Shimmying his way back into the limelight


After a decade battling the slings and arrows of the independent film sector, director Shimmy Marcus is back

CINEMA, AS any aspiring artist might tell you, makes for one cruel mistress. Back in 2000, director Shimmy Marcus exploded onto the scene with Aidan Walsh: Master of the Universe,a cult documentary featuring thoughtful, frequently hilarious contributions from such mavens as Gavin Friday, Dave Fanning and the late Gerry Ryan.

Movie fans and hipsters could hardly have been more excited. Here was a fresh voice from the wilderness, a cool alternative in an industry that remained heavily reliant on John Hinde imagery and ‘funny’ nuns in waders.

Even in a business as capricious as movie making, Marcus’s success seemed assured down the line.

A decade on, and that same director is painfully familiar with the term ‘labour of love’.

“That’s film for you,” says Marcus. “It’s a learning curve and it’s not an easy one.”

Indeed, the complicated gestation of Marcus’ first feature film proves a stark variation on sod’s law: if the financing can fall apart, then it will fall apart. Hindered by last-minute budget cuts, Headrush, a zany, post-Tarantino caper, was well received by audiences but poorly disseminated abroad.

“You’re never sure if it’s you or the business,” says Marcus.

Headrushgot a fantastic reception at festivals and picked up a lot of awards. We did have a lot of bad luck. We were supposed to shoot it earlier, but the money fell apart. Lots of things just went wrong.”

His most recent film is a sweet coming-of-age story set in the Northern Soul scene of the early 1970s. SoulBoyboasts a killer soundtrack and such bright young things as Martin Compston, Felicity Jones and Nicola Burley.

SoulBoy, alas, has also suffered the slings and arrows of the independent film sector. The film, initially set to go into production six years ago, has been besieged by financial collapses and recession-related cutbacks. In the interim, Marcus has kept busy with micro-documentaries on Irish cricket and the Dublin Theatre Festival, but admits that, for a time, he considered leaving the business altogether.

“Just because you make one feature doesn’t mean you’ll ever make a second,” he says. “I never planned to be a filmmaker. It was an accident. I only got into it because when I was younger I wanted to act. I was interested in watching Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel and guys like that. It took a while for me to think about the role of director, that there might be a grander vision behind it all.

“But nobody who sits down to think about it rationally would ever go into the business.”

It is, nevertheless, practically impossible to imagine Shimmy Marcus doing anything else. The son of twice Oscar-nominated director Louis Marcus, he has a keen talent for capturing sub-cultures.

I wonder if, like dad, he’s a documentarian at heart? But Marcus doesn’t see the relevance of such a division.

“I never think that I’m a director or that I’m a documentarian,” he says. “I’m just a filmmaker. It’s funny because I barely registered what my father did when I was growing up. I knew he was out editing in the tool shed or talking on the phone, but when you’re a kid documentaries are boring. When he came back from the Oscars we were mostly concerned with what presents he had got us.”

Happily, it looks as though Marcus’ accidental profession is finally working out. This week, Shimmy watchers can enjoy SoulBoyat the cinema and Mattie, a new TV sitcom directed by Marcus and starring Pat Shortt.

Marcus is also putting the final touches on his eagerly awaited documentary, Good Cake, Bad Cake,a history of the Donaghmede quintet, Lir. It is hoped the film will premiere in the spring.

“It’s an amazing story,” says Marcus. “The band have been together almost 26 years. We’re used to seeing documentaries about huge bands jumping in and out of limos. But that’s the story of .0001 per cent of bands.

“I’m more interested in guys like Lir who give up the day job, load the van and play for gas money. Heading for Sheffield or Berlin is enough. I love that idea. I’m not someone who drinks in the Clarence with Bono. I’m over in Whelans with Aidan Walsh and the Republic of Loose.”

We’re not sure if he intended it as an analogy. But it’s a good one.