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Paddy Slattery on his WB Yeats’ inspired ‘Sojourn’
11 Jun 2015 : Paul Byrne
Paddy Slattery on the set of ‘Sojourn’
With ‘Sojourn’, Offaly’s answer to Orson Welles, the mighty Paddy Slattery, let’s one of Ireland’s most loved poets be his guide and inspiration. IFTN’s Paul Byrne pulls up a toadstool.

There must be something in the water down Offaly way. Maybe it’s just pure poitin flowing out of those taps?

And whatever it is, Paddy Slattery and his motley crew seem to be drinking more than their fair share. Heading up a multi-headed little monster that seems to unleash a new cinematic offering every other week, this year alone, Slattery has somehow managed to pull together a bunch of equally multi-talented filmmakers to create such beauties as Tristan Heanue’s ‘Today’ (set to premiere at the Galway Film Fleadh this year), Martin McCann’s ‘Fishbowl’ and James Fitzgerald’s IFTA-nominated ‘Skunky Dog’.

And now comes Slattery’s own ‘Sojourn’, inspired by WB Yeats, and starring Heanue in the title role of Aedh. As a special preview screening of ‘Sojourn’ - along with a Q&A - takes centre-stage at a Yeats 150th birthday celebration in Tullamore on June 18th, young Slattery took some time out to talk to IFTN’s Paul Byrne. He was probably taking a 10-minute break from overseeing eight different film productions on the day. We reckon.

Paul Byrne: ‘Sojourn’ is inspired by WB Yeats’ character Aedh - feel in any way that you had better deliver something special if you’re invoking such a legend?

Paddy Slattery: ‘Absolutely. I felt like I was treading sacred ground every step of the way, therefore, I took Yeats’ advice and tread softly. That, and the sad fact that I felt I knew Aedh, intimately. Kindred spirits, of sorts, so there was a sense of familiarity with this material which gave me the confidence to fail gracefully, or otherwise.’

You have included some of your own poems here - which is akin to writing songs at the altar of Elvis. Poetry is almost as tricky as filmmaking; do you dive in headfirst, or do you take pains over every word, over every frame...?

‘You know, I’m encouraged rather than discouraged by the idea of writing original poetry in a Yeats-inspired film. Of course, I’m always concerned about what others might think of my efforts, but you know what, poetry is such a personal form, just like this film is a personal expression. I want people to know my innermost thoughts, and I, theirs. It’s why I love reading and writing poetry. In terms of actually writing it - yes, just like song or screenwriting, I plan, deliberate, investigate, navigate, hesitate and even procrastinate, over every word choice. But, I also dive right in, head first. Sink or swim. Unlike filmmaking, it doesn’t cost you, financially, if you write a s**t poem. And when I say s**t, I mean something insincere or pretentious. Honest poetry is great poetry, even when it’s s**t.

Was it a long and winding road from your soul to the screen?

‘Every filmmaking journey is. Ironically, this film is titled ‘Sojourn’, but this was anything but… And not just because it’s such a personal film, as you’ll read in three answers time.’

You have some familiar faces around you, those you’ve worked with on other films - that must make the journey easier, right?

‘Yes, of course. Sorry if this sounds cliché but we don’t build film crews we build film families and each project welcomes new additions to the family. And, as we all know, when the family unit is strong, mountains can be moved – even without a budget, as you’ll see in this film.’

How is your mini-Hollywood down in the waters and the wilds of Offaly coming along? You’ve delivered some wonderful shorts, most recently the IFTA-nominated ‘Skunky Dog’ and ‘Today’, the latter written and directed by your leading man here, Tristan Heanue...

‘Thank you for the kind words, sir. To be honest, we have an amazing young team of talented filmmakers around us who literally work their asses off, and many, I believe, will go on to do great things, particularly the aforementioned Tristan Heanue. Not just an extraordinary actor but writer, director and producer, also. And I swear he didn’t pay me to say that. We have collaborated on four projects to date, and every single one has been a life-affirming experience.’

‘As for beautiful Offaly. Well, I’m thinking of changing my address to Boggerly Hills in Paddywood. Inspired by your quips to that effect. I’m still awaiting planning permission to erect the letters across Croghan Hill. On a serious note, we are perfectly located on the map; central to everywhere and with the support from FilmOffaly, don’t be surprised if Offaly becomes the go-to place outside of Dublin in years to come.’

Listed on IMDB for September 2014 - if so, why the long pause to its sneak preview on June 18th at Tullamore library?

‘Back in 2013, ‘Sojourn’ was originally titled ‘The Pilgrim’s Coat’, which would have been a community arts project about a group of Tullamore-based knitters who created this wonderful coat for Aedh. The original concepts were highly ambitious- think Cirque du Soleil. So, we developed and submitted a proposal to the Arts Council. Alas, we didn’t get the desired funds, therefore, rather than letting the project die on its knees, some creative compromises were made and a much smaller budget was crowdsourced on Fundit.ie. Unfortunately, this re-design took a lot of time and planning so we managed to squeeze it in between other projects. By the way, thank you for the reminder. I need to update that IMDb page!’

The event on the 18th is a celebration of Yeats’ 150th birthday, and alongside a special screening of ‘Sojourn’ there’s talk of some ‘special guests of the well-known variety’. Spill the beans, young man!

‘Yes, before the film screens we’ll open with some very special Yeats related recitals; firstly from a couple of members of the brilliant Tullamore Rhymers Club, then from the great Brendan Graham, one of Ireland’s most globally recognized songwriters (You Raised me Up, Rock ‘n’ Roll Kids, The Voice) and novelist (The Whitest Flower). Brendan also features in the film, reciting the original poems and his voice alone evokes images of an ancient celtic mystical land. Brendan will then introduce a beautiful intimate performance by Cathy Jordan (Dervish) and Feargal Murray (world renowned pianist and composer). If that doesn’t whet the appetite then the free wine will.’

Bejiggers, I’m there. What are the commercial hopes for ‘Sojourn’? Is online the most likely place people are going to find it, or do you have bigger plans?

‘Well, it has a running time of 42 minutes, a huge no-no for film festivals. There is no dialogue in the film. No nudity. No Channing Tatum. No gimmicky 3D. So, we have high hopes for commercial success. In fact, I’m away to the bookies now to back next year’s Oscar winner!’

‘Sorry, I let the cynic monster out there for a moment. Realistically, we’ll target film festivals tailored toward the art/poetry genre. After that, it’s in the lap of the Gods. We’ll eventually make it available online or DVD for anyone that wants a gander.’

And what about a dirty big blockbuster from the Paddy Slattery Factory? You guys clearly have the talent - is it all down to the money? Or would you be a little bit scared of tackling a big-budget feature?

‘Flattery will get you everywhere, but Slattery will get you in trouble - as someone witty once said to me.’

‘Sorry, yeah… the dreaded tentpole franchtastic fare. Great blockbusters are very few and far between, and that’s fine. These mega budgeted popcorn movies employ many thousands of filmmakers and, in many ways, are a necessary evil, in order to keep the industry afloat. Would I like to write/direct one? Maybe, but on one condition…. I get full creative control, aka ‘the directors cut’. Fat chance.’

‘As for tackling a big budget – bring it on! I’d probably feel a little guilty knowing what other great philanthropic deeds I could do with $200,000,000, but I’d only take it on if I knew the film would have a profoundly positive impact on society.’

And your bank account, of course. What’s next on your slate, as producer, director, writer or gaffer...?

[Takes a deep breath] ‘A feature film titled ‘The Broken Law of Attraction’, about a young cop who sets out to emulate his late father’s heroic legacy. All goes to plan until his estranged, dysfunctional brother turns up with a shady criminal past, looking for his help. Any great producers or bored rich film enthusiasts out there interested in a free cuppa coffee in exchange for five minutes of your time? God loves a trier, eh...?’

‘Sojourn’s’ special preview as part of the WB Yeats’ 150th birthday celebration takes place at Tullamore Library, Offaly on June 18th at 8pm. For more details, click https://www.facebook.com/events/1623301224566110/.

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