Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Irish Film Week in Beirut, Lebanon: Notes from its Co-Director

Don Duncan, Co-Director of Worlds Alike: Irish Film Week in Beirut talks about running the first ever festival of Irish film in Lebanon and its local impact. This festival was set up with the support of IFI International and Culture Ireland. For more about IFI International's activities and programmes for cultural exhibitors around the world, see 

“I’m so sorry this happened to you,” said one spectator as she emerged from the screening of Bernadette: Notes on a Political Journey, a documentary by Lelia Doolan, when it was screened as part of the Irish Film Festival in Beirut in March 2012.

The goal of the festival was to show Irish films that would resonate with a Lebanese audience. To this end, the themes of national identity, foreign interference, conflict and post-conflict resolution that permeated the programme of nine feature films and 12 shorts from Ireland. (See the trailer.)

This was the first ever festival of Irish film in Lebanon. The place Ireland holds in the Lebanese public imagination, as well as the concrete links between the countries (Irish U.N. peacekeepers have been posted in Lebanon for decades), came through in the audience figures and general buzz that generated around the event.

With funding from Culture Ireland and fantastic administrative support from the IFI, we managed to bring over actor Stephen Rea (who spoke to the audience after the screening of The Butcher Boy) and director Lelia Doolan, who fielded a lengthy and enthusiastic Q&A discussion after her film was shown.

People were struck by the similarities between the countries' recent histories and were inspired by the grass roots activism that was apparent in both films about the Northern Irish civil rights movement as well as a more modern popular struggle in Ireland – that of the people of Rossport, Co. Mayo against the business interests of Shell oil, as depicted in Risteard O'Domhnaill’s film The Pipe.

Don Duncan, Co-Director

The project was organised by Irish journalist Don Duncan with the Lebanese civic society NGO Nahwa al-Muwataniyya (NAAM) and in conjunction with the Metropolis art house cinema in Beirut. It was the first in an annual series of festivals run by NAAM that seek to showcase the films of countries that share common political, social and cultural characteristics with Lebanon.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Remembering Tiernan

I often wanted to write about Tiernan but never found the right way to talk about the vast activity of his life. So this is really a fragmented, impressionistic piece in response to Sunniva’s request and not really a definitive thing.

These first memories are closely bound up with the group of film makers whose vision created the space for all that would follow.

Tiernan MacBride

I am at the Cork Film Festival in 1981. Joe Comerford’s Traveler is the opening film. Thaddeus O’Sullivan’s documentary on Jack B. Yeats is also being screened. At the Q&A, a large man is asking searching questions about the making of my film Maeve. Talking in public was difficult for me and I was nervous at being challenged.

Next day, the film makers meet to demand the setting up of an Irish Film Board. Passionate arguments are heard from an inner room where Tiernan and Lelia retire to draft a letter with the precise wording that everyone could agree on. An intensity that is so alive and focused compared to film makers discussions in London and New York.

Two years earlier, when I began talking about making Maeve, someone said “Oh you should see Thaddeus’s film.”  I tracked it down to the MoMa library and was watching it on an old 4 plate steenbeck when the researcher came in and said, ”You know, we have these other Irish films you might be interested in.“

So that’s how I got to see On a Paving Stone Mounted, Poitin and Down the Corner. I know there’s an entire constellation of causes and conditions around how new voices of world cinema emerge, but there’s still something magical about how this energy arises at different times and in different countries. On that day in that little editing room in New York, I had a real sense of this momentum gathering in Ireland.

And in the years that followed I saw how Tiernan’s phenomenal energy was fused with every aspect of that momentum.

Tiernan and crew on a set of Christmas Morning

He chaired the Association of Independent Film Makers, who lobbied for years for the setting up of the Board and who had developed the vision for a sustainable Irish cinema. He chaired the boards of the Irish Film Theatre (in Earlsfort Terrace) and the Dublin Film Festival and was on the Board of the Cork Festival. A union activist, he chaired the film section of ITGWU for a time. And he was a crucial force in the IFI from its early days through its big transition to becoming the IFC in Eustace Street. 

Most importantly Tiernan was a member of the Irish Film Board from 1982 to 1987 which was when Charles Haughey abruptly closed it down.  During his time on the Board, Tiernan was an unswerving advocate for the rights of directors and the development of low budget film making.

He helped set up Film Base, loaned equipment, attended meetings, led workshops where he imparted skills and even supported films financially when they looked on the brink of not happening. He felt that a healthy  film culture could not be built on the work of a few directors and fought long and hard for the establishment of an inclusive infrastructure focused on access and training.

Unusually perhaps for the film world, Tiernan operated from a position of wanting to make situations work better for everyone. His instincts were always to help. In my own case, alas, I sometimes perceived this as being interfering.

When I got involved with The Parade of Innocence (a huge collaboration between artists and political activists in support for the Guildford Four and the Birmingham Six which would take place through in Dublin on December 9th 1989), Tiernan kept asking how the huge rig carrying Thom McGinty would actually work as it was dragged through Dublin. Annoyed, I kept backing him off. Everyone I knew was frantically working flat out organizing the event, raising funds, making  costumes and props, rehearsing in the Meeting House and at the Point Depot. I kept insisting that all would be fine and that there was no time for runthroughs.

IFI Library named in honour of Tiernan MacBride

But of course he was right, because when he finally pressurized us into gathering at the City Centre at 6am on a freezing dark December morning, the all important rig barely made it as far as the street before the wheels buckled. Disaster. But then the rig was repaired everything worked brilliantly on December 9th.

When Tiernan died, Film Ireland published a compilation of memories from friends and colleagues. I remember laughing when I read Gina Moxley’s piece about Tiernan being a very patient man, because that’s not generally how people saw him.

Gina was totally right, though. Yes, he was certainly uncompromising and wrathful at times in support of what he believed in, but Tiernan was profoundly patient with the things that really mattered. He understood the long haul necessary in order to bring the dream of a Irish cinema to fruition.

Maybe this was the result of growing up in such an intensely political family. Tiernan believed deeply in the democratic process. I have seen him outvoted on a particular issue and then be able to put personal feelings aside in order to represent the prevailing view, which is something I couldn’t do.

All this activity went on alongside a film making life. As well as being a well known commercials director, Tiernan loved the films of Costa Gavras and Francesco Rosi and wanted to make big political films. In 1978, his short film “Christmas Morning” was selected for competition at Cannes, but I think after that he was plunged into the urgency of Irish film politics and so he moved away from the idea of being a director to devote himself to being a supporter of other film makers. He was a positive force in Irish life and a crucial voice in the creation of Irish cinema.

Pat Murphy
Director and Filmmaker

Find out more on IFI Tiernan MacBride Library on our website 

Friday, October 5, 2012

Coming Home to Dreamtime Ireland

I remember the first time I came across the work of John Moriarty. I was sitting alongside Peadar Ó’Riada (the film’s composer) in his home studio in Cúil Aodha, his father Seán looking on from a prominent poster image on the wall above us. Parallel to Peadar’s central role as composer and musician is his role as a form of community chieftan – steeped in the sean-nós world of the gael – and he has become a marked guiding presence and influence in my creative life over the past few years. I was on one of my frequent visits home from New York, it was well past midnight and Peadar and I were having one of our heated ‘discussions’. In order to seal the ‘discussion’ in his favour, Peadar played me an excerpt from one of John Moriarty’s talks. It was a talk that John gave upon one of his visits to neighbouring Baile Mhúirne that explored Irish mythology and its relevance to how we live now. I listened amazed to this sonorous, almost shamanic Kerry accent and for the first time in my life I heard so much of the essence of the world’s wisdom and spiritual traditions (that had interested me personally for the last 20 years in my travels around the world) essentialised within the context of Irish myth and culture.

That was in 2008 and parallel to my visits to Cúil Aodha I would be visiting Julius Ziz (my co-director) and his family who live in the heart centre of the magical limestone landscape of the Burren. Close friends of mine from New York, Julius (a renowned Lithuanian filmmaker) managed the legendary Anthology Film Archives in Manhattan while I ran the Ocularis Screening Series in Brooklyn and, given both of our long associations with experimental film in New York, it was inevitable that any collaboration we would undertake together would be influenced stylistically by experimental film.  

My visits to Julius and his family were filled with many conversations about local Irish folklore and it’s almost palpable presence embodied in the surrounding myth-laden landscapes of the Burren. This inevitably fed into our idea of collaborating on a project that would somehow draw upon Irish myth, and once we encountered the work of John Moriarty it was only a matter of time before those conversations would evolve into the film that became Dreamtime, Revisited

In his obituary The Guardian would write that John Moriarty was “widely regarded as having one of the finest minds of his generation” and that “many consider John as a major writer, comparable to Yeats, Joyce and Beckett.” 

It shocked and saddened both Julius and me that John’s work is not more widely known, even at home here in Ireland. I think it may be a matter of years, if not decades, before the significance of John’s unique contribution will come to be fully recognized and appreciated and hopefully our film will serve in some way to further that process.

There is a quote from John’s book Dreamtime that, ever since I’ve come across it, influences so much of my own work in one way or another.  And given the current crisis of identify we face as a nation it seems like an invitation too welcoming to refuse: "Isn't it time, after centuries of uncharted exile, we ourselves came home. Isn't it time . . . we came home to Dreamtime Ireland." 

Dónal Ó Céilleachair 
Film Director

Dreamtime, Revisited opens from October 12th to 18th, exclusively at the IFI. 
There will be a post-screening Q&A with co-directors Dónal Ó Céilleachair and Julius Ziz after the 18.20pm screening on Friday Oct 12.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Passing of Robert Monks

It is with great sadness that we learnt of the unexpected death of Robert Monks on last Thursday morning.

Bob Monks, Willard Van Dyke and Walter Cronkite filming Ireland the Tear and the Smile in 1960

Bob began his film career as a technician with the National Film Institute in the late 40s. His principal job was as a travelling projectionist showing 16mm films from the educational film library in schools and halls around the country but also as a cameraman on the films the Institute was producing at the time – films about inaugurations and religious ceremonies and the annual GAA finals. After a period of training in the UK in the 1950s he worked as a highly-regarded freelance cameraman on a wide variety of feature films, television series and commercials – such as Ireland the Tear and the Smile (1961) for US television,  The One Nighters (1963) which he also edited,  and The Prisoner (1967) the UK TV series with Patrick MacGoohan that achieved cult status.   He was rewarded for his excellence with a Gold Camera Award at the 1975 US Television Commercials Festival and was a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society.

He was perhaps best known for his stunning cinematography on the award-winning films of Louis Marcus – films such as Fleá Ceoil, Pobal  and two Academy  Award-nominated short films, Páistí  ag Obair and Conquest of Light. Louis has said “He is a most accomplished and versatile cameraman from whom I have learned an enormous amount”.

It is Bob filming 1957 GAA Football Finals for National Film Institute 

In more recent years Bob re-engaged with the IFI through his work with Peter Canning to create the invaluable television history of Irish film production Memories in Focus (1996). Bob had a uniquely textured sense of the history of Irish film – drawn from meticulous research with the Liam O’Leary collection in the National Library and elsewhere but also based on his personal experience as a busy practitioner in the industry over many years.  He was always magnanimous with his knowledge and had incredible powers of recall. Any casual question to Bob would result in an immensely detailed and authoritative answer often with brilliant gossipy  asides about who lived next door to whom or what actress was the sister-in-law of what film distributor – the kind of detail that had you reaching for your notepad to jot it all down.  His expertise on the visits of the first Lumiere cameramen to Ireland and on the early cinema exploits of James Joyce was particularly fascinating and lead to a series of memorable film presentations.

On his retirement as a cameraman he was funded by a group of state cultural bodies to research and compile Cinema Ireland, a CD-Rom database of Irish films and filmmakers 1896-1986, published by the National Library of Ireland.  He then continued in the NLI his extensive research into the origins and early decades of Irish Filmmaking.

Bob has been a loyal and engaged IFI Council Member for many years.  He has been as generous with his films which he entrusted to us for preservation as he has been with his knowledge which he shared in many long and illuminating conversations.  He’ll be sadly missed.
Our condolences to Bob’s wife Ina and family.

Sunniva O'Flynn
IFI Curator

October at the IFI

After a busy September celebrating the IFI’s 20th anniversary of its home in Temple Bar, we wanted the first month of the next 20 years to demonstrate the breadth of our programming and to start the way we mean to go on.

Lenny Abrahamson

To coincide with the release of What Richard Did (October 5th), we are delighted to present a focus on Lenny Abrahamson’s work, including a rare opportunity to see his 2007 RTÉ television series, Prosperity. Lenny will participate in a free public interview about his work with Tony Tracy from NUI Galway on October 6th. We will also be presenting a season of African cinema, which has been curated by the filmmaker and critic Mark Cousins. Taking West Africa as a focus, the season will challenge commonly-held perceptions of African cinema, and features films from the ‘60s to today.

Stories From Africa: Heremakono

In the build-up to the IFI French Film Festival which returns this November (14th – 25th), we are presenting a selection of films from one of France’s most prestigious independent production and distribution companies, Les Films du Losange. To celebrate its 50th anniversary, we have a programme of the company’s films in the weeks leading up to the Festival, both in October and November, which commences with work from Marguerite Duras and Jacques Rivette.

Les Films Du Losange: Céline et Julie Vont En Bateau

IFI Horrorthon raises it blood-thirsty head once again for our annual celebration of all things gory with a selection of new releases and classics from the vaults. The Festival will welcome its very first ‘scream queen’, Danielle Harris, and we’re delighted to be presenting Irish director Ciaran Foy’s award-winning feature Citadel which was a big hit in Toronto. Check out the separate flyer and for full programme details.  

IFI Horrorthon: Dracula: Prince of Darkness

October sees the release of many of the big films from Cannes 2012. Killing Them Softly starring Brad Pitt continues until October 11th, while Leos Carax’s indescribable Holy Motors runs until October 18th.
Walter Salles’ hotly-anticipated adaptation of Kerouac’s classic On the Road opens on October 12th after receiving a terrific response at Cannes.

Leos Carax's Holy Motors

There are other great new releases lined up too. The Audience Award winner at the IFI Stranger Than Fiction Documentary Film Festival in August, 5 Broken Cameras, opens on October 19th and is a powerful film about one father’s determination to capture footage of growing unrest in his Palestinian village. And if you recently enjoyed the stunning Samsara, you’ll now get a chance to see Ron Fricke’s equally impressive offering from two decades earlier with the re-release of Baraka, with the 18.30 screenings on October 20th & 21st on 70mm!


Finally, our Monthly Must-See from the IFI Irish Film Archive is one of the first cinema verité films, Chronique d’un été. Sarah Pierce was commissioned by the IFI to undertake a research project in the Archive of which this film formed a central part, and which resulted in an exhibition at NCAD throughout this month. She will introduce this screening on Wednesday, October 10th.

Ross Keane
IFI Director

For more information on October screenings, visit our website or download our monthly IFI Brochure.