After a series of acclaimed TV documentaries, including ones about her neighbours ('My Street') and her mother's Alzheimer's ('Mum and Me'), Scottish director Sue Bourne makes her feature debut with the charming 'JIG'. It tells the story of nine contestants and their preparations for 'The Worlds' - the World Irish Dancing Championships in Glasgow in 2010. The ages of Bourne's stars range from 10 to thirty-something, and only a few have Irish blood, but every one of them is interesting enough to deserve a film all to themselves. They are:
Joe Bitter - a California teenager whose parents moved the whole family to Birmingham in the UK so he could continue his Irish dancing studies with umpteen times World Champion John Carey.
Ten-year-old John Whitehurst - another student of Carey's who has loads of talent but who experiences lapses in concentration during performances.
Sandun Verschoor aka 'The Flying Dutchman' - a charismatic Sri Lankan-born teenager who was adopted by a Dutch couple and is the only guy in his class in Rotterdam.
Ana Kondratyeva - a Muscovite who describes the quest to excel at Irish dancing as "like a game for adults".
Claire Greaney, Simona Mauriello and Suzanne Coyle - three women from Galway, London and Glasgow respectively who are now in their twenties and have grown up competing against each other.
Brogan McCay - a little girl from Derry who's as good at talking as she is at dancing.
Julia O'Rourke - Brogan's main rival from New York who keeps tabs on the competition via YouTube.
Don't let the big cast or knowing next to nothing about Irish dancing put you off this film. While Bourne has a lot of people to focus on, one of her big achievements is that the viewer gets a real insight into the lives and dedication of each contestant. Your admiration for every one of them grows as 'The Worlds' draw closer, and it's heart-rending that they all can't win.
When the big showdown in Glasgow finally arrives, Bourne's decision to have nine stars proves inspired, because it allows her to crank up the tension by cutting between their various performances. As the scores start coming in, it's real edge-of-the-seat stuff that makes the Eurovision results look like a little like Monday night down at the bingo.
Bourne only had a vague knowledge of the 'Riverdance' phenomenon herself before she started making 'JIG', but she has managed to capture the energy and passion of Irish dancing. By allowing Bourne to be the first director to film at the championships, the Irish dancing community has been rewarded with a documentary that will inspire many to join classes. For her stars, 'JIG' is something they can treasure in the years to come, and hopefully we'll be seeing a lot more of Bourne in cinemas.