News, Film Reviews and Festival Updates from the Irish Film Institute (www.ifi.ie). Irish Film Institute is principally funded by the Arts Council.
Please note: as of September 2014 we've moved our blogs and news stories to www.ifi.ie/category/news/
IFI Stranger Than Fiction returns to the IFI this week, and I was delighted to learn that more than half the films in this year’s impressive lineup have a female director. This news is particularly encouraging, given recent reports on the woefully low representation of women directors in fiction filmmaking and across the water in TV drama.
Clearly the ladies are not just representing themselves in the world of factual narrative but very much rising to the top of their game. This can only be good news for industry and audience – competition may be a rude motivation, but it’s always effective – and we all benefit when the best person is behind the camera.
After Tiller also gets its Irish premiere at STF – never more timely – as it powerfully addresses the abortion debate, albeit in America. When will someone be brave enough to back an Irish examination of this subject matter? Kim Longinotto’s Salma presents another strong feminist viewpoint – the story of a Muslim woman who writes her escape out of family servitude.
Jeanie Finlay (The Great Hip Hop Hoax)
Another interesting and practical aspect of the festival is the planned series of workshops, in particular Breaking into Documentary (FREE event) and Building an International Documentary Company. Documentary makers and film lovers alike will have the opportunity to engage with panels of internationally renowned documentary makers, including Sundance winner Havana Marking, Jeanie Finlay, as well as our own hugely talented Emer Reynolds, Andrew Freedman, Cathal Gaffney and Risteard Ó Domhnaill.
Reality Bites Documentary Shorts
Feature documentary is experiencing something of a golden age internationally, and is without doubt an area for continued growth and support here at home. The future is bright for new Irish talent (whose work can be seen in the Eat My Shorts strand), and with a diverse range of stories and voices coming to the fore, audiences have a lot to look forward to. So, whether it’s sean nós, kung fu or the Cuban Missile Crisis you’re after, get down to IFI Stranger Than Fiction and join the conversation.
With the 10th IFI Stranger Than Fiction Documentary Film Festival opening next week, the festival programmer, Ross Whitaker, writes about some valuable lessons that he's learnt when picking films for this year's selection.
This is my second year with IFI Stranger Than Fiction and I’m still pretty new to this film programming game and learning all the time. I’m sure there are plenty of things that I’m about to learn at this year’s Stranger Than Fiction - I’m just not sure yet what those lessons are going to be!
One thing that really stood out last year from the feedback of audiences is that quality counts over everything else. Thankfully the reaction last year was generally very positive but I remember one punter coming up to me at the end of the festival to say that she thought one film just didn’t quite hit the mark. She had loved the rest of the festival but just wanted to let me know that there was one dud in there. It was a friendly reminder that nothing gets past audiences.
The Great Hip Hop Hoax
A couple of other points were made to me. One lady told me that the programme was a little male - perhaps I was generally feeding my own male taste a little too much - and another told me that I should be keeping an eye out for more documentaries that intersected with animation in their storytelling. I’ve tried to keep both of those things in mind when it came to this year’s programme!
One thing I’ve already learned this year is to leave my preconceptions at the door when it comes to watching a film. In putting together this year’s list, there have been films that I expected to love that didn’t hit the mark in the end and there have been films that weren’t at the top of my DVD pile that really impressed me.
I hope the filmmaker, Dónal Ó Céilleachair, won’t mind me saying that his film Aisling Gheal didn’t grab me at first. As an urban-dwelling Dubliner, films like The Great Hip Hop Hoax and Smash & Grab really jumped out at me for selection but I figured that a film about child Sean-nós singers in rural Cork was not one that I thought I would necessarily like. That was before I watched it.
When I did watch Ó Céilleachair’s film it was a big lesson for me. This deftly made observational film is utterly beguiling from beginning to end. From the encouraging teachers to the charming kids to the stunning backdrops that give an amazing sense of place, the film is a wonderful piece of work from a clearly very talented filmmaker. Having shown the film to colleagues in the IFI, I’m happy to say that I am not alone in thinking this.
The film arrived on my desk with no fanfare but we are delighted to be celebrating its first screening outside of the county of Cork and to welcome the director Dónal Ó Céilleachair along to introduce the film. It also represents the closing of a circle as Ó Céilleachair first pitched the film a few years ago at IFI Stranger Than Fiction.
A nice companion piece to Aisling Gheal is another film that shows children working hard towards a goal. Dragon Girls is set in the altogether tougher environment of China as young girls try to make it at a Kung Fu school. Filmmaker Inigo Westmeier has made a film of great beauty and we are delighted to welcome him to the festival.
Cinematographer Westmeier has applied significant visual capabilities to his directorial debut combining incredibly composed set-pieces with tender portraits of young kids. It’s a really impressive piece of work and Westmeier won the award for Best International Documentary at the prestigious Hot Docs International Documentary Festival in Toronto.
These two films really won me over and I’m sure they will audiences too.
Film scholar Daniel Fitzpatrick has curated the IFI and Experimental Film Club programme for September, and here he discusses its theme: Re-evaluating British
British cinema has
always gotten a bad rap. Ever since Truffaut made the claim that the words
‘Britain’ and ‘cinema’ were incompatible it has struggled to be taken
seriously. For Truffaut and many others this was a cinema that was “boring”,
lacked “enthusiasm, zeal and impetus”; it was a cinema that reflected “a
submissive way of life”. Britain’s
cinema has been continuously dismissed for being dull, safe and ‘realistic’, in
the pejorative use of the term, but this screening of short films taken from
various points within Britain’s
history of documentary film production quickly puts paid to those claims. What
is revealed instead is an evolving tradition of experimentation and innovation.
It is a history full of contradictions and often apposite positions. The Free
Cinema movement for example, and its figurehead Lindsay Anderson, rejected
outright the influence of John Grierson and the formative British documentary
film movement, opting instead for a low budget form with no ties to industry or
government and little or no editorialising commitment. Their film O Dreamland (1953) is included here. The
film was shot on, what was then, newly affordable 16mm stock and it takes us on
an almost hallucinatory trip through the Margate funfair, taking in, among
other things, a terrifying cackling clown and a ‘Torture Through The Ages’
The Free Cinema
movement took their primary inspiration from Humphrey Jennings, often
considered the true poet of British documentary cinema. Jennings films stripped away everything that
was deemed unnecessary in the documentary form, replacing
the narrative voice with a collage of sounds that far more effectively captured
the specifics of a time and place. Included in this programme is his film Spare Time. Originally created for the
New York World Fair of 1939, it offers us a picture of Britain at work and at
play in the interwar period. This deeply evocative film also reflected Jennings
involvement with the Mass Observation movement, removed as it was from the
kinds of editorialising and condescension that often dogged documentary
cinema and its engagement with the ‘working classes’.
Len Lye Trade Tattoo (1937)
Going back to British
documentary’s formative period and John Grierson’s reign as head of both the
Empire Marketing Board and later the GPO Film Unit we find here an equally
dazzling embrace of formal experimentation and playful innovation. Within his
stated objective of making films that would speak directly to the masses, that
would educate and inform, Grierson managed to surround himself with a truly
eclectic group of creatives, many of whom were drawn from an emergent European
would include Alberto Cavalcanti, Len Lye (two films by Lye are included in
this programme), Norman McLaren (his short Love
On The Wing is featured here), Basil Wright and Edgar Antsey. These
filmmakers often truly functioned as a collective with various
influences present across a wide number of films. The films themselves,
particularly those included here, were full of ideas, highly adventurous, and
certainly never dull.
Hans Richter Every Day (1929)
also includes Hans Richter’s Every Day (1929),
a scarcely seen film which features a rare screen appearance by the great
Russian filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein. The film depicts a day in the life of an
increasingly industrialised and mechanised existence. Geoffrey Jones’ film Locomotion (1975), which also
effectively combines human and machinic rhythms, is a masterpiece of creative
editing, and it closes out this exciting programme.
As the IFI reporter from the Venice Film Festival, for the
last couple of weeks I have been posting news, reviews, interviews and overall gossip
from the Lido – I hope you have been following my updates featured on the IFI
Twitter account? It’s has been a lot of work, but enjoyable work, which sadly
is coming to an end – for now.
Before it does, I would like to do a couple of things. One
of them is to publicly thank the wonderful people at the Irish Film Institute
who made this possible for me. I would particularly like to thank Alicia
McGivern and Shauna Lyons, as well as Anna Pas in the last stage of my Venice
adventure, with whom I had direct contact and whom I hope to remain in contact
with in the future. I hope to have repaid their trust with dedicated reports on
Twitter and from my website. I also hope to have represented them well in this
28 Times Cinema project, a programme set up by the European Parliament for
young cinephiles – one from each European country – to come together and
Cinema is something I have always connected with and
something that has always meant an awful lot to me. This passion and love I feel
for it led me to study Film and TV in GMIT, a course which I successfully
completed in 2010. While I started the course with an idea of becoming a
filmmaker, I realised that perhaps what I really wanted to do was talk about
film and open cinematic debates by pursuing a career in film journalism.
While at the 70th Venice International Film Festival, I collaborated
with CineEuropa, who set up a blog for us and our reports and reviews, and also
linked the IFI to all my shorter reviews for all the screenings I attended. I
also kept a daily Venice diary which I compiled for Film Ireland. My three
interviews were with the director of the festival Alberto Barbera and the
filmmakers Bruce la Bruce and Costanza Quatriglio. So far, I have had a chance
to meet many interesting people and to network.
I always carried my audio recorder with me at every
screening, just in case the filmmaker attended and spoke about the movie,
giving me the chance to include his or her thoughts and stories. To complete my
self-training on the ‘report’, I practiced the art of sneaking into press
conferences without a press badge, or standing next to the door and overhearing
what was said. The main one of these was the one for Philomena, the film by Stephen Frears which at the time of writing
looks set to win the competition. At the time, I hadn’t seen the film, so I
just posted what was said at the conference directly transcribed. Another
priceless experience I received here in Venice was in interviewing, which I
think is the ultimate promotion that the press and media in general can offer
to a filmmaker and his creation.
Certainly the most important thing I learned about this job
is that you can never forget that you are a dedicated film fan first. Film is a
wonderful form of art, perhaps the most impressive, but it is so mistreated
that sometimes it is hard to watch. If journalists start acting superior to
cinema, then we can all kiss its credibility goodbye. On a personal level, I
want to be involved, and I will work very hard to build a reputation as a good
and hard-working promoter of film.
So, that’s what I have learnt so far in my experience in
Venice. At the risk of seeming incredibly pretentious, I would really like to
open a debate particularly regarding Irish cinema from what I learnt here in
Venice. It is crucial not to underestimate the value of film reporting, film
interviewing and film critique. Ireland needs a good film magazine. Ireland
needs more critique circles. Ireland needs more talks before special
screenings. This type of film promotion is exactly what can moderate film
culture, promote film passion and certainly, when done right, generate more
money in the industry.
For the fourth year in a row, young film-lovers representing each of the European countries have attend the Venice Days. Matt Micucci has been selected by IFI Education as this year's representative from Ireland and he's been tweeting tirelessly from the Lido on behalf of the IFI. You can follow Matt on Twitter at @MattMicucci89!