Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Taking hold of the truth: gripping Irish documentaries from the IFI’s Stranger Than Fiction Documentary Film Festivals

The IFI Stranger Than Fiction Documentary Film Festival (September 25th – 28th), now in its 11th year, showcases the best documentary work from Ireland and around the globe. This year’s line-up includes new Irish works from Blood Fruit’s exploration of the Dunnes Stores workers’ stand against apartheid to Showrunners which examines the world of U.S. television’s creative teams. In this month’s blog from the IFI Irish Film Archive’s Tiernan MacBride library we look back at five gripping Irish documentaries which have been screened during the history of the festival.

The Family (1979)

Bob Quinn’s The Family was shown as part of the Alternative Communities archival strand of the 2009 IFI Stranger Than Fiction Documentary Film Festival. It examines the Atlantis Commune which was based in Donegal in the 1970s, whose members were labelled ‘The Screamers’ because of the confrontational primal therapy they practised. [1] Quinn has described how one shocking therapy scene in the film still has the power to upset him over 30 years later and he called it “the most intimidating project of my career.” [2] The Family was commissioned by the fledgling RTE 2 but was not broadcast as intended in 1978 because it was “too disturbing.” [3] The film was finally shown on RTE over ten years later as part of Lelia Doolan’s First View series. [4] 

Jenny James, founder of the Atlantis Commune in The Family
Copyright 1979 Cinegael.

Chavez: Inside the Coup (2003)
This documentary focuses on the events in Venezuela in 2002 leading up to an attempted revolutionary coup, which saw President Hugo Chavez deposed for 48 hours. Kim Bartley and Donnacha Ó Briain’s footage of the events contradicted the false story circulated internationally by Venezuela’s privately owned media channels; that shots fired into the crowd originated from the pro-Chavez supporters when in fact his supporters were the victims of the sniper attacks. Later, they film the removal of Chavez in handcuffs from the presidential palace and finally, following dramatic protests by his supporters and the backing of the army, his triumphant return. While it is clear that the filmmakers’ sympathies lie with Chavez and his government, the material is allowed to speak for itself and the result is a thrilling examination of political machination and the manipulation of the media. The documentary won multiple international awards, with one Canadian jury declaring it, “the best television programme in the world this year.” [5]

Hugo Chavez addresses the crowd in Chavez: Inside the Coup
Copyright 2003 Power Pictures.

The Asylum (2005)
In this documentary series, set in St. Ita’s Hospital, Portrane, acclaimed filmmaker Alan Gilsenan explores the subject of mental health in Ireland. The films are moving and frightening in turns as we meet the hospital’s residents and get a sense of the disenfranchisement they have suffered because of mental illness. At the time, Gilsenan addressed criticisms that his series had the potential to be exploitative in a live debate with Mannix Flynn on RTE’s Liveline programme. [6] He outlined the years taken to film the series, the sensitivity shown to its subjects and the involvement of the patients’ doctors and family members in every step of the process. [7] Watching the series, the humanity of both the staff and residents is powerfully conveyed throughout and it remains an important examination of a taboo subject, “a place which we dreaded to look at before, in any shape or form.” [8]

Caroline Smith, a patient interviewed in The Asylum, who had spent over 
50 years of her life in institutions. Copyright 2005 RTE.

Saviours (2007)
Saviours follows the lives of three young fighters training in St. Saviour’s Olympic Boxing Academy on Dublin’s Dorset Street. Over two years we experience the personal struggles and triumphs of Abdul Hussein, an asylum seeker, Dean Murphy, a local fighter and Darren Sutherland, whose bronze medal win in the 2008 Olympics secured a cinematic release for the film. [9] Filmmakers Ross Whitaker and Liam Nolan convey the humour, vulnerability and “spit and spirit” [10] of the boxers as well as the source of hope and sense of community boxing gives to them and to their trainers. Sadly, Darren Sutherland took his own life in 2009 and Saviours stands as a fitting testament to the talent, courage and humility of an outstanding young man.

Darren Sutherland is declared the winner of a boxing match in Saviours
Copyright 2007 Nolan Whitaker Street Films.

The Liberties (2009)
The Liberties captures the fascination filmmakers Tom Burke and Shane Hogan feel for this inner-city enclave, sometimes referred to as “the real Dublin.” [11] Residents including craftsmen, newspaper sellers and actress Brenda Fricker are profiled in a series of vignettes which create a vivid snapshot of the area and its community. The film avoids easy platitudes and the different characters speak with humour and startling honesty about subjects including drug addiction, poverty and immigration. The various portraits celebrate the ordinary lives decently lived in the Liberties and in the words of one reviewer, “hang in the memory long after the film has finished.” [12]

Newspaper seller Sarah leans against a kiosk in The Liberties. 
Copyright 2009 Areaman Productions.

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] Corbett, G. (2006, December 3). Keeping hope afloat in a harrowing world. The Sunday Tribune, p. 19.
[2] Quinn, B. (2013, January). A note from the director on the making of the Family. Irish Film Institute. Retrieved September 16th, 2014 from
[3] Quinn, B. (2006). The Family. Cinegael. Retrieved September 16th, 2014 from
[4] Rockett, K. (2006, November). The Family. Irish film & TV research online. Retrieved September 16th, 2014 from
[5] O’Mahony, C. (2003, June 15). Chavez film labelled ‘best in the world.’ The Sunday Business Post, p. 17.
[6] Kehoe, E. (2005, September 18). Poignant and painful in Portrane. The Sunday Business Post, Agenda, p. 10.
[7] Lavery, B. (2005, September 11). Television. The Sunday Times, pp. 20-21.
[8] Lynch, D. (2005, September 25). A look at what we tried not to see. The Sunday Independent, p. 2.
[9] Whitington, P. (2008, September 6). Darren Sutherland’s road to knockout success. The Irish Independent, Review, p. 21.
[10] Lynch, P. (2008, October 5). Sucker Punch. The Sunday Tribune, Arts, p. 5.
[11] Kehoe, E. (2009, September 20). Liberties taken in the heart of old Dublin. The Sunday Business Post, Agenda, p. 40.
[12] Fannin, H. (2009, September 19). Rich Pageant. The Irish Times, Weekend Review, p. 18.

Monday, September 22, 2014

STF: In conversation with Blood Fruit director Sinead O'Brien

Blood Fruit director Sinead O'Brien talks about the making of her documentary aheads of its Dublin premiere at IFI Stranger Than Fiction on Sept 27th. 

This series of blog posts will include interviews with directors who will be screening their films at this year's IFI Stranger Than Fiction Documentary Film Festival (Sept 25th - 28th).

Next up we have Sinead O'Brien whose documentary Blood Fruit will have its Dublin premiere at IFI Stranger Than Fiction on Saturday, September 27th at 6.30pm. (Book here)

Tell us about the film you have directed as part of IFI Stranger than Fiction Documentary Film Festival this month?

Blood Fruit is a documentary film set in the 1980s when Apartheid was at its height and millions of black South Africans were living under the brutal regime. While governments around the world refused to sanction this economically rich and influential country one young shop worker from Dublin, Mary Manning decided to take a stand by refusing to register the sale of two Outspan grapefruits. What at first appeared to be an insignificant action quickly escalated into a mass protest that spanned over three years. Blood Fruit is a timely and hopefully inspiring film that shows us when ordinary people decide take a stand against those in power change can be brought about. 

How did you get involved in the project or did the project start with you?

Noel Pearson the producer had been thinking about making the project for a while and asked me to get involved. I did some initial research and was intrigued that something hugely significant has more or less been written out of history. But it was when I met the strikers that my mind was made up - their determination and passion with the regards to international human rights and the struggle there seems to be to put value on a human life before economic and self serving political decisions seems as relevant if not more now as it was back then.  

How long have you been working on the project?

In all about two years from the starting point of research to raising the finance to finally completing the project earlier this summer. 

What really excites, inspires or motivates you about documentary film?

The things that excite and motivate me most about documentary making is the fact that you have a starting point but you never know quite where the story is going to until close to the end. Unlike fiction stories there is no script - the story is drawn to together gradually and you will have aspects of the narrative changing and unfolding all the way through the process. What inspires me most is meeting new people with real and often difficult stories to tell. This is a business that you will never make you rich but at the same time you will never be left feeling bored or dissatisfied.

Who do you think will enjoy the movie you have directed?

I think anybody who has a genuine regard for those who are suffering or lacking in society both in Ireland and around the world.  I would also like to think it will inspire anyone who respects the action of the underdog against those in power and hopefully give the individual some kind of motivation to do the same - no matter how small or insignificant their action may be it could help to bring about change for themselves and others.

What other films at the festival are you looking forward to seeing?

I am very excited about seeing Amir Amirani's We Are Many and am also very much looking forward to seeing the latest work from emerging and very talented Irish filmmaker Mia Mullarkey 'In Search of a Ritual'.    

Blood Fruit will have its Irish premiere at IFI Stranger Than Fiction on Saturday, September 27th at 6.30pm. 

Friday, September 19, 2014

STF: In conversation with It Came From Connemara!! director Brian Reddin

It Came From Connemara!! director/producer Brian Reddin talks about the making of his documentary ahead of its Dublin premiere at IFI Stranger Than Fiction on Sept 27th. 

This series of blog posts will include interviews with directors who will be screening their films at this year's IFI Stranger Than Fiction Documentary Film Festival (Sept 25th - 28th).

Next up we have Brian Reddin whose documentary It Came from Connemara!! will have its Dublin premiere at IFI Stranger Than Fiction on Saturday, September 27th at 10.15pm. 
Brian will take part in Q&A following the film (book here).

It Came From Connemara!!

Tell us about the film you have directed as part of IFI Stranger than Fiction Documentary Film Festival this month?

My film tells the story of the time legendary B movie producer, Roger Corman, came to Connemara to establish a film studio. Corman was and remains a Hollywood legend. He revolutionised the way movies were made and launched the cinematic careers of Coppola, Scorsese, Nicholson and De Niro, among many others.  

In five years during the '90s Corman made 20 feature films in Connemara and managed to upset both the unions and the tastes of cinephiles. But, those who worked for him adored the experience. Corman gave them an opportunity to learn the film industry and a chance to progress through the film making ranks. He helped to launch many production careers in Ireland and there are many who credit him with their success.

My film tells the whole story of what came from Connemara during those five gloriously gruesome years. The documentary features exclusive interviews with Roger Corman, Don 'The Dragon' Wilson, James Brolin and Corbin Bernsen as well as interviews with the Irish cast and crew.

How did you get involved in the project or did the project start with you?

I originated the project. I was always a fan of Roger Corman’s movies, especially his adaptations of Edgar Allen Poe, and I was aware he was making movies in Ireland. At the time, I was producing a movie review show and I requested permission to visit his sets, but we were not allowed film at his studios. So, I was always curious about what was being made there and who was working there. It was intriguing because we heard that David Carradine was there one day and James Brolin the next. However, little was known about the studio. With the 20th anniversary of his Irish studio approaching, I decided to explore whether he would be interested in participating in a documentary about his time in Ireland and thankfully he was. TG4 quickly came on board with financing and the BAI then supported it.

Brain Reddin

How long have you been working on the project?

I first approached Corman a year ago and was shooting an interview with him in Los Angeles six months later. As soon as he got involved, everything else fell into place. Between research, shooting and post, the entire project took a year.

What really excites, inspires or motivates you about documentary film?

I love big Hollywood blockbusters as much as anyone. However, for the most part, in the past decade, the only time I have ever really thought about something I have seen in the cinema after the credits have rolled is when I have seen a well-made documentary. I love Michael Moore and Nick Broomfield as much as I love Scorsese or Corman. Documentaries can make a difference. They can make you think longer and harder about a subject and they can inspire you to find out more. Grizzly Man, Exit Through the Gift Shop, The Imposter and Man on Wire have been among my favourite films of the last ten years. Brilliantly made documentaries that push the boundaries of  traditional doc filmmaking. No doubt at some point all of these will be made into movies (Man on Wire already has), but you just know they will not be anywhere near as good as the real story.

Who do you think will enjoy the movie you have directed?

Anyone who loves cinema will enjoy my film. Although it is about a very specific period in Ireland’s film making history, at heart it is the story of a maverick and a bunch of like-minded people who made movies against the odds. It is an underdog story as well as a story about cinema. Only a handful of Corman’s Irish crew had any movie making experience when they began and yet they made a full feature film every three months. Their work ethic was astonishing. Anyone with an interest in the art of low budget filmmaking or a fascination with kitsch B-movies should find this film entertaining.

What other films at the festival are you looking forward to seeing?

There is a very strong line up this year and being a film fan I’m really looking forward to seeing the documentary about Roger Ebert, Life Itself. I’m also keen to see Showrunners as Des Doyle has managed to secure an amazing line up of interviewees and I know how hard that can be. I’ve already seen Blood Fruit which I really enjoyed and the documentary on Whitey Bulger looks fascinating.

It Came From Connemara!!
It Came from Connemara!! will have its Irish premiere at IFI Stranger Than Fiction on Saturday, September 27th at 10.15pm. Brian will take part in Q&A following the film (book here).

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

STF: In conversation with Love is All director Kim Longinotto

This series of blog posts will include interviews with directors who will be screening their films at this year's IFI Stranger Than Fiction Documentar Film Festival (Sept 25th - 28th).

First up we have Kim Longinotto whose documentary Love is All will have its Irish premiere at IFI Stranger Than Fiction on Saturday, September 27th at 6.15pm. Kim will take part in Q&A following the film (book here).

Love is All

Tell us about the film you have directed as part of IFI Stranger Than Fiction Documentary Film Festival this month? 

The film is called  Love is All. It's a film journey through the 20th century up to 2014 looking at love in all its many forms

How did you get involved in the project or did the project start with you? 

Heather Croall from Sheffield Documentary Film Festival asked me if I wanted to make a film using the BFI Archive and a soundtrack by Richard Hawley.I was delighted - it's not often you get asked to make a film. I said I'd love to as long as I could make it with Ollie Huddleston who is a brilliant editor. I loved the idea of discovering unlikely stories from the past century Also, I was intrigued to see what impact Richard Hawley's music would have when it was put with archive film. I was used to black and white, silent movies being paired with silly piano or safe jazz music, not contemporary vocals.  As we hoped, the singing really resonates with the images and creates another dimension.

How long have you been working on the project?

We only had 8 weeks to edit it. That was the scary part as it took ages to trawl through the enormous BFI archive and it felt like we had a very short time to put it together. Luckily we had help from Jan Faull at BFI and also Graham Relton at Yorkshire Film Archive found us loads of special stuff from his huge stock of films. He really seemed to know what we were after and threw himself into finding footage that would work with the film.

Kim Longinotto

What really excites, inspires or motivates you about documentary film? 

The films I enjoy watching are those that tell a story and where you can get involved with someone else's experience in a very direct way. I want to feel that the film means something to me and my life. I also watch a lot of TV and fiction. I watched every single Breaking Bad, The Wire and The Sopranos. Louis CK has been very comforting to me.

Who do you think will enjoy the movie you have directed? 

My house-mate Colin has watched it three times. He took it up to Liverpool and watched it again with his dad. When it showed at Sheffield it was in the middle of a field in a marquee on a big screen. A lot of people had been drinking and were also a bit stoned and they seemed to get into the swing of it immediately. Ollie and I walked around watching people's faces as it was our first screening. It seemed to be a good watch late at night with a full moon just outside. The atmosphere was great. We were very excited then.

Love is All

What other films at the festival are you looking forward to seeing?

I haven't looked at the programme yet - I'll do that now.

Love is All will have its Irish premiere at IFI Stranger Than Fiction on Saturday, September 27th at 6.15pm. Kim will take part in Q&A following the film (book here).

Friday, September 5, 2014

Evan Horan blogs for the IFI from Venice Days as part of 28 Times Cinema

As part of 28 Times Cinema, Evan Horan was chosen to represent the IFI at this year's Venice Days/Giornate Degli Autori. Here's an update on his adventures...

As I am now approaching the end of my time in Venice, it seems impossible to remember life outside the festival routine and consider returning to normality.  To explain why I'm in Venice, I have been selected by the IFI and Europa Cinemas to be part of the 28 Times Cinema initiative which allows a group of 28 young cinéphiles, one from each EU member state, the chance to experience the world's longest running film festival and act as a jury in selecting the winning film for the Venice Days category.

After coming off the plane at Venice airport, I headed straight into the first screening, Before I Disappear, directed by and starring Shawn Christensen and based on his Oscar-winning short Curfew. The film tells the story of Richie, a man unable to cope with life, who is reluctantly given the responsibility of taking care of his niece, Sophia. Before I Disappear takes place over one night and it has an energetic pulse in showing one man's need to take responsibility for his own life and act no longer like a child, similarly to Sofia Coppola's Golden Lion winning Somewhere.

With the majority of press screenings taking place in the early hours of the morning, I unfortunately missed my chance to catch the festival's opening film Birdman by Alejandro González Iñárritu. Despite this, I decided to stand outside the red carpet for the film's premiere in the Sale Grande at the Palazzo del Cinema. After spotting members of this year's Official Selection jury panel such as Tim Roth, Sandy Powell and Joan Chen, members of Birdman's cast and crew started to make their way onto the army of photographers. Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Michael Keaton and Iñárritu were all in attendance to officially launch the festival. 

That evening we watched Mita Tova (The Farewell Party), an Israeli-German co-production directed by Tal Granit and Sharon Maymon. Delivering a balance between humour and drama for those who are facing death, the film delves into the controversial issue of self-euthanasia. It provides another angle on the issues explored in Haneke's Amour and certainly stands as one of the most accessible films from this year's category.

Starting off my first full day at the festival on Thursday, I began with Xavier Beauvois's  La rançon de la gloire (The Price of Fame), a much lighter piece than his previous work in Of Gods and Men, I then headed over to the Palazzo del Casinò to catch Guy Myhill's The Goob. This coming-of-age tale shows a protagonist who starting to realise his own path from the influence of his community. Another title to add to the genre of British social realism, the film's casting stands out with newcomer Liam Walpole and Sean Harris as Goob's chilling stepfather. 

On entering our next screening, I slowly noticed that there was a sense of commotion in the queue with a line of photographers preparing to pounce. Then out of nowhere, Lena Dunham, Kirsten Dunst and Kate Mara strutted past us into the theatre due to their association to the Miu Miu Women's Tales programme, which has developed eight female directed short films. The screening featured So Yong Kim's Spark and Light and Miranda July's Somebody. As an enormous fan of the latter's work, I was thrilled as July was announced into the theatre. Somebody is a companion short to quite an ambitious project in which July has developed a new messaging system in a corresponding app. In an age where texts, emails and phone calls are constantly exchanged, Somebody aims to reintroduce a sense of spontaneity in how we connect where a nearby stranger can read out a message from your loved one.

I managed to fit in Ramin Bahrani's 99 Homes, a tense drama dealing with the problem of foreclosure starring Andrew Garfield and Michael Shannon. Day 2 was then capped off with Adrián Biniez's El 5 de Talleres (El Cinco), examining the process of making a fresh start as the lead comes to terms that his career as a footballer is coming to an end. 

Friday kicked off with the jury making its way to the Venice Days headquarters for a panel discussion on European film distribution with Georgette Ranucci from Lucky Red and the director of the Sofia Film Festival, Mira Staleva. The pair discussed the different challenges facing the European film industry and shared anecdotes about the audience trends from their own countries. The afternoon was spent in the extravagant Hotel Excelsior where I heard from the ambassadors of the Miu Miu Women's Tales which featured several names from the previous day's screening along with 12 Years a Slave producer Dede Gardner. The women reflected on their experiences of working in the industry.

In preparation for a panel discussion I watched some micro-budget projects, one of which is an Irish film, Blood Cells, by Joseph Bull and Luke Seomore. The son of Irish immigrant parents, Adam (Barry Ward) is a farmer whose livelihood has been devastated by Foot and Mouth disease. He is an isolated figure who embarks on a journey throughout the UK in order to reconnect with the people who have fallen by the wayside over the years. 

One of my main goals of the festival was to see a film in the Sala Grande, the festival's main theatre in the Palazzo del Cinema so first thing on Friday morning, I made my way to a press screening of Manglehorn, directed by David Gordon Green. Starring Al Pacino as the film's eponymous character, he is a gentle and solitary man who is simply getting on with life, regularly visiting an array of characters including a boisterous con artist (Harmony Korine) and a timid banker, beautifully acted by Holly Hunter. But it is Pacino who dominates this subtle piece, reminding us once again that he is incomparable to any other actor. 

Sunday's screenings included Laurent Cantet's Retour à Ithaque (Return To Ithaca) and Larry Clark's The Smell of Us. Having great admiration for both Entre les murs (The Class) and Kids, I was intrigued to see what both filmmakers had to showcase. Cantet explores the long lasting effects of Cuba's difficult past through the reunion of five friends who have not been together in over 16 years. On the other hand, The Smell of Us focuses on a group of subversive Parisian youths who interact with their urban playground by skating around and getting stoned. This gang are a product of their generation, resulting in incredibly explicit and destructive situations. Certainly a divisive film, I can't help but feel that Clark has not yet realised that the '90s were nearly two decades ago.

Our first jury meeting took place on Sunday and finally gave a chance for the 28 of us 
to share our varying opinions on the films we had seen by that point. 

I then managed to obtain a ticket for the main premiere of David Oelhoffen's Loin des hommes (Far from Men). As I once again made my way to the Sale Grande, the fact that Viggo Mortensen was attending led to a different atmosphere than before. Surprised by Mortensen's skill in speaking French and Arabic, the film has a Western sensibility as two men embark across the frontier in 1954 Algeria. With an expected selection of breathtaking landscape shots, the film ultimately lacks any suspense that you associate with the genre.

28 Times Cinema is an initiative launched jointly in 2010 by Europa Cinemas, the Giornate Degli Autori and the Lux Prize of the European Parliament, welcoming 28 filmgoers to represent a cinema of the Europa Cinemas network as well as one of the 28 member countries of the European Union.

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.