Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Pipe comes home for General Release

The last 6 months have been like a rollercoaster for The Pipe ever since it premiered at the Galway Film Fleadh back in July. Indeed, after 3 years of shooting and a year in the edit, I had no idea what the reaction would be from people, especially the locals, given that they had no idea what was in the film. That night of Thursday the 8th of July in Galway was a really nervewracking experience as people began to arrive, a large section of them from Rossport and the surrounding villages close to the Corrib project. Having filmed these people during their daily lives, at the protests and during some very difficult and painful times over the past 3 years, I had no idea how the community would react to seeing their souls bared on the big screen.

The reaction was really incredible, especially from people whose lives had been so intensely affected by the Corrib project, and all the emotions of the past 10 years seemed to flood back in those 83 minutes in the Town Hall Theatre; the joy, the humour, the pain of the jailings and the heartache of seeing their own community ripped apart by infighting. And although parts of the film were difficult for many of the people to watch, they seemed to really appreciate seeing their story told for the first time without being manipulated or spun.

Risteard Ó Domhnaill (Director) & Lelia Doolin at the premiere
in the Town Hall Theatre at the Galway Film Fleadh

Winning Best Doc at the Galway Film Fleadh then acted as a springboard internationally. Although Galway is a relatively small festival, it has a great profile abroad and success here was crucial in getting recognition by the Toronto Film Festival, one of the two big North American festivals. Selection for Toronto was a massive achievement but it did bring its own worries, as we were now competing against the best documentaries in the world. However, instead of getting lost among the 300 or so films there, we managed to carve out a really good profile for ourselves. We got fantastic coverage in the Toronto papers and amazingly got 7 minutes on Canada’s prime time news features show on CBC. The reason for so much attention before the screening was timing; it was directly in the wake of the devastating Gulf Oil spill and peoples' minds were very focused on the oil industry and its relationship with the environment and small communities. Also, in Canada there is a very divisive national debate going on regarding the extraction of massive amounts of oil from Canadian tar sands, despite huge environmental impacts.

Risteard Ó Domhnaill (Director), Rachel Lysaght (Producer),
Áine Ní Dhúil and Nigel O'Regan (Editor) at Toronto International Film Festival 

Having sold out all of our screenings beforehand, I was a bundle of nerves going into our first screening as I had no idea if the Canadians would actually ‘get’ the story. Remember, here was a small community in one of the most isolated corners of Ireland with a very particular story, sense of humour. and a very unique way with words (at times more like Irish in terms of sentence construction). Remarkably, the Canadians, traditionally a fairly conservative audience, reacted very emotionally to the film and gave us a standing ovation! That was the point for me when I knew that this story would travel, and I was delighted that the audience could empathise with the people on screen. People saw in the characters their own neighbours, friends and relations, and felt that this could be a  community anywhere - Canada, Nigeria, Russia – any community whose rights have been set aside by their own government in favour of a very powerful private interest – in this case it just happens to be Shell. Off the back of Toronto we got a lot of interest from ordinary people and distributors, and from there on we were ‘out the gap’.

We screened in the London and Amsterdam film festivals with great success, just narrowly missing out on the top prize in the prestigious ‘Green Screen’ competition to Into Eternity by Michael Madsen, but the judges felt The Pipe deserved an ‘honorable mention’ none the less. We screened at the Cork Film Festival to a sell-out crowd of 250 at the Gate cinema who then offered us a 2 week cinema run on the back of the success of that screening on a cold, wet Monday night. The Cork audience was probably the most vocal audience I have ever experienced - laughing out loud, expressing their shock at the treatment of some of the characters in the film, and taking me on in a very frank and challenging debate in the Q&A afterwards. Only last week we screened at the Foyle Film Festival in Derry and picked up the award for Best Documentary, and I was amazed at the depth of knowledge people had up in Derry regarding the politics and history surrounding Corrib!

Now that we are on the verge of a national cinema release, I just find it hard to believe that the story of this small isolated community is now going up against the big Hollywood blockbusters like Narnia and Harry Potter in cinemas around the country. However, I think it is crucial that the film is released at this time, despite it being the most competitive time of the year in cinemas. We are now in the middle of possibly the worst crisis to hit this country since the foundation of the State, our politicians having put powerful private interests ahead of the greater good of the citizens with devastating consequences, and I feel that the Corrib story is a microcosm of that larger picture.  Hopefully The Pipe will in some way give people an insight into this, but also show them that even in times of great despair and seemingly insurmountable challenges, people can find amazing resources within themselves, and within their communities, to get through the hard times, and even share a joke every now and then!

Risteard Ó Domhnaill
The Pipe

  • The Pipe goes on release from Friday December 3rd.
Special Events:
  • There will be a Gala Opening at the IFI on December 2nd at 18.00 with a Q&A with Risteard and members of the Rossport community.
  • On December 4th at 13.30 there will be a panel discussion entitled The Pipe: Rossport and the Corrib Gas Project chaired by journalist Lorna Siggins about the project and its impact on the community. Free but ticketed event.
  • On December 11th at 13.30 The Pipe: Politics and Film will look at the role art and filmmaking can play within a political campaign. Free but ticketed event.
The Pipe is produced by Scannáin Inbhear with funding from Bord Scannán na hEireann / the Irish Film Board and TG4.

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