patagonia polo shirts Director Alex Fegan on new documentary ‘Older Than Ireland’
Winner of the Best Documentary Award at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh, ‘Older Than Ireland’ is filmmaker Alex Fegan’s second foray into documentary features after the acclaimed ‘The Irish Pub’. Here, Fegan takes us through the film.
IFTN: ‘Older Than Ireland’ seems like such a simple idea on paper the centenarians of Ireland would obviously have so many stories living through so many seminal moments in Irish history where did you get the idea for the documentary?
Alex Fegan:’I was doing a film called ‘The Irish Pub’ and I met someone who had just been to 100 year old woman’s birthday party and I just found that extraordinary. I asked how she was and he said that was still completely independent. That was what sparked the idea for me. I was initially just going to do the interview with her but I thought it would be interesting to interview people all over the country particularly with 1916 centenary coming up. We approached the Irish Film Board with the idea we pitched that this would be a fascinating document to have. Luckily, they got behind it I think it was just a very simple idea that seems to have resonated right away. We put an ad in the papers and we began calling into people and before we knew it we were slowly but surely interviewing people from all over the country.’
How hard would it be to frame a story out of something like this? ‘Older Than Ireland’ is obviously a heart warming tale but it could have went either way?
‘It’s just a case of letting people speak their own truths. Let the camera linger on them and back off and let them tell the story. The film became a reflection of life itself with all the trials and tribulations of a standard life. You have love, loss, humour and tragedy and they are all the emotions that are in anyone’s life. We initially wanted to go through the decades with these people but we realised early on that it was better to let them tell stories such as their first pair of shoes and their first kiss. Stories like that are more universal people in China can relate to that instead of them just telling us about the politicians of a certain era and what they did and they didn’t do.’
Would you be hopeful then that these universal themes would bolster the international prospects of ‘Older Than Ireland’?
‘You don’t really think about that when making documentaries you just look at what makes an interesting story. But if it can sell abroad then that’s great. Ultimately all we wanted to do here was capture the Irish story over the last century through the eyes of its’ oldest citizens. Secondly, we wanted to look at what it means to be over 100 and thirdly we wanted to look at what it means to be human. That third side of it may travel but who knows?
You must have been blown away already by the success of this film a Galway Film Fleadh win and a national cinema release as well as a host of positive reviews.
its great. The whole process of making this film is a reward in itself. It’s not often you get to meet even one person over 100 so to meet 30 of them was a privilege. And the fact that people seem to be responding to it is just a massive bonus.’
Some of the stories in the film are remarkable starting with the woman re calling the tragic tale of her Dad buying her first pair of shoes
‘Yeah that was unbelievable. She actually didn’t have a lot of time to talk to us that day but then she told us that story and we just couldn’t believe either that she still had those pair of shoes. It was just amazing. It was a big learning curve for us because we realised that when you get older and look back on your life, it’s the relationships that you had that matter so that’s what we wanted to focus on from then on. Nobody ever looks back on their life and talks about a television show as a striking memory it’s always the relationships that resonate.’
Maybe our generation would look back at television shows as a striking memory
‘Oh God, wouldn’t that be sad! [laughs]. If we keep going the way we are that will happen! We have a lot to learn from the generation in ‘Older Than Ireland’.
‘Can you give us the time frame then of ‘Older Than Ireland’ how long were you working on it for?
‘It was quite quick. I would say it was about six months from beginning to end. There was an urgency to interview these people and we also knew how it was going to begin and end so that led to it being so quick. With ‘The Irish Pub’ we didn’t know how that was going to end so it was a tough edit. With this, there was more of a chronology to it and it helped streamline the edit a bit more.’
What can you tell us about the funding behind the film?
‘It was entirely funded by the Irish Film Board. We are so grateful because they really got behind us straight away. The budget was 100,000.’
Your career has taken an interesting turn in the last few years ‘The Irish Pub’ and ‘Older Than Ireland’ are your first documentaries but have both been successful.
‘Yeah it’s great to see these films resonate with people can’t say that fully about ‘Older Than Ireland’ just yet as it doesn’t reach a wide audience until its’ cinema release but certainly the response to ‘The Irish Pub’ was great. A lot of luck involved too I’m sure [laughs].’
And you will return to fictional fare with the comedy series ‘Salt n Vinegar’ what can you tell us about that?
‘Yeah we are in very early stages of that. Our star is Simon Delaney but it’s very early days so we can’t say too much about it other than it’s a comedy series and it’s set in a chipper in North Dublin!