Ireland's boy racers fuel Johnny Gogan’s need for Speed
The Irish film-maker discusses his serious thriller about road racing in the Border counties
What is it with the northern counties and motorcars? Folk from that part of the island just can’t get enough of squealing tires and thick petrol fumes. For the most part, the love affair is a benign business: tinkering with carburettors, coveting motorbikes, tolerating Jeremy Clarkson. But there is a grim side to the infatuation. The latest film from Johnny Gogan – director of such pictures as Last Bus Home and Mapmaker – attempts to get to grips with the sometimes-lethal lust for speed. Set largely in Donegal, Black Ice goes among a group of young people who live to race among the twisty lanes. We know from the beginning that their obsession will end in at least one death.
So, what do we think is going on here? Gogan, who has lived in Leitrim for some years, has thought deeply about the dangerous enthusiasms.
“Well if you are not into GAA – that community thing – then there is not a great deal else for young men to do,” he says. “It’s not just about alienation. It is also about making a connection with the wider universe. My co-writer, Brian Leyden, thinks there is a correlation between bull fighting in Spain and young men in cars in the Border counties.”
Black Ice stars Jane McGrath and Killian Scott as two young people caught up in road- racing culture and in a cross-Border petrol smuggling scheme. Largely financed in the north east, utilising actors and crew from the area, the picture has a terrific sense of place to it. You feel the local culture seeping from the screen.
“Well, Donegal has always been a place apart, a separate republic,” Gogan says. “That’s true in many different ways. And in the way people handle their cars that’s particularly true. But we weren’t trying to demonise that culture. I have witnessed some real in-your-face stuff that is the careless side of all that. But at the other end there are people who are just passionate about cars.”
Gogan, a gangly, soft-spoken chap, goes on to explain that the film is seeking to address a more wide-ranging alienation among young people in Ireland. The desire to drive recklessly may be connected to anger at the current financial collapse. Pondering his own dalliances with youthful rebellion, Gogan remembers the rise of punk in the 1970s. That was also about addressing alienation through a class of aggression. But punk had, Gogan attests, a great deal more “rationale behind it”.
Gogan’s first feature, The Last Bus Home, released in 1997, dealt with the later stages of punk in Dublin. He is surely not saying that our class of rebellion is better than the sort practiced by “kids today”. Bloody young people.
“No, no. I’m not saying that at all,” he says with a chuckle. “The punk thing dissipated in the end as well. What we have just witnessed is a wider implosion in the culture. That’s what the film is trying to get at. There is a larger quagmire about the place.”
Gogan has always been a radical sort of fellow. As a young man, he travelled to South America and worked as a journalist. He learnt Spanish and connected with a very different world to that of pre-boom Ireland. Yet, while there, he became convinced that he would ultimately make his life in the home country.