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Interview with Conor Horgan and Rory O’Neill – ‘The Queen of Ireland’ in cinemas now
21 Oct 2015 : Seán Brosnan
Critically acclaimed documentary ‘The Queen of Ireland’ is in cinemas now
With critically acclaimed and timely documentary ‘The Queen of Ireland’ in cinemas now – we catch up with director Conor Horgan and Rory O’Neill aka Panti Bliss.

Blinder Films ‘The Queen of Ireland’ is a documentary film that follows Rory’s aka Panti’s journey from the small Mayo town of Ballinrobe to striding the world stage. More pertinently, it also covers the Panti-Gate scandal of 2014 to the landmark marriage referendum vote earlier this year.

The film has so far received an overwhelmingly positive response from Irish critics with RTÉ giving the film five stars and calling it “the finest of documentaries”.

IFTN: First off Conor, you have been filming Rory since 2010 so just how important was it for you – in hindsight as a documentarian – for Pantigate to happen last year followed by the subsequent marriage referendum this year – it must have handed you a very clear and powerful narrative that changed the course of your film?

Conor Horgan: ‘Certainly that series of events helped give us a frame. We already had a wonderful character in Panti and in Rory. The events that unfolded from Pantigate to the marriage referendum and the aftermath certainly gave us a narrative drive that was hard to ignore.’

One thing that struck me about the film was that even though we are watching scenes from just six months ago – it seems like something from the 60’s or 70’s with hordes of people holding up signs about equality…

Rory O’Neill: ‘Well, it was kind of an amazing year, wasn’t it? It was all building up to that day on May 22nd and then the weather was just beautiful. Everything came together. I was just kind of wandering around taking it all in but I knew Conor was going around with his camera just beaming because it couldn’t have worked out better for him as a filmmaker[laughs].’

Conor Horgan: ‘There is actually a shot of me in the film and I am literally beaming! [laughs]’

Rory, how important was it for you to have this very significant part of your life framed in the unbelievable little package that is ‘The Queen of Ireland’?

Rory O’Neill: ‘I haven’t thought about it that way yet – I have only actually watched it once and that was just six weeks ago so I am yet to think about it that way. I think perhaps after I watch it with a lot of people and it’s on a big screen in front of me that it will hit home. But I think that if I am still around in 25 years’ time it will be lovely to have this document of this time. It’ll make for a really great home movie.’

Conor, you were shooting here for five years – was it tough to establish a clear frame and narrative when you had so much material?

Conor Horgan: ‘We were very fortunate to have the fantastic editor Mick Mahon on board. We actually started the edit before the marriage equality campaign even really kicked in. We did chunks of editing where we were looking over the stuff we had shot over the last couple of years. Some of the great archive footage that we used in the film only arrived at the very end of the edit – the Super 8 footage of a young Rory in Ballinrobe – we only received that after we shot in Ballinrobe which is one of the last shoots we did. So, there was a lot of stuff to marshal but the further we got into it, the clearer and clearer it got.’

We interviewed Mick Mahon earlier this week where he stated that the archive footage – far from being a nightmare arriving at the very end of the edit – was actually a very welcomed element into the film…

Conor Horgan: ‘The stuff we got was great – even the “ProtoPanti” material of Panti in Japan going on stage for the first time – it was just so interesting.’

Rory O’Neill: ‘It’s funny because Mick spent 16 weeks locked in a room with all these footage of me pouring over him but I had never actually met Mick until a few nights ago. He came to my show in London and it was funny because he felt like he knew me so well and I was like “who the f**k”?[laughs]. We then went out drinking all night – until like nine in the morning or something – so we evened up the score a little there.’

It only takes about five seconds of this film to screen before you realise that this is not just an Irish story but a story with universal appeal and it of course has been picked up by Universal – you both must be excited by the international prospects of the film..

Conor Horgan: ‘We most certainly are.’

The contributors you got in the film were also fantastic and it must have been great for both of you to see the likes of filmmaker Mark O’Halloran speaking so passionately in the film…

Rory O’Neill: ‘They were all so good. But on the other side of the coin, there were so many other contributors that ended up on the cutting room floor and they were all pretty fabulous too.’

Conor Horgan: ‘Yeah, we filmed interviews with some really great people but unfortunately part of my job over the past few months has been going around to all these different contributors and saying “you were brilliant but you just didn’t make it”[laughs]. But you know, the film couldn’t be four hours long either.’

Conor, do you have any idea what the film would have been like if there were no Pantigate scandal or subsequent marriage referendum?

Conor Horgan: ‘That’s a hard one to say but I am sure it would have been a very interesting character study of somebody who is very important in a certain section of Irish society.’

Rory – as the subject of this film – how do you hope the public respond to it when it hits cinemas this week?

Rory O’Neill: ‘Well, obviously I hope they like it [laughs]. I hope everyone sees that this is not just “Panti’s story” but also a story about how Ireland has evolved in particular in relation to how they perceive LGBT people. I hope they see it as document of a very interesting time in Irish history and I equally hope they see it as a document of a really great time and a lovely thing to think about.’

Blinder Films ‘The Queen of Ireland’ is in cinemas now with Universal distributing. Check out the trailer below:

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