Review of Irish Film @ Cork Film Festival 2019: Screen Ireland World Premiere Shorts

 

Loretta Goff was at the Cork Film Festival’s screening of short films produced under Fís Éireann/Screen Ireland’s Focus Shorts and Real Shorts schemes.

Ten short films produced under Fís Éireann/Screen Ireland’s Focus Shorts and Real Shorts schemes had their world premiere at the 64th Cork Film Festival on the 16th of November. Mags O’Sullivan of Screen Ireland introduced the programme of shorts by noting that 60% of them were directed by women and that 50% had female screenwriters, highlighting Screen Ireland’s commitment to diversity and gender equality, which was evident across these shorts. The films ranged in their mode of expression and style—encompassing animation, documentary and live-action—but all engaged with types of community and identity, making for interesting comparisons and showing off Irish talent.

Lorraine Lordan’s A Cat Called Jam opened the programme with the humorous tale of a cat who sees himself as a dog and just wants to be part of the pack. Despite reactions suggesting he doesn’t quite fit in, Jam is persistent in his mission, lightheartedly singing about meat and chasing his tale like the other dogs. A beautifully drawn and well-crafted animation, this short has an uplifting message about finding the place you belong for yourself and being who you want to be. This message carried across several of the other films, with A Cat Called Jam offering an excellent start to the group.

The second film of the selection, Bryony Dunne’s Above the Law, explored communities in transit, cleverly drawing comparisons between paths of migratory birds and the, usually fraught, journeys of refugees and migrants. While the birds move freely, as they wish, between locations, closely examined only by birdwatchers, the refugees are instead seen by surveillance cameras patrolling borders, or those who must be ready to rescue them from overflowing boats. Moving between Cairo, Lesvos and Donegal, with narration from both migrants and those looking out for them, the film lets us literally fly along with the birds (with cameras attached) as we are grounded by the words spoken by these individuals. Above the Law faces difficult realities in a poetic and hopeful way, drawing to a close with a Syrian refugee in Ireland commenting that his “Irish passport is now [his] wings”.

A Better You, written and directed by Eamonn Murphy, brings us to a well-designed modern steampunk world with the advanced technology of programmable carbon clones alongside computers that are cranked to scroll through pages as you would archival material. In this setting, a shy man, Douglas (Seán T. Ó Meallaigh) finally decides to purchase a “better version” of himself to go on a date with a girl he likes. Ó Meallaigh’s performance and the production design are both very strong and, after some light-hearted scenes setting up the clone, we are left with a similar message to that in A Cat Called Jam—that it is best to be yourself.

Ruari Robinson’s Corporate Monster takes a turn toward horror as an overworked and recently laid-off man in NYC takes some untested pills to help with his exhaustion. These further unravel him, causing him to see monsters all around him who pose as humans—from policemen to his former boss. Are the pills making him unstable, causing him to go on a rampage, or are they exposing the truth of the creatures living amongst us? The fast-paced Corporate Monster keeps you guessing with its impressive looking creatures, and makes you consider the perils of losing oneself in work and greed. It also offers some well-placed political commentary as the first appearances of these creatures are surrounding Trump on the stage during a televised speech.

Welcome to a Bright White Limbo, directed by Cara Holmes, documents the creative process of dancer and choreographer of Oona Doherty. As Doherty explains that she had moved to Belfast from London, didn’t feel she fit in, and found a way to express herself through movement, we see her practicing her choreography in the street of a housing estate, as well as in an auditorium. This movement embodies not only herself, but the local identity. Welcome to a Bright White Limbo is artistically shot, capturing the arresting and emotive movements of Doherty, and offering insight into the thoughtful construction of her award-winning show, Hope Hunt.

In Claire Byrne’s Sister This, a simple phone conversation between two sisters reveals a depth of emotion and shines a light on the struggle to get by, and what is sometimes sacrificed to do it. With one sister abroad for work, and the other taking care of her son, they argue over the mother missing the boy’s birthday and about the safety of her line of work. Charlie Bailey and Jordanne Jones deliver strong performances as the sisters, packing this short with an emotional punch.

Based on Ryan’s essay “The Fear of Winning”, Iseult Howlett’s cleverly named The Grass Ceiling is a short documentary in which three of Ireland successful female athletes—Rianna Jarrett, Elise O’Byrne White and Ryan herself—relate what sport means to them. Through this a portrait is spun of powerful, inspiring women who resist constrictive and conservative gender expectations. Finding their place and their confidence through their athleticism, these women serve as strong role models. The Grass Ceiling rightfully showcases their talents and perspectives, which are often overlooked in favour of the male athletes who are more frequently in the spotlight, and is itself a powerful and inspiring film.

Sophia Tamburrini’s Maya stars Pat Shortt as Ken, who lives happily connected to a machine that simulates his reality using his memories. However, as his payments for this run out, he will soon be confronted by reality. Maya sensitively explores loss and what grief can do to a person—replaying memories and subtly overwriting them through time until we are faced with a new reality. Tamburrini smartly uses elements of sci-fi in this film as a way to confront what are equally natural processes. 

Kalchalka, directed by Gar O’Rourke, documents “the world’s most hardcore gym”—Kiev’s outdoor Soviet scrap metal gym, offering a snapshot of the day-to-day running of this unique place and the variety of individuals that use it. Well put-together shots tell the story of this space as its caretaker brings us through it, providing several humorous moments. The gym equipment and construction is interesting in itself, but the glimpses we are given of the characters that populate it leave an even bigger impression. Personalities are well-captured here, often simply through gesture.

Finally, rounding off the programme was Brendan Canty’s Cork-based Christy, which received quite a few cheers from the home crowd. This short follows a 16-year-old as he goes on a disappointing job interview and is brought back to good spirits by his friends. Showing off plenty of Cork charm, in a similar vein to The Young Offenders, the film deftly moved between heartfelt moments and humour, ending the Screen Ireland World Premiere Shorts with plenty of laughs.

 

The Screen Ireland World Premiere Shorts programme screened on 16th Nov 2019  as part of the Cork Film Festival (7 – 17 November 2019).

 

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Review of Irish Film @ Cork Film Festival 2019: Irish Shorts 5: It’s No Longer A Journey Down The Road

Caleb Cotter experiences twists and turns on life’s highway at the Irish Shorts 5 programme at the 2019 Cork Film Festival. 

 

It is an exhilarating experience going into a short film compilation having no idea what any of the films are. It’s made even better when the reel’s title indicates that you are to be shown a number of films with a vast range of styles, genres, tones and premises. This is what I wanted from Irish Shorts: It’s No Longer A Journey Down The Road, and I was satisfied with what I got; having been shown a brilliant showcase of weird, unique and creative films, from live action to animation.

Starting and ending the showcase were two strange and fantastic comedies: Eli Dolliver’s Lovestruck, in which an eccentric older woman is unlucky at finding love and Something Doesn’t Feel Right by Fergal Costello, where we see the trouble a classic slasher villain faces in setting up his perfect kills.

Lovestruck set the showcase’s tone perfectly, blending  almost creepy surreal tone with witty dialogue and an idiosyncratic lead performance by Eithne Horgan that leaves you laughing almost as much as you are baffled. On the other hand, Something Doesn’t Feel Right brilliantly gives us a brilliant subversion of the classic horror tropes as we see the time and effort it takes Zipface to set up his kills and the problems he endures when things don’t go as planned. It’s funny and surprisingly endearing as it is gory, ending the showcase with a standout film.

In between these comedies, there played some surprisingly riveting dramas. The first of these was Liam O’Neill’s Kathleen, in which a struggling writer finds inspiration in a dispossessed woman he invites into his home in a sad yet beautiful film with great lead performances. Then came Daniel Butler’s Leave the Road Behind You, in which a young man tries to wrestle control during a massive shift in his life. It was nice to see a film in Irish during the film, and the film itself had some great performances and editing, while its grim, gritty atmosphere perfectly encapsulated the turmoil the main character was going through. The last of these dramas was Michael-David McKernan’s HALO, a superb drama about a lonely taxi driver trying to protect his passenger from heartbreak. Shot completely from the passenger seat of the taxi, HALO tells an engaging and heart-wrenching story with captivating, believable performances from all involved. Top that with a brilliant screenplay and beautiful lighting, the film uses the limited space of the taxi to its advantage in order to convey exactly what it wants to, which earned it’s director a well-deserved award at the Festival’s Award Ceremony.

Finally, the short film reel showcased a trio of fantastic animated films that brought unique art styles to the forefront. The first was Streets of Fury a charming five-minute film in which the muscular protagonist of an ’80s ‘beat em up’ arcade game gets transported to the world of a much calmer game. Switching between a retro ’80s feel and a children’s book aesthetic, the film is captivating with fantastic animation, a sincere amount of heart and fantastic music (including an classic arcade game remix of the Rocky training theme) and is a simple joy to watch. Meanwhile, The Dream Report gave a stylised red-and-black airbrush art style to its strange, eerie interweaving moments of a man’s daily life and abstruse messages from out of space. The film beautifully induces a calming mind-numbing sensation, pulling you into its world and simply carrying you along its journey with its deadpan voiceover. However, the standout of the animated films was John Don’t Know Nothin’! where a successful star of a family sitcom gets into a heated conversation with his taxi driver. Trippy, eerie and sometimes downright terrifying, the film uses every trick in the book to portray its tale of sorrow and despair, from its beautifully contrasting colours and an art style that transitions back and forth between the simplicity of a children’s book and that if a surrealist painting to its fantastic writing and changing aspect ratio. After watching it, I couldn’t help but give a deep breath at what I had seen; its visuals and profoundness swirling around my brain long after I had left the cinema.

Overall, It’s No Longer A Journey Down The Road was a fantastic showcase of a myriad of creative, unique films, any of which I’d highly recommend seeking out.

 

The Irish Shorts 5: It’s No Longer A Journey Down The Road programme screened on Fri., 15th Nov 2019  as part of the Cork Film Festival (7 – 17 November 2019).

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Review of Irish Film @ Cork Film Festival 2019: Irish Shorts 1: Legacies

Caleb Cotter battles the rainy streets of Cork to find solace in shorts.

 

Before seeing Legacies, my second screening and the first set of Irish shorts to be shown at the Cork Film Festival, I had spent three hours in a café trying to drown out my disappointment of a different film in hot chocolate. As I ran through the rainy streets towards the cinema and took my seat at the edge of a row in a packed room one thought kept repeating in my mind: please let one of these films be great. Just one film to blow me away, to captivate me, that’s all I want. By the short film reel’s end, I was astonished; somehow they were all great.

Every one of the six films played throughout Irish Shorts 1: Legacies was either charming, heart-wrenching or some strange mixture of the two. As the title might suggest, all of the primarily female-led movies told tales dealing with love, loss, grief, life and death, carrying the themes across in a simple and nuanced manner and a heavy dose of humour. The showcase was a thrilling experience back to back, as every film had its own take on the themes and style that made each of them stand out amongst the rest while also somehow feeling intrinsically Irish.

Right off the bat, we were presented with Amy Corrigan’s Bound, depicting Rosie, gathering all her strength in order to save her son’s soul in 1940s Ireland. The pale and dark colours of the film perfectly present the sorrow and loss the young mother is going through in a dream-like manner, while the beautiful cinematography isolates her throughout the entirety film. This is particularly evident in the scenes when Rosie talks to her husband and a priest;  her loneliness in these scenes making it all the harder to do what needs to be done. However, it is Amy Molloy’s powerful performance as Rosie that carries the film, perfectly conveying both the heartache and determination of the young mother and her speech to her son as she completes the task in the dead of night is heartbreaking, leading to a melancholic and beautiful ending.

The next two films would build on the emotions and themes built by Bound and set the tone for the rest of the showcase. Sinéad O’Loughlin’s Stray, about a struggling elderly woman dealing with a violent break-in that left her without her husband, and Stuart Douglas’ Cúl an Tí, in which a dying guilt-ridden mother is brought reconciliation with her estranged daughter, were equally as powerful and riveting as each other, both taking things slow and allowing us to get to know the characters, allowing for their heartbreak to become ours. However, this is where the shorts began introducing humour into the mix, Stray with a dry wit and an almost surreal quality I still can’t exactly place and Cúl an Tí with the shocking yet undisputedly sad comments by the hard-as-nails, dying woman.

With this humour introduced, the way was paved for the film that garnered the biggest laughs from the audience, Michael Creagh’s Ruby. When the eccentric, bumbling Len gives an unusual and off-putting gift to his somewhat stuck-up wife, Ruby, on their ruby anniversary, we were met with a wonderful, memorable and charming experience. Dan Gordon (Len) and Kate O’Toole (Ruby) give excellent performances as the bickering couple of opposites and bounce off each other perfectly with the clever, witty dialogue and its many twists and turns. However, the film does not miss the chance to be endearing when it comes to the emotional moments of the film, slowing down just enough for us to feel the weight of the couple’s long-standing relationship, as well as the strength keeping them together. Yet what was most surprising about the film was its style, with a beautiful use of cinematography, editing and colour to traverse from the couple’s conversations to their memories of the past. Overall, the film is extremely poignant and charming and it is sure to stick in the memory. 

This leaves us with the final two films of Legacies, Pat, directed by Emma Wall, and Peggy and the Grim by Luke Morgan. Set in 1978, Pat follows the titular music-loving old woman whose only connection with her son in New York is the one phone box in her village. The film bounces from fun and energetic to slow and emotional with astounding ease and the soundtrack of groovy classic rock and roll ballads, along with Pat’s dancing, give the film a real charm. The film is impressively carried by the performances of Rosaline Linehan as Pat and Moe Dunford as her son Conn, who are able to portray the closeness of the mother and son’s relationship despite only speaking to each other through a phone. Meanwhile, Peggy and the Grim ended the reel with a delightfully charming tale of Peggy getting a visit from the Grim Reaper. With a surprising level of wit and light-heartedness, the film leaves one delighted with its fantastic editing, music and cinematography, all done with a delightful simplicity and its final shot gave a perfect and endearing end to Legacies

Overall, Legacies proved to be a fantastic experience that had a wonderful blend of charm, wit, heartbreak and simplicity to carry across very powerful and universal themes, all the while with a distinctly Irish feel. 

 

The Irish Shorts 1:  Legacies programme screened on Sat, 9th Nov 2019  as part of the Cork Film Festival (7 – 17 November 2019).

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Review of Irish Film at The Dublin Feminist Film Festival 2019: Shorts Programme 

 

The Dublin Feminist Film Festival has established firm roots on Dublin’s cultural calendar, shining a spotlight on women in film. It promotes and celebrates female filmmakers, hoping to inspire and empower others to get involved in filmmaking.

Irene Falvey went along to this year’s Shorts Programme.

On Thursday, 22nd August, the Dublin Feminist Film Festival showcased an impressive and varied collection of short films, all made by female directors. 

The Beekeeper (2019) Ireland (6.29)
Dir. Robyn Conroy

As the only animation feature in the programme, The Beekeeper stood out as the most visually arresting of the shorts. Set in a bamboo forest, the landscape feels blissfully detached from the world. In a short timeframe, The Beekeeper manages to create a bond between the two characters – a young girl called Mae and the bear that protects her; their attachment to each other is undeniable. They live in harmony together, nourishing themselves on honey. Disaster strikes when Mae discovers where this food source comes from, a bee sting attack forces the bear to return Mae to her place amongst her own kind. This short film evokes equal parts sadness and sweetness; the joy and simplicity of their connection and the sadness of their true incompatibility.    

Moon Rabbit (2018) Japan (14.25)
Dir. Kae Ho

Moon Rabbit tells the story of 7-year-old Rio as she returns to Japan with her recently separated Japanese mother Seiko and her older brother. Clearly these kids have grown up in America and this trip launches them back into their Japanese heritage, comically highlighted when their cousin tactlessly proclaims how foreign they look. While the film does deal with cultural differences, many other ideas are threaded throughout; themes such as innocence, the stories we tell ourselves and secrecy all feature. The film takes place principally in Seiko’s parent’s house. This domestic setting is used to effectively illustrate the main motif – what goes on behind closed doors.  While this family unit is closely contained in a physical sense within this house, behind closed doors they can easily block each other out. The children are dismissed as Seiko closes the door and confides in her mother about the breakdown of her marriage. Rio’s older brother and her cousin shut the door so that they don’t have to play with her. This barrier that is created by closed doors is lifted when Seiko enters the bathroom where an upset Rio has shut herself in. The privacy that a closed door provides fades and secrecy falls away. This is an insightful film about the secrets we keep and the stories we need to tell ourselves. 

 

Tra na mban / Ladies Beach (2019) Mexico (6.36)
Dir. Carmen Garcia Gonzalez

This short documentary provides an insightful glimpse into the lives of women that brave the chilly depths of the Irish sea every day. Several of the women that meet regularly are interviewed; explaining honestly why they do this and the effect it has on their lives. In particular Martell speaks of the way this ritual has transformed how she feels about herself and how she carries out her life. We get the sense that we are being let in on a great secret to life; the women are infectious in their enthusiasm. What is interesting about this documentary is that it shows a way that these women have carved out an inclusive and supportive community. It is a practise built on bravery and self-respect. 

 

Driving Lessons (2019) Iran (12.48) Winner Best International film
Dir. Marziyeh Riahi

Driving Lessons focuses on an Iranian woman taking driving lessons; it is illegal for her to be alone with her instructor meaning that her traditional and misogynistic husband must tow along for the ride. The film is shot solely in the instructor’s car, taking place over a couple of days of lessons. This keeps the action contained in one place, meaning that the tensions between the two men eventually boil over and erupt. The husband constantly interrupts, is bossy, controlling and makes a lot of chauvinistic statements that sting. However, a twist arrives when we see that perhaps the young instructor is actually worse – he won’t sign his wife’s travel papers preventing her from visiting her sick father. Both the husband’s behaviour and the instructor’s refusal of his wife’s demands demonstrate that even as women in the Middle East are given more rights (driving) progress is still slow. Our female protagonist’s lack of speech throughout the entire feature re-affirms her powerless position. 

 

Clay Project (2017) Ireland (4.50)
Dir. Kathy Raftery

This film examines the work of artist Vanessa Donoso López.  We are brought to a sun-soaked and sleepy part of Spain, bursting with nature and removed from the hustle and bustle of the city. What stands out about this feature, is the fact that it examines the artists approach and ideas/inspiration rooted in her work rather than the outcome. Instead we get a glimpse into the how and the why of a piece of art. The artist makes her art from clay, the camera shows her going through the manual process of turning earth into this material. This means that her art is very much connected to the place it was created. Seeing how this art is made gives us a deeper sense of understanding and appreciation for the artistic process. 

 

Early Days (2018) UK (12.00) Winner Best Film
Dir. Nessa Wrafter

This film highlights the more troubling and traumatic aspects of welcoming a newborn into the world. It examines the internal emotional conflict of becoming a mother. We get a window into Kate’s world as she struggles through the first few trying days. Flashback sequences reveal that it was a painful birth, blood and hospital scenes subvert the typically joyous portrayal of welcoming new life. This film effectively shows the realities that make this transition alienating from the self; shown through Kate examining her inflated post-birth stomach. She feels distaste for her body and estrangement from it when there is no longer life growing inside it. Excluding flashbacks, all of the film takes place within Kate and her partner’s home, creating a sense of entrapment. The only glimpses of the outside world we see comes from Kate looking outside the window and spotting her eccentric and colourfully dressed elderly female neighbour. In the end this woman provides Kate with some solace, concluding the film on a hopeful note. 

 

Mother (2018) Ireland (9.24) Runner-up for best film
Dir. Natasha Waugh

Mother is a bizarrely comical and cleverly creative film. It deals with all the insecurities that a mother may face; depicting all the things she must do to please her family.  The film examines one mother’s attempts to go about caring for her family and husband until she is replaced by a fridge! The fridge can cook better, is more entertaining, can do French plaits and is better in bed. This bizarre and wacky feature is laugh-out-loud funny and smart; making us hope to see more from this director in the near future. 

 

The Shorts Programme took place 22nd August 2019 as part of the Dublin Feminist Film Festival (22—24 August) 

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Review of Irish Film @ Galway Film Fleadh 2019: Irish Talent: New Shorts 9: Animation

The Dream Report

Orla Monaghan was at the Fleadh to celebrate the creative cornerstone of Irish film: the animation industry. 

On Sunday, 14th July the Galway Film Fleadh treated us to sixteen short animations from both new and established talent from all across the country. There was some truly imaginative work on display, and all genres were covered.     

  

Streets of Fury

The standout in comedy was Streets of Fury, directed and produced by Aidan McAteer. The tale follows the violent Max Punchface, an ’80s-styled video-game character, as he punches his way through levels and life. And just like that, Max is suddenly transported into the calm, bloodless world of Sheepland. How will Max now cope without using violence as currency?  Streets of Fury is a fun blend of nostalgia and humour. It definitely has everything you would want from an animation!

THEM

The absolute standout on the day was THEM. Directed by Robin Lochman and produced by Mathias Schwerbrook, it is an original animation with a gritty new look. In an isolated village where everyone bares the same sliver reflection, how will life change when a new, golden, self-proclaimed leader shows up? The story examines the place and power of false idols in our world and follows one characters attempt to fight and overhaul the system. A definite must-see!

A Quack Too Far

For younger viewers, A Quack Too Far and Far Isle are both superb options. Directed and written by Melissa Culhane, A Quack too Far tells a simple tale about a sleepy fox and a noisy duck. What does a fox have to do to get some peace? A Far Isle, directed by Laura Robinson and produced by Gavin Halpin, is enjoyable for both adults and children. The story of one girl’s enchanting boat journey is beautifully told with an impressive, colourful visual. 

     

Dorothy

In terms of horror, Dorothy offered up a truly spooky piece about a child being tormented in the witching Salem Massachusetts in 1687 and Offering showed us what happens when a mysterious quest goes awry. 

   

Legend Has It

A few of the animations focused on Irish subject matter. Legend Has It told the tale of a young girl’s struggle with a dark secret in an ancient Celtic community. Whereas The Bogman was an interesting take on the transition between old Ireland and new. In reaction to the recent sustainability announcement from Bord Na Móna, the story follows a man from the midlands who has harvested peat his whole life. How will he, his community and more like him cope with this news?

Wear and Tear

Also worth a mention is Wear and Tear, a sort of psychological thriller about nightmare-born creations following you into your waking day.  Cliona Noonan’s humorous Tuna about a woman’s odd obsession.  And I’m sure any student can relate to Ctrl + Alt + Z, which tells the classic, stress-inducing story of the student who forgot to hit save. Visually, The Dream, directed by Jack O’Shea, really merits a mention. The positively unique style of this animation was stunning and certainly made it unforgettable. Finally there were strong debuts from Shannon Egan (Archie’s Bat) Kayleigh Gibbons (Featherweight), Rachel Fitzgerald (Bubbles) and Janet Grainger (Outside the Box) completing an impressive programme of Irish animation.

 

The Irish Talent: New Shorts 9: Animation programme screened 14th July as part of the 2019 Galway Film Fleadh (9 – 14 July)

        

 

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Review of Irish Film @ Galway Film Fleadh 2019: Irish Talent: New Shorts 3, Fiction

Stephen Burke checks in on Galway’s programme of live action shorts which explores the parallel problems of escapism from a variety of settings: judgement, troubled pasts and unhappy status quos. 

It’s a great credit to the Fleadh that the range of shorts on offer is so incredibly diverse. Half of the shorts in this line-up were directorial debuts and all were being screened for the first time. Aside from a brief synopsis, there’s very little information to be found on such films before seeing them. That’s what makes screenings at the Fleadh so exciting though. You’re not quite sure what you’re about to see. This is refreshing in an age where marketing is quite often so over the top to the point where it’s not a rarity for a trailer to spoil the entire plot of a movie. 

Before the screening, the short film co-ordinator, Eibh Collins, emphasized that some of the films were quite heavy. She certainly wasn’t just saying this for effect. The first three shorts on show featured some of the darkest themes you’re likely to see in any film programme outside of a Lars Von Trier retrospective. Of course, when tackled properly the darkest of themes can make for the most interesting pieces of cinema and such was the case here with the two strongest films coming from this first half.

Limbo

Darkness is firmly established in the first scene of this debut film from 21-year old Matthew McGuigan when we’re presented with the image of a man walking across an abandoned landscape. This is cleverly juxtaposed alongside scenes of the central character Brendan interacting with his elderly mother Eilis in her nursing-home room. You just know that there will be some connection between the two images, but what is it? This gives the audience something to think about from the beginning.

Eilis’ death is clearly imminent. She is as aware of this as anyone and so finally feels comfortable enough to reveal a long-held secret to Brendan… A fellow resident of the nursing home overhears and insists that some man on a particular island will be able to solve “the mystery” for them. Brendan is skeptical, feeling the resident’s suggestion is all a bit fairytale like. The reality of what’s happening with his mother though is far from a fairytale of course and wanting to honour her wishes, Brendan agrees to follow up the source.

The acting in this film is strong and the relationship between Brendan and his mother is completely believable with top-notch performances coming from Patrick O’Kane and Roma Tomelty. For such a harrowing subject matter the script also manages to inject some humour without unbalancing the overall sombre tone. Despite its short running time, Limbo boasts more character development than it perhaps has any right to. The pacing is also spot on with the film taking its time to reach what seems like an inevitable conclusion. However, in not rushing things, the emotional impact of this conclusion is greater when it does arrive with audience members likely to be all the more devastated when their suspicions prove to be founded. This is a very impressive debut from Matthew McGuigan with much credit also going to his cinematographer Mark Garrett for capturing the required mood and tone. 


Run

Caroline Grace Cassidy and Róisín Kearney have each written and directed several short films before but Run is their first collaboration. It was created following the introduction of a new legal framework on domestic abuse, to include coercive control in Ireland. 

Right from the off it’s clear that the lead character, Sarah is married to a pig of a man. Physical violence isn’t the issue here however. The point of the film is, of course, rather to show how a spouse can wield emotional control over a partner. In Run Sarah’s husband is so much of a pig though that you initially wonder how she hasn’t left him a long time ago. What’s interesting is that in a strange way, as the film progresses, the viewer does become acclimated and accustomed to the husband’s boorish behaviour, revealing just how easily people can end up trapped in such toxic relationships.


Void

Ger Duffy’s Void is a visceral experience boasting a tour-de-force performance from Laurence O’ Fuarain. At the outset, the audience is presented with some interesting images, all of them begging a similar question – “Where the hell are we?” Are we in the future? Is it the present world?’ One thing is clear. The nameless character onscreen is a man who is being tortured by a whole range of agonizing yet mostly indecipherable thoughts. 

The man sets off into the night in search of something. It might be judgment. It might be an escape from the demons within. If it’s the latter they soon confront him instead. Before long, he arrives outside a nightclub. After making an aggressive but unsuccessful attempt to gain admission, he manages to sneak inside. Once in, he engages in full-on debauchery, including pill popping and having sex in a bathroom cubicle. All the while the mental anguish continues. 

The interesting thing is that apart from O’ Fuarain nobody else actually appears on screen throughout. Instead of using supporting actors, Duffy employs an extremely imaginative narrative technique to evoke the memories of the character. He uses lighting and audio effects in particular to tell the story. In other words, while we see the man dancing or fighting or going through the motions of interacting with people, these other people are never onscreen. We hear them but don’t see them. Sound has long been considered to perhaps be the most undervalued aspect of filmmaking and it is used here to brilliant effect. Much credit must go to sound mixer Andrew Fenton and sound editor Damian Chennell.

From a visual point of view, the nightclub itself is actually an empty house with strobe lighting and similar effects portraying otherwise. Duffy’s methods work very well in unsettling viewers and bringing them into the seedy world that O Fuarain’s character is desperately navigating. The consideration of film being a form of voyeurism comes to mind as the audience is watching some very personal and intimate memories and as such they are forced to not only observe the character’s actions but also to be somewhat complicit in them. It feels like the definition of a bad trip but more importantly it’s a very powerful piece of cinema.

As the sole performer O’Fuarain is quite simply terrific. He possesses a very strong screen presence and at times in this film he physically resembles a feral Paul Galvin. His character is a ticking time bomb detonating at regular intervals before resetting to soon do the same again. O’Fuarain is a skilled enough actor though to wrench empathy from his audience. The character is explosive but in his hands and in Duffy’s there is always the sense that an unfortunately misguided individual lays beneath all the rage. This is why a late hint at redemption doesn’t feel like it’s stretching the bounds of credibility. O’Fuarain’s performance in Void is far removed from his equally impressive leading turn in Alan Mulligan’s The Limit Of, which was released in cinemas this past April. In the latter film his character may have been burning up on the inside but he constantly projected an outward appearance of stoic calm. The fact O’ Fuarain can portray both roles so convincingly marks him down as a talent to watch. The same can be said for Duffy. Void is a great follow-up to his very impressive debut short film Little Bear (which he co-directed with Daire Glynn) and he is now 2 for 2.


Halo

Halo is the directorial debut from Michael-David McKernan, who also plays the lead role of taxi driver Dara in this 16-minute one-take film. Ever since the 1970s when Travis Bickle first got behind the wheel in Taxi Driver, onscreen drivers of this ilk have usually fallen into one of two categories – the comical chatterbox or the lonely crusader. Dara belongs to the latter category though at the beginning of Halo, he doesn’t seem to be on any particular mission.

When we first meet him, Dara seems to be having a fairly standard night on the road, dealing with a fairly obnoxious couple of passengers before picking up a female customer (Toni O’Rourke). While driving her to her boyfriend’s house, he tries and somewhat succeeds in striking up a conversation. What happens next affects them both. Dara is clearly a lonely guy and McKernan’s portrayal is good, veering between awkwardness and sincerity. He brings a charming likeability to Dara. His acting is restrained which is impressive considering McKernan is directing himself. 

The nighttime setting of Halo creates a suitably dark and detached mood, the latter matching the likely mindset of the lead character. McKernan must be commended for his creativity and ingenuity in using some royalty free Beethoven music too, which works in terms of plot as well as serving the atmosphere. The one-take style actually suits this type of story quite well and there isn’t really any occasion where it feels unnecessary. Burschi Wojnar’s cinematography is un-showy and he keeps a largely steady hand throughout.

One issue though is that as Halo moves on, the direction that the story is heading begins to feel predictable. As such, a slight left turn at the end is more than welcome. While not perfect, this is a solid first effort from Michael-David McKernan and it will be interesting to see what he does next, both as an actor and as a director.


Starry Night

Starry Night is a graduate film from students of the Institute of Art, Design and Technology in Dun Laoghaire with Emma Smith directing from a script by Rachel Moloney. The first scene opens on an estate in Dublin city as Cara (played by Hazel Clifford) leaves her house and gets into a taxi with her best friend Jeanie. A voiceover narration from Cara explains that she’s finally leaving the place she grew up in, something she never felt she’d have an opportunity to do. Up to this point she’s had to put her own future on hold to take care of her young sisters.

The film then flashes back, showing the events leading up to this moment juxtaposing scenes from the recent past alongside scenes from this day of departure for Cara. Starry Night follows Cara’s attempts to get somebody to take care of the children for her, under the false pretense that she’ll be collecting them again later that night. In reality she is about to abandon the girls to pursue her own dreams. Throughout the piece, titles are repeatedly superimposed on screen displaying how long it is before Cara and Jeanie’s flight leaves. The use of these titles does get a bit tiresome after a while. 

While the stakes are unquestionably high for Cara, there’s just not as much tension in the film as there could be. Following her great performance as Sharon Curley in the stage version of the Snapper last year, Hazel Clifford gives another likeable turn and she has a bright future ahead.  At the end of the film, Cara faces a huge decision but there’s never really any doubt which way she will go with it and it all becomes a bit obvious. It wouldn’t be quite fair to say that the voiceover is overdone but Clifford is a good enough actor that perhaps the film didn’t need it. It’s likely that a greater emotional effect would have resulted if the audience weren’t told Cara’s feelings at certain points but were just allowed to concentrate on the performance instead. 

The production design is worth praise and the cinematography is strong. Without meaning to be condescending the film does look and feel like a professional production, which is not always the case with student pieces. The use of a single location for the majority also brings across a feeling of claustrophobia, which effectively mirrors Cara’s constricted existence. 


The Blizzards – Behind the Music

Who Would Want To Be In A Guitar Band? This is the question that is playfully explored in Jeff Doyle’s lighthearted mockumentary about Irish band The Blizzards. It’s a relevant enough question too in this modern world where guitar-based music seems to be drifting further and further from the mainstream scene. 

The plot of the film consists of The Blizzards attempting to make a comeback and being led in their quest to do so by hapless manager Duncan Browne. In an attempt to get with the times they actually record a non-guitar inspired song called “Who Would Want To Be In A Guitar Band?” (“your music is just too guitary” moans Browne at one stage), which is met with widespread derision. This spells catastrophe for Browne and for the band members, with each of them dealing with the fallout in their own individual way.

Johnny Elliot gives a good performance as Browne. The band is also game for proceedings too and they do well at sending both themselves and the music industry itself up. This kind of film has been done many times before though and although humorous, Behind The Music is just not laugh-out-loud enough to compensate for the lack of originality. Mockumentaries have burned themselves out over the past decade or so and the humour in such films needs to constantly be razor-sharp if they are to stand a chance at being noticed from amongst the pack.

There is a constant stream of celebrity cameos throughout with Mattress Mick and John Connors probably being the most memorable. These guest appearances are fun at first but soon begin to grate when hardly a minute passes by without one occurring (though kudos to Doyle for getting Stormy Daniels to appear in his film!).

Aside from fans of The Blizzards, it’s hard to know who the film is aimed at. Ironically a serious documentary about the same subject matter may have broader appeal. There are plenty of music fans out there that would find the notion of the guitar as an instrument of the past to be a very unappetizing one indeed. It would be interesting to see just how a thirty-something band like the Blizzards manage to navigate this current world of sanitized pop. At one point in the film Louis Walsh shows up to give lead singer Bressie a pep talk. Aiming to convince him that there is still a place for guitar in the music business, Walsh stresses that: “Ed Sheeran plays guitar”. Regardless of whether that line is intentional or not, it might just be the funniest joke in the entire film.

 

 

The Irish Talent: New Shorts 1: Documentary Irish Talent: New Shorts 3, Fiction programme screened 11th July as part of the 2019 Galway Film Fleadh (9 – 14 July)

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Review of Irish Film @ Galway Film Fleadh 2019: Irish Talent: New Shorts 1: Documentary 

Farmer Michael (The Life and Times of a Social Media Pariah)

Seán Crosson took in a selection of  documentary shorts at this year’s Fleadh, featuring works from both established and debut directors, showcasing the best of Irish talent. 

A key component of the Galway Film Fleadh’s focus on new and emerging talent is the series of short programmes featured across the festival. In total there were nine sessions dedicated to shorts at the Fleadh, covering documentary, fiction, and animation and as always the organisers deserve great credit for the focus and space they allocate to young Irish filmmakers in the programme. 

The films included in the first programme covered a wide range of topics from reflections on Irishness, to profile pieces, and considerations of aspects of the natural world.

El Hor

The programme began with the visually stunning and evocative El Hor directed by Dianne Lucille Campbell. Inspired by the beautiful Saluki dog, the film combines mythology, nature imagery, and dynamic cinematography, with otherworldly musical accompaniment. In the surreal landscapes and images created, the film is reminiscent of Maya Deren’s work, but also in its imagining of the world from the perspective of the animals featured, the work of Stan Brakhage. Overall Campbell has produced an extraordinary cacophony of sound and image, impossible to categorise but rather oddly included in a section dedicated to short documentaries; this was a work much closer in form to experimental film.

Our Land

More in keeping with documentary form was Eoin Harnett’s Our Land, an impressively realised reflection on what makes Ireland distinctive. Featuring seven contributors, each of whom provide engaging, humorous and at times insightful commentary on the topic, the documentary was excellently paced, moving effectively between its contributors and supporting footage from the streets of Galway.

Recommend Rapper

The subsequent films Recommend Rapper (Caoimhin Coffey) and Farmer Michael (The Life and Times of a Social Media Pariah) (Gerard Walsh) each provided profiles of intriguing characters from Galway. Recommend Rapper focuses on would-be rapper Danny Rock from Kinvara in Galway and his efforts to produce his first music video. While generally well produced, there is an uneasy tension (never entirely resolved) evident in this work between the director’s concern to sympathetically portray the subject and Rock becoming himself a figure of fun. Farmer Michael concerns the man (Steven Timothy) behind the comic character in the film’s title who has achieved a considerable following in recent years for his entertaining and idiosyncratic YouTube videos. This is an entertaining and at times moving account of the challenges Timothy has faced in his life. However, it is also a somewhat unbalanced piece that would have benefited from either a longer profile to accommodate the tonal changes apparent or a more focused production. 

Squared Circle

Squared Circle is an interesting chronicle of a group of wrestlers setting up and performing  on Waterford promenade, accompanied by an evocative commentary of the events concerned, written by Dublin-based wrestling promoter Simon Rochford, and recited by actor Ger Carey. In its day-in-a-life structure, the documentary is an informative account of the wrestlers featured and the effort involved in the events they organise and participate in.

Making Tom

Big Tom McBride was a legendary figure in Irish country music, above all for people from his native Castleblayney in Co. Monaghan. Táine King and Lorraine Higgins’ Making Tom is a sensitively produced study of the making of a statue to commemorate the country and Irish legend, and the impact of its unveiling on residents of his home town.

Pigeons of Discontent

The final documentary featured in this programme was Paddy Cahill’s Pigeons of Discontent – this was amongst the strongest works featured in this section, imaginatively engaging with the divided opinions among local residents of Stoneybatter in Dublin city towards the large number of pigeons that gather in the area. Cahill rightly chooses to focus his camera almost entirely on the pigeons themselves and the, at times, striking and beautiful shapes they create in flight, accompanied by comments (both positive and negative) from those who share Stoneybatter with them. 

Seán Crosson

 

The Irish Talent: New Shorts 1: Documentary programme screened 10th July as part of the 2019 Galway Film Fleadh (9 – 14 July).

 

 

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