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Pictúir Paradiso: ‘Tana Bana’ director Pat Murphy on the films that shaped her
12 Oct 2015 : Paul Byrne
With her acclaimed and challenging documentary ‘Tana Bana’ currently showing at the IFI in Dublin, IFTN caught up with the talented filmmaker Pat Murphy to find out about the films that shaped her.

‘Tana Bana’ tells the story of Muslim silk weavers at Varanasi on the Ganges whose lives are closely interwoven with that of their Hindu neighbours. For over a thousand years the skills of their trade have passed from one generation to the next. Now, however, facing globalisation and computerisation (with one automated machine doing the work of many men), thousands of small businesses are closing down.

In a four star review in The Irish Times, Donald Clarke stated that the film “manages to pack an enormous amount of information within its beautifully appointed frame” and praised its “luscious shots of fabrics, dye and crumbling architecture.”

Here Pat Murphy tells us more about how she came to deliver such an acclaimed piece of work through the films that shaped her…

Pat Murphy: So much of my life has been spent watching movies in the dark. These were a vivid, active force in my life- challenging preconceptions, shaping ideas, and probably having as much impact as any relationship in the so-called “real” world.

WHISTLE DOWN THE WIND (Britain 1961, 99 mins)

I saw ‘Whistle Down The Wind’ when I was ten and felt this film was talking to me. Loads of movies are made to entertain children, but not so many speak to the experience of being in a world where grownups are unpredictable, alien creatures. Hayley Mills plays a young girl who discovers an escaped criminal hiding in her father’s barn and thinks he is Jesus Christ. She tells her brother and sister and pretty soon all the local kids find out. The police surround the barn and she witnesses the arrest of the fugitive, devastated by what she sees as history repeating itself. An incredible film about betrayal and loss of innocence.

KES (Britain 1969, 112 mins)

Every single film by Ken Loach has been important. ‘Kes’ is a 1969 film about a boy from a depressed mining community in Yorkshire. Neglected and bullied, he is just seen as pit fodder, basically. Then he finds and trains a young kestrel and his world expands to be as free as the sky. And it’s because he has that freedom that the ending is so shocking.

LA JETEE (France 1962, 28 mins)

I love Chris Marker’s work, especially ‘Sunless’ and ‘The Last Bolshevik’, but ‘La Jetee’ is a favourite. A sequence of stills and v.o. telling a huge dystopian sci-fi story of time travel and lost love. This film had a huge influence on every sci-fi film made since it was released in 1962, from ’12 Monkeys’ to ‘Inception’ and beyond. In fact no sci-fi film has really surpassed it.

BICYCLE THIEVES (Italy 1948, 93 mins)

My father told me about skipping off work in the afternoons to see ‘Bicycle Thieves’ in the old Astor Cinema. He was blown away by it. But I didn’t get to see this great Italian Neo-Realist classic until I was an art student in London and then I was blown away also. It’s about a man who is offered a job hanging movie posters, but he has to have a bicycle. His wife pawns the sheets off their bed to redeem his bike but then it’s stolen on the first day. And so begins a desperate quest where he and his son go round Rome trying to get the bike back. Look at the first ten minutes. How economically and brilliantly De Sica sets up the story. A stunning film.’

SEVEN CHANCES (US 1925, 56 mins)

The Academy Cinema in London used to have a Buster Keaton season every summer, when the Misses De Jong would take turns to play the piano. ‘Seven Chances’ has the best silent movie chase ever. Keaton has to marry or lose his grandfather’s millions. As the deadline approaches and he searches for his true love, he is stalked by a posse of veiled women who have all heard the news. The posse builds and builds until thousands of women are chasing him through city streets, across a football pitch and then down a mountain through an avalanche of rocks.

VIVRE SA VIE (France 1962, 85 mins)

I first saw ‘Vivre Sa Vie’ at film school and knew I would have a relationship with this film for the rest of my life. Godard distances you, makes you aware that you’re looking at a construct of image and sound, but that awareness is always fresh, somehow. This is startling and original film making. You understand Nana’s bravery in seeing herself as being free, but the clarity is poignant. You know she is trapped and that her future is bleak.

CHINATOWN (US 1974, 131 mins)

‘Chinatown’. Film noir in colour. Flawless. I watch it not only for Robert Towne’s great screenplay, but to study the way Polanski directs. The way actors and camera work together without drawing attention to themselves. His signature use of an unsettling sound effect which is then revealed to have a live source within the scene.

OASIS (South Korea 2002, 132 mins)

A student turned me on to Korean cinema when I was teaching film at NYU Tisch Asia in Singapore and now Lee Chang Dong’s ‘Oasis’ is one of my favorite films. This is kind of an unsettling love story about two outsiders whose extreme behaviour exposes the hypocrisy and cruelty of mainstream society. It has one of the best fantasy sequences ever, (about 1’20” in) involving a baby elephant and a dancing girl.

BITTER LAKE (UK 2015, 137 mins)

And finally, Adam Curtis’s unmissable ‘Bitter Lake’ exploring Saudi Arabia’s relationship with America and basically reinventing television documentary in the process. His use of archive as a means of challenging and colliding with accepted meaning will occupy me for years to come.

‘Tana Bana’ is on release in the IFI now.





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