Our man in Moscow
JAMESON DUBLIN INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL:Johnny O’Reilly is the latest Irish director to make it big overseas, but this time it’s not LA – it’s a Russian thriller set in the Crimea
ONE OF the developing themes of this year’s Jameson Dublin International Film Festival has been the mushrooming of Irish co-productions. Such diverse films as Circus Fantasticus(set in Slovenia), As If I am Not There(Bosnia), Essential Killing(set in nameless European wasteland) all feature significant domestic involvement.
The Weather Stationmight just be the oddest of this odd bunch. Set around a Russian meteorological facility deep in the arctic, the film turns out to be an invigoratingly gripping mystery story. Utilising a cleverly interwoven flashback structure, the director invites us to ponder what unlikely force caused the apparent abandonment of the station. Did somebody go crazy with a meat cleaver? Maybe it was a Yeti? There are many reversals in this cracking whodunit (or, more accurately, ‘wherearethey’), but the biggest shock is, perhaps, that Irish name on the back of the director’s chair. Johnny O’Reilly? How did an Irishman come to direct a Russian thriller?
“I came out to Moscow in 1993 as a student,” O’Reilly, a chatty articulate fellow, explains. “I fell in love with the place and I kept trying to find excuses to return. Then, four years ago, I came back with one project that was set there and I got plugged into the film industry. That project led to the next and I just got stuck here.” A graduate in English from Trinity College Dublin, O’Reilly cites Orson Welles, the Coen Brothers and Alfred Hitchcock as his major influences.
It’s hard to argue with that list. But you’d have felt that somebody with such a passion for American cinema would have headed west rather than east. Then again, what with all the boozing and bleak weather, Russia might have more in common with Ireland than California does.
O’Reilly simply isn’t having it.
“It’s so different in Russia. Not better. Not worse. Just different.” With that in mind, we might assume that O’Reilly found it difficult to secure a footing within the Russian film industry. After all, it’s hard enough raising money when you’re moving within your own culture.
“It’s actually a good place to work because there is a lot of money in the industry,” he says. “Whereas that’s good, it can also be a problem. Films get green-lit all the time. And that’s why there are so many bad films. But that’s the same everywhere. But, because they speak Russian, they are on their own. Non-English language movies don’t travel. That is a disadvantage.”
There is, however, every chance that The Weather Station(and O’Reilly) might travel very comfortably. Reviewing the film favourably following its LA premier, Variety, the industry’s mammon-obsessed bible, argued that “O’Reilly looks primed for a Moscow-to-Hollywood transfer.” We’ll see. For the moment, he seems to very much enjoy immersing himself in Russian culture. Even the notorious weather is a bonus.
“You know the way Irish people love to talk about the weather. You have four seasons in a day. Here you really do have four seasons in a year. I live near the Kremlin. When I look out my window I see this pristine blanket of snow. But you also get blistering summers. So that’s interesting.”
Such is his comfort with Russian culture that, when filming in the Crimea, he managed to skilfully exploit the local papers. The story’s casual references to “a yeti” inspired him to spin a few yarns.
“All the actors were big stars, so there was some interest anyway,” O’Reilly laughs. “We told them that the food had gone missing and strange things were happening on set. The art director knocked up this photo of a strange hazy creature. The local tabloid picked that up and we had a bit of a laugh.”
He doesn’t really want us to call The Weather Stationa Yeti film, but, just like the Crimean tabloids, we’re printing the legend. Tonight you can catch a Russian Abominable Snowman thriller directed by a man called Johnny O’Reilly. How can you not go?
The Weather Stationplays tonight in The Light House at 8.30pm
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Irish Film Institute 6.30 pm