20 October 2021 The Irish Film & Television Network
Interview with ‘An Klondike’ director Dathaí Keane
07 Sep 2015 : Seán Brosnan
‘An Klondike’ the series premiering on TG4 on September 8th
With four part TG4 series ‘An Klondike’ beginning its run on Tuesday, September 8th, IFTN caught up with director Dathaí Keane to talk about the show.

An idea that was gestating with the director for over four years, Abú Media’s ‘An Klondike’ tells the story of the Connolly’s — three Irish brothers (Dara Devaney, Owen McDonnell and Sean T O Meallaigh) who journey from the silver mines of Montana to the Klondike Valley in the hope of striking it rich. They seek their fortune in Dominion Creek, a town built on greed, where the Connolly’s become embroiled in a deadly feud with Jacob Hopkins, the man who runs Dominion.

The film version of the series has received acclaim after premiering at the Galway Film Fleadh earlier this year with a lot of praise aimed towards Keane’s direction, the performances, the story and the cinematography as well as the Production Design. For the series, the mining town of Dominion Creek was constructed on the grounds of the Glengowla mines outside Oughterard in Co. Galway.

With the series promising to be different to the film (a lot more focus on secondary and tertiary characters), we talk to director Dathaí Keane about ‘An Klondike’.

IFTN: Actor Sean T O Meallaigh mentioned that he was talking to you about this project at the Galway Film Fleadh three or four years ago – how long was the story of ‘An Klondike’ in your head?

Dathaí Keane: ‘I approached TG4 with the idea in late 2011 and things started moving on it in early 2012. TG4 liked the concept so I wrote up a treatment where I laid out the world of ‘An Klondike’ as well as the various characters. Once TG4 saw that, we brought writer Marcus Fleming on board and Marcus really did a lot of the heavy lifting in terms of script. He gave a great structure to the idea and fleshed it out to provide a four part series. So, between getting it written, getting it funded and getting it made it took a while!’

‘An Klondike’ has been cut as a feature film as well a television series – a model TG4 used last year with Celtic Noir ‘An Bronntanas’ to great success but as a director does that model provide a lot more stress when preparing the project?

‘It wasn’t initially part of our process. We originally cut this as a four part series and it was only when TG4 saw the material that they realised that we could get a lot of publicity for the series from the film cut. I was weary of it at first but when I looked back over the footage we shot, I realised that it could actually work quite well as a film. So, we had to go back out and re-shoot some stuff to make the film more coherent because it was obviously written as a series which means it had a certain pace. In particular, we shot a new ending to give the film its’ own identity. A lot of storylines didn’t make it into the film cut – I think audiences would get a much fuller experience watching the series. For the film, we had to focus heavily on the three Connolly brothers but for the series we get to focus a lot more on other characters in Dominion Creek.’

Early reviews have noted similarities between ‘An Klondike’ and HBO’s much praised period drama ‘Deadwood’ – was this a coincidence or did ‘Deadwood’ strike a chord within you as an influence?

‘Yes actually – there was a part in ‘Deadwood’ that was one of the sparks that gave me the idea for this series. There is a scene where two men are at the bar and they are speaking Irish to each other and I just thought that was amazing – to think that Irish people travelled abroad and could easily have been speaking Irish in the Wild West and it made me think “where else could they have been speaking Irish”? I was also aware of Micí Mac Gabhann’s book (Rotha Mór an tSaoil) so putting those together certainly provided a spark and it certainly felt like very fertile ground to create a series in.’

Was it difficult to convince TG4 to back you on this series?

‘Not particularly. I have a good relationship with TG4 and I have worked with them a lot throughout the years. Commissioning Editor Michael O Meallaigh was behind us 100% from the very first day I spoke to him about it. I think he seen the potential there – that this series could connect even with audiences outside of Ireland. We envision that this series would have appeal to audiences all over the world – we already have broadcasters in other regions who are very interested in it.’

A very praised element of the show was the production value and design –the series is entirely shot in Galway but viewers would not even question the 1897 Yukon setting….

‘Yeah, we knew early on that if people didn’t buy that this was 1897 in the Yukon – we’d be sunk. I did a documentary years ago in Northern Ontario and when I came back to Galway I was struck by how similar the terrain in the two regions were. The big thing then was that the town of Dominion Creek would look authentic. So, myself and Production Designer Padraig O Neill put in a lot of time researching and we were in contact with a group over in The Klondike that gave us architectural details like the correct shape of windows etc. The thing about these towns constructed during the Gold Rush was that they were very rough and ready – thrown together quickly to accommodate the influx of miners – some buildings would be constructed overnight almost. Padraig and the crew that built the set were a very talented bunch and they gave us exactly what we wanted.’

There has been two screenings of ‘An Klondike’ with two positive receptions – at the Fleadh and then at a special IFTA screening…..

‘Yes, and it has played at the EYE Cinema in Galway as well. It was only supposed to play for a week but we are now screening for another week so that’s fantastic. I think it is a pretty universal story though and that is the reason it has connected with film audiences and hopefully it will find an audience on TG4 too. We all love seeing stories about ourselves and I think this story is pretty primal being that it’s about family and greed. And I think that is why TG4, the BAI and Abú Media came behind us the way they did.’

And has the positive reception to the film version eased the nerves a little on how the series will be received?

‘I don’t think so. I had faith in this project the whole way through. Coming back to that great quote from Requiem For A Dream author Hubert Selby who said “there are two motivations in life; one is fear and one is faith” and that definitely applied here. The shoot was tough for everyone involved but there was a lot of faith here – in the script, in the cast and in the crew and I think that spurred us on.’

And do you have faith in the Irish public then to switch over to TG4 and spend their next four Tuesday nights with ‘An Klondike’?

‘Yeah, I think this is a project that will hopefully connect with audiences not just in Ireland but internationally too. I don’t think subtitles are the handicap they once were with a lot of people watching French and Scandinavian dramas these days. So, I don’t think that will be an obstacle to us getting viewers at all.’

Dominion Creek seems like a place where a lot more stories could be told – any plans for a second series and what do you think the future holds for ‘An Klondike’?

‘Yes, we have already written four more episodes and we are hoping the BAI will come on board for another season. I originally envisioned ‘An Klondike’ being three seasons – all representing one year of the Gold Rush which lasted three years. The sets are still standing so it would be great to go back and continue the story. Also, for the film cut – we have put it forward for consideration to be Ireland’s pick for the Foreign Language Oscars. So, I think the film cut may have life there and to be put into Oscar contention would be a real privilege but it’s early days yet.’

‘An Klondike’ airs on Tuesday, September 8th on TG4.

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