Friday, April 17, 2009

One Day In September

This weekend I'm hopefully going to be having a chat with the director of the new Russell Crowe movie 'State of Play'. I saw the press screening last week and was really impressed. I can't resist those journalist-as-detective movies.

The director is Kevin MacDonald and in preparation for meeting him I've been looking back at some of his previous work (I also watched the TV Series, 'State of Play' on which the film is based - really good). Most people know MacDonald for his powerful documentary 'Touching The Void' - the story of two mountain climbers and how they deal with disastrous circumstances - or the recent movie 'Last King of Scotland' with James McAvoy and Forest Whitaker.

I still think his best film is the 1999 documentary 'One Day In September', which one an Oscar. It's the incredibly moving account of the kidnap and murder of Israeli Olympians by Palestinian terrorists at the Munich Olympics. MacDonald adeptly tells both sides of the story, delivering a nuanced, complex film that stays with you for days.

'One Day In September' came along before the documentary boom and it stands up well against any of the films that have emerged in the last ten years. MacDonald uses music brilliantly, which he has done in all his films.

Definitely a filmmaker worth watching.

Fan trailer for the film:

Of course, the film 'Munich' was based on the same events:

If you like Waveriders

Check out this clip of the 'making of' the AIB surfing ad:


Waveriders is out in the cinema. It's made by Margo Harkin and Joel Conroy and tells the story of Irish big wave surfing.

I did a little interview with Joel for Film Ireland magazine:

'Riding The Wave'
Interview with Joel Conroy, director of Waveriders

Joel Conroy is running on empty. When we meet for coffee in Filmbase it soon becomes clear that he really needs one. He is slap bang in the middle of one of the busiest weeks in the life of his new movie Waveriders.

He has just returned from the US Premiere at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival in California where thousands of punters came to view his film at its three sell-out screenings. From there, he jetted back to Dublin just in time to pick up the IFTA for Best Feature Documentary and after this interview he was getting ready to jump back on a plane to present the film at another American festival.

Conroy is responsible for what Donald Clarke of the Irish Times described as an ‘overpowering picture’ after its first screening at the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival last year, where Waveriders proved a real crowd pleaser and picked up the audience award.

The documentary is a visually stunning piece of cinema that combines breathtaking surfing footage with imaginatively presented archive and tells the previously untold story of the unlikely Irish roots of the worldwide surfing phenomenon and today’s pioneers of Irish big wave surfing.

In 2003, Conroy, a surfer himself, made his first surf doc, Eye Of The Storm, which proved the perfect training ground for a film of greater magnitude. He had aspirations to make a more ambitious surf film and when he came across an Irish connection to the rebirth of surfing in Hawaii, he found a story that would help him do that.

“I was reading the sports section of 'The Times' and there was a question to the editor which caught my attention: 'Is it true it was an Irishman who invented surfing?' The answer was: 'You are partly correct. It was an Irishman who re-invented the sport of surfing - his name was Freeth'. From that moment I was captivated. My imagination went into overdrive. I needed to know more about this Irish character called Freeth.”

Freeth’s story became the foundation on which Conroy could build his narrative.
Traditionally surfing films have been a heady mix of pretty pictures and banging tunes with not much more than a nod to narrative cinema. Then along came Stacy Peralta’s brilliant 2004 documentary, Riding Giants, and changed all that. It set a new standard for surfing documentaries, combining the best qualities of earlier surf films with a strong narrative arc.

Like Peralta, Conroy aims to infuse a solid storyline into an exhilarating surf odyssey and does so by linking the pioneering spirit of Hawaiian-Irishman George Freeth - who was responsible for the rebirth of surfing in Hawaii in the early twentieth century - with a host of contemporary pioneers who are seeking out and riding massive waves off the coast of Ireland.

“Story is king,” says Conroy. “You can shoot lots of beautiful visuals and I had lots of ideas about how to do that with film but it would be nothing without a story. So, I read the George Freeth story and then I started identifying the contemporary elements that I could use and finding the characters who would be part of the story.”

But making a film like of this scale is a huge enterprise and requires big money. Conroy teamed up with the highly respected, award-winning documentary producer Margo Harkin and they have forged a strong bond.

“I got stuck on the financing and Margo injected a new energy into the project. She brought so much creativity and expertise to the production. There were so many elements for us to consider - extreme characters participating in an extreme sport, extreme locations, extreme logistics, extreme health and safety risks of both cliff and ocean filming and extreme weather dependency… we were doing something very niche.”
Conroy put together an expert crew and filmed Waveriders in four blocks for ten weeks in total. They shot on super-16mm rather than digital and he was happy with the results.

“When I saw the first set of rushes coming back, I thought it was totally justified. The footage was really beautiful.”

The edit took place in Screen Scene with Nathan Nugent cutting but after the first block of editing, Conroy wasn’t sure that he had quite nailed the film that he wanted.

“We had shot the last scene in April and started cutting in May and by October we had a rough cut and I started thinking, ‘is this it?’ I just felt it was lacking the killer punch to really move the audience before they left the cinema. I was playing for time but then I was told that December 1st was to be the absolute final date to complete the edit.”

Then 72 hours before his deadline, Conroy noticed the stirring of some promising weather patterns off the west coast of Ireland. And on December 1st he found himself dug into the side of a cliff filming the biggest waves ever surfed in Ireland. A bit of divine intervention had given him the ending he wanted.

“There were a lot of weird things going on and a lot of things just seemed to come together miraculously. It was perfect. It couldn’t have been more perfect. It rocked the world, and when the still photos went out, people in Hawaii were freaking out because they never rate the waves anywhere else in the world.”

Waveriders will be released by Element Pictures in April and despite the dismal performance of many Irish films at the box office in recent times, Conroy is hopeful that his film will find an audience.

“I have high hopes for it. It’s a recession, the odds are stacked against us but you have to have faith. We made a surf film in Ireland! If we didn’t have faith, we would have stopped ages ago and got a real job somewhere.”

Big Time

Big Time was on TV a couple of weeks ago. It's a documentary about Bernard Dunne who is now World Champion. Well done Bernard! It was a Liberty Films production supported by the Irish Film Board, BCI and RTE Sport.

It's a funny one really, the film finishes before the climax of Bernard winning his World Title... if only we had known! But you never know... there might be another ending on the way.

I've noticed that the documentary has been uploaded to youtube, so you can find clips here...

I also got to do the promo for the World Title Fight, so I had my own part to play in the historic night... that's my friend Dave Moore doing the VO... that man can talk fast!!

You'd be forgiven for thinking that I'm some kind of boxing nut but you'd be wrong. I actually find it quite tough to watch but there are amazing stories in the area. I have an idea for another boxing film to complete the trilogy, so to speak... if only I can find someone to fund it!


This is my first post, so I should start at the start but I won't. I'll start at the top... so it's all downhill from here.

The biggest thing to happen to me in the last few years was the film Saviours. I made it with another documentary guy called Liam Nolan and it has played at festivals around the world, winning a few awards and generally getting some very kind and generous responses. Thanks to everyone who went to see it.

Here's the trailer:

The film was released in Irish Cinemas in October 2008 by the lovely Siobhan Farrell in Eclipse Pictures and some people gave us some very pleasant reviews. My personal favourite was the Sunday Tribune. Actually, at the end of the year they also declared the film 'Best Irish Film Of 2008'. So, basically, I think the Sunday Tribune is great!

Here's the review they gave us:

Finally, and most importantly, the film could not have happened without the incredible support of the Irish Film Board and the encouragement of Alan Maher and Patrick O'Neill. Thanks fellas.