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'Between the Canals', Interview Mark O'Connor
10 Mar 2011 : by Aileen Moon
On the 'Between the Canals' Set
Writer and director Mark O’Connor will see the fruit of his feature film debut, ‘Between the Canals’ screen at the IFI between March 18th and March 24th. IFTN spoke with the filmmaker about turning funding rejections around, casting a reluctant Damien Dempsey and making one taxi driver's acting dreams come true!

‘Between the Canals’ follows three small time criminals from Dublin’s North Inner City and their aspirations of infamy in a fast changing society: Liam, played by Dan Hyland is a small time dealer who wants to quit his life of crime to become an electrician and provide for his girlfriend and son; Dots, played by Peter Coonan (Shoe) is a crazy, irresponsible thug with ambitions to become a big time dealer whilst Stephen Jones’ Scratchcard is a drug user with no ambitions but to stay on social welfare and watch the world go by.

The film is written and directed by novice feature filmmaker, Mark O’Connor. Inspired by dialogue and experiences that he had come across in his life, the Avalon Films production almost never was, as Mark explains: “I wrote the script and brought it to the Film Board but when I applied for funding, it was rejected. The next time that I went in for a meeting, it was to meet with Alan Maher and Simon Perry, and at that meeting I was expecting them to explain why they’d decided not to fund the film.” What followed was a bold move on Mark’s part: before going in to the meeting with Alan and Simon the director called up some of the actors he was working with and shot some scenes at Dublin’s Liberty House with a home video camera.

He showed the footage to Alan and Simon on a laptop at the meeting and funding of €100,000 was duly granted to the project.“The fact that I was using non-actors and the dialogue was realistic...I think that was what convinced them.” Mark reflects. The gamble paid off as the feature was one of the first to sell out at the 2010 Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.

The film’s cast is one of the most important factors of the film. Casting mostly non-professional actors from the inner city areas of Dublin, Mark was adamant that the film maintain a sense of realism: “I wanted the film to feel like I had used real people, not actors,” he explains. “So I put up a couple of notices around Sheriff Street and Summerhill and I got a couple of calls. I also walked around the north inner-city a few times and met a couple of people on the street. I met Mary, who plays Liam’s mother on the street. She was telling me that she had been in ‘The Commitments’ and I just knew that she was right for that role.”

Mark also paid a visit to a local after schools project and cast some of the children that the centre had taken in from the streets. However one of the better casting stories saw a Dublin taxi driver talk himself in to a role, as Mark tells us: “I got into a taxi around Sheriff Street and the taxi driver talking to me, and I cast him as one of the roles because he was just so perfect for the role of Jim Gannon.”

The only well known face in the film belongs to Donaghmede singer, Damien Dempsey. Though Damien’s manager initially thought the singer would be too busy to get involved with the project Mark persisted and – having read the script himself - Damien finally came on board, but with a lot of trepidation. “He was very nervous at the start,” Mark admits. “but when he came in he knew it was something that he could do, because I had a couple of the lads there from the inner-city who were very welcoming to Damo, we created the best atmosphere to make him feel comfortable.”

Though it gave the required effect of realism, the casting of non-actors for the twelve day shoot proved slightly problematic and called for an alternative approach to directing for Mark: “I think, when you are working with non-actors, if you give them a script and they read the dialogue it’s not going to sound real,” he muses. “So what you have to do is help them learn it and then take the script away and let them say it in their own words. That gives them the freedom to improvise and you have them in a comfortable situation where they can just be themselves and come into the characters. And I think that is the best way.”

For the moment though Mark is kept busy with his new project, a feature film based around Ireland’s travelling community; “We just got funding a couple of days ago,” he says. “So we’re in pre-production with it at the moment. It’s about a feud between two families and about a guy whose father gets murdered so he sets out to find his father’s murderer. It will probably shoot in June.”

‘Between the Canals’ is produced by Deirdre Barry. The director of photography for the film is Dave Grennan (Shoe) and the project was edited by Frank Reid (The White Dress) in his own studio. The production designer was Eleanora Volpe (Rapuzel: The Blonde Years).

The film opens in the IFI on Friday, March 18th and runs until Thursday, March 24th and Mark is keenly aware of the importance of the screenings: “If it sells out during the first few days it will move to bigger cinemas – Omniplex are interested and hopefully Cineworld and Movies@Dundrum, so it all depends on how it does in the IFI” he tells us.

For IFI screening times visit



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