Friday, May 22, 2009

Hot Docs Report

Just a quick one.

I'm back from Hot Docs for about a week now and it was brilliant.

Anyone that is interested in documentary should go to check out this festival. Audiences will find some of the best documentaries in the workd playing in some of the nicest settings. Filmmakers will find just about every funder worth talking too for feature-length documentaries. The whole thing is so well organised and friendly. The Canadians are always friendly.

One particular highlight was the Toronto Documentary Forum. It's a filmmakers pitching forum watched by a room full of producers, filmmakers, funders and press. The room itself is magnificent - like an academic auditorium in University of Toronto. It all sounds so daunting writing this but it's so well set up that I could imagine pitching there wouldn't be too bad. And what an opportunity!

They have all sorts of video and reports on the Hot Docs website if you want to learn more.


Right, I've never surfed in my life but I seem to be talking about surfing a lot these days and in the last two weeks I saw two surfing related things that blew my mind in.

The first:

I think it's from a BBC Documentary Series called South Pacific and it show some of the incredible things that can be done with HD Cinematography. The underwater shots are incredible and the shot of Dylan Longbottom surfing through a 12 foot monster barrell in slow-mo is just astonishing. There have been a lot of surf documentaries and I've seen a few of them - this is undoubtedly the best footage I've seen.

The second:

Is a movie called SurfWise that was on More4 last week. It was incredibly compelling. The film is about Dorian Paskowitz - it starts out telling the story of him as a young doctor who tries out a few lifestyles before deciding that the best life for him and his family is to live aboard a 24-foot campervan driving along gorgeous coastlines and surfing.

It chronicles how he has nine kids in total, none of whom go to school but all of whom become fantastic surfers and live a life as far from ordinary as you can get. The film reveals the impact of this seemingly idylic lifestyle on his kids - the ups and the consierable downs. I don't want to say too much because if you like documentaries, you just have to see this film. You need to. It is a fascinating story that reveals a lot about the human condition.

Along with Riding Giants, it just about closes the book on surfing documentaries for me. I can't imagine there will be anything to match them but you never know.

Here's the trailer:

And the website:

Thursday, May 21, 2009


I don’t mind telling you that I was a little worried when Film Ireland asked me to put the spotlight on Savage, the debut feature film by Brendan Muldowney (Director) and Conor Barry (Producer).

With low-budget Irish films you just never know what you’re going to get and I hadn’t seen the film yet. In fact, nobody had seen it. Ever. So, I was concerned that I was going to end up interviewing the makers of Savage having not enjoyed their film...

They sent me over a screener. I watched it. I loved it. I was the first person to watch the final cut of the film and now the makers of Savage have a 100% record. One viewer, one fan.

Savage is an exploration of violence and masculinity - a story of obsession and revenge, as a man tries to come to terms with a brutal, random attack and its consequences.

Darren Healy plays Paul Graynor, a shy, mild-mannered press photographer who is set upon in an alley by two lads on his way home from a night out. In a hugely powerful scene, Muldowney brilliantly captures the intimidating “Look at me! Look at me! Watcha lookin at!” patter that will be all too familiar to anyone who has been caught in that frightening position. It’s an uncomfortable, harrowing scene that will have you squirming in your seat and the gentlemen in the audience crossing their legs. But you won’t be able to look away.

The violent assault leaves Graynor a shadow of his former self, at first cowed but later very, very angry. Muldowney is clearly influenced by films like Taxi Driver and Straw Dogs in depicting a man who is pushed to the edge and contemplates taking the next step.

The film takes you on a visceral, violent journey that is utterly compelling. It’s not for the faint-hearted but then it’s not aimed at the faint-hearted. Indeed, probably the most pleasing element of this film is its unflinching desire to not let the audience off the hook. It is uncompromising but all the better for that. It puts the audience in an uncomfortable but fascinating place, leaving you wondering whether revenge could be acceptable if the initial crime is heinous enough.

“I wanted to make people feel something and then they could make up their own minds about it,” says Muldowney. “I wanted the audience to understand this character and to almost feel sorry for him despite the violent acts that he carries out. It’s a bit twisted. The whole point was to put the audience in this grey area, so they could see both sides of the story. I was happy to not be didactic.”

While it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact budget of Savage, it seems to me that they received less cash in hand than is often wasted on an hour of primetime reality TV. They had just four weeks to shoot the film and ended up with less coverage than they would have liked, though I must admit that I didn’t notice. Barry and Muldowney are also quick to point out that their low budget brought benefits as well as drawbacks.

“If we’d had more money, I probably would have used CGI to help me depict the violence and bloodshed in certain scenes but in hindsight it became more about performance and using the length of the scene to get me there. I think it works just as well and that it’s just as disturbing and if we’d been more explicit it might not have been as good,” says Muldowney. Barry adds a crucial point, “the other thing about low budget filmmaking is that it gave us the freedom to make the film we wanted to make.”

Barry and Muldowney originally aimed to make Savage as part of the Catalyst Project - the IFB, BCI, TV3 and Arts Council scheme that aimed to get three low budget features made – but when it wasn’t picked as one of the final projects, they decided to make it anyway.

“We didn’t get Catalyst but we had put so much work into it at that point and that reinforced the fact that we really wanted to make it,” explains Barry. “Funnily enough, all of the work you put into trying to get a Catalyst application together, all of the encouragement and meetings and so on bring you on the road towards making your film. It all became a weird, natural progression towards achieving funding for Savage.”

They make no secret of their gratitude to the Film Board, who strongly backed the project, “they put together the model that allowed us to get the film made,” says Barry. And they commend Filmbase, which was also very supportive. In addition, the team raised money outside of the normal channels by sending an investment proposal to family, friends and, well, everyone they could. It worked.

It’s quite remarkable what they’ve achieved with the budget they accumulated and there are films out there with ten times the budget that don’t look half as good. Using the Red One, cinematographers Michael O’Donovan and Tom Comerford have created a stark, monochrome Dublin that is gritty without appearing in any way cheap. Muldowney is clearly adept at using sound and it is employed to great effect throughout the film and, in particular, to build the internal journey of Graynor.

It’s a tribute to the Irish Film Board’s ‘yes I can’ attitude that so many small, high-quality films are making their way to audiences. But the flipside is that there is increasing competition for berths at festivals even within Ireland. The makers of Savage hope to debut the film at Galway and take it from there.

Beyond Savage, Barry and Muldowney have two more films loaded up and ready to go and they’re just waiting to finalise funding before pulling the trigger. I’m genuinely looking forward to seeing what they do next.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Hot Docs

Next week I'll be at Hot Docs. For once it's not with the film SAVIOURS that we've been bringing to festivals all over the place for the last 18 months.

This time I'm going with the intention of meeting people in the industry and improving my knowledge of how the industry works. Raising money for documentaries certainly isn't easy and next week I'll hopefully learn more about how to ease that process.

I'll post next week about my experiences. Hopefully it'll be a good week.

Seoige Show Ends

Over the last 6 months or so I've been working away on the Seoige Show. It was a different kind of challenge to what I've been doing until now and I enjoyed it a lot.

It was announced last week that this will be the last series (nothing to do with me, I hope!) and we had our wrap party on Friday. Despite the inherent sadness of the show ending, I think the team were generally in good form and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves. I certainly did.

It was a fun show to work on and everyone who worked on it was great, with special mention to Bernie and all of the nice people called Claire.

Thanks to Tyrone Productions too for making it all happen.

Here are some of the videos I did for them:

Phone Boxes Are Go!

So we've started preproduction on a new documentary called ByeByeNow. ('We' is the lovely Aideen O'Sullivan and, of course, me). The film is to be a tribute the humble phone box - it was so central to Irish life and now it is to be consigned to the scrapheap.

The film is to be an anecdotal history - we're going to weave together stories from ordinary people to give a sense of the history and to show how important they were in Irish life. The film is to be a celebration... and not a criticism of the strategy of out national phone provider. I, for one, haven't used a phone box for years myself but I still think it's fascinating the part they played in Irish life.

For years there would be lines of people down the street on Christmas Day as everyone in turn rang their relatives in Australia or America.

We've already come across some good stories - like the one about the sportscaster doing his commentary from a phone box - but we're on the look out for many more stories.

The film will be 12-minutes long and was funded by the Irish Film Board. I think it's going to turn out great.