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IFTA 'Rising Star' Gerard Barrett Talks ĎPilgrim Hillí Ahead of Irish Release this 12 April
02 Apr 2013 : By Kevin Cronin
Since its premiere at the Galway Film Fleadh last year, ĎPilgrim Hillí Ė a poignant examination of one Irish farmerís struggle with loneliness and isolation - has attracted serious Hollywood attention and made a star of its creator, the gifted young Listowel director Gerard Barrett.

Winner of this yearís IFTA Rising Star award, Mr Barrett shot the film when he was only 23 on a budget of Ä4,500 and is now signed to talent agency Troika in London and WME in the US - with whom he shares an agent with Martin Scorsese.

His next creative endeavour is animated comedy series ĎNewsbagí, which is currently in production with Brown Bag films, and set to premiere on TV screens this autumn. Never one to rest on his laurels, Mr Barrett has also secured a three film deal with Film4 for his forthcoming projects, the first of which will begin filming in October.

Ahead of Pilgrim Hillís highly-anticipated Irish cinema release, Mr Barrett took the time to discuss the filmís international appeal with IFTN.

Mr Barrett, were you surprised by how ĎPilgrim Hillí has struck such a chord with international audiences? I suppose the biggest thing when I was making it was wondering would this play outside of Ireland? Even at festivals I didnít know if festival programmers would get it. We premiered at Galway and it went down a bomb - in a good way I mean- and the Telluride film festival picked it up in America. That was really interesting because it was the first Irish film there in six years, since Kisses. The first screening was a full house and it played really well. A lot of people were crying at the end of it. I think the loneliness and the isolation were universal themes that carried through. A lot of people came up to me afterwards and said they could relate to it whether they came from Albuquerque or a farming background in Connecticut or Colorado. I think the theme of having a sick parent really got them as well. It was the same with the London BFI, where it played incredibly well, and Los Angeles, Toronto, Moscow, Korea and other countries. I think the biggest theme that carried it all was loneliness because everyone has felt it at some stage.

I was totally surprised by the reaction, especially getting good reviews in London, in Variety and the Hollywood Reporter. Alexander Payne went to see the film when it was in Telluride. We were screening at 7 and Argo was screening at 9. No one had ever seen Argo before that. It was its first ever screening. All the security guards were lined up along the walls. We had to shut down laptops and all computers, phones, everything. You go to networking events where you have Ben Affleck and George Clooney and all these people. Just to be in the presence of creativity at that level, itís wonderful.

Did you strive for a documentary feel with Pilgrim Hill in the way the main character speaks directly to camera of his experiences? I always saw it as the main character narrating his own story, like a little novella. I wanted it to feel like a book. I just feel that if youíre honest with an audience, I think you can unsettle them straight away. The issues he brings up I think we have all thought about, like 'will I ever have kids? Will I ever get married?'

Has life changed dramatically for you over the past number of months since being signed to talent agencies WME and Troika? The signing with Troika happened even before I shot Pilgrim Hill. They read the script, loved it and said this could be set in Yorkshire. The head of Sony saw it in Galway and rang Telluride and then I was on a plane over there. I got a phone call when I arrived in Los Angeles saying this is ĎChris Donnelly from WME. I just saw your film. I think itís amazing. Come into me right now.í So I went in and he said he represented Martin Scorsese. Itís weird because I thought I was just going to be waiting in Los Angeles for five or six hours to catch another plane. You donít expect these things! But my life hasnít changed at all! Not at all. It just gets more pressurised because these people are looking for quality work off you all the time. So if youíre writing scripts they want the best scripts you can write. But itís a good place to be. Iím not complaining. Donít get me wrong!

What can you tell us about your new animated series with Brown Bag Films? I created this show called 'Newsbag'. Itís in production right now and there are loads of people working on it. Itís like a mix between South Park and the I.T. Crowd. There are 10 episodes, half an hour each, and itís looking really great! It will be premiering in September and the Irish Film Board and BAI are behind it. I canít say which broadcaster yet, but weíre in full production! Itís happening! Itís going to be fun and I was really excited because I got to create a writerís room, which I always wanted to do. So Iíve got four or five of the best young writers, I think, in the country working on it and itís going really well.

What details can you reveal about your three film deal with Film4? I have one project which is shooting this year with Film4 and Iíve just finished the script for the second project. I hope that will shoot either very late this year or early 2014. And I have a third script, which Iím just starting to work on. The first one is called ĎGlass Landí and itís set in urban Dublin. Itís about a young guy whoís a taxi driver and is trying to hold his family together in crisis. Shooting will start this October.

Who would you see as your greatest cinematic influences? The media has often compared you to a young Quentin TarantinoÖ When I saw that in an interview with the Times, I thought Iím not like that at all! Quentin Tarantino would be someone that I admire because heís someone who has the balls to do something a little bit different. I think what I did with Pilgrim Hill, with the narration style, is a little bit different. I really like Quentin Tarantino. I remember I was not even four years of age, sitting between my brotherís legs, watching a video rental of Reservoir Dogs. I remember that clearly!

I love Jim Sheridanís early work - The Field and My Left Foot. I just find those films so poignant. And Neil Jordan too. I think the Dardenne brothers are a big influence on me. Even someone like Christopher Nolan with the simplicity of ĎThe Followingí, his first film. Ben Wheatley is another huge influence for ĎDown Terraceí. The people that inspire me are the ones who go out and for their first films do it themselves, in a sense. I got the Ä4,500 for ĎPilgrim Hillí from Dennis my local credit union manager. Heís a gentleman and Iíll forever be grateful to him.

What advice would you have for young up-and-coming filmmakers to whom youíre now something of a role model? I think you have to sit down and make a plan. If you donít have a huge amount of money, tell a small story. Itís a visual medium. Get the best camera you can get. Spend most of your money on the camera - thatís my advice. Thereís no point in shooting it on a little handicam because itís going to look terrible on the screen. If you get a RED camera or an Alexa, itíll cost you a couple of grand but it will look like a film. The other thing I would say is hire a great crew. We had three crew members on Pilgrim Hill Ė cinematographer, focus puller and sound recordist. That was it. Three great guys who pulled together and everyone worked for a flat rate. Get the right people to work on the project, have a couple of characters, cast it well and have a really good script. I just think simplicity is the key. If you donít have much money, donít build a big house. Build a good small one.

ĎPilgrim Hillí certainly packs an emotional punch while focusing on some dark subject matter. How did you approach that as a filmmaker? Itís a very tough film to watch. I know that. At times itís dark but Iím an honest filmmaker. I needed to make the film that way. It had to be that way because thatís what life is like for these farmers. Otherwise Iím just making another postcard Irish film. I wanted this film to be reality. My uncle Jimmy is a bachelor farmer. For me to do anything else would have been a disservice. Itís intentionally the way it has to be. I felt the film needed to be tough to portray its message. You canít sugar-coat a story like this. These people donít have third acts in their life. Theyíre born; they get to middle age; thereís no marriage; there are no kids. I think weíre so programmed now from films to expect a big third act resolution, but these people donít have them. I think if you go into the film open-eyed, youíll get something from it.

'Pilgrim Hill', distributed by Element Pictures, arrives in Irish cinemas on 12th April.


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