Declan Reck’s feature film ‘Eden’ opens in the new Lighthouse Cinema, Smithfield on Friday 30th May. IFTN caught up with the award-winning director to find out how he brought Eugene O’Brien’s acclaimed play to the big screen.
‘Eden’, produced by David Collins/Samson Films, explores the disintegrating marriage of rural Irish couple, Billy and Breda. As the pair approach their 10th wedding anniversary, with two young children in tow, they despair at the mundane routine of their daily lives. Sullen, uncommunicative Billy would rather spent time in the local pub with his pals then with his wife, who still holds a glimmer of hope that their upcoming anniversary will mark a fresh start for the couple. But as the date approaches, the reality of Billy and Breda's situation is uncovered.
The poignant film stars Aidan Kelly (Kitchen, The Clinic) and IFTA-winning actress Eileen Walsh (Pure Mule, The Magdalene Sisters). It features a strong supporting cast including IFTA-nominated actors Padraic Delaney (The Wind that Shakes the Barley) and Karl Shiels (Prosperity, Capital Letters), Enda Oates (Killinaskully, Stardust) and Lesley Conroy (The Clinic, The Running Mate). This is Recks’ second collaboration with Eugene O’Brien, with the pair previously working together on the IFTA winning TV series ‘Pure Mule’. ‘Eden’ received funding from the Irish Film Board, the BCI, RTE and Section 481.
The film was a long time in the works, as Recks explains.
“About seven or eight years ago I met Eugene at a party in LA and he started telling me about a play that he had written,” he says. “So when we came back to Ireland I looked at the play and asked him if I could option it to try and turn it into a film. Then the play went on in the Abbey and went to London and New York to great success and the film version got put to one side. After we did ‘Pure Mule’ together we finally got around to working on the script for the film again!”
Recks, who hails from Clara in Co. Offaly, was attracted to the story’s familiar setting. ‘Eden’ is set in a small town in the Irish midlands, an area of the country not often seen on screen. The film, with a budget of just under €2 million, shot in July 2008 in Tullamore, Co. Offaly, meaning the cast and crew set up camp on location for the duration of the shoot. The scenic countryside is beautifully captured on camera by DOP Owen McPolin.
“It made a difference shooting the film down the country rather than shooting in Wicklow or everyone staying in Dublin because we were all here for the duration of the shoot and everyone got to know everybody as well. It probably cost more in that we had to put everyone up in Offaly, but it’s great to see new places on screen rather than seeing the Sally Gap again, or Glendalough!
Recks was intrigued by the gruff, unemotional character of Billy.
“I was very interested in the Billy character as he is a true to life character that a lot of people can identify with, but I hadn’t seen anyone like him on film before. Billy is quite difficult to play, in the play he is quite funny and entertaining and we couldn’t do that in the film because he hardly speaks so there was different kind of a part a different mood to it.”
The original play of ‘Eden’ features just two characters, Billy and Breda, with the many other characters referred to in their separate monologues. This presented a challenge for Recks and O’Brien – how would they bring these essential characters to life on screen?
“There are around 50 characters mentioned by Billy and Breda in the play, but we only wanted about 12 core characters in the film, so the big decision there was deciding who earned their keep and who we could lose. We had to figure out how to tell their stories visually instead of inside Billy and Breda’s head.”
Walsh shines as unconfident housewife Breda. Recks previously directed her in ‘Pure Mule’ and had her in mind for the role from the start. Coincidentally, Walsh’s sister Catherine played the role of Breda in ‘Eden’s original cast at Dublin’s Abbey theatre.
“I think she is a great actress, the first time I saw her was in ‘Disco Pigs’ eight or nine years ago and then worked with her in ‘Pure Mule’ so she was my first choice for the role of Breda. It was a little bit difficult for Eileen because her sister Kathleen has played the part on stage so she was a little bit reluctant about coming in to meet us until she got the okay from her sister. Eileen rang Kathleen and she convinced her to come in!”
Recks’ choice was certainly the right one, with Walsh recently scooping the Best Actress at the Tribeca Film Festival. How does the director ensure he gets the best from his actors?
“What I’m always looking for is to try and create an environment that actors feel comfortable in and where they feel safe in giving me everything that I’m looking for. I suppose it helped that myself and Eileen worked before and she knew a lot of the crew. I think anything that makes an actor feel comfortable and feel safe helps.”
The film, despite its rural Irish setting and the characters Midlands accents, has found an audience beyond Ireland’s shores. It received a warm reception when it recently screened at the Tribeca Film Festival, New York.
“We screened it six times in total during the festival and we had a Q and A after each session. It was great to talk to the audiences, they really understood it they really got it. The dialect was difficult for them to understand at times but I think the story is definitely universal.”
As the film received RTE funding, it screened on the station on St Patrick’s Day this year before reaching cinema screens, an unconventional route for a feature.
“We shot it on Super 35mm, it was made for cinema but we needed RTE’s money to pay for the film and the deal was that they would get to screen it first. It’s not ideal but it allowed us to get the film made. We are delighted that it is now going to be shown on the big screen, I think you have to see it on the big screen as that’s the home we intended for it. Owen McPolin the DOP did an amazing job.”
The film was edited on the revolutionary 2K system, one of the first films in Ireland to do so.
“Because we shot on super 35 and nothing is ever finished completely on 2K in Ireland. I’ve done a lot of work with Egg and Gareth Young so we talked a lot with Owen McPolin on how we’d go about it. It was complicated work but they were keen to give it a go and now that they’ve been through it once they are about to do the same on the new Colin Farrell film ‘Triage’. ‘Eden’ was a learning process for us all, we were the guinea pigs!
“We were keen to shoot it on super 35 in order to keen the benefits of having shot on film and it’s just something that people haven’t done yet before but Eugene in Egg was adamant that he could make it work and he did. Normally you’d have to go to London for that.”
So what’s next for the busy director?
“I’m working on a couple of film and TV projects at the moment, including a film with Eugene O’Brien. You always have to have five or six things ticking over as you never know which one is going to take off. I’m not going to say anymore until they are up and running!”
‘Eden’ opens in the Lighthouse Cinema, on May 30th, followed by a Q & A with the director.