Out of Here is the first feature film by Irish writer and director Donal Foreman. It picked up the JDIFF CineTalent award following its debut at the Galway Film Fleadh.
Speaking to RTÉ TEN, Foreman began by explaining the story of Out of Here and how it came to be on the big screen.
The film is about the reluctant return of Ciaran (Fionn Walton) to Dublin after a year of travelling. The film explores his sense of displacement and 'reverse culture shock' upon return, and as he moves through the city we get an insight to many aspects of contemporary Dublin and the possibilities it offers for young people.
It came to the big screen because I decided to get it made no matter what, and I was lucky enough to find other people - most pivotally my producer Emmet Fleming - who were willing to help make that possible.
When you were pitching it, what was your tagline?
The tagline we have been using since early on is "a new Irish film about coming home too soon". I can't remember my exact original pitch but I know I emphasised this idea of returning prematurely as a unique angle. A lot of 'hometown' films tend to be about heading off and leaving for the first time, or coming back many years later, after having made a life for yourself somewhere else. But Ciaran is stuck back in Dublin 'too soon', basically because he has no other options (or at least can't imagine any for himself), and has to try to find his place in the city on these terms. Also, the idea of reflecting Dublin and its youth culture in a new and authentic way was always one of our key selling points, and that's been borne out by some of the recent responses from viewers and critics.
You cast some great up and coming talent in the film – how was the casting process for you?
Casting and working with actors is my favourite part of the process, and a film like this with such a large and rich cast of characters was a lot of fun. We found a lot of actors such as Fionn Walton and Annabell Rickerby through the Actors Studio at the Factory (now renamed Bow Street). I had a few others in mind, such as Aoife Duffin and Gina Moxley, who I had seen on stage. Then many others were just interesting people with no acting experience who I invited to participate because I thought they would add something unique to the film. I spent a few weeks walking around, going to parties and shows and if I saw (or even heard about) someone interesting, I would try to meet with them and find a place for them in the film.
You have captured a side of Dublin/Irish life rarely, if ever, seen on the big or small screen – had you set out to do that from day one?
When I was a teenage filmmaker I did have notions of trying to fill some gaps in Irish film culture - I even wrote an earnest essay when I was 17 called What's Missing from Irish Cinema! Part of that was the desire to see the Dublin I knew growing up put on screen. It was inspiring to see something like Cathal Black's PIGS (1984), which seems to really capture something about Dublin in the '80s, as opposed to just using the city as an incidental backdrop, as many do. So that was definitely part of it, but the film also explores problems of displacement and the inability to connect or communicate that I think go deeper than just reflecting Dublin at this particular moment.
The film screened exclusively in the IFI – why so?
To be honest, at every stage of the process it has been hard to convince the industry to take a risk on this film, from funders and production companies right through to distributors and cinemas. This isn't a specifically Irish thing but I think there is a tendency towards conservatism and 'groupthink' in the film world in general. Unless something's got a big commercial hook or big name actors, or looks like something that has succeeded before, they want to see it succeed first before they come on board.
To its credit, the IFI has been passionate about the film and keen to show it since its premiere at the Galway Film Fleadh, and we're delighted to have it there. It means a lot to me personally as well because I saw so many life-changing films there as a teenager - I even did my transition year work experience there when I was 15!
I'm hopeful the strength of the film and the responses we have been getting it will allow it to be seen by wider audiences in the future, if not in other cinemas at least through other forms of distribution.
What was it like personally and professionally to win the JDIFF CineTALENT award and to debut at the Galway Film Fleadh?
Awards are a bit like money: they only have value and currency so long as people believe they do. For example I'd say most people probably accept that the Oscars have no real credibility as arbiters of quality. But people are impressed by an Oscar win because they know it can really boost a film's profile - and it's able to do that because people are impressed by it! Every award functions a little like that, in its own way. Not that I'm complaining of course! Ultimately an award does mean some people liked your movie and wanted to inform you of this in a public manner, and this is always nice.
Critically the film was very well received – was that a surprise? I was always confident the film would find its supporters, but the sheer scope of critics praising the film...was a real surprise, and very encouraging.
Who are you inspired by as a film maker? Which films do you enjoy?
I love a lot of films. Some defining influences for me have been John Cassavetes, Claire Denis, Hou Hsiao Hsien, James Gray and Philippe Garrel. Also Fred Astaire musicals.
What advice do you have for other film makers who are trying to get their debut film made?
Don't take no for an answer. I think especially for a first feature, it's important not to get trapped in limbo waiting for funding or support. Going out and getting a film made anyway you can will prove your worth more than years of script development. But that's not to say you need to rush into it either. Shorts are a great playground for honing your skills, and a better environment to make mistakes, since a first feature will usually garner much more attention and scrutiny than a short. So, wait until you're ready to make your first feature, but don't wait until everybody else (funders, producers) is ready; life's too short.
I'm writing a script about two Irish brothers set in New York (where I've been living for a few years now), and daydreaming about five or six other ideas while I should be writing that script!