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The glass may be half empty but it will contain good whiskey. I write film reviews for http://www.scannain.com/ , say hi and we can debate films forever and ever and ever...... Warning this blog may contain more than just film talk.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

My thoughts on Mark O’Connor’s Irish film Manifesto

After hearing that there was someone who had read out a manifesto stating that there was a ‘new wave’ in Irish cinema my interest was piqued. Who would have the audacity to say that the system as it stands is not the future on foot of the Box Office success of The Guard? Director Mark O’Connor (Between the Canals), fresh from having two films premiere in the Galway Film Fleadh, read this out before one of them. But how does the document stand up? Is his theory on the new wave of Irish film ahead of its time at best or premature and a little pretentious at worst?

The first thing to say is that this is a brave thing to do for a relatively unknown filmmaker. There is no real advantage in some ways to putting yourself out there like this and inviting scorn. The overall message of the manifesto, it seems, is to provoke a reaction and start a discussion as to where our National Cinema is heading. O’Connor is not without confidence (one of his new films is called Stalker: that takes nerve) and one hopes that this doesn’t backfire on him within the industry. In general terms I would not disagree with most of what he says. I think that the availability of cheaper equipment and the use of internet raised funding initiatives have fundamentally changed how films can be made. I think that if a slew of films were made this way what would happen would be relatively in keeping with what happens in other countries. There would be some really bad films (not everyone that can pick up a camera should) but there would also be some bold and challenging ones. There may even be a masterpiece or two in the next few years. I think the keys to the executive bathroom in Ireland’s filmic world have been out of bounds for too many people for too long. Other voices need to be heard if we are to have any hope of growing our cinematic output and reputation in the future.

I am on the record as being a Charlie Casanova fan but I also know I am in a minority. I think O’Connor was to some degree detrimentally divisive by stating that you either liked it (Charlie Casanova) or you didn’t recognise how good it was or indeed understood it. The film is somewhat problematic and while there is every chance its reputation may be enhanced in the next few years it is simply wrong to dismiss critics of the film as people that do not understand it or that are just too used to the Hollywood formula. Let it be called a bad film if needs be. It is every critic’s right to call a film crap if they so choose and the people that did, should be engaged in this debate as much as anyone else. If there is a new wave of Irish film there needs to be inclusivity and support to help it along. Pushing people who ‘don’t get it’ to the side will not help. I think while O’Connor talks of this as the beginning of protest film it is not necessarily to be taken literally. He could be talking about the fact that low budget filmmaking can be more daring and radical because of less financial risk. The manifesto could seem to be a call to arms in this regard.

So will there be a long lasting effect of all of this? O’Connor’s films were warmly received at Galway and there is an optimism that there are other films coming along that could do well. Silence by Pat Collins is in cinemas at the moment and doing quite well. It is a terrific film, well reviewed and seems to have found a niche audience. Citadel and Pilgrim Hill were two other films that were talked about enthusiastically at Galway with the latter singled out for praise by Donald Clarke in the Irish Times. That this film was made for next to nothing would seem to bear out O’Connor’s general point about micro budget filmmaking within the manifesto and it is a point that is worth considering.

There are some interesting films being made here, some with tiny budgets and skeleton crews. If some of these films can get distribution on a regular basis there is cause for some optimism that we can have a National Cinema that can compare to others. And if we can find an audience in the cinemas on a regular basis for films that would not need much to claw back investments it could be a successful future model for our films. But O’Connor has to be careful not to alienate people within the industry too much. There should be room at funding level for micro budget filmmaking but that does not mean that bigger budget filmmaking should be ignored. It is my opinion that the money for bigger budget filmmaking should only come when there is satisfaction that the screenplay is production ready. There have been films made for considerable amounts of money over the last few years that clearly could have benefitted with more work on the script. I will not name names but anyone with an interest in Irish film will know what films they are. I think that there is room for more eclectic and less formal filmmaking at the micro budget level where the risk of investment is less severe. An increase in the amount of low budget films produced here over the next few years would be exciting but perhaps more importantly if they could get distribution and marketing behind them, there may well be an audience for them as well.

I would like to know where people who are involved or indeed just care about our National Cinema stand on this issue. You can leave comments below on this subject and I will answer and debate each one. You can also engage in a discussion on twitter with me (@jaycoyle) if that is your preferred media. I am hoping to interview some people in the Irish film industry to get their thoughts on our cinematic future. Indeed my first interview will be published on this blog very soon. That interview is with the writer of the Irish film manifesto himself, Mark O’Connor. He had some interesting things to say about our cinematic past and future. If you are involved in the film industry in Ireland and you would like to be interviewed, please contact me here or on Twitter and I will get back to you. My aim is to have a broad selection of interviews on my site to see if there is any consensus or vision as to how we see our National Cinema’s future.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Ireland on Screen: I want to scream

Beginning last night with Jim Sheridan’s The Boxer, RTE began its latest attempt to support Irish film with an Ireland on Screen season. It will run for two weeks and will have a number of premieres during that time. As a concept this is a very good idea, showcasing Irish film for people who would not be overly familiar with recent output. But the devil is in the details and as soon as you read through the listings several problems emerge.

The first thing that comes to mind is that there is no real structure to the season. It was only announced the day before it was scheduled to begin which means no real time for advertising the season. This is important as some advertisement is probably necessary for people who have no specific interest in Irish film as a whole. As far as I am aware (and I missed The Boxer last night so I could be wrong) there is no real attempt to put the season in context. Would it have cost too much to maybe have someone introduce each film or even just the season? An Irish film academic or film fan, maybe a director or actor, hell even Dave Fanning. It would be refreshing to have someone to say where each film stands in the overall canon of Irish film. Alas this does not appear to be the case.

Another issue is that there is no standard times or days that each film is being shown. The season lasts only two weeks for some reason, the films are scheduled on various days and truly bizarre times. The Boxer kicks off the season at 11.30pm! This is madness if you want to draw viewers in. A quick scan of the schedule could only lead you to believe that it was decided by a World Cup style draw. Films, days and times put into a giant hat and picked out randomly. This is not good. All of this would be forgivable (indeed since Moviedrome there has been a reluctance to introduce film at all on TV which is a real shame) if it wasn’t for the biggest problem of all.

The main issue is simply the choice of films on offer. Looking through the list is groan inducing. There is always going to be some films that will be on any season for familiarity reasons. This is to help get people to watch who otherwise may not bother. This season is full of those kinds of films. This is not a criticism of the quality of any of the choices, more that there is a dull and safe feeling to their inclusion. Films like Michael Collins, The Boxer and In the Name of the Father are too familiar to offer something different. To be fair there are a couple of films I do genuinely want to see, namely His and Hers and The Runway. But where is the sense of risk? Where is the low budget and unfamiliar films of the last few years? Where are films such as Snap, As if I am Not There, Between the Canals, Garage, Hunger, Guiltrip, Accelerator, The Other Side of Sleep, Kisses, Pyjama Girls? There is an argument that at least RTE are making an attempt to help out the Irish film industry here, indeed they also invest financially in Irish film to be fair. But one can’t help feel that there is a real missed opportunity to showcase a diverse selection here. And that is the real pity.

Here is the list of films being shown

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Film Review - Silence (2012)

Silence is a film that is hard to categorise in Irish film terms. There is a feel of a documentary about it, which is hardly surprising given Pat Collins’ background in documentary filmmaking. It is a work of fiction with a strong grounding in reality. This is a film on its own terms: not aping other countries successful genres. Yet in Irish box office terms (with a somewhat limited run in cinemas) it is doing quite well. This film seems to have been marketed as an art house and not just as an Irish film. This is a bold approach, letting the film speak on its own terms, not weighing it down with the pressure of being just ‘Irish’. There may well be a lesson here about how we market the Irish films in general. This is a discussion for another time perhaps.  

Eoghan (Eoghan Mac Giolla Bhride) is a sound recordist living in Berlin when he gets a job offer to record sound in rural landscapes away from man-made sounds in Ireland. As narrative plot and story goes, this is pretty much it for Pat Collins’ Silence. But plot is not particularly important in a film such as this. It is an episodic, impressionistic film and the emotional and physical journey undertaken by Eoghan is the heart of the story. The film begins with Eoghan recording loud and bustling sounds in the busy city of Berlin and ends with him in a quiet house in the northwest of Ireland. How and why he gets there is the heart of this quite beautiful film.

Silence is a film that touches on many themes: such as the need in some people to get away from a busy world: the need to try and get back to nature. Yet there is also a sense that it in Silence, Collins is hoping to recapture a simpler time, when people perhaps led more meaningful lives. As much as Eoghan tries to escape the world and man-made noises to reconnect with the land he has been away from for 15 years, it is impossible to get away from what is inside of him. There is the indefinable part of him that wants to remember who he is and where he came from. His journey is ultimately within himself.

This is a beautiful film to look at. Ireland has rarely looked this good on the big screen. Yet this is not done in a ‘greatest hits of Ireland’ tourist board way. The cinematography is there as a reminder to the main character and indeed the viewers of the beauty of the country we live in. What is represented here is not the country as shown by bad American films (P.S.I Love You) but an Ireland which is intensely beautiful and wild. The landscape becomes rougher and more wonderful as Eoghan makes his journey home. This journey is interrupted by meetings with various people along the way. This serves as a breaking of the silence of the film and as a chance for Eoghan to explore to conversations and songs the country he has missed in the years he has been away.

Silence is a film that will not be to everyone’s taste. It requires a re-adjustment to slip into the pace of the story. This pretty much puts it out of reach of the Transformers 3 crowd who would doubtless run a mile from it. But anyone with an interest in cinema for grown-ups (remember when films were made for us?), who can get into the rhythm of the film, will find much to enjoy. This is a deeply poetic and personal film, one that should appeal to a broad range of people. There is something quite joyful in this journey and something deeply rewarding in sharing it. While attending a recent public interview with Collins he expressed some doubt as to where the funding for his next feature will come from. He stated that he had interest in doing another fiction film - funding permitting. Judging on this fine film, the Irish Film Board could do a lot worse with its money than back another film from this gifted director.

Silence is on in The Lighthouse Cinema until the 22nd August.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Underground Film Festival 13 - 16th September

I received this press release for the Underground Film Festival. Last year its opening film was Charlie Casanova and the closing film was Tin Can Man. I, for one, will be heading to it to see what Irish films are being shown plus it has what looks like a really interesting underground and cult section with Jack Sargeant as guest. I like the fact that it is close by (in Dun Laoghaire) and that it is a smaller and more intimate festival than the Dublin Film Festival and Galway Film Fleadh. Should be an interesting festival.

I have attached links below if anyone would like to check it out.