Brian Ó Tiomáin finds some sun up in the sky in Damian McCann’s debut feature, Doineann.
Doineann, the Irish language word for a ‘stormy weather event’, marks the feature debut of director Damian McCann. The screenplay is by Aislinn Clarke. It is an achievement in itself to shoot a feature in the midst of the Covid restrictions, never mind a debut feature. The film succeeds at several other levels also as a mystery story where the tension escalates progressively.
Doineann was produced with the support of the Irish Language Broadcast Fund, the BBC and TG4. It is heartening to see yet another Irish language film getting a cinema release following the highly acclaimed Arracht. Like Arracht, this film is set in a remote location, in this case an offshore island.
I had questions early on in the film about choices some of the characters were making. It seemed that the core plot was being foreshadowed in a manner that seemed slightly heavy handed and risked veering towards cliché. As the story developed, those concerns disappeared and the story became increasingly immersive. In fact, the strength of the story was such that I forgot I was watching a film in Irish.
Doineann is situated on an island with minimal communications with the mainland, including limited mobile phone coverage, no police force or doctor and various other challenges. Like all islands, this island is heavily reliant on the ferry service which is in turn reliant on the weather and the foibles and choices of the Ferryman. This will resonate with those of us who are familiar with travelling to offshore islands.
The casting is a significant strength of the film, featuring fine performances all round from a cast that includes Peter Coonan, Bríd Brennan, Clare Monnelly and Sean T. O’Meallaigh.
Bríd Brennan in particular is impressive as Labhaoise, the quirky retired detective on the island who effectively embodies the police force. Brennan can convey a great deal in a look. It is regrettable that we have not seen more of her Brennan on screen over the years.
Peter Coonan has featured in many varied roles in recent years, including a previous Irish language role in the “Wrecking the Rising” series on TG4. In Doineann he is cast in the role of Tomas, an investigative reporter thrust into his own personal investigation as he tries to solve the mystery of the disappearance of his own wife and child on a remote Irish island.
Tomas finds himself obliged to place his trust in Labhaoise (Brennan) to help find his family before a storm hits the island. He is not gifted with patience and his relationship with Labhaoise becomes increasingly tense. To his credit, Coonan does a very good job of portraying Tomás, a character who is far more complex than might appear initially.
Clare Monnelly is cast in the role of Tomas’ wife, Siobhan who is suffering from postpartum depression. Monnelly manages to deliver a nuanced and very credible performance in a role that has limited dialogue.
The score and sound design work very effectively as the tension is steadily ramped up in a story where certain things and certain people may not be quite as they seem. It is refreshing to see a film where time and thought were invested in the sound design. There is astute use of certain sounds which are key to the element of mystery in the film and ultimately in resolving questions which persist through the story.
Given the Covid restrictions, I had imagined the challenge of filming must have been exacerbated by shooting on one of the northern offshore islands. In fact Doineann was filmed mostly on the mainland in County Down at various locations at Ardglass, Islandmagee and Killyleagh.
The photography by the two DOPs, Damien Elliot and Angus Mitchell, makes full use of these scenic locations. At the same time, the lighting is always appropriate to the plot and maintains a constant sense of foreboding.
Doineann represents an auspicious debut by Damien McCann. Since the film’s world premiere at the Galway Film Fleadh, it has gone on to screen at Newport Beach Film Festival in California, the Foyle Film Festival and the Belfast Film Festival where Bríd Brennan was presented with the Reálta Award for Outstanding Contribution to Cinema.
Doineann is in cinemas from 28th January 2022.