambrosia’s complex, adventurer life. (I later look it up online and it is fascinating but largely occluded in the film). The VO reflects: ‘If we were smart we would focus on this part of Ambrosio’s story . . . and if we were smarter still we would be making a film about Bernardo . . . but we’re not very smart.’

Helen Dowling was born in New York in 1936 to Irish parents, who for reasons not entirely understood (perhaps alcoholism, mental-illness) sent her back to Ireland alone as an infant to live with her aunt Nora on a farm in Co. Kerry. The film visits the farm where she grew up (it doesn’t match memories of the narrator) and the small coastal town of Ballyheige, in the company of her surviving brother Chris. The VO ventriloquizes her thoughts while standing on its glorious beach, of a feeling ‘hard to place’, memories of the America she left behind and sometimes thoughts of ‘Roger Casement the wander, the rover, the risk-taker’, who was washed ashore here. Later she returns to the United States, to Hoboken, New Jersey. There’s a long discourse on On the Waterfront and the famous scene between Marlon Brando and Eve Marie Saint (the one where he picks up her glove) which is set in a park near her boarding house. ‘The film struck a chord with Helen, standing inside the church, thinking about the film, a feeling overcomes her.’ There are shots inside the Catholic church (where the film’s fictional Fr. Barry was priest), inside her lodgings, a picture of her on a beach with young men, information about her job in a hair salon in the Empire State building and shots over New York from its viewing deck. We learn of a marriage proposal from Ireland – should she go back? It’s like a real-life version of Colm Tóibín’s Brooklyn.

I’ve included all this detail to communicate that the film is dense and complex, both in its construction and ideas. But while both these individuals are fascinating in their own way and while the film is full of stimulating intellectual digressions (with reference to Barthes, Bachelard, Sontag, Benjamin and others) I was not entirely convinced that bringing them together illuminates the other or the larger themes the film is reaching for. While there is an outline of each narrative ‘journey’ and while there is speculation as to their thoughts, Ambrose and Helen feel like rather strained projections than real people. (Perhaps there was a more solid basis for their thoughts than was revealed). The film ends with the suggestion to ‘make a start’ and while that is in keeping with the tentativeness of the film’s overall approach, it proves deeply frustrating from the perspective of story or even thesis. With so much called into question through form, narration or tone, the film leaves us with little to dwell on or hold onto. And yet, it would not be fair to summarily dismiss it: in its formal experimentation, its memorable characters and its thinking out loud about making cinematic history (particularly of the ‘great man’ variety), it represents an ambitious and engaging intervention about an often deeply clichéd genre. (Truffaut’s Adele H, Varda’s The Beaches of Agnes or Pat Murphy’s Anne Devlin came to mind as feminist rejections of such conventions). Still I would have liked to know more about Ambrose, who, even while he worked as a colonial administrator never seems to have left his Irishness and experience of Cromwellian dispossession entirely behind him. The Dictionary of Irish Latin American Biography tells me that one of his most important achievements was the abolition in 1789 of the cruel ‘encomienda’ system, whereby landowners kept indigenous labourers in conditions close to slavery.’ I wonder if Roger Casement was aware of O’Higgins before he washed up in Ballyheige?

 

Further Beyond screened on Sunday, 10th July 2016 as part of the Galway Film Fleadh.

 

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Review of Irish Film at Galway Film Fleadh: History’s Future

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Tony Tracy examines Fiona Tan’s film about one man’s odyssey through a Europe in turmoil – and through his own mind. The Irish-Dutch-German co-production screened at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.

We live in unsettled and unsettling times. In the weeks bracketing the screening of History’s Future at the 2016 Galway Film Fleadh, the UK tore up its European membership card, France experienced its third major terrorist event in 18 months, a sniper shot five police officers in Dallas TX during a peaceful protest over recent police shootings, and a failed military coup in democratic Turkey left hundreds dead and thousands arrested. All this after several years of ‘austerity’ politics following the implosion of hyper-capitalism and the displacement of some 11 million Syrians, including approx. 5 million refugees. Perhaps that surfeit of reality helps explain the somewhat depleted audience for what, for my money, was one of the richest films of this year’s Film Fleadh. More likely, it was its early afternoon slot on Saturday and the abundance of more readily recognizable Irish features screening during the evening. Yet for all its internationalism – an Irish-Dutch-German co-production directed by Fiona Tan (Indonesia/Australia/Amsterdam), co-scripted by British film critic Jonathon Romney, featuring an international cast and shooting locations in six countries – History’s Future is local enough, with themes that implicate us all and a career-high performance by the hugely talented Mark O’Halloran who, alongside his screenplay for Viva, is redefining the cinematic boundaries of Irishness in 2016.

To adequately summarise History’s Future would be a reductive and only half-certain exercise given its multiple textures and digressions, not to mention the fact that sub-titles suffered a technical failure at the Galway screening, a serious issues for a film with multiple extended foreign-language scenes (although some in the post-screen Q+A felt this added to the film’s overall effect of opacity and it led to a memorable translation/‘making-of’ anecdote in the Q+A afterwards from Mark O’Halloran of his scene with Denis Lavant). Writer Romney has spoken before of the impact Wim Wenders’ early films had on him and there is certainly a discernable influence in the film’s themes (memory) and structure (transnational road movie) that recalls films such as Paris, Texas and Until the End of the World. In its assemblage of drama, documentary and archive footage to convey past and present states of Europe, we might also invoke two more recent films: Leos Carax’s surrealist Holy Motors – not least through the shared DNA of Lavant – and Tadgh O’Sullivan’s reflective and disturbing essay-film The Great Wall on the refugee crises. It shares with both those films an odyssey narrative, but defies the traditional conventions of the genre in that this journey begins at the end and ends in confusion. But confusion, to paraphrase Brian Friel, is not an ignoble condition.

History’s Future centres on a central character – or more accurately a series of related characters – all played with panache and dexterity by O’Halloran. The Ur-character has lost his memory after an assault, cannot remember those most intimate to him, and after some weeks in rehab, leaves his wife and home in suburban Netherlands to wander through a series of European settings: Barcelona, Paris, Athens, Dublin. At each turn we learn about him from those he meets and through them we encounter a Europe that has also become detached from its past and, more troublingly, its future.

While this is director Fiona Tan’s debut feature film, she is an internationally respected multi-media conceptual artist and this background contributes to the film’s often cerebral and highly visual vignettes which refuse to be fully integrated into a smooth overarching narrative. (The film begins at ‘The End’ and rolls backwards and forwards at different junctures). Indeed the film is perhaps best approached as an instance of the now common intersection of gallery and cinema; and one could imagine episodes from the film playing on a series of ‘white cube’ screens simultaneously. Across a range of settings, costumes and facial hair, Mark O’Halloran manages somehow to bring unity to such disparity, grounding big ideas about an amnesiac and disintegrating Europe in a performance of a man/men who are genuinely confused but who remain, nevertheless, alive and directed onwards.

 

History’s Future screened on Saturday, 9th July as part of the Galway Film Fleadh.

 

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Review of Irish Film at Galway Film Fleadh: Rebel Rossa

 

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Tony Tracy takes a look at Williams Rossa Cole’s documentary Rebel Rossa, which unearths the legacy of his great grandfather Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa, one of the most controversial figures in Irish history. Rebel Rossa screened at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.

One of the most surprising and, no doubt, lasting elements of Ireland’s 1916 commemorations was the recovery of so many of the human stories of the Rising: the children who died, the previously overlooked testimonies and involvement of women and ‘forgotten’ relatives and the fleshing out of heroes whose names and contribution had become calcified by a century of post-colonial history books and partisan politics. Across a range of media and formats this work of reclamation was – and continues to be – carried out by a refreshingly eclectic group of both part-time and professional historians of different genders, political hues and methods. For many, it was this human connection, rather than any grand political or historical narrative that gave the centenary resonance and ensured that its participants and their choices will continue to be remembered and valued in our collective history.

It’s therefore difficult, from this vantage point, to recall that just six months before the centenary commemorations began, there was still considerable political ambivalence around how the Rising and the manner in which its key figures would be commemorated. It is perhaps therefore appropriate that, as 2016 draws to a close, this element of contested memory is what comes across most forcefully from Williams Rossa Cole’s documentary on Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa.

Belying his atypical name, New York nous and movie-star looks, the charismatic Cole is O’Donovan Rossa’s great grandson – or one of them anyway – and grew up with a proud and loving Irish-American father who brought his sons on several occasions to see the birthplace and the west-Cork landmarks associated with their famous great grandfather. We see some of these visits in family photos and home movies but in one touching piece of footage (which greatly enriches the visual texture of the film), Williams’ elderly and fading father cannot remember having taken his son to Ireland, even though he can still clearly remember an Irish ballad. It is both a personal and emblematic scene in a narrative about memory. Despite such visits and the fact that he has an archive of material relating to ‘the old Fenian’ stashed in his home office, Cole admits that he and his brother Rossa Williams Cole (who acts as cameraman and Co-Producer) never quite grasped the full story and significance of their ancestor.

In another vividly personal expression of the selective nature of historical memory, while he recalls two images of O’Dononvan Rossa in the family home – one the widely circulated respectable portrait and the other a Puck cartoon by the unreconstructed racist Frederick Opper showing the Fenian in exile dropping bombs on England and entitled ‘Gorilla Warfare’ – he has never fully reflected on the meaning of this second image, nor was it discussed. And so, aware that the centenary of his great grandfather’s return to Ireland for burial is approaching and spurred on by an ‘angel’ investor, he sets off on a modestly funded mission to discover who this man was and what his relevance to the 1916 commemorations might be.

While it seems odd that a documentary filmmaker like Cole (‘a Fulbright Scholar at the London School of Economics and a founder of the Brooklyn Rail’ his website tells us) never got around to more fully exploring the archive of O’Donovan Rossa material which languishes unsorted in his home office, his timing could not be better. With a limited budget and a packed schedule he and his brother travel to Ireland to encounter a variety of individuals, organisations and events which illuminate their great grandfather’s legacy.

First is Sinn Fein in Dublin, who have elaborate and detailed plans for the upcoming centenary commemoration (they even have O’D R’s image on their current membership card as well as – strangely – a man dressed up the uniform of a 1916 volunteer hanging around their offices). PR man Bartle D’Arcy tells the Coles that they will be central to the event.

Next to the North of Ireland and an encounter with a small group of unreconstructed republican militants at the incredible ‘secret Irish Republican Museum’ in South Armagh, and a former hunger striker who movingly sings a ballad from memory and explains that it was the spirit of O’Donovan Rossa that inspired republican prisoners in their darkest days. Strong stuff. Hard-line republicanism is rarely seen or heard in post-peace process Ireland and the brother’s unique status as outsiders and insiders is crucial to allowing these uncomfortable ideas to be heard.

There are other meetings with various local historians from Cork and Skibereen as well as several professional historians – most notably O’Donovan Rossa’s biographer Dr Shane Kenna – who provide detail and commentary on his life. Kenna is the film’s key historical consultant and talking-head and while his long contribution somewhat interrupts and unbalances the flow of the film, his commentary is so authoritative and passionate that it’s easy to see why he is given such prominence.

The trip culminates with the August 1st 2015 re-enactment of O’Donovan Rossa’s funeral – the transport of the coffin to Glasnevin cemetery through the packed streets of Dublin and the rousing oration of Padraig Pearse that is often identified as setting in train the events leading to the Rising. Here the Cole brothers are transformed from curious outsiders to talismanic descendants of a prime force in Irish independence. Accepting their role while retaining a bemused critical distance, they suit-up and chat and smile for the many photographs at City Hall before leading the Sinn Fein cortège (walking in front of SF honchos McGuinness and Adams) to Glasnevin, where they are publicly acknowledged and applauded. A deep honour and an unquestionably moving ‘homecoming’ for the New Yorkers and if they were in any doubt as to the depth of feeling and significance their great-grandfather has retained, then it is surely dispelled at this point.

Yet something more complex emerges as we see them next participating in the official Irish government commemoration, attended by Taoiseach Enda Kenny and the President of Ireland, Michael D Higgins. Here, no doubt sensitive to Anglo-Irish diplomacy and the always delicate peace process, the event is all pomp and circumstance, the boys are kept in the background and the official speeches play down O’Donovan Rossa’s commitment to Irish freedom by whatever means necessary – to the undisguised disgust of Shane Kenna. The film reverses the order of these events – the Irish government one was in the morning (and launched the 1916 centenary commemorations) while Sinn Fein’s took place in the afternoon. The SF event is given precedence in terms of chronology but also therefore authenticity but the contrast between the two remains striking and thought provoking.

There then follows a series of smaller commemorations by various factions and organisations until the genial brothers, who are photographed hundreds of times by the graveside, relieved to be done, sit exausted by the Glasnevin graveside. Not quite: to their surprise, a politically neutral parade takes place the next day, now celebrating O’Donovan Rossa’s internationalism and concern with the working man. In this, at times, uneven film, this multi-vocal claiming of their famous ancestor is what gives the Cole’s odyssey real punch and offers a mirror on the competing values of Irishness a century after Pearse’s call to arms.

Made on a very limited budget and finished just in time for the Fleadh (the screened copy still in need of a few editing tweeks and a final colour-grade) Rebel Rossa was warmly received and produced a lively Q&A. While one longed for a greater sense of the historical man rather than the man of history (I discovered afterwards that he was married three times and had 18 children) and for more of that unsorted archival material to feature in the visuals and perhaps guide the narrative, the film is held together by Williams’ charisma and good-natured openness to contemporary Ireland and its complex relationship to 1916, particularly in relation to violence.

In the mixing of personal and the public memory, not to mention its value in documenting the plethora of commemorations, this modest but impressive film marks a worthy contribution to the centenary commemorations and demonstrates that history – particularly for the Irish – remains an open book.

 

 

Rebel Rossa screened on Thursday, 7th July 2016 as part of the Galway Film Fleadh.

 

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Interview: Donal Foreman, writer and director of ‘Out of Here’

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Tony Tracy sat down with Donal Foreman to discuss his debut feature Out of Here, which screens at the 2014 Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.

 

Donal Foreman’s debut feature Out of Here opens on twenty-something Ciaran (Fionn Walton) returning home to Dublin from travels in Asia and follows his experiences over the subsequent days and nights of reconnecting with people and places once familiar. Displaying elements familiar from American ‘mumblecore’ cinema, it shares a kinship with films such as Tiny Furniture, Uncle Kent and Francis Ha (among others) in its sense of liminality – its  POV controlled by a central character at a threshold moment in his life and a loose-limbed, largely plotless narrative of mood and situation. In addition to such comparisons, the film is also an entirely consistant development of stylistic/formal and thematic concerns evident in Foreman’s earlier short films and exhibits filmic properties espoused in his considerable and intelligent written reflections on cinema (see donalforeman.com).

Out of Here marks a considerable contribution to contemporary Irish cinema on a number of levels. Its rejection of traditional narrative practices (particularly ill-fitting genres), its cosmopolitan tone, its sensitive and fresh portrayal of masculinity and relationships, and its use of locations that ‘re-map’ cinematic Dublin, all contribute to a film less defined by a sense of national identity than a sense of place.  Nevertheless, while it avoids being explicitly ‘Irish’ cinema in any narrow or prescriptive sense of that term (beyond its setting), the film’s tentative, only half recognised sense of home seems both specific to the wandering, cosmopolitan Ciaran (a post-modern Stephen Dedalus) and a tonally apt encapsulation of the dazed and confused national condition as we emerge from a decade of awe, then shock.

In the year that the IFB celebrated it 20th anniversary, the conditions of the film’s production – crowd-funded (without development but with some completion funding from IFB), shot on the RED EPIC with a tiny crew but great skill and edited in New York (where Foreman now lives) – also sets it apart from earlier practices deemed essential to the development of a national cinema, while linking it to micro-budget digital narratives from a new generation of feature writer-directors such as Rebecca Daly, Ivan Kavanagh and Mark O’Connor among others. Regardless of its status as a debut feature, Out of Here feels remarkably assured and engaging, suggesting that Donal Foreman will be a film maker to watch in the years ahead.

 

How far back does your ambition to make films go?

 

I started when I was 11. It was a very intuitive kind of thing where one of my friend’s Dad had a video camera and we were playing around with it, making little movies and we just got obsessed with that. So it started as a social activity and after a while we found our roles within that. I became the cameraman and I suppose parallel to that I was starting to watch more films and get interested in them. So at 13 we put a film into the Fresh Film Festival (www.freshfilmfestival.net) and that really ignited our focus to keep going. At 15 I figured out how to edit the films with a VHS recorder instead of just stopping and starting the camera. So that just kept going forward technically.

 

I guess I also had a curious mind about film history and one thing would lead to another. Tarantino was probably the first one who made me think of individual shots and the director’s vision. Then I heard he was influenced by Scorsese, who was in turn influenced by Cassavetes. So I think I was around 15 or 16 when I started reading more film history and criticism like Ray Carney (editor of Cassavetes on Cassavetes), who introduced to me the idea that film could be a way of challenging yourself, exploring the world and figuring out things you didn’t understand. From then on I had a real urge to try and do something more serious that would actually reflect the world around me and my friends.

 

In my early teens, I also got really into writing scripts, initially just because I liked how they looked! I wrote about four ridiculously surreal feature scripts, and then in my mid-teens I started getting into more personal scripts, where the main character would usually be me while all the other characters would be these one-dimension ciphers. It was later on, working with actors, that I learned to put myself in the shoes of each character, no matter who they are. It becomes a necessity because you need to talk to each actor in terms of their character’s point of view. I still think I need to put some part of myself in each character, but it’s actually a lot of fun when there’s differences too, and you’re forced to step outside yourself a bit.

 

Those short films – and now Out of Here ­- tended to leave out a lot of exposition and make the viewer work with the film.

 

I had a sense early on that what I preferred in films were the gaps where things were left to the imagination – like Kiarostami’s idea of an ‘unfinished’ cinema. I try to follow those principles. I’m more interested in images and moments than storytelling per se, so I had no interest in having a moment of exposition which would disrupt the form. I had more of these dilemmas making a feature film. Say someone gets a text message and you cut to a close-up of the text message so that the audience can read it. There’s no real aesthetic value in that. It’s just this ugly totally functional shot there to give you information – I felt more committed to the image… I was like I don’t care if you need to read that text message, I’m never going to put it in!

 

I like the fact that his family aren’t at the airport to meet him when he returns.

 

That’s an example of where the image comes before the narrative. I wanted the scene of him alone at the airport, and getting the bus into town by himself. I didn’t want the sentiment of the homecoming greeting. Once I had the image, I started figuring out how to make it work for the characters and the narrative.

 

I know the screenplay was in development for quite some time. How did you finally get it to production? Did you apply to the Irish Film Board?

 

I never actually applied to the Film Board because I never wanted to do script development with it. I was in an international script workshop called ENGAGE with it shortly after I graduated. It was for writers, directors and producers graduating from Screen Academy Scotland, the National Film School at IADT and the Baltic Film & Media School in Estonia. You’re taken to workshops in each country, and you go in with a project and they try and team you up, and prep you for assembling co-productions. I went in with this project Out of Here and half way through I swapped it and pitched a sci-fi kids escape movie instead, which I felt would be more productive in that context. I felt my project wasn’t going to be helped by pushing it in that forum because there wasn’t much room for co-production unless I filmed his travels or brought in a bunch of foreign characters just for the sake of it. Also a lot of the notes I was getting on it were ‘you need more plot’, ‘the character needs to do this’ – pushing for a stronger narrative structure to the whole thing. That there should be a deadline and a clear tension like ‘is he going to get on that flight to get out of the country…’. I wasn’t interested in fighting those interpretations so I didn’t pursue it.

 

I felt the only way I would do it with the Film Board was if they would not go through the years of script development, which I have seen hurt a lot of projects and filmmakers. I didn’t think I had a chance at bypassing that process without a big company backing me, and I wasn’t having any luck on that front. I was also thinking that if one of my shorts got into one of the bigger festivals that would give me a legitimacy to move it forward. But that didn’t really happen. After pitching it to a few established companies, I tried to find a producer but it was tough because there were no strong independent producers looking for first time writer-directors without a track record. At one point I was thinking I would even try and produce it myself, but that would have been an insanely bad idea because it was already a difficult story for a micro-budget. Eventually I came across Emmet Fleming, who already had some experience with this kind of budget and totally got what I was trying to do.

 

How did you raise the budget?

 

Emmet had the idea to do a crowd-funding campaign based on this investment model that he had seen a Belfast company, Manifesto Films, use earlier that year. We had the option to donate and get a gift in return, as you would with Kickstarter, but we also had a second option where for €150 you’d get a share in the future profits of the film, and that’s where most of the money came from. I put in some cash as well but most of it was from people buying shares. The investment model works well I think because there is a greater sense of ownership for investors and a greater impetus to help the project to succeed.

 

So was the script pretty much there at this stage?

 

Not completely. We started fundraising with a detailed treatment and began casting and then we did two weeks of rehearsals. I wrote dialogue in rehearsals. I would give the actors the premise of the scene and see where it went. So we would workshop like that and then I would write the scenes in the evening. Then we would rehearse the written version and see how that worked. So by the end of rehearsals we had the full script.

 

So you began with a scene by scene treatment?

 

Yes. I had a detailed 30-page treatment which described most things in detail except for the dialogue. I also had older drafts of a full script to draw on, as I had been developing the project over a five year period.

 

What was the starting point of the story?

 

From the very start it was the idea of this guy’s return to Dublin after a time away. The thing that excited me most initially was the shift in his perception of the city on his coming back, that it would be so familiar to him and have all this history, but him stepping away and then coming back would create this sense of estrangement. Like if you walk the same way to work everyday you stop seeing the details around you, but if you were to go away for a year and then come back, all of a sudden it’s a new street.

 

By the time it was in pre-production I had already lived in New York for a year and so I was perfectly poised for it. That first month back after New York, I was finding new ideas for the film everywhere and everyday.

 

Lets talk about casting. How did you find your actors?

 

I had a few people in mind already. I had a whole database of actors in my head of who I would like to work with. If an Irish actor has a showreel online I have seen it at this stage. Part of it was how the characters were going to interact together, but mainly it was the traditional way of seeking out actors from what we had seen them in. Then there were people I knew in Dublin who had never done any acting but who were just characters who I know would be really interesting within a certain scenario. And I tried to collect people from the different worlds in the film like some people from art school and so on.

 

And what about the central character – played by Fionn Walton?

 

Fionn came out of the Actor’s Studio in The Factory. So much of the casting came together quite easily but the lead was the hardest thing by far because he carries the whole film. I wanted someone with a certain kind of charisma who would be compelling to watch. It had to be someone who you would just want to watch even if they weren’t doing much anyway, that they would hold the screen but without being a “pretty boy” or a macho actor. I wanted someone who was still a little bit awkward and boyish. So just finding that balance was tough.

 

What was your experience of the shoot?

 

The shoot was by far the most challenging thing I have ever done, most of all because of the time pressures. It’s not obvious, in the middle of things, what you sohuld compromise on and leave out or what you’re going to regret later. We had 20 days to shoot something that had way more characters, crowd scenes and location changes than is ever advisable for a micro-budget project. We didn’t have a lot of money to throw around so we were often at the mercy of other people’s commitments. As a result, we shot ridiculously out of order in terms of continuity, mainly because of location availability and actors’ schedules. Aoife Duffin, for example, was shooting the second season of Chris O’Dowd’s Moone Boy throughout our production, and was only available on weekends. It was really not ideal for the story, but I think we managed to pull it off, and having rehearsals definitely helped.

 

Was it an obvious choice to shoot on the RED EPIC camera?

 

Yes – that’s the camera my cameraman Piers McGrail owns. He’s shot all my fiction shorts since film school and I knew I wanted to work with him. But the EPIC didn’t make life easy. Sometimes it might take two hours to light and I’d get 10 minutes to do the scene because the EPIC requires more lighting, more equipment and expense in general than the RED. There is so much lighting in the film – apart from the exterior daytime stuff, everything in the film is lit. And it is very exact, so while the film looks fairly natural it is actually quite contrived.

 

Given that stylistic commitment to naturalism, how did you manage sound?

 

For the most complex scenes, we used 2 boom mikes and 4 radio mikes: I wanted these people to be free to interrupt and talk over each other. And we deliberately have no score but there’s quite a bit of diegetic music from local bands at various points. Some people find the lack of a score a bit difficult but there’s a whole visual arc to the film that goes from a cluttered, claustraphobic feeling to a more open, lighter sense and I wanted to reflect that in the sound design imposing it through musical cues.

 

Lets talk about the edit and arriving at your final cut

 

I edited by myself in New York over about six months. The main challenge was that there was a lot of material—30 hours in total. The first assembly was 3 hours and the first watchable cut was 110. I thought I’d never get it down to 80 mins. But the first time I did a test screening (to a group I’m part of in New York, the Brooklyn Filmmakers Collective) I cut 20 minutes out the next day. I hadsuch a better understanding of the pacing of it, just from watching it in a room with other people. I could feel people just waiting for the end at a few different points—even I was.

 

The film’s use of location is striking – you manage to add to the cinematic city of recent Dublin-set films like Adam and Paul, Kisses, Once and What Richard Did.

 

I always saw this character and his return as vehicle for exploring the city and explore the different aspects of it. I was asking myself, if you were in Dublin in your early 20s, what possibilities are open to you? What social spaces, domestic spaces, and how do you express yourself in different spaces like the pub, or at dinner with your family or wandering around by yourself. So I was thinking about locations that would help explore those different facets. I also had a bit of a thing about how the city has been represented cinematically – that there has been generally been a failure of representation – with the Dublin often functioning as a backdrop rather than a character. Obviously there are exceptions to this but I wanted to be attentive to the spaces of the city and so I very deliberately mapped the action to reflect that.

 

www.outofherefilm.com

Tony Tracy lectures in film at the Huston School of Film and Digital Media, NUI Galway.

www.filmschool.ie

 

Out of Here screens on Saturday, 22nd February 2014 at 8:30PM in the Light House.

Click here for further coverage of the 12th Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.

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