Three questions to… Vincent Gallagher, director of Second to None

Second to None - Vincent Gallagher - Irish Film Festa

A dark comedy about the world’s second oldest man: Second to None is a funny and highly original animated short film in competition at the 10th Irish Film Festa (March 30th – April 2nd, Rome). We spoke to the director Vincent Gallagher, who was in competition also last year with Love is a Sting. . . .

Three questions to… Toto Ellis, director of Two Angry Men

Interview with Toto Ellis - Two Angry Men - Irish Film Festa

The battle of James Ellis (played by Michael Shea) and Sam Thompson (Adrian Dunbar) to stage the play Over the Bridge in face of censorship in 1950s Belfast: Two Angry Men is one of the short films in competition at the 10th Irish Film Festa (March 30th – April 2nd, Rome).

We spoke to the director Toto Ellis, James’ son. . . .

Three questions to… Jack O’Shea, director of A Coat Made Dark

Interview with Jack O'Shea - A Coat Made Dark

A man follows the orders of a dog to wear a mysterious coat with impossible pockets: it’s the mysterious plot of A Coat Made Dark, one of the animated short films in competition at the 10th Irish Film Festa (March 30th – April 2nd, Rome).

We spoke to the young director Jack O’Shea, whose works have appeared at film festivals worldwide, including the Annecy International Animated Film Festival.


What kind of drawing and animation techniques were used for the film?

The film was animated digitally, using a hand-drawn frame by frame technique. I previously explored a similar painterly/inky aesthetic using a traditional approach with organic materials. However I found I could more closely capture the desired aesthetic using a digital process.


How did you set the strong and minimal colour palette?

The story relies a lot on what isn’t said directly, or is kept from the audience. To capture this idea visually, it was important to hide much that appears on screen in vast black spaces. The details that are left become more striking, and imply at what might be disguised in darkness.


What about the voices of your characters – Hugh O’Connor, Declan Conlon and Antonia Campbell Hughes?

The characters in the film are afraid to give anything away, speaking only as a last resort. Each of these voice performances captured this idea, and explored other ways to emphasise this underlying tension, given the dialogue was so limited. It was the subtle details they offered to the performances that served to capture this idea most effectively.


Three questions to… Paddy Cahill, director of Seán Hillen Merging Views

Interview with Paddy Cahill - Sean Hillen, Merging Views - Irish Film Festa

A film portrait that observes Irish artist Séan Hillen as he creates a beautiful new photomontage and shares thoughts about his work and recent personal discovery: Seán Hillen, Merging Views is a short documentary film which will screen in competition at the 10th Irish Film Festa (March 30th – April 2nd, Rome).

We spoke to the director Paddy Cahill.


Why did you choose to make a film about Seán Hillen?

I’ve been a long time admirer of Seán Hillen’s work but it was last year, as I visited him at his home to buy one of his prints as a present, that I knew I wanted to make the film. I wrote to Seán right after asking if I could make a short documentary about him and his work. Seán has an amazing backstory, which should be told in another documentary, but I was really fascinated by his home/studio where he creates his amazing work.


The film is set in a small room: how did you work in terms of frame composition and editing?

When we filmed it was just myself and Basil Al Rawi, our director of photography, in the house with Seán. It was very important to me that we would be a tiny crew, although not much more would have fit in the room anyway! One rule I tried to keep was that Seán would only talk or answer questions while he was making work. That way it would be less like a traditional documentary interview. I thought that watching Seán work while he spoke would be more interesting to the viewer. This also gave Basil the freedom to get right up to Seán’s shoulder and compose some really beautiful cinematography.


And how long did the shooting take?

Along with producer Tal Green we were planning the filming for quite a while but the actual filming was over the course of one night only. I wanted the audience to have the same feeling we had when we filmed as if they just dropped in one night, to this unusual house on a normal looking terrace street in Dublin and got to watch Seán create one of his works.


Three questions to… Graham Cantwell, director of Lily

Interview with Graham Cantwell - Lily - Irish Film Festa

On the cusp of becoming a young woman, Lily navigates the treacherous waters of school life with her best friend, the fiercely loyal and flamboyant Simon. When a misunderstanding with the beautiful and popular Violet leads to a vicious attack, Lily is faced with a great challenge.

Lily is an LGBT themed short film which will screen in competition at the 10th Irish Film Festa (March 30th – April 2nd, Rome).

We spoke to the director Graham Cantwell, who was our guest in 2014, when he conducted a great acting masterclass and also attended the screening of his feature film The Callback Queen. Its lead actress, Amy-Joyce Hastings, plays a small but important role in Lily.


How did you cast and work with the young actors?

We sent out a casting call for the young actors to all the agents and young actors’ groups in Dublin, and had an amazing response. We saw some of the best young actors in the country for the roles of Lily, Simon, Violet and Emer.

When Clara Harte came in to audition we knew immediately we had found our Lily. She had such a wonderful combination of intelligence and vulnerability. Leah McNamara, I knew I wanted for the role of Violet when I saw her headshot: she had the perfect look for the character. I just hoped she would be good enough in the room, and thankfully she and Clara were fantastic together in the auditions.

For Emer, the bully character in the film, Hallie Ridgeway showed up and nailed it from take one. Simon was far more difficult to cast. We looked at dozens of very talented young actors, but none of them quite had the quality I was looking for in Simon. Then Dean Quinn showed up at the last minute and saved the day. He captured everything we needed for Simon: his heart, his sass, his protective nature.

Once we had assembled the actors we rehearsed quite a bit, particularly the choreography of the fight scene. Clara and Dean got very close very quickly, and their bond formed the core of the film. I had some very experienced actors like Amy-Joyce Hastings and Paul Ronan come in to work with the younger cast and that helped them to raise their game.


Since the story has a lot of references to school life and teen habits, were the actors also involved in the writing process?

The script was written long before we had any of the younger actors involved, but we did workshop the dialogue in the rehearsal process, and as they began to naturalise the text and own their characters their dialogue shifted and became more akin to their own voices.

We spoke to youth groups and sent the script to people involved in the LGBT community in Ireland for feedback, and had younger people read it for authenticity. During the filming process we also adapted the script as one would always do to incorporate the actors’ feedback and instincts.


Music is very present in Lily, mostly during the emotional moments: how did you work with the composer Joseph Conlan?

Joe and I have worked together on a number of projects since our first collaboration on my feature film The Callback Queen and we have developed an understanding and a working process that serves the films we work on together very well.

He is based in LA, so we work remotely, on Skype and in emails. It’s very difficult to articulate what you are looking for from a piece of music, I always think of the Elvis Costello quote that “talking about music is like dancing about architecture”. So we discuss moods and emotions, the responses that I’d like the audience to have at particular moments, and Joe suggests instruments that we may use. Joe then composes something for each cue and we lay it against picture and discuss adjustments. He has an incredible ear and an understanding of narrative that is quite rare, his first drafts are always very close to what we end up with, so our discussions are rarely technical, and quite often have more to do with intangible things like feelings and mood. I’ve been very lucky to have worked with Joe on so many projects and hope to do so long into the future.