Ron Cooney in Ballymun Lullaby
Ballymun Lullaby is an inspirational account of how music teacher, Ron Cooney, brought children from Ballymun together to collaborate on a children’s music education programme.
Music teacher Ron Cooney has been working in the Republic of Ireland’s only high-rise housing estate for fifteen years. During this time he has seen the area undergo a dramatic transformation, including the demolition of six of its seven tower blocks. The young people of Ballymun have had an extraordinary experience, and Ron sets out to produce a collection of music that gives voice to their story. Working with composer Daragh O’Toole, Ron’s ambition is to create a ‘world class’ collection of music for his talented students to play and write lyrics for.
This music challenges the negative views many still hold of the area – views that have the potential to hold his students back, and undermine the aims of the Ballymun Music Programme. The music that is produced attracts the attention of the RTÉ Concert Orchestra, and is soon recorded by them in a unique collaboration with the students.
A dynamic funny and driven man, despite his own health problems, what Ron and his students have achieved is simply amazing. Ballymun Lullaby is a story that needs to be heard.
Steven Galvin caught up with Frank Berry, the man behind the inspirational documentary…
How did the film come about?
I have been involved in making community videos for many years. It’s great work, very purposeful and enjoyable. In 2003 I made a community video for the Ballymun music programme and that’s when I first met Ron Cooney. Over the next few years we stayed in contact, and occasionally my cameraman Kevin Duffy and I would go out and cover events for them. In February 2009 I got a call to go out to Ballymun to film an important occasion for Ron and the music programme. Archbishop Desmond Tutu and President Mary McAleese were in town launching a brand new music room built for Ron as part of the regeneration of Ballymun. The degree of success of this particular community initiative really blew me away and I got the idea to make the film at that point.
Can you tell us a bit about funding?
We had no funding for the production of the film! It was a labor of love for us all. I don’t think I could make a film with no money again, but for this film is was very exciting to see how much we could achieve. When we did approach the Irish Film Board they were very encouraging and practically helpful during the editing. They awarded us €60,000 to finish the film. And have since awarded us Direct Distribution funding for the cinema release.
The documentary is as much about music and what it can do as it is about community…
Ron’s primary aim is to engage young people in the area. He doesn’t necessarily expect them all to turn into great musicians. For him it’s about engaging them in something positive – that buzz of playing in a band or singing in a choir. He said to me once ‘if they can do this they may not pursue music but they may consider what else they can do.’ That’s when I understood the real impact of what he is doing.
There’s a great sense of humour that comes across in the film…
Yes, a lot of humour comes from Ron who is just great to be around, and the students themselves are very funny. It’s beautiful to watch Ron teaching them, and to observe the way they react to him. I think those are the most touching moments in the film.
It must have been great to be at the screening of the film in Ballymun.
Yes, we screened the film in Ballymun a couple of weeks ago in the Axis theatre. We invited everyone involved in the film and their families and it was a night I’ll never forget. The film will never have a more important screening than that one!
Is there a great buzz on the festival circuit where the film has been going down so well?
There seems to be a lot of buzz, it’s been great. The film premiered at the Dublin International Film Festival this year, and then went on to screen in Galway and Cork. It was invited to New York’s primary documentary festival DOC NYC in November, which was our international festival premiere.
Winning the 2011 Directors Finders Series recently must have been a tremendous experience.
That was amazing news. I think for this story to travel to Los Angeles and be screened at the Directors Guild of America Theatre really says something about the universality and the power of the themes in the film. I’m very grateful to the Screen Directors Guild of Ireland and the Directors Guild of America, as the award has given the film a huge boost both internationally and at home. And personally I find it very encouraging!
And now for a cinema release in Dublin from 16th December …
Yes it’s starting on the 16th in the Irish Film Institute and Cineworld on Parnell Street. The Ballymun Choir will be singing Christmas carols on the Friday and the Sunday in the Irish Film Institute, so that should be special.
I’m researching another feature project involving young people’s mental health. Another story that needs to be heard!