Ghost Train and The Ledge End of Phil are the winning shorts of Irish Film Festa 2015

Ghost TrainPP


The winning short films of the 8th edition of Irish Film Festa (March 26th – 29th, 2015) are Ghost Train by Lee Cronin (live action) and The Ledge End of Phil by Paul Ó Muiris (animation).

Special mentions to The Break by Ken Williams and Denis Fitzpatrick, The Good Word by Stuart Graham and The Measure of a Man by Ruth Meehan.

The juries were composed by Emanuela Martini (Torino Film Festival director), Emiliano Liuzzi (journalist, Fatto Quotidiano) and Áine O’Healy (Professor at Loyola Marymount University, LA) for the live action category, and by Thomas Martinelli (journalist and DOCartoon director) and Kay McCarthy (musician) for the animation one.



Three questions to… Julien Regnard, director of Somewhere Down the Line

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Julien Regnard is the director of Somewhere Down the Line, one of the animated short films in competition at Irish Film Festa 2015. The short is produced under the Irish Film Board’s Frameworks scheme, exclusively dedicated to animation, and in collaboration with Cartoon Saloon (Nora Twomey, co-director of The Secret of Kells, is involved as executive producer).

Somewhere Down the Line shows a man’s life, loves and losses through the exchanges he has with the passengers in his car.


How did you develop this story about the passing of time?

I moved places a lot during the past few years, from Montpellier to Paris to Brussels and then to Ireland, and it made me realized how difficult it was to keep contact with the people I had met, how short and fragile were the human relationships compared to the infinity of time and space. So the film is a metaphor of this idea, a man driving on the road, getting older and older and leaving the people he meets behind him along the way.


How did your work on the characters animation and their integration with the backgrounds?

For the characters animation, it was pretty simple because they are drawn in 2D, we used a software called TvPaint and then did simple compositing. The tricky part was the car and the animated background. We had to paint all the views of the car in Photoshop and then project them onto the 3D model. Same for the rolling backgrounds, we painted several views of the landscape and then projected them on a 3D map. It took us a while to figure it out but in the end it was working fine.


The music plays a big part in Somewhere Down the Line: how did you work with the composers?

The music was composed by 3epkano which is a band specialized in doing impro live on silent films so I was very interested in working with them. We met a first time and they believed in the film straight away, we had very little money and time but they only cared about the artistic value of the project. I think they did an amazing job in the end and brought so much to the atmosphere of the film.


Three questions to… Paul Murphy, director of The Weather Report

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Paul Murphy is the director and screenwriter of The Weather Report, one of the short films in competition at Irish Film Festa 2015.

1944. Ted (Edward MacLiam, Run & Jump) and her wife Maureen (Marie Ruane) are the Blacksod Lighthouse keepers, in County Mayo. One day they receive a misterious phone call which questions one of their routine weather reports. What’s happening?

The Weather Report won the GFC/RTÉ Short Film Award and was later selected at many international festivals, including the Galway Film Fleadh, the IndieCork Film Festival, the Boston and the Chicago Irish Film Festivals.


Why did you choose to tell the story of Ted and Maureen Sweeney?

I love the idea of ‘ordinary’ people going about their lives and inadvertently finding themselves at the centre of events far beyond their own lives.
Interesting things often happen at the edge of a country, in this case it is also the edge of Europe.


How did you cast Edward MacLiam and Marie Ruane?

Casting Maureen was easy, really. As soon as I saw Marie Ruane in the short film Foxes, I knew she was perfect for the part and I was delighted when she agreed. Casting Ted was difficult. There is such a great choice of Irish male actors to play this kind of part. When I decided to ask Ed, I was delighted when he came on board. Both were fantastic to work with.


Did you actually shoot at the Blacksod Lighthouse?

We did shoot at Blacksod Lighthouse. It was important for me to shoot at that Lighthouse. It is the only Lighthouse in Britain and Ireland that has a square top. It is in such an isolated place, even for the west of Ireland, that there is very little obstruction to filming and basing your story in the 1940’s.

Three questions to… Ruth Meehan, director of The Measure of a Man


Ruth Meehan is the director and scriptwriter of The Measure of a Man, one of the short films in competition at Irish Film Festa 2015.

Jay Brady (Andrew Simpson, who played Cate Blanchett’s teenage-lover in Notes on a Scandal) is a young man who struggles to come to terms with the death of his father as he gets fitted for his first suit made by a tailor (Ronan Wilmot).

Ruth spoke about the cathartic meaning of the film, inspired by a true story.


How was the script developed?

I developed the script with my brother Kenneth after our friend Gary Henderson shared a story with us. Gary had recently lost his father and told us of getting a suit made by his father’s tailor. It had been a cathartic experience which had made him feel closer to his father.

This little film was a real gift, the rare kind that takes you by the hand and shows you where to go. It is and was very personal, cathartic and healing for us all and remains one of my dearest and most cherished experiences during a very dark period of time.


How did you cast Andrew Simpson and Ronan Wilmot?

At the time I was working with producer Tony Deegan on another project and he had just finished working with Andrew Simpson and told us how brilliant he was. Andrew had just been cast in a big BBC show, The Life and Adventures of Nick Nickleby, but the story resonated with him. He had also recently lost a close friend and we were really lucky that he made the time to be in the film.

Ronan Wilmot was another suggestion by a friend. He had the perfect sensibility for our tailor and was terrific.


Where was the The Measure of a Man shot?

Louis and Adrian Copeland are the foremost tailors in Dublin, and we were incredibly fortunate that they opened their doors to us. Their alterations room had been recently refurbished, but they introduced us to Denis Darcy, who was just about to retire, and whose studio was a designer’s dream. Denis had a very tight deadline on the day that we were filming with him, so he kept working around us. Sometimes the close-ups of hands trimming fabric are his, although even we can’t tell which ones anymore!

Special thanks to the producer Tamsin Lyons


Three questions to… Louise Ní Fhiannachta, director of Rúbaí

Irish Film Festa 2015 competition features a short film shot in Irish Gaelic: Rúbaí, directed by Louise Ní Fhiannachta and produced under the Irish Film Board’s Gearrscannáin scheme.

As her classmates prepare for their First Holy Communion, 8-year-old Rúbaí (played by newcomer Doireann Ní Fhoighil) announces that she is an atheist and refuses to participate.

Louise Ní Fhiannachta spoke about the beautiful characteristics of the Irish language and how it was like to direct such a young actress.


Rúbaí is the only short film of this year’s competition shot in Irish Gaelic: why did you choose to use it?

The script was written in the Irish language so, as a native Irish speaker, it was only natural for me to continue the process in its original form. An Ghaeilge is a huge part of my identity and of those involved in Rúbaí, and I think that energy comes through in the film. It’s a very indirect language with gorgeous nuances and characteristics.

Of course, the beauty of film is that it’s a universal language which an audience can understand on a global level. Despite cultural differences, emotions are the fundamentals of the human condition, be they hope, fear, joy, etc.


How did you work on the script by Antoin Beag Ó Colla?

When I read the first draft of Rúbaí, I was immediately charmed by her character. Rúbaí, a Catholic, doesn’t want to make her Holy Communion and is instead enamoured by Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. This independent, yet sensitive, little girl had captured my heart and I knew I needed to go on her journey, question her motives, get to hang out with her. Antoin had already adopted a quirky tone at first draft and it was vital for me that we achieved this.

We felt there were elements missing from the story, for example the fundamental question of why Rúbaí had decided to become an atheist was never addressed.

Previous drafts of the script were also dialogue-heavy and I knew it would be a huge ask to find an eight-year old actress capable of remembering reams of dialogue while simultaneously giving a stellar performance. Thus we embarked on a rigorous developmental process with the script focusing on action and emotion rather than on big chunks of dialogue. It really paid off!


How did you cast Doireann Ní Fhoighil, the young girl who plays Rúbaí?

About three months before shoot, we auditioned 43 girls. I was amazed by the talent available to me and made a short list of 10 and held a workshop for them. This was a valuable exercise and a beauty to behold as each one of them gained confidence and flourished in those few hours.

Finding the right Rúbaí in Doireann Ní Fhoighil was a gift. I was captivated by her intelligence, wit and adorability from auditions right through to the shoot. Her understanding of the story and her trust in me was key as was the (continued!) support of her family.

The other 9 girls got to play Rúbaí’s classmates and each one of them was excellent. Because of budgetary constraints, we shot over three days so I knew that simple visual compositions were imperative. Performance always came first; it always does with me – I’m an actor’s director! Communicating my vision and collaborating with a very dedicated and creative team to put Rúbaí on screen was a journey I’ll always be grateful for.


Doireann Ní Fhoighil and Louise Ní Fhiannachta
Doireann Ní Fhoighil and Louise Ní Fhiannachta


Three questions to… Anna Rodgers, director of Novena

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Novena by Anna Rodgers is the only documentary selected for the Irish Film Festa 2015 short films competition.

When a mother from his church in Dundalk told him about her gay son feeling rejected by the Catholic community, Fr. Michael Cusack decided to invite two members of the LGBT community, Kay Ferriter and Stephen Vaughan, to make a speech during a Novena mass.

«When we heard about this event, we felt that it had to be documented despite not having funding or production company behind us», says Anna Rodgers.


Why and how did you choose to record the speeches from Kay Ferriter and Stephen Vaughan and use them for a film?

Stephen Vaughan approached me about the event a few weeks in advance. He is married to a man who worked with my mother, so we had a previous connection and he had seen a gay & lesbian documentary I had made. Initially we thought we would just record the event, but as we spoke about it I became aware of the significance of the invite for him and Kay to come speak at the Novena masses. It was something which had never happened before in Ireland, so I felt it was worth investing in hiring a professional crew and filming it properly. I wasn’t sure it would become a film at the time, but my gut instinct was that it was important and someone should make a record of it.


Why did you choose the short documentary form?

I am a documentary filmmaker so it was the natural approach for me to take with the film. I could have recorded the sound only and done something for radio, but then so much of the experience would have been lost. We tried to communicate the atmosphere on the day and all of the unspoken things. Short documentaries can be very impactful. Even though I have made longer formats before, I still really enjoy telling shorter stories this way as there are less rigid rules and narrative expectations about the short format.


How was the response from the audience?

We’ve had an overwhelmingly positive response to the film in Ireland. It’s won a number of awards which we’re very grateful for. The completion of the film was possible through a crowdfunding website called Fund It, and many people came forward to assist us in getting this film across the line and they showed us huge support. The film was screened on RTÉ in Ireland, our national broadcaster, and it’s also shown at numerous festivals and events. It has reached an audience beyond the LGBT community which was really important to us. I know that Stephen, Kay and Fr. Michael Cusack received great praise for what they did. I’m very glad we got to communicate the story of that day for all those who didn’t witness it.


Three questions to… Steve Woods, director of Keeping Time

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Steve Woods is the director of Keeping Time, one of the ten live action short films selected for the Irish Film Festa 2015 competition.

Keeping Time is an original dance film project in which the story is told not by words but through movements and music: Kenyan dancer and coreographer Fernando Anuang’a plays a modern power station worker who meets Maasai warriors and dances with them combining traditional moves with modern dance.

Steve spoke about his work with Fernando Anuang’a and how it is like to make a dance film.


How did you come up with the idea for this story?

I have always been interested in history. History can be a story with a beginning, a middle and an end. Like a book. But at the same time, history is part of the present. Indeed there are people living a life style today that appears ‘historic’ to contemporary Europeans. Like the Maasai in this film. Ireland is full of things that remind us of our past. History is alive in Ireland.


How did you work on the coreography along with Fernando Anuang’a? And what about the music?

Working with a choreographer is interesting. It’s like working with an actor who is also the scriptwriter. I know some dance filmmakers have found it a difficult experience. I’ve been lucky. Maybe because I’ve always researched the choreographers work first and checked out their shows. I know exactly what I want from the dancers because I’ve seen them do it on stage. I also rehearse the shots with the choreographers and explain why I’m putting the camera here or there. So there is a relation in place before we make the film.

As for the composer, Ray Harman. Ray worked for nothing once for me on a film called Eternal which turned out very well. I promised him if I got a budget for a dance film I’d come back and hire him again and this time pay him! I really admire his work. He ‘gets’ film. He sees where the tension should be. He can pace a film. I like his work so much that his music is there from start to finish.

Actually another reason why I choose the Maasai is because they don’t use musical instruments – not even drums. So we had a clear soundscape to work on.


Where was Keeping Time shot?

I shot Keeping Time in two locations in Ireland. In Loughcrew where there is an ancient monument, some 5.000 years old: older than the pyramids and probably the oldest roofed structure in the world. The second place was a very modern power station which burns peat from the local bog to make electricity. So I’m putting two opposites together, the ancient and the modern. Which is the theme of the dance and the film.

Three questions to… Ciarán Dooley, director of I’ve Been a Sweeper

Ciarán Dooley is the young screenwriter and director of I’ve Been a Sweeper, one of the short films selected for Irish Film Festa 2015 competition.

The film, which was produced through a crowdfunding campaign, follows the main character — «a surreal character» — through his final day, while he tells us how his job as a floor sweeper has impacted on his life from early childhood.

David Rawle, the kid who plays the young Sweeper in the first part of the short, also stars in the tv series Moone Boy and lends his voice to little Ben in Tomm Moore’s Song of the Sea.


Why did you write the script as a first person narration in voice over?

I wrote the script as a first person narration because I wanted the audience to be given a window into the mind of the character. I wanted the narration and the visuals to combine, not be two separate stories, so that it gives the illusion that we can hear the Sweeper’s thoughts in real-time.


Dust and light are key visual elements in this story: how did you and your crew work on sound design and cinematography?

We spent around four weeks testing out different materials to create the dust. We tried real dust, feathers, fuller’s earth, flour, fire-ash, fibres from synthetic pillows and lint. What worked out the best in the end was the particles released from waving a sheet of Hemp in the air. Hemp is much thicker than dust to the normal eye, but on camera, it seemed to be the best visual representation of it.

As for sound design, we recorded a lot of the sound artificially. We wanted the sweeps to sound intimate and almost surreal, so we dubbed a lot of them over.

A lot of the pubs were situated beside busting Dublin streets, with traffic and a constant flow of people walking by the windows. That meant that almost all of the sound had to be recorded in post using different locations. The film had to be private and intimate, and I think this aspect of the sound design was crucial to it’s execution.


How did you cast Eamon Morrissey as the Sweeper?

I have always been a fan of Eamon, and once the script was green-lit for production, he was the first and only actor that we approached. We sent a letter to his agent, outlining why we would like to work with Eamon, and they very kindly forwarded it to him. Shortly after, I met with Eamon to discuss the role and he came on board. It was a great experience working with Eamon, he brought a lot of himself to the role, and really embodied the character. I couldn’t imagine anyone else in the role!

Three questions to… Stuart Graham, director of The Good Word

The Good Word is one of the short films selected for the Irish Film Festa 2015 competition and it marks the directorial debut of actor Stuart Graham.

Stuart was at the festival last year attending the screening of Brian Deane’s Volkswagen Joe, which was awarded as best short film by our live action jury.

The Good Word stars Úna Kavanagh, Conleth Hill, and Paul Kennedy (the director of Made in Belfast, also presented at Irish Film Festa 2014 — Paul runs the KGB Screen company along with Stuart) as the misterious Ivan Cutler, who spreads the good word throughout the townlands of Ireland in the 1950s. The script is by the crime novelist Stuart Neville.

Stuart Graham spoke about his choices as a director and how The Good Word will soon develop into a feature film.


Even if we make sense of it just by the end, the dialogue between the three characters takes the most part of the film: how did you work on the script by Stuart Neville?

Two years ago, I made a list of Northern Irish writers that I was keen to work with. Stuart Neville was at the very top of that list. When we first met, it was primarily to talk about one of his novels, Ratlines, which is now in full development as a tv series.

The Good Word came into being very much as a by-product of that initial meeting, a very happy one. When Stuart first sent me the 18 pages, the richness of the dialogue was instantly recognisable to me as being from a part of the world that I know very well. It made me laugh, out loud, and I fell in love with the three characters. It was a no-brainer for me to keep the directorial style of the piece simple, almost old-fashioned, and allow that richness of dialogue to blossom in the hands of my three wonderful actors.

Since then, working with Stuart (on both projects) has been extremely enjoyable, rewarding, and, perhaps most importantly, easy. He has an instinctively filmic understanding of his own work which makes the development process a joy. So far, anyway! This is not the end for The Good Word. The story continues and we plan to develop it into a feature project. A little hint of which comes at the end of the credits.


Why did you feature the song Beautiful Isle of Somewhere in the soundtrack?

Beautiful Isle of Somewhere was written in the late nineteenth century but I first came across it in an arrangement done in the 1950’s. So, immediately, the timeframe seemed right. It is a hymn, which again felt right given our subject matter. I don’t want to say too much, but it is deliberately joyful and pure. Although the tone of the piece is very specifically set in the north-east of Ireland, thematically it could be set in any rural isolated “beautiful” community. Draw your own conclusions. Most importantly, I liked it! I want to say a big thank you to Andrew Simon McAllister who provided me with two fantastic arrangements of the song.


Where was The Good Word shot?

We shot the film in County Antrim, near the town of Ballyclare. In the home of the Todd Family, who very kindly allowed us in. A big thank you to them. In fact, I would like to thank everyone who worked on the film. We set out to do a lot, with limited resources and time, and we could not have achieved it without the dedication, hard work and talent of everyone involved.

Three questions to… Aidan McAteer, director of Deadly

Deadly is one of the five animated short films selected for the Irish Film Festa 2015 competition. Written and directed by Aidan McAteer, the short tells the story of working stiff Boney and spirited old lady Bridie: a beautiful story about life and death.

Deadly was produced by Kavaleer Studio under the Irish Film Board’s Frameworks scheme, which is specifically dedicated to animated short films.

Aidan explains how he developed the script and gives us a unique insight in the animation process.


How did you come up with the idea for this beautiful story?

The original idea came out of a screenwriting class I was doing a few years ago. It started out as an idea about the character of death losing his job. I thought we could then hilariously show him trying other jobs, but this ended up being essentially one joke and not that original. Gradually the story became less broad and when I thought of him more as someone trapped in a dead end job (pun inevitable) and paired him up with Bridie, I felt like we might be onto something. I came up with the final image of the film and had a beginning, then with the help from everyone at the studio (especially my producer Shannon George) we finally got a second act that felt right!


Can you give us a brief description of the animation process, from the character design to the integration with the backgrounds?

Like live-action films everything starts with the script, as I was working on this I was constantly doodling, trying to find the characters. I nailed down the design of Boney early on, but Bridie took a lot longer. It can be tricky designing for a more adult audience as my day job usually involves a very young audience. Everyone pitched in and I finally settled on the current design. Our lead animator, Jean Maxime Beaupuy, really helped nailed down the final look of the characters.

Once you have some concept designs and a script you can start storyboarding — making quick, pencil drawings of the main action and what every shot will look like. We then edit these together with temporary voices and music into an animatic and then we can essentially watch a version of the film. In animation you have to do all your editing before hand — it’s too expensive and frankly heart-breaking to cut finished animation — so it’s important to get the animatic right. Myself and my editor, John Peavoy, cut and recut that damn animatic — I think there’s about 30 versions on a back hard drive somewhere!

Up to this point there’s lots of pencils and paper involved, then (for this film) we went digital. It was important to me to make sure that the film looked organic and hand made. Sometimes the computer can make things look very slick and even sterile, so our production designer, Graham Corcoran, and his team worked hard to make the backgrounds look like they were hand-painted and full of texture, even if they were created using Photoshop.

We did the animation in a software called Flash — which again can look sometimes make the animation look a a bit mechanical and overly fluid, so we got one of our artists, Siobhan Twomey, to draw over every frame to keep an organic line moving and alive. The voices are already recorded so the animators work with vocals to create the performance you see on screen. Our compositing lead Amber Hennigan then put the lines, animation and backgrounds together and added more texture and lots of wonderful special effects.


Brenda Fricker and Peter Coonan lend their voices to Bridey and Boney: how did you choose them?

I had seen Peter Coonan in a few short films and on a really popular Irish tv show, Love/Hate. We needed someone with a Dublin accent, but more than that Peter has a very distinctive tone to his voice that really grounded Boney — this was very important, not only because the grim reaper is a mythical character, but because our grim reaper is very much a working class guy going through the motions of his daily routine.

For Brenda Fricker, I did the thing they tell you not to do: I wrote the part with Brenda in mind. I was struggling to find Bridie’s voice and when I thought of Brenda, it informed the character a huge amount (even down to her character design). It took a bit of convincing, but I was delighted when she accepted the role. Brenda is such a phenomenal actress and brought a genuine warmth, sensitivity and humanity to Bridie. I feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to work with those two wonderful talents.


Three questions to… Lee Cronin, director of Ghost Train

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Lee Cronin is the director of Ghost Train, one of the ten short films selected for Irish Film Festa 2015 competition.

Ghost Train is a horror story in which two brothers, Michael and Peter, make their annual pilgrimage to the old fairground where their friend Sam went missing when they were kids.

Cronin’s short film has been awarded at San Sebastian Horror and Fantasy Film Festival, Ithaca International Fantastic Film Festival, Molins de Rei Horror Film Festival. One of his previous works, Billy & Chuck, was screened at the Galway Film Fleadh in 2011.


Tell us something about the script: how did you get the first idea to tell this story?

I had always been intrigued by how scared I was of the Ghost Train ride in the local fairground near where I grew up as a kid. With these thoughts of childhood, it got my thinking about my old friends, the ones who you are so close to at maybe age 9 or 10, but as life progresses you lose all contact. I thought about some of the troubles and scrapes we got into, and how on some occasions we were lucky to not blow ourselves up, or fall to our doom. It’s regular everyday kid stuff, but grown up you can look back and think ‘damn, that could have been dangerous!

All of these thoughts fed back to the Ghost Train idea and I decided I wanted to make a film about the decisions we make as children, and how it has the potential to shape our adult lives. As heavy as the thematic idea is, I like to tell stories through a fantastical lens, so it quickly became a horror movie.


The landscape plays a big part in Ghost Train: where was it shot? And did you apply particular visual effects to bring that old fairground to life?

The film was primarily shot on location in Kildare, Ireland. We had huge trouble finding the right location, until the producer mentioned that I thought what I was looking for was a place we had been before. It turned out he was right as we ended up shooting the film in an old yard which had been the unit base for our previous short film Billy & Chuck. Despite the epic feeling to the film, it is essentially all set in one location. Even the shots of the older brothers in the car was shot in the same yard against green screen.

We used a lot of simple, and some not so simple visual effects to achieve the overall look of the old fairground. I prefer not to say what is real and not, because we worked hard to bring it all together in one look! The challenge is to figure out what is real and what is digital!


How did you cast the three kids who play young Michael, Peter and Sam?

The casting of the three kids in the film came through a long process with casting agent Nick McGinley in Dublin. We saw in total around 60/70 boys over about two days. We put them through their paces, especially those auditioning for Sam, as he had a very particular challenge ahead. We quickly whittled the people we saw down to six, two for each role and then you have to breath in and make the call. What is the right combination from these six? I hope we got it right. I think we did.


Irish Film Festa 2015 jury announced

The list of jurors who will award the best short films in competition at Irish Film Festa 2015 has been announced:

EMANUELA MARTINI, Torino Film Festival director
EMILIANO LIUZZI, journalist (Il Fatto Quotidiano)
ÁINE O’HEALY, professor at Loyola Marymount University, LA

THOMAS MARTINELLI, journalist and DOCartoon director
KAY McCARTHY, musician

The 8th edition of Irish Film Festa will take place from March 26th to 29th at the Casa del Cinema in Rome.

Follow us also on twitter @IrishFilmFesta and on our facebook page: you’ll find daily news about Irish cinema as well as all the updates about the festival.

Mauro Gervasini (IFF 2014 Jury) and Susanna Pellis