A city through the eyes of a lens


The flagship project of this year's Darklight Film Festival was a 50-minute film made up of five-minute pieces all shot on the same day in Dublin, writes Rosita Boland

TWENTY-FOUR HOURS. Thirty film-makers. One film. That was the concept behind the flagship project at this year's Darklight Film Festival.

It's Thursday, June 26th, and 30 film-makers, both established and emerging, are out and about in Dublin with their cameras for a 24-hour period. The idea is that each edits their piece to less than five minutes and passes them on next day to director Lenny Abrahamson, editor Declan Lynch and producer Andrew McAvinchey, These three then create the festival's 50-minute closing film, Dublin 26.06.08.

"Participation was mainly by invitation, but others heard about the project and pitched ideas on their own initiative," explains Abrahamson. "Until we see what we get, I have no idea how we'll go about editing it, but that's part of the excitement of the project."

10am:Kirwan's Funeral Home in Fairview. It's pouring. I'm shadowing three film-makers over the day, the first being Daniel O'Hara, who made the short, Yu Ming is Anim Dom. O'Hara's idea is that while June 26th might be just another day to most Dubliners, for those who are connected, the people who are born or who are close to someone who dies, the date will be memorable. Today he's working solo, with no crew.

O'Hara has already been at Holles Street, interviewing a midwife, and will return there later in the day. At Kirwan's his interviewee will be embalmer Gerry Kelly.

"What's once in a lifetime for most people is routine for these people," he says, talking about the process of helping babies be born and of giving people dignified deaths.

10.25am:Thunder. O'Hara shoots footage from the door of the on-site flower shop across the wet yard to the room where Kelly is, embalming a body. "He said to me that when he goes into the embalming room, the door's closed and that's that, so it's good to have this shot." At that second, the door opens and Kelly comes out to have a cigarette.

10.45am:The coffin storeroom. There are about 50 coffins of various sizes, models and wood. It's a place eerie in its particular functionality. "When I was here initially talking to Kirwan's," O'Hara says, "they showed me this room and told me all these coffins would be used within a month. So I'm looking round, and I think: that's someone's granny. That's a car crash. That's a suicide. That's a teenager."

11am:We're in the next room, where coffins are prepared for occupants. O'Hara grins with instinctive recognition of a great shot. The room is deserted, and the newly polished coffin has a can of polish and a cloth on top of it. The image says it all: a collision of domesticity with the finality of death.

11.30am:The empty front yard, where O'Hara is shooting across puddles at the door of the funeral chapel. It is torrential. I get out my umbrella. O'Hara thinks like a true professional. "Would you mind holding that over the camera?"

1pm:In the living room of a house on Landen Road, Ballyfermot, with Rebecca Daly, who directed and co-wrote the short, Joyriders. Her idea is to film four generations of the same family, with the camera focus being on their shoes. She has a crew of three with her.

"The shoes are a device to lead people into the story. And shoes are an expression of the person who lives in them," she says.

This morning, she and her crew of three have already been filming with great-grandmother Mary Reid (80), granddaughter Jennifer Conway (26) and great-granddaughter Shauna Conway (11).

1.30pm: It'sthe turn of Mick Conway (Shauna's grandfather, Jennifer's father) to tell his story. Mick's wearing socks and sitting on the sofa, a box of army medals beside him. His old army boots are lined on the floor. The cameras roll and, prompted by Daly, he starts talking about going out to Lebanon when Jennifer was only six months old.

1.50pm:For the fourth time, Mick says his piece; memories of being out in Lebanon - "like Connemara; barren land with nothing there" - nearly being shot at, taking a bus into Jerusalem with his comrades for down time. He's getting a little frazzled now with having to repeat what are now his lines, more or less, mixing up what happened when. "Is that all right?" he asks anxiously. "Perfect," Daly reassures him.

3.45pm:Just off Cork Street, with 11 primary school age girls from Sheriff Street and Ringsend. They're all students of Ashling Woods Larkin, who is the director of Collide Dance Academy, and they're all in pyjamas.

"Girls in pyjamas is such a Dublin thing. I knew I wanted to do a piece involving music, and these girls spend so much time hanging out on the street in their pyjamas, practising their dances," explains Baby Zeroauthor and film-maker Emer Martin, who is here with a crew of five.

3.55pm:It is still pouring, and this is an outdoor shot. The girls line up outside an almost-derelict block of flats, and Woods Larkin puts dance music on a ghetto-blaster. Despite the rain, tiny children from one of the two families still living there soon appear, to hang over the balconies or stand on the street and watch.

4.05pm:These young girls have admirable spirit. They're getting a soaking, and the rest of us are under umbrellas, but they keep their energy up, they keep smiling, and they do their routines, including back-flips, cartwheels and splits. Martin chose the location because "places like this are disappearing in Dublin. This won't be here next year. I wanted to document it now."

IT'S THREE DAYS later, Sunday, 10pm, the Oak Bar. The editing team have been working on Dublin 26.06.08for 18 hours. The basement is hot and packed, and there's a real buzz as the film-makers and their crews wait to see what's been made of this collaborative project.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, what stands out in the film are individual vignettes. Damien O'Donnell's piece is a take on Raglan Road, using signage and inventive actions to present the lyrics. It's an instant classic short in itself, deserving of being seen by many; charming, funny and capturing the essence of Dublin.

Gavin Kelly follows three avatars in costume around the city in a quite surreal, and absorbing, study of virtual lives. A woman goes into a public toilet, oils and talcs a dead chicken, Clingfilms it to her stomach, and goes wandering off through Dublin. Carmel Winter's film, using an actor, sounds utterly unpromising as a concept, but the result is a tender portrait of a disturbed would-be mother.

Almost all the footage Daniel O'Hara filmed while I was with him makes it to the final cut in his thoughtful, beautifully told Birth to Death. Only one of the four people Rebecca Ryan interviewed makes it to the film, but that piece is a gem: a memorable scene when Jennifer Conway shows off the shoes she wore with pride at her wedding until informed by a guest they were "lap-dancing shoes". Emer Martin had problems with her cameras and lost footage, so the young pyjama dancers appear only fleetingly.

For a project turned around in just four days, with no narrative other than 24 hours in the life of a city and its residents, does Dublin 26.06.08work as a piece of film? Or is it even meant to work as a whole? It does and it doesn't is the truth. In a way, the fact that the project was seen through at all in the time is a measure of its success. But the result is quite often confusing, in that while some directors used actors, others filmed only real situations, thus unhelpfully blurring the boundaries between the real events of an actual day and scripted scenarios.

However, undoubtedly the best result of this project is that you can decide for yourself how successful you think it was, by viewing the edited film online. You can even make your own version of Dublin 26.06.08by editing the original material, posted on the site www.4daymovie.com