The minutes pass slowly when you're doing time
All the same, we saw one man, whom we first met at Shelton Abbey, brought back to Wheatfield and kept in his cell for 23 hours a day for his own protection. It was a situation that posed more questions than it answered, but that potentially revealing story was not explored.
But why the booming, actory voiceover, the curse of so many documentaries? The prisoners told their stories, as did the prison staff, and we heard Ó Buachalla off camera, asking questions – and, it being telly, the pictures have to be trusted to tell the stories too. All the intrusive voiceover did was make Life on the Inside sound at times like a corporate video, a mouthpiece for the service it was depicting, and I doubt that was the intention.
Made on a shoestring
So many documentaries on TG4 come across like labours of love, made on a shoestring by people who’ve stories to tell and who have finally got the funding to tell them. Radharc na Rúise (Thursday) falls easily and satisfyingly into that category. The four-part series, well made and nicely shot mostly in Moscow, set out to explore the link between Russia and Ireland. It was produced by Marina Levitina and Colm Hogan – she’s Russian, he’s Irish – and presented by Feargus Denman, an intense young man who went to Moscow at the age of 18 to learn Russian and returned 10 years later to make the series.
He hunted out pockets of Hibernophiles in busy Irish dance classes – “It was trendy after Riverdance. Now it’s like any other dance,” said their solemn-looking teacher – at a céilí and at the concert of an Irish trad band whose lead singer and harp player is a Russian woman with fluent Irish.
Equally interesting were Denman’s non-Ireland-related conversations in cramped apartments and tumbledown woodland dachas with older Muscovites who have seen immense changes in their lives, such as the artist who fell out of favour under Khrushchev and has lived to have the freedom to make whatever work he likes, and sell it to whomever he wants, and the mother with twin girls living a very different life from the restricted one lived by her parents.
It was a close-up view of ordinary Russian lives: not a common subject for an Irish documentary team. And, on the Irish-language channel, it was Denman’s fluency with Russian that let him get close to his subjects and what made Radharc na Rúise work.