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An Irish Renaissance with Pat O'Connor's "Dancing at Lughnasa"

By Indiewire | Indiewire November 16, 1998 at 2:00AM

An Irish Renaissance with Pat O'Connor's "Dancing atLughnasa"
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An Irish Renaissance with Pat O'Connor's "Dancing at
Lughnasa"

by Gesha-Marie Bryant




Irish director, Pat O'Connor's "Dancing at Lughnasa" is yet another of
Sony Pictures Classics' English language pre-buys, coming soon after the
likes of British director Sandra Goldbacher's "The Governess."
"Lughnasa," based on the multiple-Tony award winning play, is a
character driven film, steeped in the particular mixture of poverty,
Catholicism, paganism and verdant landscapes that characterizes
Ireland. Driven by the old adage that men leave their communities in
times of hardship, the phenomenon paves the way for stronger bonds
between women, namely Meryl Streep starring in a rare indie appearance.


Director Pat O'Connor ("Inventing the Abbotts," "Circle of Friends,"
"Stars and Bars," "A Month in the Country") and Producer Noel Pearson
("My Left Foot") contribute to the slow, but steady acceleration of the
native Irish film influx with "Dancing at Lughnasa," a Capitol Films,
Sony Pictures Classics and Channel Four Films co-production. O'Connor
spoke to indieWIRE about the film's funding, his dealings with SPC and
an Irish renaissance in the arts.


indieWIRE: Can you discuss the film's funding and the way the Irish
film industry and government assisted your production, specifically the
incentives they provide for the filmmaker. Are they modeled on those of
England?


Pat O'Connor: It's very difficult for me to know in detail, in
comparison to other places. Section 35 in Ireland allows people to
invest and pay less tax if they invest their money in films. The Irish
Film Board is very important and helpful in the early stages
development, so has State Broadcasting - Irish Television. The rest of
the money, which is often the case with Irish films, came from abroad,
like Sony Pictures Classics -- they were in at a very early stage.
Capitol Films in England, they came in for a lot of money and Film Four
in London. So, between them all, hit or miss, it was all a little
precarious.


iW: Can you elaborate on SPC's role in the production, first of all,
and secondly, the distribution deal?


O'Connor: They came in and were very committed with it which is very
important when the film is in the 'will it or won't it happen' stage.
Sony and I have had a relationship before. They released a film of mine
10-12 years ago, called a "Month In the Country." So, I've known co
presidents Michael Barker and Tom Bernard for a long time and trust
them. They stayed fast and strong through the inevitable ups and downs.


iW: Were they with you during the development of the script or when you
began to shop the project around?


O'Connor: They weren't making notes. They were totally constructive.
They put their trust in the filmmakers and never deviated from that.


iW: Did "Dancing at Lughnasa" do the festival circuit?


O'Connor: Toronto, Boston and Venice. Meryl Streep went to Telluride, as
well. Sometimes, if you go to too many festivals, you can get the curse
of the art house reputation. All of us want "Dancing at Lughnasa" to
reach a wider audience. You can do too much of that, it's a nice trip,
but not the end of the world. It's selling the name of the film --
people being made aware of it.


iW: So many smaller films now are extremely dependent on the
festival circuit.


O'Connor: We wouldn't be in quite the same way. First of all, we have
Meryl Streep. Secondly, the story is very accessible and it's an English
language film.


iW: Can you discuss the adaptation process from the original play?


O'Connor: Frank McGuiness did the first draft. I worked with him for 2
months. We worked through different drafts, adding and subtracting.
It's very helpful and important for me to get involved very early on in
the screenwriting process. Frank is the scriptwriter, but if I am not
involved in the whole process, I don't feel it's my film. In the
adaptation process, you start from scratch again and you have this
source material which is terribly important. I've never gotten a film
and said," Oh, I'll do this!"


iW: Do you picture yourself as an auteur, or is that term too
pretentious for you?


O'Connor: I think it's a word that is overused, misleading and, yes, a
little pretentious. Filmmaking is very personal for me.


iW: Were you concerned about translating the richness and reputation of
the Irish literary tradition onto film?


O'Connor: No, I didn't look at it like that. I looked at it as this
terrific play with terrific characters. You have that as a trigger and
then you start to make the film. I didn't have to refer back to the play
at all. We didn't discuss it. We were just making a film. You can't
fall between the stoops, you can't make a half of a film and half of a
play.


iW: Would you say there is a renaissance in Irish film?


O'Connor: There is a renaissance, yes, of all the Irish arts, not just
film. Film takes a much higher profile than maybe it should. With the
economy being so prosperous -- it's one of the most successful economies
in the world -- people are expressing and enjoying themselves more.


iW: What can we expect from the Irish film industry in the future?


O'Connor: More of the same, in the sense that the Irish film industry
is established nationally and internationally. I think it's going to
continue. We need more producers and directors -- homegrown. What's
happening is a slow process but steady. The technicians are highly
trained, there is a lot of equipment in Ireland, and we have a studio.
So, it will continue.


[Gesha-Marie Bryant is a NY-based freelance film journalist.]

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