4 July 2020 The Irish Film & Television Network

‘Ballybrando’ Explores the Greatest Irish Film Never Made
05 Nov 2009 :
Marlon Brando
Hotshot Films are currently in the edit suite with ‘Ballybrando’, a documentary that follows the story of ill fated Irish film ‘Divine Rapture’. Starring Marlon Brando and Johnny Depp, the project is now known as the greatest film never made in Ireland.

‘Divine Rapture’, a feature film about an elderly priest (Brando) who believes in the power of miracles, was filmed in the Cork village of Ballycotton in 1995 for 10 days. Locals of the town could not believe their luck when the location was decided upon, hoping for a surge in tourism as a result of the film and the presence of its cast which also included John Hurt and Debra Winger. However, filming was brought to a halt as a result of financial difficulties. It later transpired that just over 20 minutes of footage had been shot.

Hotshot films’ managing director Brendan Byrne is the director and producer of ‘Ballybrando’ and tells IFTN he remembers the excitement around the time of the filming of ‘Divine Rapture’. “I saw an image of Marlon Brando dressed up as a priest down in County Cork,” he says, “and I remember thinking to myself, ‘Is this really happening?’ I followed the story for a week or so and then suddenly it collapsed.”

Byrne explains why he feels the story behind ‘Ballybrando’ needs to be told: “I think the ‘Divine Rapture’ story is a prime example of the fact that Hollywood stories don’t always have happy endings. I thought it was interesting also because of Brando’s Irish connections and looking at why he came here in the first place to make the film.”

‘Ballybrando’ will feature ‘Divine Rapture’s director Thom Eberhardt who the ‘Ballybrando’ filmmakers flew to the U.S. to interview. The documentary will also see a return to Ballycotton, where Byrne says his crew had a great reaction from the locals. The producers talked to other people involved with the doomed project - such as Marlon Brando’s cook-turned-confidante Pat Swanwick; Brando’s body-double for the film, Darragh McGann; Sean McGrath, whose pub was used as a filming location and Stephen Pearce, another publican who, in an unequivocally Irish move, erected a headstone outside his pub reading ‘Divine Rapture RIP’.

Also included in the documentary will be an interview with Marie Walsh, on whom Debra Winger’s character was based, ‘The Commitments’ actress Angeline Ball who was involved with the project and actress Elaine Symons who will describe how, at 15 years of age, she thought all her dreams had come true when she was cast in the role of the eldest daughter of Debra Winger’s character.

‘Divine Rapture’s producer Barry Navidi returned to Ballycotton in September to show the locals the 21 minutes of footage that was shot in 1995. “It was a fantastic night in Sean McGrath’s pub, with the Murphy’s flowing, and some very fond memories of that unrepeatable summer of 1995” Brendan fondly recalls.

Brendan tells IFTN “The story of what happened to the film is every bit as important as the actual footage, but it is remarkable to see Brando in his priests regalia complete with biretta doing a great scene with John Hurt who played the doctor!”

‘Ballybrando’s cinematographers are David Barker (Endgame in Ireland) and Emmet Harte (Anonymous). The documentary is being edited at Offline Central by Gerard Brady (In the Footsteps of Blair Mayne).

‘Ballybrando’ is scheduled to be broadcast this December on RTÉ.

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