Irish feature documentaries, Frankie Fenton’s It’s Not Yet Dark, and Neasa Ní Chianáin and David Rane’s In Loco Parentis have been selected to screen at the prestigious 2017 Sundance Film Festival. Both documentaries are funded by Bord Scannan na hEireann/the Irish Film Board and will compete in the World Cinema Documentary Competition, a category for which 12 films are shortlisted. For one-sixth of the films in this competitive category to be Irish stories speaks to the current quality of documentary making in Ireland.
Commenting on this announcement, James Hickey, Chief Executive Bord Scannàn na hÉireann/the Irish Film Board said:
“As the largest independent film festival in the US, the Sundance Film Festival provides an important and powerful platform for both Irish films It’s Not Yet Dark and In Loco Parentis to achieve global recognition. Ireland has had a very successful experience at the festival over the years with films such as ‘Brooklyn‘, ‘The Guard‘ and ‘Calvary‘ all having had World Premieres here. The importance of being selected for major festivals such as Sundance cannot be underestimated in terms of ensuring wide international audiences for the films. Both films were chosen from thousands of international films and we are very proud of the teams behind each project.”
It’s Not Yet Dark is based on award-winning Irish film-maker Simon Fitzmaurice’s acclaimed memoir of the same name following Simon’s diagnosis with Motor Neuron Disease (ALS) in 2008. The documentary chronicles Simon’s life from the point of his diagnosis at the age of 34.
In 2008, Fitzmaurice was launching a promising international career premiering his short film The Sound of People at the Sundance Film Festival when the aspiring writer and director noticed an unusual pain in his foot. Soon afterwards, Simon was diagnosed with Motor Neuron Disease and was given 3 years to live, and at the time, his wife Ruth was pregnant with their third child and the diagnosis left them reeling. It’s Not Yet Dark covers the full spectrum of Simon’s journey, including behind the scenes footage of him directing My Name is Emily through the use of the last physical attribute he has control over – his eyes.
Speaking about the Sundance selection, director Frankie Fenton said:
“It’s the highest honour to have our film invited to screen at the Sundance Film Festival. We’re all smiling with the news. It means so much to our small team to know that we are bringing Simon and Ruth’s inspirational story to Utah audiences.”
Narrated by Colin Farrell, the documentary was produced by Kathryn Kennedy of Kennedy Films and Lesley McKimm, formerly of Newgrange Pictures, with main funding from Bord Scannàn na hÉireann/Irish Film Board (IFB) and Wellcome Trust in the UK.
In Loco Parentis tells the story of Headfort, the last remaining boarding school for primary age children in Ireland. Directed and produced by Neasa Ní Chianáin and David Rane, the documentary is set on a sprawling estate in Kells, Co.Meath. In Loco Parentis melds two seemingly incongruent worlds, as the ultra-modern teaching of Headfort’s brilliant staff is set against the 18th century backdrop of the school’s long reception rooms, long corridors and secret doors.
Three years in the making, the film focuses on two of the longest-serving staff members, John and Amanda Leyden, who met as young teachers at the school in the 1970s and live on the school grounds. Unconventional, but both dedicated and inspiring teachers, they work long hours, serving as mentors and surrogate parents for the children in their care.
Reacting to the Sundance Film Festival announcement, In Loco Parentis director, Neasa Ní Chianáín, described it as incredible news.
“We are so delighted to be invited. When we got the call from the Sundance Film Festival programmers, we couldn’t believe it. They said that ‘the world needs a life-affirming film like this at the moment,’. Our audiences in Amsterdam laughed and cried through our film, and we are so looking forward to showing it to an American audience at the Sundance Film Festival next. It is a great opportunity to get our small film about these remarkable teachers in this amazing school out to a wider audience.”
In Loco Parentis received its world premiere at the International Documentary Festival Amsterdam (IDFA) this November, where it also became the first Irish film to be selected to compete in the coveted IDFA Competition for Feature-Length Documentary. The film was funded by the IFB, BAI, RTE, TVE (Sp) and Creative Europe.
The 2017 Sundance Film Festival takes place from 19 – 29 January in Park City, Utah.