Kimberly Reyes is back in town at the Foyle Film Festival for Songs For While I’m Away.

The first weekend of the Foyle Film Festival highlighted Emer Reynolds’ (director of the award-winning The Farthest) tribute to the life of singer, songwriter, bassist, and Thin Lizzy frontman Phil Lynott in Songs For While I’m Away.

Lynott may not be the Republic’s most famous rock star, but at times it seems he’s the country’s most beloved. For many decades he defined what it meant to be Black and Irish, and it’s easy to understand Ireland’s infatuation with his image. His likeness—or more specifically his large, sorrowful eyes, highlighted with eyeliner, half hiding behind a sea of wayward curls—is painted on pub walls and power boxes across Ireland. And it’s Lynott’s beauty and charisma that fuel this photo and video clip-saturated film, driven by visual flourishes, over narrative.

Featuring 31 songs from both Lynott (as a solo artist) and Thin Lizzy’s catalogue, the movie is sure to delight Lynott fans (if the number of heads bopping and toes tapping in the theatre at this great Derry film festival screening served as any indicator). There’s also engaging Irish pride on display, as some of the best clips feature the Crumlin-native coyly correcting interviewers who didn’t understand the difference between Ireland and The United Kingdom. 

There are a host of interviews with Lynott-loving musicians, from Adam Clayton (always a sage interviewee) and Huey Lewis to James Hetfield, strewn between images. The inclusion of Hetfield may remind viewers who’ve seen his band’s nearly-perfect 2004 documentary, Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, what this film lacks. Of course, being able to follow a band around in real-time gives Hetfield’s film an advantage, but the general glossing over of drama, trauma, and vulnerability in Songs For While I’m Away makes the film hard to get lost in. 

Very little of the 112-minute film, which feels a little too long, focuses on Lynott’s tragic death at age 36 in 1986. And some of the best scenes in the film are interviews with his two, witty daughters, Cathleen Howard-Lynott and Sarah Lynott, who sadly lost their father too early to have many memories to share. 

Another, perhaps more story-driven, version of Lynott’s journey was recently optioned by Shy Punk Productions. The screenplay will be based on the book “My Boy: The Philip Lynott Story”, written by Phil’s mother, Philomena Lynott, and music journalist Jackie Hayden. American actor Gary Dourdan was initially set to play Lynott in an earlier production of the film in the early aughts, but objections to a drug-heavy script from the surviving band members, and Dourdan’s own demons, stopped production in its tracks. However, the next movie shakes out, it will hopefully break a little more emotional ground in order to move Lynott’s narrative forward. 

The 34th Foyle Film Festival 2021 ran 9 – 28 November

Podcast: Emer Reynolds, director of ‘The Farthest’

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