Cork Film Festival: Reeling in the years by the Lee

Newsreels from the independence era, and various short films, give a glimpse of earlier eras on Leeside, writes Marjorie Brennan

Cork Film Festival: Reeling in the years by the Lee

Newsreels from the independence era, and various short films, give a glimpse of earlier eras on Leeside, writes Marjorie Brennan

Bringing the Irish Film Institute archives to the Cork Film Festival is always a rewarding experience for Sunniva O’Flynn.

“We have such beautifully preserved material in the archive now, thanks to the digitisation programmes, it validates the whole process when you bring it out and present it to audiences who have a particular connection with it,” says O’Flynn, head of Irish film programming at the IFI.

“It’s also a guaranteed way to trigger local interest because people are very keen to come in and see what’sfamiliar to them, architecturally, sociologically, or politically. There is a guaranteed sense of engagement.

And for us as programmers and archivists, the feedback we get from local audiences is invaluable because people are filling in gaps in our knowledge.

This year, the IFI will show material from the Irish Independence newsreels collection; while in Cork on Camera, O’Flynn will present a fascinating selection of Cork-themed films, documentaries and travelogues.

Irish Independence Newsreel Collection

“This is a substantial and significant body of material which involved identifying and repatriating newsreels from British news agencies, and ensuring they were preserved,” says O’Flynn. “Colleagues here and in the UK did extraordinary work in in restoring the material. The images are so sharp and the detail is so legible, which gives us more information about the period and the events depicted.

The project involved identification of newsreels from the British Film Institute (BFI) and British Pathé. Those two collections yielded really rich rewards for us in terms of newsreels representing activity around the country from the 1910s to the 1930s.

“This presentation allows us to particularly isolate the Cork-related material. The material will be presented by my colleague Kasandra O’Connell who is head of the archive, while Dr Ciara Chambers of UCC will speak about the content.

“Included is a Topical Budget newsreel called‘Ireland’s Agony’, which is about the Burning of Cork in December 1920. There will also be a newsreel of the funeral of Terence MacSwiney in October 1920 —elements of it may be familiar but this is quite a lengthy piece, which shows the coffin arriving into Cobh, and the thousands of people lining the quays and streets to bid him a final farewell.

“There is also a piece from 1927 called the New Cork, which follows the reconstruction of the city after the devastation of the fires of 1920. You begin to seeshopfronts that would be familiar to contemporary audiences — Cash’s, Egan’s, Roches Stores and the Munster Arcade.”


The Silent Art (1958)

“There is a lovely simplicity to this piece about the Cork sculptor Seamus Murphy, which was Louis Marcus’s first film, made on a shoestring. He borrowed a camera and I think he may also have borrowed money from his mother to make it.

“Murphy’s studio was in Blackpool, so you get a great sense of the streets of the city that are off the beaten track. You also see Murphy in his studio; at one point you see him carving a bust of his daughter, Orla. Louis Marcus is very modest about it and is often hesitant about it being screened but I think it has great beauty and I think anyone who watches it will be enchanted by it.”

Travels Through Erin (1978)

“This is a really curious piece. It was commissioned by [US chemicals manufacturer] DuPont and it was made to promote newsynthetic wools. They have been woven into Aran-style jumpers, and you see these three models, two young women and a man wandering around Cork in these jumpers. They look quite uncomfortable, like they’ve had a row the night before.

It’s fascinating because of the tone of it. It’s targeted at Americans and there’s a slightly daft voiceover about the land of the leprechaun, and the easy pace of life. It’s good fun.”

Dark Moon Hollow (1972)

“This was made by Colin Hill, an Irish-born filmmaker who was a film editor in the BBC at the time. He and his wife are both from Cork and they would come back in the summer, when they made this little film. It follows an elderly gentleman, played by a man called Jim Dempsey, who undertakes a journey around the county from his house in Roche’s Point in east Cork.

“There is a lovely flâneur quality to it as he meanders and reflects on the locations he is passing through. He is also remembering his time as an Irishman living in London and the men there who are yearning for home — he is a little critical of the notion of people ending up in pubs in Camden singing Boolavogue.

So it’s not just a warm glowing tribute to the locations, it’s undercut with these reflections on emigration and so on.

Car Touring (1965)

“These are silent rushes — a film that was shot but never edited or completed — made by Jim Mulkerns who was an an established professional filmmaker. It follows two young couples as they tour Cork by car. It is a really beautifully shot, interesting angle on the city and county.

Because there’s no soundtrack, Paul Smyth, who is an improvisational avant garde pianist, will be accompanying the films. In terms of accompaniment, we’ve previously worked with solo fiddlers, classical pianists etc but in this case it needed something a little different. Paul has a very particular perspective and I know his work will bring something really interesting and new to the film.”

The IFI Irish Independence Newsreels Collection: Cork in the Newsreels, Mon, Nov 11, 6pm-7.15pm, The Cellar Theatre, Mardyke Entertainment Complex, Sheares Street; free but ticketed. Cork on Camera, Sat, Nov 16, 3.15pm-4.25pm, Triskel Christchurch

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