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/

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