Irish people are “very open, almost to the point of oversharing”. For example, “within the first 10 minutes of meeting someone, telling me about their divorce! I find conversation friendly and relaxed and lots of puns and references to comedy or shows, books, lyrics.”
Horia Dumitra, a Romanian film-maker from Covasna, a small town in Transylvania, 200km from Bucharest, moved to Dublin in December 2018 to “grow artistically and expand my horizons as a filmmaker”.
He and his mother, Dorina Dumitra, a GP, emigrated together. “Always since my childhood, we had this dream of living in an English-speaking country.”
They arrived knowing no one, and having never been to Ireland. “But I did have a passion for Irish drinking songs! In high school I listened to a lot of the Dubliners and the Blarney Lads.” He mentions other folk bands, Waxy’s Dargle and Blackwater Boys. “I really loved the melodies, like Whiskey in the Jar or Finnegan’s Wake, about Finnegan falling off a ladder.”
He learnt English at school from age eight, “but I got my English from Seinfeld. Watching American TV shows and video games. I honed it here.
“We found ‘rent’ in the first three days of being here [a room in a house in Clondalkin], through a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend.” His mother is a GP in a Lucan practice and they’ve rented a two-bedroom apartment in Chapelizod since April 2019. “Accommodation was hard to find.”
Coming to Ireland, he says, “I expected to be challenged artistically and to grow in a new environment.”
His biggest surprise has been “just how commodified housing is. I hadn’t expected that.” They didn’t research housing before moving. “I know, it’s not rational. I wouldn’t have come if I had looked! But I’m glad I didn’t, because it would have dissuaded me from coming.”
Also, work has been a surprise. “The jobs seem not to be of high quality, at least the jobs available for someone like me, office jobs and IT jobs, they’re not easy to get.”
Dumitra has been lucky in the friends department. Initially he used the Meetup app to find filmmaking and screenwriting groups in Dublin. Then he set up his own group on the app, around “my highest interest, a very niche Indian philosophy called Advaita. It’s nondualism.” He hoped this would “connect me with like-minded people”.
At the first meet-up in Alfie Byrne’s on Earlsfort Terrace, Dublin, he says, “I expected nobody to show up. To my surprise, really cool people showed up.” There he met Philip Bellew, “and he introduced me into the Grogan’s scene, where I met his close friend, [cartoonist and painter] Tom Mathews. I met the Groganites, the Bohemian circle! Is that a good word for it?” He immersed himself, hanging out in Grogan’s pub and meeting local artists.
On meeting Mathews, Dumitra “recognised this guy’s an artist, a heavy thinker. He needs to be frozen in time the way he is now. He needs to be documented. To my surprise, nobody had done that.” He thought: “I know filmmaking, I need to get on this. I can’t pass this idea.” It would be like living in Vienna, “knowing Klimt or Freud, and not filming them”.
Over the past year he’s filmed 35 hours of Mathews talking and working, and flimed interviews with his friends, including painter Robert Ballagh, documentary-maker Sé Merry Doyle, comic writer-performer Karl MacDermott, former Galway arts officer James C Harrold, and Hugh Friel from the band The Atrix, who died recently. At Mathews’s retrospective at Áras Éanna arts centre on Inis Oírr, he filmed “the exhibition, the beautiful scenery, the ferry ride, everything”. He’s buried in editing right now (“the tough part is mixing it together in a way that flows well”), and plans to submit a 75-minute documentary to the Galway Film Fleadh.
Dumitra’s degree in Bucharest was in film directing, and he also made short films. In Ireland he’s studied production at Ballyfermot College which “filled some gaps with cinematography, hands-on filming”. He’s currently doing a film and TV traineeship at Coláiste Dhúlaigh, a new programme where participants are paired with companies for a long placement. He’s hoping “maybe there’s a good job at the end of it in the industry”. Because of his rounded experience, he was confident taking on the Mathews documentary. “I’m good with cameras, good with editing, specialise in writing and directing. So I know across-the-board regarding filmmaking. I can cover pre-production, production, post-production.”
Dumitra also sometimes works as an interpreter in hospitals or in court, and does some videography. But “without my mom. I wouldn’t be able to live here”.
While filming at the opening of Bernard Canavan’s exhibition at Dublin’s United Arts Club recently, “Lo and behold, who was there to open the exhibition, Michael D himself. I was floored.” He loves that “someone like Michael D is president here. Like, he’s almost a Groganite, he’s almost one of my tribe! And he is the figurehead for the country.”
Renting and dealing with landlords here has been a big change as he and his mother owned their apartments in Romania. “There’s an anxiety associated with living in a rented space that doesn’t belong to you, which we weren’t familiar with. But that’s how life is for a lot of people.”
Romania’s home-ownership rate is over 90 per cent, he says, “a remnant of socialism where housing isn’t that commodified or subjected to the free market, like here. We didn’t expect prices to be so high.”
Wages in Romania are about a third of Ireland’s he reckons, with the minimum wage about €500 net per month; food prices are now similar to those in Ireland, “which is nuts”, but alcohol and tobacco are way lower. “They’re very expensive here.”
With Chapelizod Tidy Towns, he worked on projects such as placing a figure in an unused phonebox in the village, and “mounting little wooden fairy doors on hoardings on a derelict building, an eyesore” near the Phoenix Park entrance.
He’s experienced inadequate public transport while here. Travelling 12km from Chapelizod to Coolock takes him an hour and a half on the number 26 bus, changing to the 27. “They slashed the buses” serving the village in 2020, and all bar the 26 now bypass it. “My mom suffers the most” on foot of this, he says: it used to take 20 minutes to get to Lucan, and now it takes nearly an hour.
Irish vernacular, he adds, “wasn’t a challenge for me, I immediately picked up on it”. He observes that “People speak in anecdotes, almost, or stories. They don’t just outright say what they think. They come up with a reference to something. I love that.”
Irish people are good talkers, he says, though sometimes “people lack patience. They’re not good listeners. I think one of the reasons I get along so well is because I listen well, and people appreciate that because it’s rare.”
“I feel at home now,” he adds, hoping he will stay in Ireland. “The musical and artistic leanings of the people here are really to my liking and close to my heart.” https://heyoka.myportfolio.com
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