18 June 2024 The Irish Film & Television Network
Pictúir Paradiso: ‘Talking to my Father’ director Sé Merry Doyle on the films that shaped him
16 Nov 2015 :
As one might expect – the man behind such acclaimed documentaries as the IFTA-nominated ‘John Ford: Dreaming The Quiet Man’, ‘Alive Alive O – A Requiem for Dublin’ and this year’s acclaimed JDIFF entry ‘Talking to my Father’ – picked a lot of documentaries in his choice of films that shaped him.

Over to you Sé Merry Doyle…

Sé Merry Doyle: For me it was more like ’Talking to My Mother’ as she was the one who introduced me to the world of cinema. For whatever reason out of 12 children she singled me out as her pet and whenever she wanted to escape the house and catch a film in the Casino in Finglas I was the one she took. She loved Peter Lorree and Fred Astaire and whenever I see those old films on the box my mind drifts back to my earliest memories of the silver screen.

The Wages of Fear/France/1953

The film that ripped my head off as a young man was seeing ‘The Wages of Fear’. The master of suspense Henri–George Clouzot took me on a nail-biting journey as down at heel truck drivers went on a torturous journey to deliver nitro-glycerine over the mountains in South America. It still remains my favourite all time film and perhaps the realism of it all was what steered me towards a career in documentary.

Don’t Look Back: Bob Dylan/US/1967

Documentary is my life and I love that feeling of wanting to make yet another film revolving around a ‘Story that must be told’. A big thrill for me was to invite the legendary DA Pennebaker to Ireland to give a masterclass to Irish students. I was in awe of the man who made ‘Don’t Look Back’ the film that reflected a loose and swaggering Bob Dylan on the road. Observational documentary became my bible for a while.

Burden of Dreams/US/1982

We also brought over Les Blank who told us the background story of his documentary ‘Burden of Dreams’ and how Werner Herzog was pissed off that the doc was getting more audiences than the film it was based on ‘Fitzcarraldo’. It's a fantastic documentary that reveals the madness going on behind the camera between Werner Herzog and Klaus Kinski.

Man of Aran/Ireland/1934

Back on the home front I have to single out Flaherty’s 1934 ‘Man of Aran’ documenting the daily lives of a seafaring community. It signals in some ways the birth of documentary as a popular form and showed how audiences had a huge appetite for seeing reality on the big screen. I saw a photo once of a gigantic billboard in New York for its premiere. I also loved the story of how Flaherty had to be dragged off the Aran Islands by his producers or else he would have kept filming forever, waiting for that big wave!


For some going to see a documentary in the cinema can seem like hard work! I remember inviting my wife Ann to the cinema. ‘What's the film’ she asked. ‘It's a documentary called ‘Senna’ I replied. ‘Oh no, what's it about’ she grimaced. The life of the great Brazilian racing driver Ayrton Senna’ I replied, whereupon she became very despondent. She knew nothing about Senna or his world but as the film drew to an end and it was revealed that Senna had died she was weeping on my shoulder! There in all its glory was the power of documentary at work, opening up worlds that we may never give a second thought too and leaving us with new truths about the human condition. I am proud to be a little part of that family.

Further information about Sé Merry Doyle is available here and here

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