One Million Dubliners, is a documentary film centred in Glasnevin Cemetery – sometimes known as ‘the dead centre of Dublin’. Glasnevin Cemetery has been an iconic feature of Dublin for generations. In recent years visitor numbers have increased significantly due to the development of the heritage aspect of the cemetery.
The film takes its title from the fact that over one million people are buried there – nearly as many Dubliners as are above ground. Among the dead are many famous names including a roll call of those associated with the War of Independence and the Fenian era. I expected the film might be dealing with some of those famed underground residents. And it does. But the film is much more about the living than the dead.
It is particularly about people working there. The people who directly or indirectly deal with the needs of the many dead in their care as well as their visitors. We also meet some regular visitors who travel from afar to visit the grave of a person they have never met.
The film delves deeply into the minutiae of the daily life of the cemetery through interviews with various staff members. Chief among these is Shane, an engaging tour guide who in many ways acts as our guide through the film.
Shane moves seamlessly from witty guided tours with groups of school children and adults to a more reflective mood as he speaks about his father. Many years ago, I went on historical tours of Dublin with Shane’s father Éamon Mac Thomáis who was a tour guide before him, as they say and who is now buried in Glasnevin himself.
Other employees share their own perspective not just on the job, but on life and death, including a couple of interesting grave diggers. Management staff with diverse roles all seem to share a mixture of passion and reverence for the cemetery. The crematorium attendant gives a detailed demonstration of his role and the process of cremation – perhaps more detailed than we might have expected.
The Florists made interesting revelations about the two graves which attract the most flowers and visitors. One perhaps predictable – not a Dubliner as it happens, the other maybe not as predictable. And the Manager who interviewed the florist for the job had an interesting revelation to make in his own right.
An engaging aspect of the film was that the director sought the views of all of the Cemetery community about matter beyond their own role. They were probed about how that role affected their views on the afterlife – if such exists, and their own preferences in relation to cremation or burial. As might be expected, those views were divergent.
The film is in ways a meditation about the sensitive subject of death. There was a sense of the presence of the silent dead in the background as the camera gave us panoramic aerial shots of the cemetery sweeping across the countless grave stones.
I really liked the score composed by Hugh Rodgers & Ray Harman which was in tune with the mood of the film as was the lighting and photography by DOP Cathal Watters. On my way out of the screening, I overhead a discussion on the impressive nature and variety of the photography.
One Million Dubliners was not what I expected. It gave me a completely new perspective on a cemetery that I visit from time to time due to an interest in history and to see the graves of people I once knew. It is a reflective film which is much more than a documentary about the cemetery. The film and especially the conclusion will remain long with me.
Brian O Tiomain
PG (See IFCO for details)