There are some unique offerings in the way of short films at this year's Irish Film Festival London. Here we speak to their directors.
Looking at recent Irish Shorts it's apparent that the Irish Film Industry is safe in the hands of the new and emerging Irish talent that are storming through the film festival circuits!" - Film Ireland
DIRECTOR: AIDAN MCATEER
Animated short Deadly tells the story of Boney, a working stiff who doesn’t care about his dead-end job. That is until, he has a run-in with a spirited old lady named Bridie…
When did you come up with Deadly? are Boney and the spirited Bridie based on real-life people?
The original idea came out of a screenwriting evening class I was doing a few years ago. It morphed out of an idea about the character of death being the head of a family and losing his job. We could then hilariously show him trying other jobs - it was probably just an expansion of the death character in Family Guy, if I'm honest, but gradually it morphed into something less broad. When I thought of him more as someone trapped in a dead end job (pun inevitable) and paired him up with Bridie I felt like it really began to work.
Boney isn't based on any specific person - I think we can all feel a bit trapped or lonely or like we're going through the motions at some point in our lives - I certainly have. Bridie is partially based on various relatives and older people I've met and quite a bit on Brenda Fricker's (I suppose) screen personality. She has such fight and warmth in her (usually at the same time) - when she eventually agreed to do it - I was thrilled - I had even based the design of the character on her!
What was the most challenging part of making Deadly?
In some ways all of animation is a struggle - making a film one twenty-fifth of a second at a time is an insane way to work really, when you think about it. I hadn’t written very much before, so the script took ages and for the longest time I had it set in a tea-shop and couldn’t get the damn thing to work! Fortunately I had access to sage advise from that scripting class teacher, Aidan Hickey as well as my producer and the studio heads at Kavaleer.
Once we got going then I was lucky to work with some very talented people. The whole crew did fantastic work and showed exceptional dedication on what was a pretty low budget production. I guess I had just finished co-directing 26 six-minute TV shows, so I was a bit more prepared for the production part. It all happened very quickly, it's still a bit of a blur.
When did you realise that directing was your future?
I started off as an animator, and even in college we were making our own films - so you get a taste of directing very early on (even if you're only directing yourself!). I animated on various TV shows and commercials and worked my way up. The more involved in story I got, the more I liked it. I really enjoy bringing something to life on screen from the page.
Who or what are your big influences?
I'm heavily influenced by animated film directors from Chuck Jones (who directed many of the Looney Tunes cartoons) and Tex Avery, through to modern directors at studios like Pixar including Pete Docter, Andrew Stanton and Brad Bird (he made the Incredibles and The Iron Giant - probably the best animated film out there). I am a fan of Studio Ghibli in Japan not only of Hayao Miyazaki (who made the amazing Spirited Away), but also Isao Takahata - I defy anyone to watch Grave of the Fireflies and not cry their eyes out! In terms of live action. Predictably, I'm drawn to directors with a more "fantastical" sensibility and very strong visual style , such as Tim Burton, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Terry Gilliam and Wes Anderson. A real source of inspiration for Deadly, specifically, was Hal Ashby's "Harold and Maude".
What are you working on and what would be your 'dream' project?
I'm currently back directing another 26 episodes of the show I mentioned before - it's called Wildernuts and is a very fun, pre-school show about exploring nature. I would love to make a feature film. I think you can really get into character and theme and subtext in that format. I have a few half-formed ideas rolling round my brain, but I suppose they each require a bit more work before they could come together into a film. Working with Brenda Fricker was an absolute delight, so I'd love to do that again, I also think Liam Neeson has an amazing voice - it would be fantastic to do something with him.
FILM: VOLKSWAGEN JOE
DIRECTOR: BRIAN DEANE
Northern Ireland, 1981 - Faced with an impossible decision, a conflicted border-town mechanic, who services both 'sides' of the community, is forced to make a choice that will change his life forever.
How did Volkswagen Joe begin life?
Volkswagen Joe actually started out as a one-act amateur play in the early 90s, written by a wonderful playwright called Brendan McCann. So when myself and Matt took on the project it was all about adapting the play, which was a fantastic experience. Even though we changed quiet a few elements I think we did a good job of hanging on to the essence of the play and the characters - Brendan said he absolutely loved how the film turned out.
A lot has been done cinematically on the Troubles - how is this story different?
What really interested me about the story of Volkswagen Joe was how a society deals with sectarian and political conflict. I loved the idea of having these friends that were on opposite sides during the Troubles; how their jobs and social groups continually pulled them apart. It came to the point in Northern Ireland that you were not just defined by what side you were on, but also what side you were against. Social groups were very suspicious of anyone that tried to walk a line in the middle. The really interesting thing is that audience members have come to me and likened the situation to Israel and Palestine, Serbia and Croatia and even the American South in the early part of the last century. I think we definitely struck a cord with people.
Are there any autobiographical elements to it?
There are some elements to Volkswagen Joe that are linked to Brendan's life. He had a very good friend that was a mechanic and Volkswagen obsessive that sadly took his own life as a result of depression. Maybe not to over analysis it, but the play may have been a way for Brendan to rewrite history so the death of his friend had more meaning. Also, a number of scenes came about from chatting to Brendan and some of the other people who lived on the border during the Troubles, so lots of real people's lives ended up on screen.
What was the hardest part about adapting it for cinema?
God, that's a tricky question. From a production point of view the shoot was very tough, we shot the film in just five days and we stretched our budget like a rubber band. There were a lot of issues behind the scenes - that I was protected from by my production team. Our main action vehicle had massive mechanical issues and was only fixed in time for the last day of the shoot, we had issues with our practical effects, we had forklifts breakdown in the middle of our final shot as the light was fading, we had a scene halted by a very angry farmer who totally lost it when he came across our checkpoint scene, and loads of other drama behind the scenes! Luckily, I had an amazing team in front and behind the camera so we got there in the end. I guess these things happen when you're as ambitious as I was with this film.
Your short won loads of awards - is that the cherry on the cake?
Even without the awards it was great to just make the film. I'm always my own harshest critic, but I was really happy with Volkswagen Joe and since it's my first film since film school, it's really instilled a strong belief in my own ability. The awards have been fantastic and really helped get it seen by as many people as possible which I guess is why we make films in the first place.
When did you decide you had to work in film?
My dad is a big film fan, so I grew up watching spaghetti westerns and James Bond movies. I was always aware of the power of escapist cinema. As a kid, I didn't know anyone who worked in film, thus never really saw it as a viable career option, so even though I loved cinema it really wasn't till my late teens that I though that maybe I could make my own films. I always found Irish directors like Neil Jordan and Jim Sheridan hugely inspirational. They came from Ireland, and yet stood toe to toe with the best film-makers in the world.
What's keeping you busy right now?
Myself and the Volkswagen Joe team just finished a wonderful little Irish language short called 'First Love' which is just starting it festival run; we're very hopeful that'll do well. Myself and Matt are also working on a web series for RTE and I've just gotten funding for a short horror that I'll be shooting next year.
FILM: HOWS ABOUT YE?
DIRECTOR: JENNY KEOGH
'How's About Ye?' is the follow up to 'Story Bud?' which was shown in Trafalgar Square during the St Patrick's Day celebrations in 2013. The series, featuring real-life contributors, aims to preserve the unique language known as Hiberno-English.
Hows About Ye - what's it all about then?
It's a celebration of Hiberno-English, also known as "slang". In this film I concentrate on a specific county from each province of Ireland. With so much of this lingo dying out, it also acts as a preservation tool. Slang is constantly evolving and in it's very nature, can be really humorous. The Irish seem to have the knack of adding that little bit of extra oomph to it!
What was the inspiration behind Hows About Ye?
Literally from listening to how the Irish converse with each other. Coming from Dublin and having directed and produced 'Story Bud?, I was familiar with Dublin slang. But chatting to friends or associates from other counties, I discovered a whole world of Hiberno-English that only people from those counties would understand. So I thought it would be beneficial for Irish people to enjoy, compare, share and take pride in their counties' unique way of expressing themselves through language. It can also help tourists, it acts as a translation tool!
What were the most complicated aspects of making Hows About Ye?
Finding the links between themes in the edit, and trying to frame it with a basic narrative. Because I always prefer if each participant vocalises phrases that they would use themselves or that they grew up with - it gives it far more authentic feel. In that sense, as I don't work with actors, it can be tricky to create themes.
If you had limitless amounts of money, what film would you love to make?
I'm slowly working on a series to include most counties, but with time and funding at a minimum, it's taking way longer than I'd hope for. To complete the series to a high standard would be great, and then I'd love to incorporate the series into a film dedicated to Hiberno-English and honoring the authors from Ireland who have dedicated their lives to researching and creating dictionaries of slang and Hiberno-English. It would also act as a kind of historical document of how and why slang came about, and highlight how much it evolves through each generation.
FILM: BREAKFAST WINE
DIRECTOR: IAN FITZGIBBON
They say it takes just three alcoholics to keep a small bar running in a country town, but what if you’ve only got two? This is the premise explored by Death of A Superhero director Ian Fitzgibbon in Breakfast Wine, which stars leading Irish actor/comedians Dylan Moran and Pat Shortt.
Going by the title, there's a strong sniff of drink about this short - correct?
It opens on two middle-aged men outside a pub, waiting for it to open. As they say, it takes three alcoholics to keep a pub in business in Ireland - so I suppose the question is, who is going to be that third person? It's darkly comedic. It's by the incredible writer Kevin Barry, who specialises in a particularly dark, comedic vision of the world. It's the kind of stuff I find myself drawn to as a filmmaker, and Breakfast Wine - one of Kevin's short stories - is certainly true to that spirit.
How did that collaboration come about?
The stand-up Tommy Tiernan, who's a friend of mine, brought me to a biookshop, handed me a collecrion of his short stories and told me I should read this guy, he's realy incredible. So I did, and I was particularly struck with Breakfast Wine. On the one hand, I wanted to work with Kevin Barry because I thought his writing was incredible, but I also wanted to see what it would be like to work with him on a film project.
How did you get Dylan Moran on board?
I've known Dylan for years. I did a film called The Actors, with him as an actor and then I cast him in my film four, five years back called A Film With Me In It, a really dark comedy he played the lead in. He then asked me to direct a short film he'd written for Sky called The Awkward Age. I've always had a good working relationship with Dylan and he's a big fan of Kevin Barry. It seemed like a natural gig for him.
What does it mean to you to be part of this festival?
London is an important place for your film to be seen, so any opportunity to reach an audience, particularly one in which there will be a lot of Irish viewers, is to be grasped. I'm delighted to be a part of it. Like the awards, it gives Breakfast Wine oxygen, and a longer shelf life which is always good news.
You're working with Kevin Barry again, aren't you?
Yes, we're developing a feature script together that I'm hoping to shoot at the end of 2015. I'm really enjoying collaborating with him again because I believe he really is one of the defining writers of his generation. He has an extraordinary voice. It's nice to see an Irish writer who can write about the rural, but not relying on the usual tropes like the village priest, his writing still feels modern and relevant. It's going to be a feature-length story in typical Kevin Barry style. But it's too early to tell you anything else!
You can see all these gems at the ICA on Saturday 22nd November!