Cork on Camera archive shows how we sported and played through the years

The Cork on Camera archive compilation features fantastic footage from several old films, writes Marjorie Brennan

Cork on Camera archive shows how we sported and played through the years

The Cork on Camera archive compilation features fantastic footage from several old films, writes Marjorie Brennan

When it came to selecting material for this year’s Cork on Camera programme at the Cork Film Festival, there was no shortage of archival material to choose from, according to Sunniva O’Flynn of the Irish Film Institute (IFI).

“With Cork, there is a great deal of material that reflects the county’s culture and society, its agriculture and history,” says O’Flynn, head of Irish film programming at the IFI. “It is a big county so it allows for a lot of possibilities in terms of programming.”

Scenes from some of the films showing aspects of Cork life, including fictional hurling film Three Kisses, which was nominated for an Oscar; and Irish Village, showing Crookhaven in 1959
Scenes from some of the films showing aspects of Cork life, including fictional hurling film Three Kisses, which was nominated for an Oscar; and Irish Village, showing Crookhaven in 1959

The archive collections held at the IFI in Dublin date from 1897 to the present. They are drawn from public and private sources, and include amateur material, professional productions, travelogues, documentaries, feature films.

The first half of the programme is dedicated to silent shorts, which will be screened with a live accompaniment from pianist Morgan Cooke.

“I know this material will be absolutely enhanced by Morgan’s accompaniment,” says O’Flynn. “There is something kind of haunting about watching these films with no music — that is not how they would have been intended to be presented. To have a piano accompaniment, as you would have had back in the day, will be fantastic.”

MITCHELL & KENYON

The silent programme will feature a selection of films from the Mitchell and Kenyon Collection, dating from 1902. According to O’Flynn, the discovery of the collection by the British Film Institute in 1994 changed the face of early Irish film history.

“The films from this collection are glorious. Technically, the fact that they were shot on 35mm film means the quality of the images is so sharp and rich, there is such texture within them. In terms of the content, it is fascinating to see Cork city pre-independence... there is a great sense of vibrancy and vitality on the streets at that time. I am particularly fond of the opening film we selected, The Panorama of Queenstown Harbour, which shows the ships coming into Cobh, back in 1902. There is a lovely painterly quality to the film. The level of detail is particularly impressive, given that it was captured in 1902, only a matter of years since cinema had been invented.”

Another short film, Irish Village, depicts Crookhaven in West Cork area in 1959.

More fascinating insight into Irish life from an earlier era can be seen in extracts from The Youghal Gazette (1910s), a local topical newsreel made by brothers George, James and Thomas Horgan, owners of the Horgan Picture Theatre in the east Cork seaside town.

“The sequence we are showing is people leaving church after Sunday mass. It is quite an extraordinary piece, simply shot, from a static camera positioned at one of the main doors of the church in Youghal. You see people from all strata of society coming out of the church in their Sunday best.”

This was a trick of cinema-owners at the time, that they would film people coming out of factories or churches.

“Then the following week, the film would be available to see in the cinema so they are guaranteed an audience, as people wanted to see themselves.”

The acquisition of the Horgan brothers collection is a story in itself.

“It was a collection of highly unstable nitrate films that was rescued by a nephew of the cinema owners, Jim Horgan, who lives in Furbo, Co Galway. Word had filtered through to us back in the late 1980s/early 1990s that this collection existed so I got in touch with Jim. I hired a bicycle when I was down at the Galway Film Festival, cycled out to Furbo and met Jim and his wife.”

The IFI didn’t realise the significance of it initially because the film was quite fragile and there was only so much of it they could unspool to identify what was there.

“We subsequently sent the material to the National Film Archive in London where they have particular expertise in transferring nitrate stock to a modern ‘safety’ film. Jim was very supportive of our work; he also deposited the camera on which his uncles had filmed these events in the town and a projector from the cinema. So it really is a holistic collection of materials, it’s terrific.”

SOUND OUT

The sound section of the programme features many interesting shorts, including Three Kisses, a fictional Oscar-nominated film from 1955 about a young hurler in Cork, featuring a cameo by legendary hurling coach Jim ‘Tough’ Barry. Another curiosity is Blackwater Holiday, a 1964 short film by Peter Collinson who went on to direct The Italian Job, starring Michael Caine.

“You see a bunch of English schoolboys coming over for this canoeing holiday in north Cork,” says O’Flynn. “There are terrific sequences where they are being fed potatoes and mutton, going to the pig fair in Kanturk. The images are really vivid, charming and nostalgic.”

O’Flynn says events such as Cork on Camera attract an audience that might not usually attend film festival events. “Festival organisers are often very pleased that it does attract audiences who might not immediately engage with other things in the programme — when they come in, it demystifies the whole festival context and opens their eyes to other possibilities within the programme.”

Cork on Camera, Triskel Arts Centre, Nov 17, 3.45pm; corkfilmfest.org

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