Wednesday, April 30, 2014

On the Set of Ken Loach's 'Jimmy's Hall' in Co. Leitrim

In 2006, Director Ken Loach and his production company 'Sixteen Films' won the Cannes Film Festival's Palme d' Or for 'The Wind That Shakes The Barley' , a film about the 1922 Irish Civil War.

Loach's latest and possibly his last feature film 'JIMMY'S HALL' is also up for this year's Palme d'Or.

Last September was invited to the Co. Leitrim set of “Jimmy's Hall," a film about James Gralton, the only Irish citizen to be deported by the Irish Government without a trial.

I was going to be in Ireland on a genealogy tour of Wexford so I first took the train from Dublin to Carrick-On-Shannon where Anna Porter (who took photos for our video on Manhattan's Irish Immigrant PJ Clarke for me) picked me up at the station as we had a couple of days before visiting the set. (See my interview/video below). 
Screenwriter Paul Laverty and
Producer Rebeca O'Brien

Screenwriter, and former human rights lawyer Paul Laverty is certainly no stranger to controversy --
you only have to look at the comments on article to see the kind of reactions his statements create.

In the 'Spirit of 45' documentary, Loach said, that "my whole career has been going up against those who have control over the distribution of his films and are the guardians of the nation's politics and the media's pro-government agenda of political censorship in England and Ireland."

Ken and Paul seem to have a style of filmmaking that was birthed from a shared desire to capture the mood of the times, no matter how intense or controversial. In his interview with me, Paul said that it is actually a simple process, and yes, on the surface, it is.

I believe their treatment of and approach to a story is closer to the truth of the times because of their simple style, closer than most filmmakers would have the patience or courage to attempt. I love these guys!

Among the actors were some real members of Ireland's progressive Sinn Finn political movement, born in the tumult of Ireland's freedom struggle more than a century ago, adding to the portrayal's realism. I was allowed to listen in on the production from the tent.  The scene portrayed members of the Irish Republican Army meeting with Jimmy and members of the community in the hall during a local land arbitration. 

They were asking him to appear with them when they take on the Earl of Kingston for evicting a family from its holding.  The discussion was about the risks involved and the tough choice of having to pick Jimmy's battles. The first takes of the scene played out straightforwardly, then Loach had the actors add their own overlays to portray a genuinely heated discussion.  Many takes later the scene became emotionally explosive and powerful and yet still adhered to the script. It was a thrilling process for me to watch unfold.  I asked Paul about their style of filmmaking and how he thought Jimmy would react to the condition in Ireland today.

Gralton was extremely well respected in Leitrim, especially for his support of the tenants over the landlords and 'land grabbers.'  The outrage at Gralton's treatment by the Church and government still lingers, so there are those who worry that the film will not do the man justice.  I can say that although I only witnessed one scene, I felt it was a perfect marriage of Sixteen Films, the courage of James Gralton and the Leitrim people who banded together in this little corner of Ireland to continue the Easter Rising's struggle for basic human rights. 

I wish there were more companies like Sixteen Films, which, to me, harken back to a time of storytelling when the aim was to enlighten not manipulate, degrade and create devolution of the human mind and spirit.  We shall see if Loach et al live up to everyone's expectations when the film is released.  Here is the trailer enjoy!