Home is where the past is, and where future is born

The six contrasting lives in a new documentary are a study in how our backgrounds shape us, says Jonathan deBurca Butler

Home is where the past is, and where future is born

OUR childhood homes shape our lives. We had no say as to where or what our childhood home was, but it was key in forming our identity.

An address can create or prevent opportunities, affect how we are seen and how we see ourselves, and decide where we find ourselves in society.

A new documentary, HOME, investigates how our lives are shaped and defined by our childhood homes.

“The idea was to show people and their environment,” says director Aoife Kelleher. “So, we wanted to film these places to get a physical sense of the space, while also hearing about the experience of growing up in them from the contributors.

“So, we see each of the locations, while hearing an audio interview from each contributor and then, at the end, you see the contributor in green screen, so they’re kind of superimposed on to the location.”

HOME was devised by Kelleher and Hugh Rodgers and commissioned for the Irish Film Board’s Reality Bites short documentary scheme. The scheme “encourages experimentation and the realisation of fresh approaches to non-fiction film-making”. Each filmmaker receives €15,000 to make a film no longer than 12 minutes. All the films are screened at the Cork Film Festival, which is currently on in the city.

“We’re hoping the film will have a long festival run and we’re hoping to show it at other festivals, both nationally and internationally,” says Kelleher. “It’s my first short documentary; it’s my first premiere, so that’s hugely exciting. But I’m also really looking forward to seeing the contributors spending time with each other and hearing their views on the experience [of filming], now that a few months have passed.”

There are six contributors to the documentary, from contrasting backgrounds.

The experience of immigrants to Ireland is articulated through the youngest contributor, 14-year-old Panashe McGuckin, who moved to Dublin from Zimbabwe as a baby.

Margaret Collins, a traveller, grew up on a halting site, while artist Mick O’Dea recalls living above his family’s pub in Ennis, Co Clare. Clíona Conneely talks about her home and her life as a skipper of a fishing boat in Inis Mór, while the oldest contributor, 95-years-old Sir John Leslie, owns Castle Leslie, in Co Monaghan. The sixth contributor, Derek Leinster, has a harrowing story: he grew up in an abusive Mother and Child Home in Rathgar, in Dublin.

Kelleher’s subject choices were deliberate. “I was hoping to get a broad spread of places, both around the country and then in terms of types of homes,” says the 30-year-old.

“With something like this, you can only hope to get a certain amount of stories. You can’t really encapsulate what it’s like growing up in Ireland, but I did want these stories to be quite different from each other and to show a range of people, lives, experiences and ages, as well.”

Kelleher, who directed the well-received Growing up Gay series for RTÉ, has a passion for documentary. She says that “the nature of documentary, as opposed to drama”, means “there are always surprises” simply “because it’s real life” and is, therefore, unscripted.

Kelleher’s high point in making HOME was shooting on location and what that revealed to her and the participants.

“We spent about a week on the road, travelling to each of our contributors’ homes and that was really the highlight,” says Kelleher. “They were so different. It was incredible to go to all of them and find the beauty in each of them; which really was the case. Some of them had very quirky elements, like O’Dea’s was full of paraphernalia, a mixture of portraits and things left over from its time as a meeting place for all sorts of people, but also as a home.

“And then, at the other end of the spectrum was Derek Leinster’s story, in the Mother and Child home in Rathgar, which, I suppose, was a much harder story to film. It was less about a sense of identity and more about getting a sense of the building where Derek had had quite a difficult childhood.”

Kelleher says the few people who have seen the documentary have reacted well to it. She, too, has learned about home from the filming.

“Several people have said, on viewing the film, that there’s a bit of a surprise at the end,” she says. “I suppose, you build up certain preconceptions of the people based on their space and that was something that interested me; the extent to which people are defined by the places they grew up in, and whether it’s ever really possible to move fully away from home and the preconceptions you can have of people, on the basis of where they’re from. So, you bring your own ideas to the story or preconceptions, but there will always be an element of serendipity to it, I suppose.”

And as this documentary ably discovers, for better or for worse, there is no place like home.

HOME premieres at the Corona Cork Film Festival on Saturday, Nov 17, at 3:30pm in the Cork Opera House.

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