I arrived in Tralee yesterday, Sunday October 5th, down in South West Kerry, almost at the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. Next village New York, as we say around here. The almost unnaturally good summer we’ve been having this year in Europe finally ended yesterday. Clouds gathered, rain came in gusts and squalls, the wind off the Atlantic was hitting Force 10 at times, and people were back to scuttling along the wet pavements, ducking under cover and digging out the rain coats and umbrellas that have been gathering dust for most of the past four months.
Not an entirely auspicious start for the Festival, you might think, but the programme began and the people came, and hopefully they will keep coming for the rest of the week. The Festival runs until late in the evening of next Saturday, October 11th.
The programme for Kerry Film Festival 2014 is wide ranging, eye-strainingly full (you could spend upwards of six hours a day sitting in cinemas), and eclectic in the wonderful range of films for this year’s Festival, selected by the tireless, , experienced, vastly informed, and very entertaining Director of the Kerry Film Festival, Roísin McGuigan.
Short films, as so often with festivals, form a large part of the programme, but there are feature films as well, and seminars, in particular the IMRO (Irish Music Rights Organisation)-organised seminar on writing the score, the music, for film. This is one of the high points of the 2014 Festival’s particular focus, which is to look at, or rather listen to the music in film.
Interestingly, not long ago one of the major film distribution chains in Ireland tried to withdraw the royalty that cinemas pay for the music, which is the very modest amount of 1% of the Box Office gross take. Their claim was that the music is basically just a secondary contributor to the success of the film. Er… Jaws? Star Wars? Gone With The Wind?
Last night we began at the beginning. Back in 1914 a small American company of film makers left their home in New York and came to Ireland. They were the first film company from America to work abroad and they came to Kerry. The company was called Kalem, but it became known everywhere as O’Kalem. They made several films here, of which only eight have survived, and they recently restored by the Irish Film Institute. Well, parts of them have, enough anyway,. To piece together these short films and give us the gist of what they once were. The last, and for many reasons the most interesting, was an attempt to film the famous Irish play, An Colleen Bawn (The Fair Maid). It was set in the 18th Century, just 150 years or so before the making of the film, a time of nostalgia, before the Great Famines, before the worst of the relationship between the Irish and their landlords, though the harsh landlords were already there. But is was a time when an Irishman could still aspire to success and wealth. The film, of course, was over-acted, and the costumes were mostly not very good attempts at those flouncy silks for the men and the hooped skirts of the women, all wide hipped and buxom.
But the heart of last night’s experience wasn’t about the films, it was the fact that we were there to hear the live performance of the score.
The score was composed by the highly regarded composer and musician Bernard Reilly, and he conducted a small quintet of violin (Brona Fitzgerald), cello (Jane Hughes), harp (Claire O’Donnell), flute (Kieran Moynihan)and percussion (Roger Moffatt).
The intriguing thing was that it was a modern score. Mr. Reilly made no attempt to replicate the rhythms and emphases of the style of the film’s contemporary accompanists. It was largely, if not wholly successful. The melodrama, insofar as I could follow it, was so of its time that the much more laid back tone of Mr. Reilly’s music seemed at times almost appropriate. But then again, there were times when his music gave the performances a nuance that lacked in the film. This was particularly effective when the film was chopping around a bit, where parts of the original print no longer exist. The music held us in the right mood, so to speak. The playing itself, I should add, was flawless, the clear ring of the harp, the pure song of the violin, the steady, sweet melody of the deeper instruments and one of those flutes you think are some exotic bird calling.
Anyway, it was a very interesting experiment, and it stood well as a metaphor for the whole experience of the Festival, films of past and present, documentaries, dramas, comedies, animation and more, examples taken from across the length of the evolution of this most fascinating, difficult and varied modern art form, Film.
I’m looking forward to an absorbing week in the nest of the rolling green hills that surround this pretty Gaeltacht town. More tomorrow.