Putting Ireland on the map

Tom Sullivan and Dathai Keane talk about being trailblazers for an Irish-language film initiative

by Amber Wilkinson

Dara Devaney and Dónall Ó Héalai as Patsy and Colmán in Arracht
Dara Devaney and Dónall Ó Héalai as Patsy and Colmán in Arracht Photo: Courtesy of Tallinn Black Nights
Irish filmmaking had a strong presence at Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival this year, with Tom Sullivan's atmospheric Arracht (Monster) screening in the main competition and Dathaí Keane's psychologically twisty Finky appearing in the first feature slate. Both films are in the Irish language and are the first to be produced under the Cine4 Development Scheme.

Keane - who is bilingual in Irish and English - explained the initiative. He said: "It's a scheme that has been set up by the Irish broadcaster TG4. Alan Esselmont, whose the head of TG4, decided that they wanted to diversify and get into filmmaking. So in conjunction with Screen Ireland and the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, they funded a scheme whereby a certain amount of scripts would be developed and two of those would go forward to production funding, so we were the first round of that scheme.

"Myself and Tom Sullivan, who made Arracht, both came through at the same time. I think the plan at the moment is to make eight Irish language films. But they might extend the scheme for another year and make ten."

Sullivan says it was an honour to find himself included in the scheme.

Dara Devaney, front, in Finky
Dara Devaney, front, in Finky Photo: Courtesy of Tallinn Black Nights
He said: "I'm from Dublin and I'm not a native Irish speaker. I went to Irish school when I was a kid in Dublin - my mam sent me. So it's like a second language. But my partner is from Connemara and our five-year-old son is being reared with the Irish language as well - he's going to an Irish school. So, I'm really proud and I think it's an incredible initiative because what it did was afforded me the time to write it - because they fund you from concept.

"So they originally picked five scripts and selected two from that. They said: 'We'll fund the five up until script and then we'll pick two for production.' So regardless of the outcome, you're being supported to develop your craft through Irish."

Because the scheme gives a push to five films in their initial stages it means that even the three that don't make the production stage cut can take those scripts on in other ways if they want.

Tom added: "Exactly, those scripts belong to them. And also what happened was, I think some of the films from the first round of funding got made in the second round. So, they said, "You should go in again and we'll develop it further" - I think that's what happened with the production company that made our film, they have another one coming that was in our round and then got recirculated and changed and now it's in production and almost finished."

The other film from Macalla, which produced Arracht, is Mo Ghrá Buan, directed by Rachel Moriarty and Peter Murphy - which tells of a strange bond that develops between a woman and a dog after the death of her husband. Shooting also began last month on Seán Breathnach's Foscadh (Shelter), a story of a rural recluse who finds himself forced to forge connections after the death of his parents, while Colm Bairéad's Fanacht - about a young girl and her foster parent's relatives - is also in development.

We'll be bringing you interviews with Sullivan and Keane about their films in the next few days.

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