Wednesday 9 February 2011

Irish Stew

(An)Other Irish Cinema
Directed by Donal Foreman,
Rouzbeh Rashidi and Maximilian Le Cain
for details of future screenings and access to these movies.

It was with a curious blend of eager anticipation and equal parts trepidation that I went to James Devereaux’s Drifting Clouds Cinema Group (click here to go there instead) presentation of the first London screening of the film making “group” (An)Other Irish Cinema. Anticipation because it was a night out in London (I don’t get out much these days... too busy writing these things) and I was finally going to get to meet some of those Twitter followers I see popping up on my screen on a regular basis (not least of whom was the organiser)... but tentative of the actual films I was about to be subjected too because... well... like I’ve said a few times before on this blog... I rarely “do” shorts!

The evening started less than helpfully with my friend and I getting lost at least twice on the way to Brick Lane but once we’d found the venue, which has a bar upstairs, and met the aforementioned Devereaux and various wags of dubious description (who look so much larger in life than their Twitter avatars... curiously), things started going a bit better. And the drinks were very... in the parlance of our time... value for money.

On to the screening then.

(An)Other Irish Cinema is a collection of three independent film-makers who live and work primarily in Ireland - Donal Foreman, Rouzbeh Rashidi, Maximilian Le Cain - and who have a quite impressive quantity of shorts (and in the case of Rashidi a fair number of features too) which share, from what I could work out, an exploration of film through less traditional, alternative ways of expression than that which can be found in the more staid narrative styles of mainstream pictures. This small “bande √† part” of film-makers are trying to distribute (or at least screen) their own works outside of a system which would probably, in the current climate, chew them up and spit them out as something far more sinister than the perceived “model audience” would have the time or inclination for... so I think it’s probably a good idea of them to group together and present themselves in this manner and slowly try to change audience perceptions at screenings like these. Kind of like a pocket-sized equivalent of the Oberhausen Manifesto and I say this not to belittle their efforts but to applaud them on their way of doing things. Lets hope these opening shots at a collected, unified front to present an alternative way of celluloid expression gathers mass like a snowball rolling down a hill, getting bigger and bigger until something begins to click with the audiences that go to see them.

In a way, I felt quite privileged to be at that screening, where these shorts received their London premier in front of an audience.

Now, while the different styles of film-making presented by these three directors works were quite groundbreaking in terms of what you wouldn’t see at your common or garden multiplex, I think it would also be true to say that there is really nothing new on offer (at least in terms of short films)... but to assume that there should be would be to rather miss the point I suspect.

However, there is of course the very real “freshness” of seeing three sets of shorts made by three quite highly distinctive cinematic voices. Although the films were screened in an order that grouped together the directors contributions in their own chunks, I think it would be true to say that even if this were not the case, their styles are individually quite striking and unique... you won’t have any difficulty working out which of these short, exploratory pieces belonged together stylistically.

The screening started out with two shorts by Donal Foreman and these two were probably the most polished and less ambiguous of the three directors’ works in that they were kinda of glossy and slick and with a very beautiful juxtaposition of image and sound. The way the music works with and supports the image in these two is great and I have to say that either of these wouldn’t look out of place playing supporting short film to the majority of Hollywood popcorn fodder which flood our cinemas with their torpor inducing, big budget effects mentality.

This in no way describes the effect of Donal’s, quite brilliant, work of course. It’s far from torpor inducing. The energy and rhythm found within the shots make for a vibrant and fun time and sucks you into the picture... in a way I suspect the director would hate, since one of the binding factors of these three artists seems to be their collected rejection of absorption within the film itself and more of a direct visual and audio “prod” to wake up the viewer and let the audience be aware of the act of watching these films. A less passive and more challenging cinema and, frankly, very much in the vein of Godard (spiritually, not stylistically) who I suspect may be one of their celluloid soul-mates.

One set of film-makers I do know are influences on their work (I know this because they did a Q&A with Devereaux after the screening) are some of the more famous of the Soviet directors such as Vertov and Dovzhenko.

The next three shorts screened were by Rouzbeh Rashidi and I can certainly detect an air of Vertov’s Man With A Movie Camera in his work. Images which make up impressions of little, almost observations, of individual’s everyday life which collide with each other at 24 frames per second and give you almost an implied narrative thrust... even though there is no specific or overt story element to spell out just what is going on for you.

This is a quality of Rashidi’s work (as seen here) which I think is something he shares with Donal too, in that Donal’s two shorts also give an implication of a linear story arc going on... but the difference between these two director’s works and the works of most directors found in the mainstream is that these films seem to be very much about empowering or at least asking the audience to interact with the images and sound they are seeing and to bring their own narrative interpretations with them and to fit them over these cinematic “coat hangers” with their own togs... no two audience members are going to bring the same kinds of coat but this doesn’t invalidate their right to hang their jacket on these movies and call that interpretation their own.

Maximilian Le Cain, on the other hand, seems to totally abandon the illusion of narrative crutches in the three shorts that screened by him. These are much more experimental than his compatriots in that, where Donal and Rashidi may both use metaphor peppered in with their collisions of sight and sound, Le Cains technique seems to be going for the throat in a more direct manner and metaphor is pushed to the foreground as your brain tries to frantically decode the images on screen and assign meanings that may or may not be there.

Le Cain’s films are almost a grimy, poster boy image for that overwrought, 80s design clich√© phrase... “the medium is the message”, as the images throw the viewer right “up close and personal” by making these a more, “first person” visual stance than the previous two directors. That’s not to say that I liked Le Cain’s films any better than the other two directors... in fact I probably liked his the least because they gave me the hardest time trying to digest the images (which may well have been the inherent point of at least one of the films on offer anyway)... but from listening to him talk at the end of the screening, I think it would be fair to say that this kind of a reaction to his work would not unduly displease him.

Like his movies, Le Cain himself, or at least the way he presented himself in the Q&A, seems very big on image. He looks, in real life, like an almost overworked graphical cliche of the”working class artist” and out of all three of the directors on show that night, I think he’s the one I’d least like to be chasing me down a street brandishing a big board with a nail in it. Definitely a very larger than life character is my guess.

Actually, that’s probably not the kind of thing I should have got out of the Q&A, but I suppose those last three films probably scrambled my brains up a little.

What I did discover in the Q&A, apart from the nouvelle-vague sensibility of a more involving response to these particular flickers of shade and light was the fact that a big influence on the work of Rashidi is Andrei Tarkovsky (woohoo... and one of my all time favourite directors gets a name check). It took me a little while to work out what Rashidi takes from Tarkovsky’s work and I think, rather than being influenced by any specific visual style, perhaps the spirit of Tarkovsky in the way he observed things without explaining their value to the information being received by the audience as a whole and then letting the audience find the meaning within the frames themselves (or not as the case may be) would perhaps be where the common ground between these two directors lies. Also, perhaps, in the way that time is compressed or expanded within the running time so that you are not always sure whether you’ve been watching for 2 minutes or 10 minutes. The rambling kind of pacing giving you a sense of calming observation rather than a concentration on the passage of cumulative narrative effect.

And then there’s Donal... who comes across very much as the spokesperson of the “group”. Not necessarily because he is particularly outgoing or hard sell... just by way of the fact that the others don’t really say too much. Rashidi stands on the edge of the group looking more like the non-smiling Tarkovsky who is his hero and Le Cain a big, powerhouse of a Bond villain that you wonder where he’s hiding his white pussycat and his mechanical hands with their black iron touch of death. Donal, on the other hand, talks a mile a minute and when he’s not talking he whips out a digital camera and start taking shots and filming... very much the enthusiastic film-maker and a good figurehead for a tongue-in-cheek but resolutely challenging and enthusiastic bunch of filmmakers.

Go here to find out more about them and try to see some of their stuff on the internet if you can get the chance. This stuff may well confuse and rattle your brain... but at least it won’t rot it! Which is not something a lot of mainstream movie companies could say about their product these days.


  1. It's interesting to read a review of the event from a film-critic's perspective! That may sound weird but I wrote my own that is more directed towards the ideas the evening gave me as a musician and some one with limited knowledge of film...

  2. Hey there... it's most kind of you to call me a film critic but I'm probably not. Forstarters... they get paid.

    I'll check out your article soonest.

    All the best.

  3. Thanks for allowing us to experience the event vicariously through your eyes. Imagine! Empowering the viewer! I like that idea.

  4. Yeah, viewer empowerment.

    But does that compromise the art in any way? I'm going to have to have a think about this.

    Thanks Bucko!

  5. In response to your comment on my blog:

    Yes, thank you, NUTS4R2. We all appreciated your review- it really makes a difference to see someone engaging with what we do so thoughtfully and at such length.

    We've also listed it in the 'responses' section of the (An)Other Irish Cinema site...

    Cheers, Max

  6. Thanks very much for your kind words. Very much appreciated!

  7. Hi NUTS4R2,

    I second Max's appreciation for your post. Cheers!

    There was something I'd like to ask you about -- can you send me an email at anotheririshcinema AT gmail DOT com or suggest a private way I can contact you?

  8. Hi there.

    Thanks for the kind comment.

    Yeah, sure. I just emailed you... which you'll probably know already methinks. :-)