Irish Women in Cinema 25th – 27th October Irish Cultural Centre, Blacks Road, Hammersmith W6 9DT
In 2018 Screen Ireland announced a new gender policy that would ensure that future productions would be directed equally between male and female directors. This momentous decision has been the spur for The Irish Cultural Centre Hammersmith, to invite four eminent female filmmakers to showcase some of their key work and discuss what it was like to be a woman in a male dominated world at a three-day festival (25-27 Oct). The screenings will include Lelia Doolan’s ‘Bernadette: Notes on a Political Journey’ a newly restored print of Pat Murphy’s ‘Anne Devlin’, Margo Harkin’s ‘Hush a Bye Baby’ and ’12 Days in July’, and Aisling Walsh’s ‘Song for A Raggy Boy’. As well as introducing their films they will all get together for a panel discussion on the theme of ‘Women in film in a changing Ireland’. The Q&A’s will be chaired by film historian Steve Martin. All four filmmakers have their own unique voices but also share a common desire to ensure equality with their male counterparts.
Screening times: Irish Women in Cinema Friday October 25th 8pm ‘Song for A Raggy Boy’ followed by a Q&A with director Aisling Walsh. Saturday October 26th 3.30pm: ‘Hush-a-Bye Baby’ followed by a Q&A with director Margo Harkin Saturday October 26th 8pm: The Premiere Screening of the restored print of ‘Anne Devlin’ followed by a Q&A with director Pat Murphy Sunday October 27th 4.00pm ‘12 Days in July’ followed by a Q&A with director Margo Harkin Sunday October 27th 5pm Panel Discussion; ‘Irish Women in Film, In A Changing Ireland’ featuring film directors Lelia Doolan, Margo Harkin, Pat Murphy and Aisling Walsh. Sunday October 27th 8pm ‘Bernadette, Notes on A Political Journey’ followed by Q&A with Lelia Doolan.
Tickets for Film Screenings £8.00 Tickets for Panel Discussion £5.00 https://irishculturalcentre.co.uk/
Lelia Doolan, born in 1934, has been described as the godmother of independent film in Ireland. She is without doubt one of the most important voices that agitated for a space where the New Wave of Irish filmmakers of the 80s could tell their stories. The timeline of her career is remarkable. She studied French and German at University College Dublin, where she won a scholarship to study at the Free University in West Berlin but would regularly obtain a pass to cross the border to observe Bertholt Brecht in his studio witnessing him directing plays like ‘The Playboy of the Western World’.
In 1961 she became a Producer/Director for the new national broadcaster RTE where she caused controversy when she became concerned at the stations unquestioning of the one sided nature of news material being received from USA on the Vietnam War and when she attempted to send a film crew to the war torn country she was prevented from travelling by direct Irish government action. She courted further controversy when she quit RTE, citing her displeasure with their censorship and commercial policies. The notorious right wing Archbishop McQuaid described her as ‘mad, bad, and dangerous.
After RTE Lelia became the first female artistic director of the Abbey Theatre but could not overcome the boards reluctance to open their doors to new challenging international work and quit after two years. She then changed course and headed to Queens University in Belfast to study Anthropology where during her spare time she gave classes on video production to disadvantaged communities. It was the height of sectarian assassinations and Lelia spent a lot of her time working with the radical priest Fr. Des Wilson, whose Ballymurphy parish was the epicentre of the war between the IRA and the British Army. “I learnt how utterly, shockingly complacent and unaware I was about the North,” Doolan says. After five years in Belfast she worked with an anti-poverty agency in the west of Ireland and with homeless women in Dublin. Also in Dublin she set up Ireland’s first recognised media communication course in Rathmines College. She recognised that the new filmmakers that emerged from Rathmines had no funding possibilities for their ideas she became one of the campaigners that lobbied for a State Agency for Irish film.
When the Irish Film Board was set up in the late 80s, she produced Joe Comerford’s ‘Reefer and the Model’ which became an art house success worldwide. In 1989 she co-founded the Galway Film Fleadh, now one of Ireland’s most prestige film festivals. In 1991 she established Ireland’s unique Cinemobile that travelled the length and breadth of the country bringing cinema to rural communities. Her tireless endeavours to support indigenous filmmakers was recognised when in 1993 she was appointed to head the Irish Film Board. In 1996 she retired but was not yet ready to rest on her laurels. She continued to champion the art of film whilst also campaigning for LGBT rights and many other social justice issues.
After receiving a life time achievement award from the Galway Film Festival in 2010 one would have thought she would have been happy to tend to her herb and vegetable garden but after a lifetime of creating a space for filmmakers she decided at the age of 75 to produce and direct her first film ‘Bernadette: Notes on a Political Journey’ based on the life of the radical Derry politician Bernadette Devlin. The film received critical success internationally and won best film at the Galway Film Fleadh. She completed one of her final cinematic dreams when she oversaw the establishment of the art house ‘The Cinema Palace’ in her adopted home in Galway.
Margo Harkin was born in Derry in 1951, one of a family of sixteen children. After graduating from the Ulster College of Art & Design, Belfast she worked as an Art Tutor and Deputy Director of the Derry Youth & Community Workshop for unemployed young people. In 1980 she joined Field Day Theatre Company founded by Brian Friel and Stephen Rea and went on to be the Stage Designer on ‘The Communication Cord’ by Brian Friel and ‘Boesman and Lena’ by Athol Fugard. In 1984 she co-founded Derry Film and Video Workshop, under the Channel 4 franchised workshop scheme. Margo experienced her first taste of censorship when she was a Producer for Ann Crilly’s ‘Mother Ireland’. The film explores the Mother Ireland image as a nationalist motif in Irish culture, and the complex relationship between the national struggle and the Suffrage struggle in the early 20th Century and the republican and feminist movements in the 1980s. It was the first documentary affected by the British Broadcasting restrictions introduced on October 1988 aimed at curtailing dissident Republican and Loyalist voices. Channel 4 was very worried about these restrictions and parked the broadcast until 2001 when they broadcast an edited version as part of their “Banned” season of programs. Even at this point they demanded cuts which included Christy Moore’s song, “Unfinished Revolution plus unseen footage of Emma Groves, being shot with a plastic bullet, and an interview with Mairead Farrell that was partially re-voiced by an actress.
The Derry Film Workshop had a major success in 1990 when Margo received international acclaim as director on her first drama ‘Hush-a-Bye Baby’. The groundbreaking drama focusing on teen pregnancy in Northern Ireland had a music score written by Sinéad O’Connor, who also made a cameo appearance. Margo’s motivation to make the film was inspired by the 1983 Abortion referendum and the scandal of Anne Lovett, a 15-year- old schoolgirl who died giving birth in a field in the South of Ireland. The film explored the outdated attitudes to sexuality at a time when all around her the ‘Troubles’ dominated the political and domestic landscape of Northern Ireland. The film won “Best Drama” at the International Celtic Film Festival and The Ecumenical Jury Award at the Locarno Film Festival.
In 1992 Margo set up Besom Productions and established the company as a chronicler of key periods of the conflict in Northern Ireland. She directed key films that are now archival gems that help us understand the sectarianism that divided Northern Ireland and left a legacy of death and destruction. Her films ‘The Bloody Sunday Murders’ 1991, ’12 Days in July’ 1997 and ‘The Hunger Strike’ 2006 established her as a formidable interpreter of political events in the struggle for social justice in Northern Ireland. But it was the film ‘Bloody Sunday: A Derry Diary’ that Margo repeatedly returned to and over a twelve-year stretch from 1998 to 2010, she released three different versions.
The different inquiries from what became known as the Widgery Whitewash report in 1972 to the Saville Inquiry set up by Tony Blair in 1998 meant she had to update the film as new evidence transpired. The central trust of the film was the voices of local people profoundly affected by the original events in addition to addressing Harkin’s own experiences on Bloody Sunday. When asked by an Irish Times journalist why she made the film, she replied ‘Why? “Because I was there on the day and I remember the complete shock and horror of it and because the aftermath of it taught
me a huge lesson – that those who control the media control the truth”. Margo is still at the forefront of telling stories inspired by the environment she lives in and recent films like ‘The Far Side of Revenge’ and ‘Eamonn McCann: A Long March’ attest to this. Margo was recently honoured with the ‘Outstanding Contribution to Irish Documentary at the Belfast Film Festival 2019.
Pat Murphy was born in Dublin in 1951. Her entry into the world of film began with an MA at the Royal College of Art in London where she studied under feminist theorist Laura Mulvey. in 1977 she was the first European to achieve a scholarship year at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, influencing her decision to become a director. She completed a short film, Rituals of Memory, before returning to Ireland to work on her first feature film ‘Maeve’ in 1981. The film was co-directed with John Davies but generally attributed to Murphy was funded by the British Film Institute and later judged by Irish Times film critic Tara Brady to be “Ireland’s first bona-fide feminist film.
The film opens up a parcel of memories for Maeve as she revisits her place of childhood and adolescence against the background of the so called ‘Troubles’. Murphy’s script reveals her feminist perspective with lines like “Men’s relationship to women is just like England’s relationship to Ireland. You’re in possession of us. You occupy us like an army” and “You’re talking about a false memory… the way you want to remember excludes me. I get remembered out of existence.“. Murphy takes an experimental approach of traditional Irish cinema. Maeve is a dissenting feminist voice that rejects the ideals and obsessions of nationalism in a time of sectarianism between the nationalist and loyalist communities. Murphy recalled her approach: “I didn’t think about story. I’d think something like: representations of Northern Ireland are unsatisfactory: I’m going to make Maeve and sort it all out… Maeve was asking how does a woman position herself against the background of what was going on in the North and within the history of republicanism and memory and landscape”.
The success of Maeve was followed in 1984 by ‘Anne Devlin’ which is set against the background Robert Emmet’s rebellion of 1803. Anne Devlin was Emmet’s housekeeper and stood by him through thick and thin while friends and allies deserted him. Murphy reflected how Anne Devlin came to her mind when making Maeve: “I read her journals in the evening after shooting was over, and she was so unlike the character Maeve. She was someone who made a very definite commitment and stuck to it when everyone deserted Emmet. She’s almost forgotten, or else dismissed as a star struck peasant who wanted to be seen in Emmet’s company. In fact she was an educated, intelligent woman with integrity”. In contrast to ‘Maeve’ Murphy took a more conventional approach likening her approach to the structure of a ballad. In some ways Anne Devlin’s diaries created a dialogue of sorts between her and Murphy. “It was only when I read her journals that I saw that she was a very basic woman. She would have wanted to marry and have children and live an uninterrupted life except for two things that happened. One was the war that was going on in Ireland at the time and the other was the French revolution and the beginnings of feminism in France and England…… I didn’t want her to sit around and discuss ’women’, but I was interested in her because I was struck by her diaries, I mean remove the specific historical events and it could be a contemporary woman speaking”. Anne Devlin introduced the powerful actress Bríd Brennan to the big screen alongside future Academy nominated Costume Designer Consolata Boyle and the Cinematography of Thaddeus O’Sullivan. The film was nominated for the Gold Hugo at the Chicago International Film Festival and the Golden Prize at the Moscow International Film Festival. Interestingly a restored print of the film will have its premier at Irish Cultural Centre’s season of Irish Female Filmmakers courtesy of Screen Ireland.
Pat went on to direct Nora (2000), based on Brenda Maddox’s biography of Nora which centred on the tempestuous relationship between Joyce and his uneducated Galway bride. Pat assembled a formidable cast with Susan Lynch in the lead role and Ewan McGregor as Joyce. Again, Pat’s focus was on a woman living under the shade of her famous husband. Pat stated, “points out how the all-pervasiveness of Nora’s voice in Joyce’s writing has paradoxically rendered her invisible to the reader,” she explained. The film earned her the United International Pictures Director’s Award and a slew of Irish Film and Television Awards. To date, the it is her only film that remains generally available.
Aisling Walsh (born Dublin 1958) has seen her work screened at festivals around the world. Her films garnered a BAFTA TV Award for Room at the Top (2012) as well as an Irish Film and Television Award and a Canadian Screen Award for her direction of Maudie (2016). She is known for her “unflinching honest portrayals of a Catholic Irish society”
Aisling’s first feature film was Joyriders (1989) based on the story of Mary Flynn who in fleeing her domineering husband ends up with Perky Rice, a car thief and hopeless romantic who takes on a joyride through the Irish countryside. Aisling entered the world of TV throughout the 1990s and directed classic TV programmes like The Bill (1991–1994), Doctor Finlay (1993), Roughnecks (1995), and Trial & Retribution (1997–2002).
In 2003, Aisling returned to the big screen with ‘Song for a Raggy Boy’ based on a Patrick Galvin story. The film begins on the brink of World War II, in the St. Judes Reformatory School, a ruthless Irish school for boys. It was a time in Ireland when horrific stories of institutional abuse at the hands of so-called religious orders were being uncovered by journalists and surviving witnesses. Song for A Raggy Boy unfolds in the stark surroundings of the monastery school. The boys are given numbers instead of names and are forced to scrub the yard on their hands and knees under the watchful eye of the sadistic Brother John (Iain Glenn), a bully who’d rather hand out a savage beating than detention. Brother Mac (Marc Warren) is a paedophile, with a particular liking for 13-year-old Delaney (Chris Newman). The only bright light in this dark world is brought by William Franklin (Aidan Quinn) who has just returned from serving with the International Brigades in Spain, takes up a teaching post in the reformatory and strives at improving literacy but ends in conflict with disciplinarian Brother John. The film won multiple awards at international film festivals, including the Best Film award at the Copenhagen International Film Festival.
Her fourth feature film, the biographical film Maudie (2016), about Canadian folk artist Maud Lewis, brought Aisling international success. Maud Lewis was a Nova Scotian artist who before she became a leading light of the Canadian folk-art movement, was crippled with rheumatoid arthritis and hidden from the world by her strict family. Aisling stated “I was in Cardiff making a BBC television film about Dylan Thomas when I was sent the script for Maudie. And when I read it, I immediately contacted my agent and said what do I have to do to make this picture? There was just something about it – she was a woman trying to make her way against the odds, and she was a painter.”
For her work on Maudie, Walsh won a Canadian Screen Award for Best Director; the film won a total of seven awards at the 6th annual ceremony in 2018. Walsh also won the award for Best Director at the 15th annual Irish Film and Television Awards in 2018 for her direction of Maudie.
“I’ve gone my own road,” she says, “and it’s been lonely on occasions. I’ve been out in the wilderness quite a bit I feel, it has been hard at times, but that’s okay, that’s my choice, and I’m very proud of everything that I’ve done. I’ve worked with some great people, I’ve had some amazing opportunities and I’ve done, I think, some decent work along the way.”