Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Researching at the IFI Irish Film Archive... and 10 Tips for Ph.D. Researchers!

Matthew McAteer Ph.D. writes about his time in the IFI Irish Film Archive when he researched the Radharc film and document collection, and provides some handy tips for researchers...

I was a college student who spent two years locked inside the IFI Irish Film Archive in Temple Bar. Sounds ominous, doesn’t it! Actually I was doing research on an old TV show produced by a handful of Catholic priests called Radharc. It ran for three and a half decades and the archive preserves all of its 420 episodes along with the documents that came with them (which fill more cardboard boxes than I care to mention – the show’s co-founder Fr. Joe Dunn kept records of, well, pretty much everything).

In contrast to a lot of other religious and broadcasting archives this is an exceptional collection. Radharc was Ireland’s most important independent documentary production unit, and outside of RTÉ this collection is Ireland’s largest of a single television series. Covering almost 40 years its value is broad. My own research looks specifically at what it tells us about Irish secularisation. However it is also a mine of information on TV history and religious history. Radharc footage is routinely used by filmmakers as a record of change in Irish culture and for scholars these hundreds of interviews with everyone from Irish travellers to theologians, from sociologists to guerrilla fighters, capture key changes in how Irish people saw the world. Given how intimate the film unit was with the Catholic Church, the access the IFI Irish Film Archive provides to these reams of personal correspondence is rather special, with none of the delays associated with some church archives.My research was carried out between 2010 and 2014 under a unique scholarship put together by the IFI Irish Film Archive, the Radharc Trust and UCD. The first two years were spent in the archive where for three days a week I would catalogue the 650 files which accompany the Radharc film collection, copying anything relevant to my research, and transferring them to the archive’s preservation vaults. The rest of my weeks were spent viewing the programmes. In 2012 I left the archive to work on my thesis and four years and three months after my first day in the archive I got my Ph.D.

This partnership between the IFI Irish Film Archive, UCD and the Radharc Trust has now successfully concluded. Radharc’s paper collection has been comprehensively catalogued and an in-depth history of one of Ireland’s longest running television series been produced. To celebrate that fact I’ve decided to put together a list of the top 10 tips for any researcher adventurous enough to take on a long-term project of this nature. Enjoy!

Matthew McAteer Ph.D.

Matthew's tips for Ph.D. researchers embarking on a project...

1. Treat your role as a normal job. Maintaining full-time hours can help to integrate the long-term researcher into a working archive.

2.  Interview anyone connected with your subject, right off the mark. I came within a hare’s breadth of a former Radharc director at a function and told myself to wait until I was more firmed up on the history. He had passed away before I got a chance.                                        

3. Don’t wait for the paper collection to ‘speak to you’, photocopying every document you can get your hands on for the first year. Narrow things down, develop a general thesis and stick to it (it’s harder than it sounds).

4. Don’t photocopy anything if you are permitted to use a camera instead. My eureka moment came over a year in when on a visit to another archive I saw a researcher doing just that. 

5. Begin with the documents which give you an insight into the personalities involved. Notes of meetings and personal correspondence take priority over programme scripts, cue sheets, invoices etc. 

6. Don’t try to watch every episode. If you are researching a long-running series, start chronologically and then narrow your viewing down as the thesis topic takes shape.

7. Book your archive viewings well in advance. Don’t be blathering ‘can I use the, erm, beta-player today ... tomorrow, I mean ... ah, shur look I’m grand for now, gulp!' 

8. Don’t ask to view things on actual film if at all possible. Stick to whatever viewing tapes are there. 
9. Don’t start transcribing anything. It’s great to have a transcript of illegible handwriting for easy reference but it just takes too long. And no, you are not going to get an undergraduate to volunteer their services.  

10. Don’t waste your time researching film technologies unless crucial. I have oodles of notes on cameras, film stock, audio recorders etc which I never used in the end.

View our online exhibition of the Radharc Document and Film Collection held at the IFI Irish Film Archive.

The call for entries to The Radharc Awards 2014 is now open.

The author’s Ph.D. thesis “A Programme about Religion: Radharc and the Secularisation of Irish Society, 1959-1996” was formally ratified by University College Dublin in July 2014.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Behind the scenes at the IFI Irish Film Archive

Over the summer months the IFI Irish Film Archive will be undertaking a major digital infrastructure upgrade project that will radically improve its ability to collect, preserve and make accessible the digital collections which it is acquiring in ever increasing quantities. Thanks to the assistance of the Department of Arts Heritage & the Gaeltacht the installation of high speed fibre optic cabling and new editing and ingestion equipment will see the archive expand its capacity to take in borne digital material and to create high resolution digital copies of the film and tape materials that it already holds.

On the cusp of this exciting development we felt it was an opportune time to go behind the scenes of the IFI Irish Film Archive and meet the people who care for our National Moving Image Collections.

Kasandra O'Connell

Kasandra O’Connell, Head of the IFI Irish Film Archive: “As Head of the Archive I have overall responsibility for strategy, policy and the technical development of the Archive. Over the last five years there has been a dramatic shift from an analogue environment to a digital one and the IFI Irish Film Archive, along with most other Archives around the world, is faced with the challenge of preserving and managing Digital collections to ensure their longevity. As most films and their accompanying materials are now being created and distributed in a digital format it is critical that we address this problem quickly to ensure no relevant material is lost.  This infrastructure project is the first phase of our Digital Preservation and Access Strategy and is a crucial development for us as it is the technical foundation upon which we will build our digital policies and procedures, thus ensuring we can continue to care for the remarkable collections we have responsibility for and make them more widely available in the future through new technology based access solutions.’’

Raelene Casey

Raelene Casey, Moving Image Access Officer: “My job is to find ways to make the content of the archive more accessible to all member of the public both commercially and non-commercially. We’re a not-for- profit private company, but we hold Ireland’s National Film Heritage in our care. As a result we need to strike a balance between providing commercial access to the collections and making sure our shared film heritage is available to everyone who wishes to explore it. As my colleagues and I are navigating the nascent waters of digital preservation and access we’re exploring ways to make this balance possible within the resources available to us. If you’ve any questions about accessing footage from the archive or fees involved, please email me.”

Columb Gilna

Columb Gilna, Collections Officer: “There are many different aspects to the job of a CO at the IFA. One minute I’m working with a roll of 16mm Black and White film from the 1930s (from our physical/analogue collection) and the next it’s a “.mov” file (from our digital asset collection). But it all boils down to collection care; through tracking, examination, documentation and correct storage. Our job is to follow best practice in preservation and collection management. Only then can the notion of sustained access become a reality.”

Vincent Kearney

Vincent Kearney, Archive Assistant: “As an archive assistant, I register and make technical assessments of film material being considered for inclusion in the Archive’s collections. Once a decision regarding acquisition has been made, I catalogue items joining the collections and prepare them for storage.”

Anja Mahler

Anja Mahler, Collections Assistant: “I am responsible for documentation and care of acquisitions from organisations with whom we have an archiving agreement, such as the Irish Film Board, the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland and The Arts Council.  In my work I oversee condition assessment, accessioning, cataloguing, preserving and annual assessments of materials on 35mm film and tape carrier.  A digital infrastructure would allow for deposits to be in high resolution file format instead of tape, employing a Digital Asset Management System that will be of benefit to all processes involved in archiving film heritage.”

Gavin Martin

Gavin Martin, Collections Officer: “I am responsible for digitising the Archive’s Film Collections. My remit is to preserve or in some cases restore the image quality of the films I am turning into digital assets; these are then held as large uncompressed preservation files and as smaller digital access files which can be accessed by a variety of users. This upgrade will enable me to deal with much larger file formats that our current workflow allows for and I will also be able to undertake more sophisticated and extensive restoration projects.”

Manus McManus

Manus McManus, Senior Collections Officer: “I oversee the technical and preservation management of the Archive collections, liaise with film depositors and post-production facilities, and support the Head of the Archive in developing and implementing Archive strategy, policy and procedures. I will be assisting in adapting and expanding our collections-management policy to embrace the Archive’s new digital assets.”

Anita Ní Nualláin

Anita Ní Nualláin, Archive Assistant: “I am currently registering and cataloguing one of the largest non-professional collections in the Archive. I also check the condition of film material going out to and returning from screenings, and performs audits of at-risk material in the collections.”

Eilís Ní Raghallaigh

Eilís Ní Raghallaigh, Library Assistant: “As a library assistant in the IFI Irish Film Archive’s Tiernan MacBride Library, as well as supporting the librarian in the delivery of the library service, I am updating the library’s clippings archive and write a monthly library blog.

Eoin O'Donohoe

Eoin O’Donohoe, Acquisitions/Compliance Assistant: “I assist with the incoming Irish Film Board and Broadcasting Authority of Ireland collections, mostly dealing with digital video tape. A large part of the role is carrying out condition assessment of the material to ensure that only the best quality tapes enter into the archive. Following the accession and cataloguing process, the material finds a permanent home on the shelves in the vault.”

Kieran O'Leary

Kieran O’Leary, Collections & Access Assistant: “I help to facilitate access to the archive’s holdings. The digital refurb will allow greater access to the collections, both within the building and off-site, as well as adding an extra dimension of preservation.”

Fiona Rigney

Fiona Rigney, Librarian and Document Archivist: “As the Librarian and Document Archivist I am responsible for the care of our Special collections and library. I also provide access and research assistance to everyone who uses the library and paper archive.   The Library holds one of the largest collections of film related publications in Ireland and the document collections provide contextual information on the production and history of Irish film, the Irish film industry, and film exhibition in Ireland; they consist of press clippings, filmmakers’ correspondence, production notes, images and posters.  All our collections are available to the public, for more information on our collections and our opening hours please visit the Library page”.

Learn more about the IFI Irish Film Archive and visit our website.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Female Gaze: Heroines of Irish Cinema Portrayed by its Female Directors

This month, the IFI examines the work of women in film and the representation of women on film in Beyond the Bechdel Test throughout July. Related activities include panel discussions, screenings of archival footage from the IFI’s Irish Film Archive and a chance to see seminal films such as Pat Murphy’s Maeve on the big screen. It will come as no surprise then that this month’s blog from the IFI’s Tiernan MacBride Library focuses on four Irish films with female protagonists that are directed by women.

Mary Jackson in Maeve.
 Copyright 1981 BFI Production Board.

Pat Murphy on the set of Maeve.
 Copyright 1981 BFI Production Board.

Snakes and Ladders (1996)

Set in a modern, lively Dublin which prefigures stylish urban films such as About Adam, Trish McAdam’s debut feature explores the friendship between two street performers, Jean and Kate. The film was nine years in the making as the director’s perceived inexperience discouraged potential investors. Following various setbacks, Chris Sievernich (producer of The Dead) was so impressed by both McAdam’s script and by her tenacity that the project was finally brought to fruition. The film, described by McAdam as a “funny drama and a serious comedy” [1] explores friendship, romance and ambition from a female viewpoint. On its release, audiences responded positively to the authenticity of the film’s setting and characters, “for the first time I saw something on screen that resembled my own experience.” [2]

Gina Moxley and Pom Boyd in their roles as Jean and Kate in Snakes and Ladders.
 Copyright 1996 Livia Films.

Trish McAdam on the set of Snakes and Ladders.
 Copyright 1996 Livia Films.

Clare sa Spéir (2001)

In this short film, Audrey O’Reilly tells the story of harassed mother Clare who is under-appreciated by her five children and her self-involved husband. She removes herself from the drudgery of her domestic life by leaving the family home for the family tree house, in a bid to break a world record. The family’s shock and anger gradually transmute into a new-found respect for Clare’s needs and worth. O’Reilly explores familial tensions, evolving gender roles and the female psyche with humour and playfulness. The director’s playful sense of humour is present again in her tongue-in-cheek apology to the second level students studying her film as part of their curriculum who “consider Clare to be the Peig Sayers of the media section of the leaving-cert.” [3]

Clare’s bewildered family headed by Seán Mac Ginley as Eoin in Clare sa Spéir.
 Copyright 2001 Zanzibar Films.

Audrey O’Reilly surrounded by cast and crew on the set of Clare sa Spéir.
 Copyright 2001 Zanzibar Films. 

32A (2007)

Marian Quinn won the IFI’s Tiernan MacBride Screenwriting Award for her 32A script in 2002, and the feature won an award for Best First Film at the 2007 Galway Film Fleadh. It is a semi-autobiographical coming of age story based on Quinn’s experiences growing up in Dublin in the 1970s. Thirteen-year-old Maeve makes her first forays into adulthood as she experiences her first kiss, experiments with drugs and clashes with her friends. The authentic low-key period detail and the naturalistic performances captured in the film are impressive, especially in light of the fact that the film was shot in 28 days on a budget of only €1.5 million. Quinn’s determination and pragmatism are apparent in her advice to other budding filmmakers “never wait for permission and if need be always do it yourself.” [4]

Ailish McCarthy as Maeve in 32A.
 Copyright 1997 Janey Pictures.

Marian Quinn and Orla Brady on the set of 32A.
 Copyright 1997 Janey Pictures.

Bernadette: Notes on a Political Journey

Lelia Doolan’s documentary explores the political life of Bernadette Devlin McAliskey, a prominent figure in the civil rights movement in 1960s and 1970s Belfast. Dubbed “Castro in a miniskirt” [5] by her detractors, she created a media furore in 1972 when she slapped the British Home Secretary in the face for suggesting that the paratroopers shot the Bloody Sunday protestors in self-defence. Doolan draws on archival footage and eight years of interviews with Devlin to create a compelling character study of a fiercely intelligent, articulate woman who weathered both an assassination attempt and distorted media portrayals of her actions. Doolan’s own integrity, enthusiasm and drive are captured by Gabriel Byrne’s description of her, “She can plamás, cajole, beg, borrow and sweetly bully. She is passionate about what she believes in but never self-serving.” [6]

Bernadette Devlin in a sea of policemen in Bernadette: Notes on a Political Journey.
 Copyright 2011 Lelia Doolan.

Lelia Doolan attending an event in the IFI.
 Copyright 1997 Irish Film Institute.

By Eilís Ní Raghallaigh

The IFI Irish Film Archive’s clippings, image and document collections contain thousands of files and images relating to all aspects of Irish and Irish-interest film and television production. They are available to view in the Tiernan MacBride library within library opening hours, or by appointment with the librarian. Please contact the IFI librarian, Fiona Rigney, for more information.

[1] Eustace, S. (1998, February 4). Pierce Turner: movie star. Wexford Echo.
[2] Hayes, K. (1998, February 26). Snakes and Ladders. The Irish Times.
[3] O’Reilly, A. (n.d.) Me & my film. Clare-sa-Speir. Retrieved July 10th, 2014, from http://claresaspeir.wordpress.com/about/
[4] Barter, P. (2009, October 19). Finding her own route. Metro, pp. 12.
[5] Maguire, J. (2011, November 20). Modern fable hits a home run. Sunday Business Post, pp. 32.
[6] Farrelly, P. (2013, December). Lelia’s picture palace. Irish America. Retrieved July 10th, 2014 from http://irishamerica.com/2012/12/lelias-picture-palace/

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

James Joyce’s Ulysses: Filming the Unfilmable

Eilís Ní Raghallaigh from the IFI's Tiernan MacBride Library looks at three filmmakers who attempted to capture Joyce on screen.

The IFI will mark this Bloomsday, June 16th, with screenings of John Huston’s The Dead and Frank Stapleton’s A Second of June. Huston’s masterpiece is generally thought to be the most successful adaptation of James Joyce’s work [1], while film adaptations of his most famous novel, Ulysses, have been viewed as problematic. As one critic wrote, “Filming Ulysses was an impossible task – that elusive, magnificent, joyful monster of a book is words, words, words.” [2] In the IFI’s Tiernan MacBride library we look at three filmmakers who sought to capture the essence of Joyce’s masterpiece on film.

Gabriel Conroy (Donal McCann) makes an after-dinner speech in The Dead
Copyright 1987 Arthur McGuinness.

Ulysses (1967)
Joseph Strick’s adaptation of Ulysses was dubbed “psychotic in its blasphemy and dirtiness” by Archbishop McQuaid [3] and was banned in Ireland for over 30 years. Internationally, reviewers praised the actors’ performances in the film but criticised its failure to capture visually Joyce’s evocative prose and the novel’s rich humanity. Key elements of Joyce’s work were seen to have been diminished or excised in favour of its sexual content, which proved shocking enough to “send one reeling out of the theatre.” [4] Modern re-assessments of the film have praised the director’s bold experimentation with cinematic form in a manner that is true to the spirit of Joyce’s own writing. [5]

Leopold Bloom (Milo O’Shea) pretends to model Molly’s underwear in Ulysses
Copyright 1967 Contemporary Films

Ulys (1997) 
Tim Booth’s five-minute animation follows Joyce’s struggle with the writing of Ulysses, which he declares to be "a real bollix of a buk", something the writer himself is alleged to have said. [6] The animation offers an outline of the novel’s plot, gives vivid snapshots of the bawdiness and banter of its characters and pokes fun at Joyce’s formidable reputation as a genius.

In Ulys, Joyce writes to his brother Stanislaus about his struggles with Ulysses
Copyright 1997 Tim Booth.

Bloom (2003)
Sean Walsh stated that in adapting Joyce’s Ulysses to film he "deleted the bits I don’t understand and the bits which bored me." [7] Walsh wanted to demystify Joyce’s work, to make it accessible to general audiences who were daunted by its perceived complexity. Negative reviews of the film concentrated once again on its failure to "film the unfilmable" [8] and on its placement of Molly Bloom’s infamous soliloquy at the beginning, rather than at the end, of the film. Generally however, the film was well received and praised for its playfulness, visual inventiveness and re-telling of the novel in plain words and pictures. Joycean scholar Senator David Norris enthusiastically declared it "a triumphant reinterpretation of James Joyce’s masterpiece." [9]

Stephen Rea and Angeline Ball play Bloom and Molly in happier times in Bloom
Copyright 2003 Stoney Road Films.

By Eilís Ní Raghallaigh

The IFI Irish Film Archive’s clippings, image and document collections contain thousands of files and images relating to all aspects of Irish and Irish-interest film and television production. They are available to view in the Tiernan MacBride library within library opening hours, or by appointment with the librarian. Please contact the IFI librarian, Fiona Rigney, for more information. 

[1] Carty, C. (2009, June 6). Joyce’s novel idea. The Irish Times, pp. 23.
[2] Farren, R. (2001, February 11). A blooming celebration. The Sunday Independent, pp. 27L.
[3] Shortall, E. (2012, November 11). Archbishop in plot to ban Ulysses film. The Sunday Times.
[4]Wolf, W. & Wolf, L.K. (1979). Landmark films: The cinema and our century. New York: Paddington Press.
[5] McCarthy, G. (2009, May 24). Portraits of the artist as cineaste. The Sunday Times, pp. 6-7.
[6] Rockett, R. & Finn, E. (n.d.) Frameworks: Ulys. Irish film & TV research online. Retrieved June 3rd, 2014, from http://www.tcd.ie/irishfilm/showfilm.php?fid=56570.
[7] Sheehan, M. (2000, September 17). Irish to bring Ulysses alive on big screen. The Sunday Times, pp. 3.
[8] Moloney, G. (2003, July 22). New film of ‘Ulysses.’ The Irish Times, p. 13.
[9] Dwyer, C. (2003, July 20). At last, a Molly who Blooms brazenly. The Sunday Independent, p. 19.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Cannes Film Festival 2014 (Part Two)

Ready for more complaints about queues? Welcome to the second and final blog from Cannes 2014!

Cast & crew of Xenia

Xenia played in Un Certain Regard and, directed by Panos H. Koutras, it follows two very different brothers who, after their mother passes away, go in search of the father who abandoned them as children. It's a camp affair overall, between the Greek Star audition (think X Factor) plot and a few musical numbers and dance routines thrown in for good measure. There are plenty of plot holes (didn't they do well to escape the police and sniffer dogs even though older brother Ody was giving younger brother Dany a piggyback?!) And there was also the bizarre sequence, reminiscent of The Night of the Hunter, where the two brothers drift along the river in a boat while various wildlife (including a giant sized rabbit!) come to the riverbank to watch them pass...? The film was picked up by a distributor but I don't see this having mass appeal on release. I managed to grab a quick video of Koutras and cast in their pre-screening address.

One of my favourites has been Damian Szifron's Wild Tales. This thoroughly refreshing and hugely entertaining Argentinian film pulls together six different, unrelated stories, each offering it's very own 'wild tale', largely about people on the edge losing control and crossing the line that society usually demands we stay behind. It works exceptionally well overall (although the humour level doesn't quite sustain throughout) and four of the six are truly wonderful. A special shout-out has to go to the third story which tells the tale of a cocky driver in a fancy car overtaking and abusing a slow driver in his clapped-out banger, hurling abuse as he speeds by. A few miles down the road however, he gets a flat, and who should be the next driver to arrive on the scene...? What follows is a hilarious exchange of revenge exacted which escalates and escalates until it reaches it's unimaginable and utterly hilarious climax. The whole film is wildly entertaining and a complete breath of fresh air. It's probably simply too much fun to win any major awards, but you never know...

Director Damian Szifron

In an almost-sequel, Mange tes Morts/Eat Your Bones by Jean-Charles Hue focuses on the traveling community in France, in particular three brothers (one of whom has just been released from prison following a fifteen year stretch) and their cousin. The most interesting scenes for me were the very natural conversations on the community's halting site with old rivalries coming to the fore. The main thrust of the film follows the four men as they attempt to break into a scrap yard to steal a consignment of copper that the youngest brother Mickael has learnt of. While Mange tes Morts could be viewed as a sequel (after Hue's 2010 film La BM du Seigneur which followed the same characters) it can equally be viewed independently. 

Cannes favourites Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne returned with Two Days, One Night, this time opting to work with a well-known actress (Marion Cotillard) instead of their usual lesser known faces. The story, set over a weekend, follows Sandra (Cotillard) as she sets out, reluctantly, to meet each of her colleagues one by one in order to secure their support for her in a ballot the following Monday where they must vote between her keeping her job or all the staff receiving a bonus. The main themes of the film revolve around depression/mental health and the wider economic situation. Many seem to have issue with the credibility of such a well known actress taking on the role of such an ordinary, down on her luck employee, but I had no such concerns. I don't think it's the Dardennes' finest work, but it's still absorbing and worthy of being in the Official Competition.

Pascale Ferran's Bird People is an interesting and unusual film which played in Un Certain Regard. I absolutely loved the opening sequence which randomly dropped in, for a few moments, on various different conversations during a train journey and the private thoughts people were having. Seamlessly going from someone having a heated argument to joining someone else listening to classical music on their headphones, it was a captivating opening. Once the main film gets started it very much splits into two stories. The first follows Gary (Josh Charles) and while staying at the airport hotel (where most of the action of the film takes place) he decides to change everything about his life, starting with quitting his job and leaving his wife. The second part follows Audrey (Anais Demoustier), one of the hotel's chambermaids who (literally) wants to soar to new heights (the clue is in the title people!). The Carte Noire IFI French Film Festival director Marie-Pierre Richard simply adored this film. You heard it here first!

Cast & crew of Bird People

From a flight of fancy to a journey of despair, in Hope, deep in the Sahara Desert, a young man from Cameroon  comes to the rescue of Hope, a Nigerian, as they navigate a dangerous journey to illegally gain access to Europe. Desperately bleak with obstacles facing them at every turn along their way, there is also great beauty, and the chemistry between the two leads is marvellous. I found this very engaging, powerful and thought-provoking, though never an easy watch. 

Playing outside competition, the title of Andre Techine's latest release, In the Name of my Daughter, may sound like a Sally Field made-for-TV movie, but it is in fact a solid piece based on a true story. Set in Nice, following the breakdown of her marriage, Agnes le Roux (Adele Haenel) returns home to her mother Renee (played by the ever wonderful Catherine Deneuve), owner of the Casino le Palais. She quickly befriends Maurice (a truly wonderful performance from Guillaume Canet), her mother's confidante and legal advisor, and their relationship deepens, despite his having a wife, son and string of other lovers. A fixed game at the casino, rigged by the mafia, throws the future of the business in jeopardy and loyalties are put to the test and broken. The film opens in the present day and then goes back in time, so despite me not being familiar with this true story (it apparently was back in the news only weeks ago with new twists and turns), one is aware from the beginning that Agnes has been missing, presumed dead for over 30 years and that Renee believes it was at the hands of Maurice. Techine offers us a very conventional film. The performances are great and the story is intriguing, and this should be met warmly by those interested in solid French film.

Following on from Saint Laurent on Sunday, it was time for me to move fashion house from YSL to Christian Dior. Dior and I is the new documentary from Frederic Tcheng which is a behind-the-scenes look at new Artistic Director, Raf Simons' first haute couture collection in his new role. The access granted to Tcheng is fantastic and the cast of characters involved in bringing the collection to fruition demonstrates a group of passionate, dedicated and loyal employees; and that in itself poses a slight problem for the film. They're all too nice! Dior and I lacks the foreboding central character of say Anna Wintour (she pops up in this too!) in The September Issue or her (perhaps more interesting) second in command Grace Coddington. Raf Simons is a much gentler character - although the cracks do begin to appear as the show draws closer. And tensions do begin to mount as the atelier team are put under increasing pressure, especially when one of the premieres doesn't cope particularly well with change or stress. Overall the documentary presents a rare opportunity to get to see the work and passion that goes into making a fashion collection and catwalk show, and it makes for a great companion piece to Saint Laurent.

Dior and I

Nadav Schirman's The Green Prince is a slickly produced documentary about one of Israel's most prized spies, the son of a top Hamas leader. Using a combination of first person testimony, archive footage and reconstructions, it charts how Mosab Hassan Youssef (code name The Green Prince) was recruited by the Israelis and how (and why) he turned on his own people, including his family and friends, and the relationship he developed with his Shin Bet handler, Gonen Ben Yitzhak. Produced by Schirman along with two-time Oscar winner Simon Chinn (Man on Wire and Searching for Sugar Man) and Oscar winner John Battsek (One Day in September), it has all the trademarks of these highly produced documentaries. It employs the real life thriller approach reminiscent of The Imposter and is it a fascinating, almost incredible story. It picked up the Audience Award at Sundance and I'd imagine it should also get a lot of attention from Cannes. 

In Un Certain Regard, Mathieu Amalric steps behind (as well as in front of) the camera in Le Chambre Bleue/The Blue Room. Two lovers, Julien (Amalric) and Delphine (Lea Drucker), conducting an affair, post-coitally lie in their blue room contemplating spending their lives together. This then cuts to the police interrogating Julien for a crime we know is related to their affair and respective spouses. But what has he done and is he indeed guilty? This is a stylish and classy film. It wavers slightly towards the end but it is still a very interesting and engaging film from the director/actor Amalric.

So what will win the coveted Palme d'Or and the other major awards? It's a hard one to call. For the Official Competition, as I was leaving Mommy (Xavier Dolan) and Goodbye to Language (Jean-Luc Godard; who has never won the Palme) had both just screened and were generating positive word, while many are still talking about Mister Turner (Mike Leigh) and Wild Tales (Damian Szifron) from earlier in the Festival. Leviathan (Andrey Zvyagintsev) - which is showing tonight - was being talked about as one of the favourites before the Festival even began. 

So that's it for me for Cannes 2014. I look forward to hearing (and debating the worthiness) of all of the winners. Until next May...

Ross Keane

Read Ross' festival blog - part one - here.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Cannes Film Festival 2014 (Part One)

So we're back in Cannes for another year of obsessing about schedules and trying to expertly judge queue lengths to pack in as many films as humanly possible!

I started my Cannes 2014 trip with The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby starring Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy which tells the story of a happily married couple whose lives are suddenly torn apart by a family tragedy and follows the journey they must take to see if they can rebuild their shattered relationship. 

Jessica Chastain & cast of The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby

It's hard to say much more without telling the reason for their marital stress (it isn't revealed for quite some time) but it's an enjoyable watch overall, even if some of the impressive supporting cast (Isabelle Huppert, William Hurt, Ciaran Hinds and Viola Davis) aren't used to any great value. But, to feel like you were there, I did manage to capture the pre-screening Q&A!

Hot on the heels of the Yves Saint Laurent biopic (of the same name) earlier this year, Cannes unveiled the second study of the fashion designer in Bertrand Bonello's drama playing in the Official Competition which is stylishly shot, with great music and - as you'd expect - fantastic costumes.

Jessica Hausner's Amour Fou played in Un Certain Regard and is beautifully shot with each frame almost resembling a painting resulting in a film that looks like a sequence of beautiful tableaux. It's slow moving but quietly engaging. But perhaps not the 'romantic comedy' that it's being referred to as.

The documentary Red Army follows the Russian ice hockey team during (and briefly after) the Cold War. With Russia currently so present in the news, Red Army is perfectly timed to give a fascinating insight into the world politics behind the sport and the characters who shaped it both on and off the rink. It's well told, humorous in parts, but ultimately chilling.

Watch the film trailer:

The cast and director Jaime Rosales were in attendance for the Un Certain Regard screening of Beautiful Youth. The films presents a bleak view of life for Spain's youth with few opportunities on offer, hence leading the central couple to decide to shoot a porn movie to earn some cash. Its style is refreshing (although I wasn't convinced that the Whatsapp sequences worked to demonstrate the passing of time, and seemed a little gimmicky) but bar that I was sufficiently drawn into the world of the young couple looking for some hope for their future. It was touching to see lead actress Ingrid Garcia-Jonsson so overcome with emotion due to the wonderful reaction of the audience to the screening. 

Cast & crew of Beautiful Youth

Perhaps my favourite film to date was Abderraane Sissako's Timbuktu. This beautiful and delicately told film about religious fundamentalists spreading terror in the region has at it's heart the story of doting father and husband Kidane (Ibrahim Ahmed) and the consequences he faces after accidentally killing the fisherman Amadou over a valued cow. The film contains some stunning imagery. The scene of the boys playing imaginary football (with no real ball due to the religious banning of the game) was powerfully simple, as was the memorable image of the soldier sitting on the roof against the moonlight listening to music being played by the people he was about to arrest (music had also been banned). But perhaps the most striking image was the panoramic and lingering shot of Kidane wading though the water to escape the dying Amadou on the opposite bank.

Cast & crew of Timbuktu

David Cronenberg has assembled an impressive cast (Julianne Moore, Mia  Wasikowska, John Cusack, Olivia Williams) for Maps to the Stars, his cutting look at our celebrity obsessed culture. With two colliding stories (one of a fading actress - Julianne Moore - haunted by her mother as she strives to be cast in the same role that brought her mother fame many years before, and the other of a Hollywood family with secrets aplenty and enough skeletons in the closet to feed The National Enquirer for decades!). Fine performances abound and the film is simply delicious in parts. For me, the first half heavily relied on jokes and references to other celebrities in the public domain, but it got a lot meatier and more engaging as it progressed towards its dramatic, Greek tragedy climax.

Next up in the Official Competition was Foxcatcher starring Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo and an unrecognisable Steve Carell (who may have found a new calling in creepy and sinister roles). Based on a true story of two Olympic gold medallist wrestlers and brothers (Tatum and Ruffalo) who are taken under the wing of businessman and philanthropist John du Pont (Carell) to help bring them sporting glory. It all begins to go horribly wrong when that 'interest' begins to have a more sinister and obsessive side. It's a fascinating story and a treat to see Carell in such a different role.

Gente de Bien is a sweet Colombian film about a young boy, left by his mother to a father he barely knows. Struggling in downtown Bogota, the occasional employer of the boy's father takes pity on their situation and offers to take them on her family vacation over the Christmas break. I wouldn't imagine it'll be picking up any awards, but it was still an enjoyable watch.

And so with the first set of films under my belt, does it make the schedule seem less daunting now? Not a chance! With word of must-sees filtering through and my own selection, I'll still be spotted in queues around town staring at the programme schedule trying to figure out how to bi-locate!

A bientot, 

Ross Keane

To coincide with the presentation of States of Fear to mark its 15th anniversary, the Tiernan MacBride Library looks at other documentaries which caused controversy in Ireland

Shocking Documentaries: Four Films that Sparked Outrage in Ireland

This month the Mary Raftery Journalism Fund, in association with the IFI and RTÉ, marks the 15th anniversary of the broadcast of the States of Fear documentaries with screenings and discussions examining the impact of the series on Saturday, May 24th. Mary Raftery’s exposure of the abuse and neglect practised in Ireland’s industrial schools caused a public outcry, pressuring the Irish Government to apologise for its role in perpetuating the system.

We in the IFI Irish Film Archive’s Tiernan MacBride library look at other documentaries which, for varying reasons, caused outrage in Ireland.

1. Ireland: The Tear and the Smile (1961)
This CBS documentary, examining contemporary Ireland, was broadcast to American audiences in 1961. Initially the Irish Government collaborated with the filmmakers, recognising the potential of the programme to transmit images of a thriving modern Ireland to potential investors in the U.S. The finished programme angered the State who believed it reinforced offensive stereotypes of Ireland as a poverty-stricken, primitive country decimated by unemployment and emigration. Sean Lemass maintained that his government had been grossly deceived by CBS but his letter of protest was sharply dismissed by the programme’s producer, “for us to pretend these situations did not exist would be journalistically dishonest.”  [1]

Walter Cronkite in Ireland: The Tear and the Smile observes the Irish in “two of their favourite occupations, ‘talking and drinking'.” [2] Copyright 1961 Robert Monks

2. Open Port (1968) 
The Radharc team of priests produced programmes that examined moral and social issues within a religious context. In Open Port their documentation of alleged prostitution along the quays in Cork City drew censure because of their use of a hidden camera to film young girls boarding ships with sailors. The documentary sparked a media debate that ran for months; critics accused the team of infringing upon the subjects’ human rights to produce a sensationalist story, while supporters commended Radharc’s high journalistic standards and its unflinching exposure of a “social evil.” [3]

Fr. Leo Lennon, port Chaplain, calls for the closure of Cork’s quayside in Open Port.
Copyright 1968 The Radharc Trust

3. Fairytale of Kathmandu (2007)
Nessa Ní Chaináin’s second documentary about the poet Cathal Ó Searcaigh began as a tribute to his work establishing education projects in Nepal. Her unease about the poet’s sexual relationships with several of the Nepalese youths he supported changed the focus of the film, however. Ó Searcaigh asserted that these were consensual relationships conducted with men above the Nepalese age of consent and accused Ní Chianáin of betraying his trust. She was concerned with the “disparity of power” [4] involved in the relationships between a 50-year-old wealthy westerner and poor 16- to 17-year-old Nepalese boys. The divisive film brewed up a media storm in Ireland but a subsequent Garda investigation resulted in no official charges being made against Ó Searcaigh. 

Cathal Ó Searcaigh is welcomed to Nepal in Ní Chianáin’s first documentary about his work in The Poet, The Shopkeeper and Babu. Copyright 2006 Vinegar Hill Productions

4. The Pipe (2008)
This film chronicled the resistance of a local Mayo community to Shell Oil’s government-backed plans to lay a gas pipeline through Rossport. Risteárd Ó Domhnaill was concerned that Shell was manipulating the news to criminalise protestors and wished to give a voice to “respectable people being treated as if they were thugs.” [5] Though criticised in some quarters for its perceived lack of objectivity, the documentary captured shocking scenes of violence used by Gardaí in clashes with protestors, which bolstered support for the community’s struggle.

Gardai baton-charge protestors in The Pipe. Copyright 2010 Underground Films

By Eilís Ní Raghallaigh

The IFI Irish Film Archive’s clippings and document collections contain thousands of files and images relating to all aspects of Irish and Irish-interest film and television production. They are available to view in the Tiernan MacBride library within library opening hours, or by appointment with the librarian. Please contact the IFI librarian, Fiona Rigney, for more information. 

[1] Savage, R. J. (2003) Ireland in the New Century. Dublin: Four Courts Press.
[2] Savage, R.J. (1999) Ireland: The Tear and the Smile. In L. Dodd (Ed.), Nationalism Visions and Revisions (pp. 60-63). Dublin: FII Publishing, 1999. 60-63.
[3] Realist. (1969, January 1). Cork Quays. Cork Evening Echo.
[4] Sheridan, K. (1996, February 2). Sex, power and videotape. The Irish Times, pp.3.

[5] Clarke, D. (2010) Almost by accident, he was making a documentary… The Irish Times, pp. 9.