Director Mark O’Connor first came to prominence with Between the Canals in 2011, a raw and low budget crime drama set in Dublin’s less salubrious streets. It was a promising beginning for a new filmmaker and this year he premiered not one but two films at the Galway Film Fleadh, Stalker and King of the Travellers. This is in almost unheard of territory as funding for films in Ireland continues to decrease. But it was not for this fact that his name came up in the newspapers at the Fleadh. He also unveiled his Manifesto for Irish film where he talked about Ireland’s new wave of films. There has been a positive and negative reaction to the Manifesto, which was also published in Film Ireland magazine. I thought it would of interest to hear from O’Connor to hear his thoughts on Ireland’s film output in the past, present and future. This interview was conducted by email as Mark O’Connor is currently in Peru writing.
How would you describe the current state of the Irish film industry?
There´s a revolution taking place in Irish film right now.
Tell me in a bit more detail about the idea behind the manifesto for Irish film that you have written? Do you see it as something resembling the Dogme 95 movement in Denmark or as something to start a discussion on Irish film as a whole?
It wasn´t meant to resemble Dogme 95 or to be just a declaration. It was written for the industry with the hope of bringing recognition to the new wave. I would hope this helps in terms of more quality films being made, higher audiences figures for Irish films and more support at distribution stage for Irish films. There´s a lot of different things in there including a call to arms but it´s really just my opinion which some people will disagree with. It is good to hear negative and positive reactions to it but it´s also frustrating when it gets misunderstood. People have picked me up wrong on a few points. One thing I want to make clear which I didn´t in the Manifesto because I only had three days to write it was that I don´t believe the director needs to also be the writer. I believe the director; if he is an artist of integrity will reinterpret it into their own vision. This means understanding the characters and story as much as the writer. If I was an actor why would I ask a director advice about my character if he hasn´t been to those same places the writer has been to. Instead I would ask the writer.
In some ways I think the idea of the manifesto leads into what I think is the most important question facing the Irish film industry at the moment: Why do you think there is so little enthusiasm for Irish film at the Irish box office?
Irish films are being passed up at the cinemas for Hollywood infant formula because the multiplexes don´t want to take a risk with a small Irish film which has no marketing campaign behind it. You eat what is on your plate and we´re consistently being fed MacDonald´s film and music. This needs to be tackled and the manifesto is partly written for this reason. We also have a problem of Irish audiences not being interested in seeing a new Irish film because there´s a certain stigma that they are not worth taking a trip to the cinema for. This is where the new wave is going to change everything. The industry is now producing quality films which in my opinion are better or at the same level of quality as anywhere else in the world.
If a magic wand were to be waved, making you in charge of funding for Irish Film – how would you exercise that power?
I don´t think I´d be the man for that job. I think the Irish Film Board is doing a great job at the moment by nurturing a whole wave of up and coming talent. I think the correct thing to do is to support this talent and help it grow and then watch it flourish.
How did you rate The Guard and what did you think it did right in terms of being successful at the Irish box office?
To be honest it wasn´t my cup of tea but again that´s just my opinion. It appealed to a wide audience so it has to be applauded for that. I think they found a formula that worked. It had the right elements to attract a wide mainstream audience and it had Brendan Gleeson in the lead role. This happens every couple of years in Ireland. Intermission is another good example. Perriers Bounty is an example of what happens after when you try and replicate the formula.
You have just had two films premier at the Galway Film Fleadh this year. Do you think they will secure theatrical release?
Who´s to know? Between the Canals sold out its first two weeks in the cinema but still hasn´t been released on DVD three years later. The industry is volatile and distribution companies are less willing to put their neck out. I think King of the Travellers will as it has a wide appeal but as for its unwanted cousin ´Stalker´….I think Stalker will go through the grinder, hopefully making an impact at festivals but come out the other side as a film that people talk about. It´ll be a hard cinema sell because of its content but hopefully it will spread through word of mouth. Self distribution is probably on the cards there but as it says in the Manifesto ´The tools are finally in our hands´. Also they´re making a computer game based on the film so that may help.
Film-wise, what are you currently working on at the moment?
I´ve twelve projects in development. The problem is getting finance.
Have you an interest in working abroad or is there enough to keep you here in Ireland?
Well I´m currently in Peru writing! However Ireland is my home. I want to make Irish films which appeal to an International audience. There are so many great Irish stories yet to be told so why would I want to work anywhere else. I love Ireland.
What recent Irish films have you seen? Are you encouraged by the standard of filmmaking here in general?
I´ve missed out on seeing a good few of the new ones. I´m looking forward to seeing My Brothers, Pilgrim Hill, Citadel, Dollhouse and What Richard Did. I´m very encouraged by the standard of film making talent. As I said there´s a whole wave of talent emerging.
What other Irish filmmakers excite you that we may not have heard of yet?
Gerrard Barrett even though I haven´t seen his work. I met him at Galway and instantly liked him. Donal Foreman is making his feature film debut through our company Stalker films and we´re excited about that. Also through Stalker we´ll be producing ´Cardboard Gangster´ by John Connors which we are really excited about as its set in Darndale and this will be new to Irish film. These films will be part of the new wave.
Finally, what is your favourite Irish film of all time?
I have lots of favourites. In the Name of the Father, The Butcher Boy, The Wind that Shakes the Barley, The Field, Charlie Casanova, Kings, Tin Can Man, Poitin, My Left Foot, Pavee Lackeen, Song for a Raggy Boy, Angela´s Ashes…I love Irish films!!!!