Irish Film Review @ Cork Film Festival: Town of Strangers

 

Loretta Goff meet the locals in the County Galway town of Gort, in Treasa O’Brien’s Town of Strangers, with a diverse cast, including young Irish Travellers, English New Age hippies, Brazilian factory workers and Syrian refugees.

 

Before the screening of Treasa O’Brien’s new documentary, Town of Strangers, at the 63rd Cork Film Festival, her short The Blow-In (2016) was played. Both feature the town of Gort in County Galway, and those newer residents to the town, considered “blow-ins” or “strangers”. The Blow In is narrated by a French woman who we meet at the start of the film, cleverly framed with an uprooted tree by O’Brien. This woman’s voiceover explains that, as a result of moving around a lot during her youth, she often felt like an outsider and developed a habit of observing people through her windows. This is used as a thread throughout this short documentary as she “looks in” on the lives of several of Gort’s residents.

A narrative thread similarly runs through Town of Strangers, but this time it is the director herself, who interweaves elements of her own life with those of the individuals she interviews in the film, notably drawing together similarities between them. The premise behind this documentary was an open-call film audition O’Brien held in Gort, from which emerged several stories that she felt compelled to follow. In the Q&A following the film, the director explained that she initially had the idea of making an experimental film based off of a script she was working on located in Gort, tackling the subject of changing Ireland and what that meant to a small town. However, she was “very surprised and really moved” by the stories people shared and her experimental film turned into a documentary.

In Town of Strangers we meet individuals from around the world—Afghanistan, Brazil, England, Ireland and Syria—who have all come to call Gort home. As these individuals open up about their lives we are invited to learn about their different backgrounds and unique stories, but what stands out are the commonalities between them (and ourselves) at basic emotional levels. Answering questions about what “home” means to them, about their families and about their dreams, the participants in this documentary reveal their fears, insecurities, hopes and strengths both through what they say and what they don’t. O’Brien subtly catches the whole range of emotions in quiet moments where the camera lingers on individuals’ faces, allowing the audience to read, and connect with, them. Discussing the film, O’Brien said that she was “trying to show empathy in a cinematic way”, and she certainly does.

All of the individuals are presented as different types of “outsiders”—with immigrants, hippies and Travellers among them. However, what emerges throughout the film more than a sense of living between two cultures, though that is evident, is what O’Brien notes as “displacement from the family”. It is through O’Brien’s exploration of this, along with its associated loneliness, that she is able to connect her audience with these “strangers”. Portraying them with empathy and understanding, rather than looking away from difficult stories, reveals just how familiar these individuals really are.

Speaking after the screening, O’Brien said that she “wanted to make a film for our times”. She went on to note the rise in right-wing politics and the fear that is developed by not fully understanding large events, explaining that, with this film, she wanted to bring things back to the personal and focus on connection. Ultimately, she hopes that this documentary contributes to a “shift in your consciousness [in terms of] how you might perceive people”.

Town of Strangers visually challenges perceptions—juxtaposing shots of the Gort Show (agricultural, baking and animal events) with rappers and dancers and Brazilian shops—in order to open up our understanding of rural Ireland, and reinforces this with its interwoven narrative of deeply moving, personal stories. All in all, the documentary offers a sensitive and engaging depiction of human connection, with all its fragilities, and, in doing so, beautifully reflects on contemporary rural Ireland.

 

Town of Strangers screened on Tuesday, 13th November 2018 as part of the Cork Film Festival (9 – 18 November)

 

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IFI Ireland on Sunday Interview: Treasa O’Brien, co-director of ’Eat Your Children’

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Eat Your Children is an essay documentary that explores Ireland’s so-called acceptance of debt and austerity. Filmmakers Treasa O’Brien and Mary Jane O’Leary, two economic emigrants, return to Ireland to explore what seemed to be Irish people’s stoicism in accepting austerity and the country’s climate of complacency in the face of the nation’s current economic position.

Treasa O’Brien explains how the idea for the film came about 4 years ago “after my good friend Mary Jane O’Leary showed me a video online of Greeks protesting in Athens. They were chanting: ‘We are not Irish! We will resist!’ Mary Jane had just finished a year studying politics in Barcelona and was working for a European think tank. I had just finished a Masters in Film in London. Mary Jane dared me to make a film about why the Irish were not resisting. I said let’s do it together, and the rest is history. As we started to make the film, we realised the rest is history. Irish history is full of rebels and resistances, so why are we now so acquiescent and accepting?”

The film molds its essay in the form of a road-trip around the country, which, according to Treasa, was a way “to structure the film and also to involve the audience – you’re coming with us! We hope the structure allows the audience to discover with us, and also to keep asking questions and draw their own conclusions rather than ‘experts’ just telling them how it is. We both love the essay form as it’s a chance to explore a topic intellectually as well as emotionally, and it also gives room for a self-reflexive kind of authorship.”

Travelling around Ireland, Treasa and Mary meet Irish people on the streets, at protests, and seek answers from sociologists, politicians, historians, economists and activists on the nature of protest in Ireland. As a result, a lot of time was spent in the edit room to whittle the film down to the 78-minute final cut. “We shot over 40 long form interviews, less than 10 of which are excerpted in the film. The volume of interviews slowed down the editing process as we became attached to so many of the points made and wanted to cover everything – at one stage we were trying to make the short history of everything that ever happened in Ireland. So we had to get really ruthless in cutting the interviews down. We transcribed them all with some help and they have become an invaluable research and reference tool for us to have structured the film and informed our own thinking on the subject.”

I asked Treasa was there one thing that surprised herself and Mary the most on her journey around Ireland. “The Right2Water movement,” she replies. “We are really heartened to see this movement grow over the last few months. It seems to be bringing a lot of various groups and kinds of people together in solidarity, and of course it’s bigger than water. Water, our life force, is bringing people together against austerity, debt, and neoliberal privatisation and inequality. However, as inspiring and hopeful as it is, the vast majority of Irish people are still not protesting, even if they might support the Right2 Water movement from their armchairs. We also see the Irish media discrediting the protests and calling them violent. With all its globalisation and high media readership, Irish politics and media can still be very conservative.”

Looking at Ireland today Treasa thinks there is “a chasm between our conservative politicians and the real will of the majority of Irish people. Or at least I hope there is! I am home in Ireland now for the next few months and I will be here to vote yes for the marriage equality referendum. It is an important temperature gauge of how conservative or not the Irish really are – I wish we didn’t have to spend time fighting for things that seem so uncontroversial and obvious (to me, at least) as basic human rights such as the right to decisions over one’s own reproduction, the right to an equal marriage and the right to water.

“We have to think in a joined up and intersectional way – marriage equality, reproductive rights and racism are seen as identity politics, while labour rights and class struggle are left to the left. But, for example, reproductive rights affect poor people more than rich people, as the latter can travel more easily. We need that more intersectional approach which joins up movements and fights for something together as well as all the individual struggles.”

 

Eat Your Children screens on Sunday, 12th April 2015 at 13.00 at the IFI as part of its Ireland on Sunday monthly showcase for new Irish film.

Co-Directors Treasa O’Brien and Mary Jane O’Leary will participate in a post-screening Q&A.

Tickets for Eat Your Children are available now from the IFI Box Office on 01 679 3477 or online at www.ifi.ie

 

 

 

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Eat Your Children – Review of Irish Film at Jameson Dublin International Film Festival 2015

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Alisande Healy Orme looks at the nature of Irish protest in Treasa O’Brien and Mary Jane O’Leary’s documentary Eat Your Children, which screened as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.

 

Taking its name from Jonathan Swift’s 1729 satirical essay A Modest Proposal – in which the author suggested that the impoverished Irish population sell their young as a foodstuff to the wealthy as a way to alleviate the dire economic conditions of the time – ex-patriot Irish women Treasa O’Brien and Mary Jane O’Leary’s documentary Eat Your Children examines whether Ireland today is too inactive when it comes to political protest.

 

The reputation of the Irish abroad is that of the “fighting Irish” – one of a people who have never been afraid of protest and taking up arms when necessary. Here, O’Brien and O’Leary ask why the nation has not done so in the face of austerity measures that will cripple at least the next two generations to come. Unsurprisingly, though interesting, the tightly-budgeted film is not the most cheerful to watch.

 

Taking the form of a road-trip around the country, Eat Your Children has its makers meet with activists, economists, sociologists and members of the public who outline Ireland’s history of protest and how, in spite of it, the country today can appear apathetic or even complacent in the face of constant constraints and demands put upon it by politicians from across Europe.

 

Interviews with members of the public reveal a state of indifference that hinges on a two-pronged, thoroughly depressing consensus: they feel that any protest would make little to no difference anyway, and are planning to take another route that has long-served the impoverished of this country well – emigration in order to seek work.

 

Granted, there’s nothing revelatory in these disclosures (they’re certainly nothing you haven’t heard down the pub) but these sad facts of modern Irish identity are only rendered more strongly when shown alongside historical footage and accounts of how direct action benefitted citizens of this country in the past. It’s to be hoped that when it comes to future protests the filmmakers prediction that “this is not the end” holds true.

 

Eat Your Children screened on Sunday, 22nd March 2015 at the Screen Cinema as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.

 

 

 

 

 

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Treasa O’Brien, Ireland – Screenings, Talk & Exchange

Migrant Artists on Ireland Series
Sat 16th of Feb at 6pm

Admission: Free

Screening & Talk

Treasa O’Brien – 

Too Good to Resist

Too Good to Resist (working title) is a creative social documentary in development by Treasa O’Brien and Mary Jane O’Leary exploring Irish reactions (or lack of) to austerity measures and structural adjustment in the wake of the bleating Celtic Tiger economy that never thought for society.

The filmmakers travelled around Ireland in Summer 2012 to find out why, in comparison to its European neighbours suffering similar fates, do people not take to the streets to demand more just solutions and a more hopeful future?  Does emigration mean that those who might fight are in flight? Is there really radio silence or are there movements afoot? How have other European societies responded? Is there a tipping point or are the Irish just too good to resist? The film will look at the wider European context as well as draw on history, politics, culture, anthropology, sociology, and even meteorology to explain why.

Treasa O’Brien, will present the film–in–progress and discuss her own position as an insider/outsider migrant in the making of the film.

Treasa O’Brien is a filmmaker from Kerry.  She lives in London where she runs a documentary film festival Open City Docs Fest. She makes documentary, fiction and experimental films but is mostly interested when these distinctions collapse. Her films and art have been shown internationally in festivals, social spaces, cinemas and on TV.  She studied visual art in Limerick, filmmaking in Goldsmiths and writes and curates on art and film.  She is making Too Good to Resist with her friend and collaborator Mary Jane O’Leary who is from Cork and is currently living in Barcelona. 

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