Countdown to VMDIFF20: Discover the Discoveries
With the Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival kicking off next week, anticipation is building for a few weeks of exciting screenings, intriguing events and of course, the DIFF Discovery Award. The Discovery Award at identifies, supports and encourages new and emerging talent in the Irish film industry, both in front of and behind the camera. Thirteen emerging talents have been nominated for this year’s Award, with the winner to be announced on the closing day of the festival, Sunday 8 March, 2020. Ahead of the beginning of DIFF, Film In Dublin reached out to some of the nominees to get a better sense of their creative influences, nominated works and views on the industry today.
The Discovery Award nominees cover a range of talents, on screen and off. We wanted to better acquaint ourselves with these new and emerging talents, so Film In Dublin reached out to the following talents about their work:
Allyn Quigley, Writer/Director, Moth
Cara Holmes, Director, Welcome to a Bright White Limbo
Claire Byrne, Director, Sister This
Die Hexen, Composer, Welcome to a Bright White Limbo
Dónall Ó’Héalaí, Lead Actor, Arracht
Gwen Jeffares Hourie, Costume Designer, Broken Law and Sister This
Laragh McCann, Director, Hasta La Vista
Shaun O’Connor, Director, A White Horse
Tristan Heanue, Writer/Director, Ciúnas
Film In Dublin: Who was your own first ‘Discovery’, a creative in your field or a work that inspired you?
My first love was music. I was totally blown away by the riot grrrl and d.i.y. scenes – I could see from the mid 90’s, early 2000’s how accessible it all was. I grew up in Louth so had access to BBC radio 1, John Peel, Jo Whiley/Steve Lamacq. When I eventually got into film my mind was blown once again by experimental filmmakers like Vivienne Dick, Barbara Hammer and other doc makers Agnes Varda, Clio Bernard.
Celine Sciamma is very impressive, I distinctly remember going to see Girlhood in the IFI. I knew I wanted to make films like that.
One of my favourite films is Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon by Ang Lee which I watched over and over when I was about 12. I love the martial arts, the nature, the characters and I feel an affinity with the more introverted and spiritual feel of Chinese and Japanese movies. I also loved Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Britney Spears and Beyonce music videos – strong women who could move! I started working in fashion when i was fourteen and through that got obsessed with photographers such as Stephen Meisel, Paolo Roversi and Mario Sorrenti amongst many more. In general photography, books, music, fashion, paintings, dance and life experience have influenced my work more then actual films.
I remember seeing Cillian Murphy on stage when I was a teenager and being spellbound by his presence and performance.
I’ll always remember getting the Stanley Kubrick box set for Christmas when I was a teenager. That changed everything for me. I think I’d seen bits of his stuff before that, so I knew the name, but that box set was really my first real education in cinema and learning how to tell a story visually. I remember rationing out the films to myself one by one over the next few weeks because I knew after Eyes Wide Shut that was it.
Andrea Arnold’s Fish Tank was definitely one of the first films I saw that inspired me to explore filmmaking.
I was a major LOTR Book nerd, I’d reread it every couple of years, Peter Jacksons adaptation blew me away, it felt like a fully realised, almost documentary of middle earth, I think I watched the “Making of” DVDs almost as many times of as the movies themselves. Ngila Dickson the Costume designer, amplified the believability of the world by creating not only looks and attire for six different races of peoples but different ethnicities within the races and social standings within the ethnicities, it was a mad rabbit hole to fall down, the work and thought and design that is done so well and is so believable that we don’t even notice it!
I was obsessed with Spielberg’s work as a teenager, collected all the videos and DVDs. As I grew older and started directing, I appreciated them even more. He’s such a great storyteller and in technical terms his staging, blocking and camerawork are unparalleled.
Many new discoveries have shaped and influenced my creative world. The otherworldly imagination of Bosch, the captivating moving image of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, films by Kenneth Anger and Stanley Kubrick, the sonic beauty of Liszt, Debussy & Vangelis and the sonic bravery of Wendy Carlos, Scott Walker and Philip Glass – especially his Opera Akhnaten (Act 1, Scene 1: Funeral Of Amenhotep III) I find most empowering.
FID: How might you describe your film showing at DIFF, why should people check it out?
(Welcome to a Bright White Limbo) is a look at Oona Doherty’s process as dancer/choreographer and how she creates.
Oona is an observer of human nature so while filming with and interviewing Oona, I was always looking for these points of connection. The power that dance has to connect us all as human beings. By breaking down the barriers that exist in our society – class, gender, sexuality, we feel the same very basic human connections and emotions – fear, love, anger in varying degrees.
I also wanted to bring a film audience to Oona Doherty’s work. She’s bold, she’s courageous and a very exciting artist. She’s brilliant!
It’s an unusual portal into the work and mind of unique and exciting dancer & choreographer Oona Doherty. It’s a refreshing and boldly told documentary, so go and see it if you can!
Hasta La Vista is an amalgamation of styles that explore a teenagers feelings and friendships in a summery, party fuelled landscape. I tried to capture that blind, free flowing and sometimes overwhelming intimacy you have when you’re that age. I’m interested in peoples unconscious and how that manifests in dynamics; those rocky phases when your trying to understand your feelings, your worth, your desires, your boundaries all while falling head first into drugs and alcohol. There’s also a manipulative male character, its subtle but this kind of behaviour is ubiquitous and I feel underestimated in it’s harm. I want to arm characters like the protagonist with support by sharing stories like these so girls like her know she’s not alone and we can start to untangle these subtle dynamics together and decide how it’s best to heal and move forward.
Arracht is a story of resilience that explores the potential of humanity even during the most horrific of experiences. Arracht offers a human understanding of the Great Hunger. I think anyone interested in the survival instinct of the human spirit will appreciate the film.
Moth is a revenge drama set in a suburban, commuter-belt town about a taxi driver who returns to work after the death of his daughter. It’s a dark (and hopefully chilling) story about grief, isolation, acceptance and the harsh reality of seeking revenge. The story itself was inspired by something that happened to a neighbour of mine back home. That initial event was kind of the catalyst that led me into wanting to tell a story about Fathers, revenge, the self-imposed role of protector that a lot of men often burden themselves with and the damaging effects of this. The film is set and shot in and around my hometown of Leixlip and I think it’s a world people maybe aren’t used to seeing on screen… or at the very least not in such a heightened way. This is largely down to our amazingly talented DoP Narayan Van Maele doing such a beautiful job shooting and lighting it. Gareth Averill also did an amazing job on the score and brought a whole other dynamic to the finished film. He’s someone I’ve wanted to work with for quite a while and he didn’t disappoint.
(Sister This) is a private and intimate conversation between two sisters that we are not often offered a window into. People should check it out because I really think it’s different to a lot of stuff out there and it challenges people to look at pre-conceived judgement or shame they might project onto women.
Sister This is a touching snapshot between two sisters who clearly love each other but like so many of us are unable to say the words. Claire Byrne is a phenomenal story teller and both Jordanne and Charleigh leak talent all over the place.
Broken Law is a crime thriller that centres around two brothers (who also clearly love each other and cannot express said love to each other…. a theme emerges?) It has an amazing cast and Paddy’s enthusiasm and drive and passion for this project make it one to watch. And while I have your ear (eyes?) you should also check out Cailinn Alainn (Meg Fox), Break Us (Rioghnach Ni Grioghair) & The Girl at the End of the Garden (Bonnie Dempsey) also showing at DIFF, these are shorts I worked on that have absolutely no sibling relationship themes (in case you are looking for more diversity)
(Ciúnas) is a film about communication, or lack of it during tough times. It’s about family dynamics and how you communicate your feelings when you are unable to express yourself. I think people should check it out because it’s a story we all felt very strongly about and the actors put everything into it.
(A White Horse) is a film about a hugely important social issue, but we’ve wrapped it in the style of a mystery that plays out in a single conversation and that will hopefully shock and entertain. It’s been well-received on the film festival circuit, and we recently won at the Oscar-qualifying Foyle Film festival, so we’re on the Oscar longlist for 2021.
FID: What would you say is a big challenge facing aspiring creatives in the Irish industry today?
Money and time. It’s really that simple. I work as an editor and a director but mainly as an editor because I can earn a living. I love both equally but you still have to pay your bills. I love working and I love creating and sometimes I probably do too much but it’s the nature of the beast.
In order for me to develop new projects as a director, I have to take time off from editing. It’s very hard to do both. You have to be in a position of privilege to be a filmmaker in Ireland, you need money, tons of support and resources. There is a lot of talk about promoting diversity on and off screen, telling more stories about women, LGBT+ stories, stories about and by people with disabilities. We need to see these stories on our TVs and on the cinema screens to really believe that this change is happening.
It’s changing so much recently. The DIFF Discovery Award is an example that there’s great support out there from established platforms. Its also clear that Irish artists across all mediums are harnessing their own social media platforms and since film equipment is much more accessible nowadays we’re seeing people of all ages and abilities relinquishing the status quo and making things off their own bat. It feels like because of this we’ve seen more variety of work in the past five years. For a while Irish cinema felt same samey as all films being made had to go through the same funding channels and they were nearly all made by men. Now there’s lots of ways to make things and release it and that’s refreshing. Regarding funding and how to actually earn a living – that still feels quite elusive to me and is a big challenge.
I think the big challenge for aspiring actors and actors alike is to be able to live of your art. The periods where you have to juggle a day job and acting can be tough. I feel this challenge is the same be it in Ireland, London or LA.
I think the biggest challenge facing a lot of creatives in todays industry is just finding a way of balancing creative endeavours with paid work. For me, directing and also editing helps with this and I know a lot of people in similar positions. It’s very easy to get stuck taking jobs that pay the bills and letting more personal work slide… so it helps to always try keep one eye on an independent project if you can.
We’re also at an interesting time as these days it’s easier than it used to be to get your hands on such amazing cameras and equipment and replicate something done on a much bigger budget. So I think that’s moving the focus much more onto originality and storytelling as places where people need to stand out… and there really isn’t any shortcuts to take in those areas. None that I know of anyway.
Finding the right script can be the biggest challenge as funding schemes are very competitive but we are lucky to have so many great funding schemes for short films!
I have been incredibly fortunate to have worked with a huge swathe of talented and creative costume and film people from whom I have learned so, so much. I’ve also been lucky to work with some super producers, without whose support (and referrals) I would not have gotten to work on so many exciting and diverse projects. On a personal level, film making as a career can be very full on and my partner Ste has had my back from day one, from reminding me to tax my car to soaking up the odd frustration vent-cry. Superstar.
I think its a great time to be an aspiring creative in Ireland today, I really do. There are now so many opportunities to send your script to all the different regional bursaries and schemes with Screen Ireland . And even if you don’t get them, the experience of being shortlisted and interviewing can give you great confidence. But also it’s now so easy to get people together and make your own work. I think sometimes the biggest challenge can actually be yourself, letting self doubt about whether you’re good enough etc stop you from putting yourself out there. As soon as I began to create my own work and stopped sitting around complaining things started to change for me.
It’s difficult enough for people with regular 9 to 5’s to make ends meet, not to mind creative people who are freelancing, pitching, haggling for gigs etc. Ireland’s investment in the arts is relatively very low and they’re the first thing to be cut in economic difficulties. We badly need more financial support and incentives to allow talent to grow.
Cultivating an individual voice and finding people to work with who are willing to push things in new directions. I started making films to allow myself the creative freedom to experiment with score & sound design in order for my voice to be fully heard.
FID: Gwen, what is a typical day like when you are working costume design on projects like these?
There are usually two types of days; Prep and Shooting. Prepping usually involves the more creative side of the job; researching the character, sourcing, making, buying costume, breaking everything down, planning, spreadsheets (my favourite aspect), lists and biscuits. Shooting days on set are the realisation of all the planning and then getting to think super-fast on your feet to fix whatever “design opportunity” pops up unexpectedly. Set has the added bonus of camaraderie and craic with the rest of the crew, you also get to refer to the spreadsheets, lists and on any decent production there will be a variety of biscuits too.
FID: Is there anyone in particular who has been helpful to your careers at this stage, who has helped you get to this point?
Mick Mahon (The editor on Welcome To A Bright White Limbo) gave me my first freelance editing gig ten years ago. He’s been a great support ever since. We share similar tastes, we love music – we keep threatening to start a band…who knows. The support of loved ones, family and friends is invaluable.
Filmmaking friends who I can bounce ideas off…Treasa O’Brien, Oonagh Kearney, Zlata Filipovic, Tara Hegarty, Paula Geraghty and lots and lots of other friends and colleagues. Being a participant on X- Pollinator in 2019 was a hugely positive and career affirming time for me. It was one of the best things I have done as a filmmaker. The scope of connection is massive and I really hope to work with a lot of people that I met there.
There’ve been so many helpful people who have given their time, advice and expertise who I’m so grateful for; from producers, to musicians, editors, stylists, DOP’s, dancers, actors and friends. A few key people who come to mind are Aisling Farinella who was the first person to publish my photography and writing, Jamie Delaney was the first person to encourage me to direct (which is something I’d actually never considered). Eoin McLoughlin was a brilliant DOP to work with on my first short Day. Since then I’ve worked with a small team over and over; Stephanie Dufresne, Albert Hooi, Jordanne Jones, Viva Dean and Allyn Quigley are people I’ve worked with multiple times who are each excellent in their field and have inspired and taught me a lot. As long as your willing to put in the hard work and are sincerely passionate about what you’re trying to do you’ll find lots of kind people out there who are willing to help and collaborate. Don’t be afraid to ask.
There are many people who have really helped me along the way. But without Tom O’Sullivan trusting me to play Coleman in Arracht there would be no Discovery nomination. I owe a lot to his continued encouragement and support.
There’s been so many people it’s hard to single out just a few but the guys in Failsafe Films, Simon Doyle and Ian Hunt Duffy, have always been very supportive and played a big part in getting this film funded and made. The script went through lots of iterations and was constantly changing so there was a long period of input and development before the film ever even got funded. Then of course Lucina Russell and Kildare County Council/Short Grass Films who funded the film and without whom the film might never have seen the light of day. And I couldn’t go without mentioning one of my past lecturers in IADT, Jean Rice, who has always been extremely supportive of me and my work since day one.
My business partners from Alfonso Films Emma Wall and Jo Halpin have been a constant source of support and encouragement for the last 3 years and we’ve all learned so much from eachother. I owe a lot to Sister This Producer Claire Gormley for bringing me on board for the short also.
Yeah a great friend and frequent collaborator of mine Paddy Slattery. We met about 8 years ago when he cast me in one of his films and he really became a huge part of my life. He encouraged me to try writing around then and he produced the first short I directed. He had great belief in me even when sometimes I didn’t have it in myself and I was very lucky to have someone like that. He is a very gifted filmmaker and is just about to release his debut feature film Broken Law at DIFF at the end of Feb. I also play the lead role in it so it’s wonderful to be continuing on this journey with him.
I couldn’t single out any individual but the artistic community in Ireland, and in particular the film community, has been amazing. The Irish film industry is very small and it’s not difficult to network with people who are at the top of their game, especially if you take the time to attend festivals, screenings, Q+As etc. I got into film relatively late after a major career change, and had no practical experience. But at every stage, from film festivals to actors and crew, I’ve found the industry to be incredibly supportive and willing to help out.
Every creative who has agreed to work with me and every person who has taken the time to listen / watch / share what I do.
FID: DIE HEXEN, how closely have you worked with filmmakers in your film scores to date?
I work with filmmakers both closely and remotely, sometimes very closely and sometimes very remotely. Each of these approaches can bring about great results. The concept of collaboration changes with each individual filmmaker and therefore means something different each time. Each working relationship on a film is unique and can rarely be predicted or repeated. My purpose and quest as a Composer remain the same, to move people, to give them a new experience and to reveal what is hidden.
FID: And Gwen, would you collaborate closely with filmmakers on costume design?
My favourite thing about filmmaking is its collaborative nature, the director, the actor and the writer will all have their own ideas about who each character is so persuading them that my own interpretation of the character is actually the best one can sometimes be a fraught and drawn out experience. In reality I see my role in costume as one that should facilitate the actor and the directors vision of who the character is. The look and feel of the costume can also be directly influenced by its setting and reflect well within the theme of the piece so collaboration with the Art department and the camera and lighting departments is always good practice. And from a purely logistical perspective taking stunts, SFX and sound into consideration just makes sense, you know?
FID: Finally, is there any advice you wish you had yourself when you first got into the film industry that you’d share now?
Don’t hang around. Get experience, meet people but above all else – keep making films, music videos, experimental art. Work on things that REALLY excite you.
I also wish I had found a mentor when I was younger – it was one thing that I felt was and is still lacking in the industry – especially as a female filmmaker. I’m still looking for one… if anyone is out there! I don’t think you ever stop learning and that’s what I find exciting about this industry. You can always push yourself in different directions.
Stop being a perfectionists! Being open to failure and not feeling like it defines my whole sense of self is key for me. Fear of failure, or not being good enough really slows down progress, makes self sabotage more likely, and makes creativity feel heavier then it needs to. Who cares if something is bad? Literally no-one cares these days. Trial and error is crucial to learning and that’s something I need to keep reminding myself. You’ve got to take risks and put stuff out there and move on to the next thing. I holed myself away for the first couple of years and tried to learn everything from Youtube and was afraid to learn in-front of others. It was a lonely and fearful approach to things and no way to live.
My intention now is to have a more free and happier flow of work where the focus is on enjoying the day to day journey and the collaborative process with other people. I have so much to learn and thats quite exciting. My earlier work was quite reflective, cathartic and melancholy and from now I want to create role models and empowered characters who I’d like to see more of in the world.
Always stay close to what it is that you love about acting.
Probably not to be too precious and just keep making stuff. It’s a massive cliché but it really is the only way to get better. Also not to get too bogged down by rejection. We were submitting Moth to funding deadlines (with varying levels of success) for about a year before it finally got funded. Each time it was rejected me and my producer Simon would back to the script and try to make it better or address any issues that had been brought up with it.
Take an acting class! It’s a lot easier to understand working with actors when you have a sense of their experience.
I’d be braver. The older I get the more I try to lean into fear whereas when I was younger and starting out I let fear rule me a bit too much. So I’d say write more, send your script out, shoot your short film, ask that established actor to be in your film. Because you just never know what might happen and the worst that can happen is you get rejected. Oh and become friends with rejection, because you will have to deal with lots of it so take it on the chin and move on, it’s nothing personal.
I love the advice that Terry Gilliam gave to Tarantino: ‘Your job is not to know every aspect of filmmaking, it’s to find people who are excellent at their craft and communicate to them.’
Also: Take acting classes!