Review of Irish Film @ Cork Film Festival: Michael Inside

Loretta Goff takes a look at Frank Berry’s tale of Michael, a luckless 18-year-old who is misfortunate to be sent to prison.  

Michael Inside takes a hard look at the ways that young people from disadvantaged communities can become caught in a cycle of crime that they have no desire to become a part of. The film follows 18-year-old Michael McCrea (Dafhyd Flynn), who lives with his grandfather Francis McCrea (Lalor Roddy) in a Dublin housing estate. Michael’s father is in prison, his mother died of a drug overdose when he was young, and he left school early, working odd jobs instead. However, he shows a desire to follow the “right path” and an interest in furthering his education on a social care course.

Unfortunately, Michael’s life derails simply because of a series of naïve mistakes, the result of both his youth and his environment. Though he is only on the side-lines of criminal activity, he is sent to prison for three months in an attempt by the judge to shock him into correcting his behaviour. The consequences of this decision are devastating.

Dafhyd Flynn delivers an understated, emotional performance as Michael. Quiet and contemplative, his vulnerability is made evident as his incarceration looms. This is subtly mirrored by the equally excellent performance of Lalor Roddy as his grandfather, who puts on a brave face and offers words of assurance, but again exposes hidden worry in quiet moments. The faces of both these actors do the work of revealing all that is left unsaid in the film, and they do it quite well, eliciting empathy from viewers.

Once inside, Michael is forced not only to grow up quickly, but also to harden. He is repeatedly told that he must fight back and, when he is taken under the wing of Moe Dunford’s character, this becomes inevitable. This character, with another strong performance from Dunford, appears to be on the precipice of violence at any given moment and holds a position of power within the prison, having been there for a while. Under his protection, Michael not only begins to develop a penchant for fighting back, but is also drawn in to the periphery of crime in much the same way as he was on the outside.

Dunford’s character warns Michael that “your sentence only starts when you’re released”, and this appears to hold some truth for Michael who, despite trying to turn his life around, is caught in a cycle of crime and incarceration. Director Frank Berry does an excellent job of framing Michael in such a way that he appears trapped both inside and outside of prison. This occurs not only through the repeated pressure to do favours for criminals in both places, but also with shots of Michael looking through grates on a bridge that mirror the grated windows of the prison and of shots from outside his house that look in on him, framed and trapped in the lit window, surrounded by the exterior darkness.

Authenticity was important to Berry, who also wrote this film, and in the Q&A following the screening at the Cork Film Festival he discussed the amount of research involved. He got the idea for it after making his last film in Tallaght (I Used to Live Here, in which Flynn also had a role), and knew he wanted to focus the narrative on a grandson and grandfather—a family dynamic seen a lot in disadvantaged areas. Berry had quite a few discussions with youth in these communities who did not want to become involved in crime, but were positioned there, and equally decided to reflect this in the film. He approached the Irish penal system with this idea and was set up with the prison rehabilitation service Pathways, which enabled him to interview a number of former prisoners about how being incarcerated changed their lives and ways of thinking.

Berry’s research and dedication to accurately representing the experiences of those he interviewed shows in his film. Michael Inside makes us feel for its titular character and, through the frustrating nature of the path his life takes, reveals the flaws in our systems. Dafhyd Flynn perhaps captured it best during the Q&A, saying that when he watches the film he “sees truth”.

Michael Inside, which won Best Irish Film at the Galway Film Fleadh, also won the Audience Award at the 62nd Cork Film Festival.

 

Michael Inside screened on 16th November 2017 as part of the 2017 Cork Film Festival (10 – 19 November)

 

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Competition: Win ‘I Used to Live Here’ on DVD

 

 

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I Used to Live Here, the critically acclaimed and award-winning feature film from Frank Berry, is available to purchase on DVD with the film currently available to download across various digital platforms.

The film follows Amy, a 13-year-old trying to cope with the death of her mother and the reappearance of her father’s ex-girlfriend, who experiences the temptation of suicide after witnessing the outpouring of love for a local suicide victim. The film takes a fictional look at how the idea of suicide can spread in communities, particularly among young people.

Featuring performances from a mostly non-professional cast including Jordanne Jones, Dafhyd Flynn, James Kelly and Ross Geraghty, and filmed on the streets of Killinarden in Tallaght, West Dublin, the film offers a striking dramatic representation of a real-life community on screen.

Thanks to the good people at Wildcard Distribution, we have a copy of the DVD to give away. To be in with a chance of winning, complete the following:

The title of Frank Berry’s 2011 documentary is Ballymun _____.

Email your answer to filmireland@gmail.com before Monday, 5th October when the Film Ireland hat will gently sing the winner’s name. Please include a postal address.

I Used to Live Here is currently available on digital platforms including iTunes, Google Play, Amazon and Wuaki and will be available to purchase on DVD in stores across Ireland and on Amazon.co.uk and the Wildcard Distribution website.

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Interview: Frank Berry, writer/director of ‘I Used to Live Here’

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Frank Berry’s I Used to Live Here has been released in Irish cinemas to tremendous acclaim both here and internationally scoring pieces in The Guardian and The Hollywood Reporter‎. Featuring a non-professional cast of local people in Killinarden in West Dublin, the film takes a fictional look at the tragic phenomenon of suicide clusters.

Franks explains how the film was born out of an article in The Irish Times in June 2011, Breaking the Ripple Effects of Suicide and We Must Give Young People a Reason to Live. “It really struck me as subject matter for a film. My first step was to contact the writer, who happened to be Dr Tony Bates, who was the founding member of Headstrong, the National Centre for Youth Mental Health. We met. I explained that was I largely from a doc background – I wasn’t sure how I was going to go forward but I was really interested in making a film about this subject. He showed me loads of encouragement – he talked to me about his background and why he worked with young people. He introduced me to the work they were doing at Headstrong.”

From there Frank met with youth workers from the Killinarden Community Council Youth Project – a very significant meeting as Frank recalls. “They talked about young people in the area, they talked about a series of tragedies that occurred in the area over the previous years. I talked about what I was interested in doing and the research I had been doing. They suggested I start by going down to the community centre once a week and get to know the young people – so I hung around there for a long time. Then the October mid-term break came about and I offered to do a camera workshop – that was the first time they’d seen me with a camera. After that the workshops became more regular and we would develop it further – taking the camera out on to the streets. Everything was very much a softly, softly approach. That’s how the film eventually developed.”

Despite a history of making documentaries behind him Frank came to the conclusion that the subject would be better served in the realms of fiction. “I just didn’t want to put something real up on the screen for fear of contributing to exposing the audience, particularly teenagers, to real cases,” Frank explains. “I didn’t feel comfortable doing that – it requires a particular type of handling and I just felt I couldn’t provide that. But I really wanted to put something up on the screen because the reality of when a suicide tragedy occurs in a community and the effect it can have on other members of that community and to other young people in crisis, I just felt really strongly that this needed to be common knowledge. So I thought why don’t we make it fictional but be truthful, so that it had something to say about the world. I would try and make it as realistic as possible and recognisable as a world we live in but  – as stated within the film – not based on any real tragedies. As an audience, adults and young people can sit down and watch the film and take something from it that’s true and real but not actually be depicting anything that actually happened. In this way we could use it as a discussion point.”

The result is a powerful piece of social realism marked by an impressive display of naturalistic acting from its cast. Frank points out that he didn’t sit down and say I’m going to make a piece of social realism. “That never occurred to me. I do love social realism and I’m very drawn to those films. I knew this would be the genre I suppose but I wasn’t adhering to anything in particular – any rules as such. The whole process was really about following where it took me. Once you sit down in front of people, opportunities and different directions present themselves and you collaborate and learn from it and take different directions.

“I wanted it to be realistic so we could put it up on the screen and the audience would be able to take the issues in the film seriously. That they would be able to feel and discuss that this does happen. That was the driving force behind the realism. The way I did that was that I included everybody involved in the film – and there was an open door policy; whoever wanted to get involved in the film could. We never had “casting” or “auditions”. We put people in different places that suited them over a long period of time and the conversations that took place over that time all found their way into the film. It was kind of an indirect way of directing. Everyone knew what film they were in, everyone knew what we were doing. We took the word “acting” out of the process. They would read the lines over and over again and then I’d say put the scripts down and let’s see how far into the scene we get without looking at the script. The idea was for everyone to be as comfortable as possible and say the lines without acting. I believe that if a script is realistically written, if I have a scene and the dialogue is real and I’ve allowed them to change lines that they don’t feel comfortable with, then by the time you get to that stage they understand the film, they understand the scene. Then they bring their own emphasis to the lines, their own intonation, colour and flair and their own words.  The script on the page starts to sound like real conversation. In this way they were able to really act – they weren’t inhibited by the word acting, thinking this is not me, I’m not trained, this isn’t something I can do. For the most part the process worked.”

The two leads are particularly impressive, carrying as they do so much of the emotional weight of the film. Jordanne Jones plays Amy Keane, a thirteen-year-old trying to cope with the death of her mother and the reappearance of her father’s ex-girlfriend, and Dafhyd Flynn, Amy’s friend who is the victim of bullying. Frank admits that “as soon as I saw them both on camera I knew that they were extremely good – they had that relationship to the camera but also it was their personalities and the relationship I had with them that make their performances so powerful.”

Carrying around her emotional burden, which she keeps locked inside, Amy’s mental health is an issue the film sensitively tackles and provides the point of discussion Frank referred to earlier – a discussion that contributes to the awareness of mental health. “Some of the people I spoke to knew about mental health and spoke eloquently about it, while others didn’t know about it. If you don’t know you have it or what it is, how can you take care of it?”

Frank continues, “there’s also this idea that mental health equals mental illness – that there’s not these degrees of mental fitness for example. Young people need to be more aware of their mental health and ask why am I feeling this way.  It was important to put this into a film, showing Amy carrying around what I later discovered to be deferred grief, which is a common in teenagers. She’s carrying around what she never came to terms with – the finality of the death of her mum. At the end of the film she connects with her pain. I’m not saying she gets over it but she understands why she’s feeling the way she’s feeling. That’s a big step. I think that we need more young people to be aware that there’s a reason why they don’t feel great, which comes through awareness and discussion and relate to it in their own lives. There are many young people who, of course, are aware but I feel that there are a lot of young people who would benefit from that.”

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I Used to Live Here

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DIR/WRI: Frank Berry •  PRO: Frank Berry, Donna Eperon • DOP: Colm Mullen • ED: Frank Berry • MUS: Daragh O’Toole • CAST: Jordanne Jones, Dafhyd Flynn, James Kelly, Ross Geraghty

Neo-realism is a piece of film-terminology largely lost on the modern cinema-audience, save those with more than a passing interest in cinema, verging on an academic one. The meaning of the term could, on a very base level, be interpreted to refer to a very particular era of black-and-white filmmaking in post-war Italy. The fact is, like the Dogma-95 troupe or the surrealists, neo-realism was a screen philosophy that was/is adoptable and potentially of benefit to anyone willing to utilise its paradigms, those being on-location, shooting using local non-actors, telling a story that is thematically prevalent on a local level. I know one highly accomplished film-studies professor who gladly declares Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets to be the best neo-realist film in existence. As far as the term travels, Frank Berry’s I Used to Live Here, is an accomplished neo-realist picture on every level, in that it is compelling, it is local and it is tragically necessary.

I Used to Live Here tells the story of Amy Keane, a Tallaght teenager attempting to cope with the death of her mother and the reappearance of her father’s ex-girlfriend, and finding temptation in the idea of suicide while experiencing the local outcry of love for another teenager who takes his own life during the course of the film. The film, while officially written and directed by Frank Berry, is an unofficial compilation of experiences of suicide from the Tallaght community, with the script formed largely on a mixture of first-hand experiences of survivors of victims and deducible symptoms leading up to a young person taking their own life. Needless to say, the results are moving, relatable and overwhelmingly real.

Frank Berry’s major achievement here is how claustrophobic the film becomes despite being shot mostly outside. As Amy’s options seemingly dwindle, at least to her own perspective, the shots grow closer as though to relate her blindness to the arms aching to embrace her loneliness that surround her constantly. In these moments, I was brought to mind of Eric Steel’s excellent 2006 documentary, The Bridge, in particular the sequence where Ken Baldwin, a man who survived his own suicide attempt having leap from the Golden Gate Bridge, relates that, as his feet left the bridge, “I instantly realized that everything in my life I thought was unfixable was totally fixable – except having just jumped.” I Used to Live Here, like all great neo-realist films, bears a very poignant, deliberate message that culminates in the closing moments, and is crucially told depicted via the more ardent elements of filmmaking, i.e. – script-structure, editing, framing and acting. It is a message and a delivery that I’d dismay to ruin here by revealing too much, but suffice to say hat’s off to Dafhyd Flynn for subtly delivering the film’s finest performance and equally to Berry for keeping his cards so close in order to deliver a damning thematic blow in the closing moments.

I Used to Live Here is a film that has grown organically from the graves of a generation of suicide victims in Tallaght (where the film is set) and beyond. Shot locally, with local non-actors, this timely, poignant and ultimately necessary representation of the darkly mysterious and faceless menace of suicide and suicidal tendencies in communities will prove especially moving for some and should be considered essential viewing for everyone, regardless of their cinematic tendencies; cinematic tendencies considered, this is a vital 87-minutes for anyone who has dismayed at the potential power of cinema of recent years.

Donnchadh Tiernan

 

15A (See IFCO for details)
87 minutes

I Used to Live Here  is released 3rd April 2015

I Used to Live Here  – Official Website

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‘I Used To Live Here’ Set for Irish Cinemas

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Wildcard Distribution has acquired the rights for I Used To Live Here, the powerful new feature film from Irish writer-director Frank Berry. The film, which won the Best First Feature Audience Award at last year’s Galway Film Fleadh, will be released in Irish cinemas on Good Friday, April 3rd.

I Used to Live Here is a fictional film that examines the disturbing phenomenon of suicide clusters among young people in local Irish communities.

I Used To Live Here follows Amy Keane, a 13-year-old trying to cope with the death of her mother and the reappearance of her father’s ex-girlfriend, who experiences the temptation of suicide after witnessing the outpouring of love for a local suicide victim. The film takes a fictional look at how the idea of suicide can spread in communities, particularly among young people.

Featuring performances from a mostly non-professional cast including Jordanne Jones, Dafhyd Flynn, James Kelly and Ross Geraghty, and filmed on the streets of Killinarden in Tallaght, Dublin, the film offers a striking dramatic representation of a real-life community on screen.

Produced by Frank Berry and Donna Eperon for Write Direction Films, I Used To Live Here will be released in Irish cinemas on April 3rd 2015 by Wildcard Distribution, Cert: 15A.

 

 

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‘Ballymun Lullaby’ closes Helsinki

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Award winning Irish documentary Ballymun Lullaby, will represent Ireland as the closing film of the European Film Weeks, Helsinki on May 4th. Director Frank Berry will be in attendance for a post-screening interview.

 

EUROPEAN FILM WEEKS

 

The 2nd European Film Weeks in Helsinki 18 April – 4 May gathers together 27 films from EU countries and EU candidate countries. The event takes place in Eurooppasali (Malminkatu 16, Helsinki.)

2013 marks the European Year of Citizens in the EU. Citizenship is also in the focus of the 2013 European Film Weeks; films dealing with various aspects such as citizens’ rights, migration, cultural diversity, questions of identity, borders and boundaries, collective memories of past traumas as well as hope for a better future.
The event is organized by the European Commission Representation in Finland and the European Parliament Information Office in Finland, in cooperation with Embassies from EU member states and candidate countries.

 

PROGRAMME – http://ec.europa.eu/finland/pdf/eu_elokuvaviikot_esite.pdf

 

Music teacher Ron Cooney has been working in the Republic of Ireland’s only high-rise housing estate for fifteen years. During this time he has seen the area undergo a dramatic transformation, including the recent demolition of six of it’s seven tower blocks. The young people of Ballymun have had an extraordinary experience, and Ron sets out to produce a collection of music that gives voice to their story. Working with composer Daragh O’Toole, Ron’s ambition is to create a ‘world class’ collection of music for his talented students to play and write lyrics for. This music will challenge the negative views many still hold of the area – views that have the potential to hold his students back, and undermine the aims of the Ballymun Music Programme.

 

The music this effort produces attracts the attention of Ireland’s National RTÉ Concert Orchestra, and is soon recorded in a unique collaboration with the students. A dynamic funny and driven man, despite his own health problems, what Ron and his students have achieved is simply amazing. ‘Ballymun Lullaby’ is a story that needs to be heard.

 

TRAILER: http://player.vimeo.com/video/28343270?title=0&byline=0&portrait=0

Website: www.ballymunlullabythefilm.com

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Competition: Win a copy of ‘Ballymun Lullaby’ on DVD

Thanks to the generous people of Pulp Productions we have Frank Berry’s beautiful documentary Ballymun Lullaby on DVD to giveaway.

To be in with a chance of winning this gem, click here to head over to our Facebook page, make sure to like and answer the question. The competition is open until Monday, 17th December.

Ballymun Lullaby  is currently available to buy if you click here and  the RTÉ Shop are now offering the DVD with a free copy of the Ballymun Lullaby EP! Click here for further details.

http://bit.ly/VxjgQ0

Ballymun Lullaby (72min)

A Film by Frank Berry
Music teacher Ron Cooney has been working in the Republic of Ireland’s only high-rise housing estate for fifteen years. During this time he has seen the area undergo a dramatic transformation, including the demolition of six of it’s seven tower blocks. The young people of Ballymun have had an extraordinary experience, and Ron sets out to produce a collection of music that gives voice to their story. Working with composer Daragh O’Toole, Ron’s ambition is to create a ‘world class’ collection of music for his talented students to play and write lyrics for.

 

This music will challenge the negative views many still hold of the area – views that have the potential to hold his students back, and undermine the aims of the Ballymun Music Programme. The music that is produced attracts the attention of the RTÉ Concert Orchestra, and is soon recorded by them in a unique collaboration with the students. A dynamic funny and driven man, despite his own health problems, what Ron and his students have achieved is simply amazing. ‘Ballymun Lullaby’ is a story that needs to be heard.

http://www.ballymunlullabythefilm.com/

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Film Ireland 140 Spring 2012: Spotlight on ‘Ballymun Lullaby’

(Ron Cooney)

With Ballymun Lullaby screening on RTE 1 on Tuesday, 6th March at 10:15pm, Film Ireland‘s Derek McDonnell talks to its director Frank Berry. This article originally appeared in Film Ireland 140 Spring 2012.

 

Ron Cooney, the inspirational music teacher at the centre of the documentary Ballymun Lullaby, is the driving force behind the Ballymun Music Programme, which has been providing musical education for the youth in the area for nearly ten years.

 

In the film, director Frank Berry focuses on Cooney’s students and their participation in a unique collaboration with the RTÉ Concert Orchestra over the course of a year. It is director Frank Berry’s first full-length documentary, having previously cut his teeth on local community-based projects and worked on television programmes such as the acclaimed series Teenage Cics for TG4 and a short documentary entitled Into the Light: The Making of an Opera for RTÉ.

 

The genesis of the project began way back in February of 2009 when Berry was asked to film the opening of the Ballymun Music Programme’s Music Room, which was attended by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and then-President Mary Mc Aleese – an event which brought home the impact of Ron Cooney’s work in the community to the director. ‘That was the initial moment that I thought something extraordinary is happening here. The work he’s doing is having such an impact and it’s snowballing and so I thought that, seeing as this is a brand new facility, maybe we’ll do a film about the first year in the life of the Music Room. And Ron said, “well, funny you should say that… we are working with a composer and starting to get some ideas together about a collection of music.” That sounded interesting; so we began following that. And that’s really where it started.’

 

The composer in question was Daragh O’Toole, fomerly known under his stagename ‘Dara’, and a musical arranger for the likes of U2, Damien Dempsey, Jack L, and the RTÉ Concert Orchestra. O’Toole had written an original piece entitled ‘Ballymun Lullaby’ for the students to learn and perform under the guidance of RTÉ’s principal conductor David Brophy.

 

Three of the students involved in the choir – Wayne, Tara and Darren – are also at the heart of the film throughout and Berry shows us the day-to-day life of these emerging talents as they attempt to overcome the harsh, often prejudiced view of Ballymun, which has built up over the years. The idea, Berry says, was to ‘put them in Ballymun throughout the film; show Ballymun and all of that, and then take the background out. And the idea of the final scene is for people to think – well, they are young kids just like anywhere else.’

 

This desire to present a more balanced perspective to the preconceived and often negative notions of Ballymun drove the director forward. ‘That is all people talk about when they talk about Ballymun. They think underprivileged and they think of the ways that the area has been portrayed over the past 40 years even though there is another story, and Ron was showing that. Ron was bringing that out. So I thought that what was happening here needs to be told.’

 

A two-year labour of love for the director, the film was finally unveiled for the first time this year when it debuted at the 2011 Jameson Dublin International Film Festival, where it received great acclaim. To Berry’s surprise his film has also been making an impact further afield. ‘It won the Directors Finders Series last year. We went to LA with it and showed it to theHollywood industry in September, which was fantastic.

 

Ballymun Lullaby is not only a moving and uplifting tribute to the power of music but to the strong sense of community, which is rare in the current fractured, fearful and recessionary climate. ‘I think in Ballymun the boom didn’t really do a huge amount. I don’t think the attitudes of people in Ballymun really changed in the boom. There was a lot of change going on but I think that the community spirit derives from surviving the adversity over 40 years and the prejudice. Something has come out of that and I hope that comes across in the film.’

 

Derek McDonnell

This article originally appeared in Film Ireland 140 Spring 2012


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