Irish Film Review: Making the Grade


DIR/WRI: Ken Wardrop • PRO: Andrew Freedman   ED: John O’ Connor


Making the Grade is a stylistically-striking and impeccably-shot documentary from Ken Wardrop. It hones in on the relationships that develop between teachers and their students when sharing the necessary skills to play the piano. The students depicted, who are of all ages, are at various stages of their musical journey. Many of them mark their progress by participating in exams. This system of progression structures not only their learning, but the unfolding of the film itself which is divided up into sections, concentrating on different students who are preparing for each grade respectively. Spectators are invited to peek into the sacred space of trust and endurance which defines a piano lesson.

The piano may hold a different signification for every student but they each have something, or perhaps more accurately someone, to help them with this often challenging endeavour. Viewers realise quickly that Making the Grade is not just about learning how to play an instrument but about the bonds that are formed in so doing. Along with skills, teachers have the power to pass on a passion and attitude towards playing the piano. For some teachers their demeanour presents teaching as an artistic vocation while others come across as more traditional in their approach. The purest delights that this film has to offer are found in the dynamics that emerge between the various piano enthusiasts. Heart-warming and frequently humorous moments are the product of these interactions.

Domestic spaces and classroom interiors dominate the visuals of Making the Grade. This firmly establishes a consistent aesthetic in a film which is shot in different locations all around Ireland. Each shot is perfectly framed and static, contrasting with the flow of the music and the occasional dud note.

Although it maintains a cheerful atmosphere throughout, the film does not sugar-coat the difficulties inherent in learning an instrument. Along with warmth and praise from the teachers, the audience witness every missed note which encourages their solidarity with the students. The footage of the lessons is both complemented and contradicted by individual interviews with the teachers and their students providing further insight into how it feels to be a participant in the lesson instead of simply watching it on screen.

The film undoubtedly goes above and beyond to express that music is for everyone. The scenarios captured, and the sentiments evoked, are welcomingly familiar to anyone who has taken up music lessons at some point in their life. It may be difficult to refrain from tickling the ivories yourself upon leaving the screen.

Siomha McQuinn

G (See IFCO for details)

86 minutes
Making the Grade is released 13th April 2018

Making the Grade – Official Website





Trailer: Making The Grade


Ken Wardrop’s Making The Grade invites us into the world of the piano lesson. Every year teachers and students throughout Ireland prepare for graded musical exams. These exams can be pleasing for some but daunting for others. Each student has their own goal but reaching Grade Eight is considered a pinnacle. This endearing and uplifting documentary explores the bond between piano teachers and their pupils as they struggle through these grades. This is a story of the transformative power of music and the pride and happiness it provides both the students and teachers. It may inspire us all to keep making the grade.

The filmmakers travelled the length and breadth of the country to film with teachers and their students as they prepared for their piano grade exams. The film features characters from as far afield as Kylemore Abbey in the West, to Derry City in the North and down to Crosshaven, Cork in the South.


Making The Grade will screen at this year’s SXSW film festival and is in Irish cinemas from 13th April.

Making The Grade is a Reel Art film funded by the Arts Council and operated in association with Filmbase.


Competition: Win ‘Mom & Me’ on DVD

Mom Me 2D Pack Shot UK (1)


Ken Wardrop’s award winning Mom & Me is released on Friday, 9th September on DVD and On Demand.

Oklahoma was recently voted the manliest state in the USA.  Radio talk show host Joe Cristiano wants to investigate if the manliest men, in the manliest state in the Union, are willing to call in and discuss their mothers on air.  Director Ken Wardrop weaves an exquisitely sympathetic portrait of what mothers’ mean to their sons in this charming and touching film, showing a vulnerable side of American masculinity that viewers rarely see.

Thanks to our fab friends at Element Pictures Distribution, we have a copy of the DVD to give away. To be in with a chance of winning answer the following question:

Director Ken Wardrop’s 2009 documentary was called His & _____. 

Email your answer to by Wednesday, 14th September when the Film Ireland Hat will get all maternal and select a winner.

Please include an address in your email.


@ElementPictures  #MomandMe


Interview: Ken Wardrop, director of ‘Mom and Me’

Gemma Creagh chats to Ken Wardrop about getting into film and the journey his second feature documentary took him on.
In Mom and Me Ken Wardrop travels to the USA to explore the complex relationships men have with their mothers. Shot across the state Oklahoma, voted America’s manliest State, the film offers a candid and moving portrait of tough guys and their even stronger Moms. It is a story that reveals comedy in the everyday and misery on some other days.

You can download/listen to the audio interview below:



Irish Film Review: Mom and Me

Mom and Me ( take 2 ) Fotoware

DIR: Ken Wardrop •  DOP: Kate McCullough

Nestled in the heart of America’s Bible Belt, Oklahoma is an unpredictable next step for Irish filmmaker Ken Wardrop – especially since his last documentary, His and Hers, took place mainly in the plains (AKA the Irish Midlands). The subject matter of Mom and Me, however is not so much of an unpredictable step… well at least not to die-hard Wardrop fans; his inaugural short Undressing my Mother won an IFTA, and picked up awards at the Fleadh, Sundance & beyond. It’s well worth a watch, if you haven’t already seen it.

What Wardrop always manages to do fantastically, in both his dramas and docs, is forensically examine familial relationships. In this instance, the spotlight is aimed at the bond between robust American adult males and their mammies. We’re introduced to a mass of colourful characters through the local Liberty Radio Talk Show. Leaning into his mic, an older a-typical New Yorker, Joe Cristiano, eloquently laments on his own experiences and asks Oklahoma’s men to call in and discuss their own mothers on air.

This is the framing devise used to hop between themes and homes, where sons from all walks of life ‘phone in’ and share their own stories. The range of experiences and situations varies to dizzying degrees; from young disabled sons to a drug addict in prison; and from distant, strained pairs to co-dependant, cohabiting couples. There’s a fine balance of comedy, warmth, awkwardness and tragedy, which will certainly deliver some chuckles and a few moist eyeballs.

DOP Kate McCullough has outdone herself; Mom and Me’s aesthetics are striking, juxtaposing the vast Oklahoma landscape with the intimate, and at times claustrophobic, homes of the subjects. McCullough composes both movement and intimate moments comfortably and creatively. So much so, that at the premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, she won the World Cinematography Award. G’wan the Kate.

Also of note in Mom and Me is the level of intimacy achieved yet the sheer scope of the stories told within this relatively short feature. There’s so much honesty in short bursts and yet the pacing feels appropriate, pausing every so often to catch its breath in those relatable actions of doing housework or picking up mail.

Despite the comical moments and the larger-than-life personalities, Mom and Me captures the universal experience of motherly love perfectly. Those emotions and themes travel easily across the Atlantic; Wardrop once again proves that he can wheedle his way into any home and heart.

Gemma Creagh

77 minutes
PG (See IFCO for details)

Mom and Me is released 15th July 2016

Mom and Me – Official Website





Director of award winning ‘His & Hers’ Ken Wardrop to take part in this year’s Corona Fastnet Short Film Festival.

The Corona Fastnet Short Film Festival has announced that Ken Wardrop will take part in a Q&A following the screening of a selection of his work at this year’s Festival, which takes place in Schull in West Cork from Thursday, 24th to Sunday, 27th of May.

Ken studied filmmaking at the National Film School, IADT. His short films have screened at many of the worlds most prestigious festivals including Sundance and Cannes. In 2008, his work received the Grand Prix Award at Sapporo. His short film ‘Undressing my Mother’, one of Ireland’s best known short films, won European Film Academy Award, Special Jury Mention at Sundance and an IFTA for Best Short Film. His Documentary on Circumcision Ouch and Bongo Bong, were both nominated for an IFTA. ‘Farewell Packets of Ten’ won Best Short Documentary at Toronto.

His & Hers, his first feature debut acquired phenomenal success winning the Audience award at the Dublin International Film Festival, the Feature Award at the Galway Film Fleadh, an IFTA for Best Feature Documentary and the Cinematography Award at the Sundance Film Festival 2010. It is a creative documentary exploring woman’s relationship with man, by visiting moments in the lives of 70 female characters. Shot in the hallways, living rooms and kitchens across the Irish Midlands, the story moves sequentially from young to old to deliver a unique insight into sharing life’s journey.

‘Along with this year’s strong line up of international films and the emerging voices of the filmmakers within the competition, the festival offers incredible access for filmmakers to high profile Directors and Cinematographers right through to post production sound and colour processing professionals.’ said chairman Maurice Seezer. ‘This year’s workshops will be challenging, inspiring and a must do for film enthusiasts. We will be announcing details at our launch at the Bodega in Cork next Wednesday, 18th May.’

Further details of this year’s workshops, programmes, guest speakers and fringe events check out or out in the lead up to the festival.


Director of the award winning and heart-warming ‘His & Hers’ to attend Q&A session as part of the International Woman’s Day Film Festival

Ireland’s largest humanitarian and development agency, Concern Worldwide in conjunction with the Light House Cinema, Smithfield, are delighted to welcome Ken Wardrop to discuss his award winning documentary, His & Hers during a Q&A session as part of the inaugural International Woman’s Day Festival on Thursday 8th March.

His & Hers was the first feature documentary for Wardrop, already a seasoned short film maker and it focuses on 70 Irish women, each on camera to tell a story of love or loss, about their fathers, boyfriends, husbands, and sons. Beautiful in its simplicity, His & Hers warmed the hearts if cinema go-ers on its release and the overall message strongly compliments the concept of International Woman’s Day.

The International Woman’s Day Film Festival is taking place to celebrate the valuable work of women around the world as International Woman’s Day highlights the progress women have made in their struggle for economic, social, cultural and political equality.

His & Hers, followed by Ken’s Q&A will conclude a day which features a substantial number of shorts and films celebrating the success of women including two additional feature length box-office hits; Oranges and Sunshine and As If I Am Not There. The jam packed schedule which begins at 4.40 pm and concludes at 11.00 pm also includes outstanding short films such as Music by Prudence and The White Dress, as well as the successful Women of Concern Photographic Exhibition.

‘We are delighted to launch the inaugural International Women’s Day Film Festival and we are excited to welcome Ken on board. His documentary his and Hers is a compassionate and inspiring look at the most important relationships in a woman’s life’ said Concern’s Liz Yeates. ‘In addition to having some remarkable and award-winning films on the schedule, we will highlight Concern’s work with women through a Women of Concern photo exhibition, talks and short films.

‘This is the beginning of an exciting date on the calendar and next year we aim to build it into a two or three-day multi-faceted multi-dimensional festival, incorporating films by female directors and guests from developing countries. We hope people will come out to support the first International Women’s Day Film Festival at the Light House cinema for what is a very strong and entertaining schedule.’


The Light House Cinema, which re-opened under the new ownership of Element Pictures on January 20th, is a unique and hugely impressive multi-screen cinema and this new annual event is set to capture the imagination of cinema-lovers and those interested in women’s issues and rights in equal measure.


Tickets are available from the Light House cinema box office at a cost of €20 for a daily ticket or €9 per feature film and 50% of the proceeds will go towards Women of Concern, supporting women’s projects in Bangladesh. Visit  or call Concern on 01 417 8064 for more information on this event and on Concern’s other International Women’s Day events on March 8th.




IFI, Templebar, Saturday 19th February 6:30pm

Like a tasty box of Leonidas chocolates, I had the pleasure of consuming the IFB Shorts, which screened at Jameson Dublin International Film Festival in the IFI, Saturday 19th February. A variety of styles and flavors, the first from the selection was a lovely atmospheric animation, The Monk and The Fly. Directed by Matthew Darragh, this 3 minute Short Short saw a monk’s meditation interrupted by a host of mischievous tormentors.

A change of pace ensued with Brian O’Malley’s Crossing Salween. Brian had spoken to JDIFF’s Screenwriting Panel earlier about the film, which told the tale of a young girl from Eastern Burma named, Ko Reh, who finds herself orphaned after the massacre of her village by the army. An epic film, I was really blown away by Crossing Salween’s scale, beauty and style.

The touching and brilliantly-named documentary, Needle Exchange, featured two recovering drug addicts and best friends who have taken up tattooing. Honest, heart-breaking and very, very funny; this wonderful Reality Bites piece was masterfully put together by director Colm Quinn.

A change in genre saw the physiological thriller, The Night Nurse. Directed by Terence White, this four-minute Short Short followed a nurse who’s working late one night on a psychiatric ward.

Lifting the eerie mood, documentary Collaboration Horizontale took the cinema to Chartres during the World War two era. Through interviewing the modern-day townspeople, director Ciaran Cassidy explored the sad fate of a baby who featured in an iconic in Robert Capa photo; the daughter of a German soldier.

Tom Merilion’s high energy short Flatbed followed, as an interesting depiction of the end of a relationship, while Brian Williams’ Dummy, the ultimate rycycling film, followed the varied uses found for an old mannequin.

The carmel-nut favorite of the yummy IFB chocs was definitely Pentecost – the brilliant short by Peter McDonald and winner of Best Irish Short at the Corona Cork Film Festival in 2010. This sweet, clever and hugely humorous Signatures, told the story of a defiant youngster who’s forced to serve as an alter boy at a very important mass. The IFI echoed with the audience’s loud laughter at the pre-mass locker-room pep talk.

Ken Wardrop’s ambiguous drama, Return To Roscoff, told the sad story of a lonely woman’s attempt to contact her son’s father and Shoe was a black comedy about a vagabond who rudely interrupted a suicide. Hilary Fennell’s Hearing Silence documented professional musician Elizabeth Petcu’s decent into deafness, while dark animation Headspace by Patrick Semple left a host of nightmarish images in the wake of its depiction of a young boy’s troubles.

The final tasty treat of the evening was Matt Leigh’s documentary about the elderly clientele at a Dublin Hair salon, Blue Rinse. These amazing older women shared their beauty tips, experiences and humour in this thoughtful short.

Gemma Creagh