28 November 2022 The Irish Film & Television Network
ISA Rising Star and Ciúnas director Tristan Heanue talks with IFTN
25 Oct 2019 : Nathan Griffin
Tristan Heanue with Narayan Van Maele on the set of Ciúnas
IFTN caught up with writer/director Tristan Heanue to find out more about making his award-winning short film Ciúnas (Silence), setting the story in Connemara and reuniting with cinematographer Narayan Van Maele.

Heanue was recently announced as the recipient of Irish Screen America’s Rising Star Award for 2019, which he will receive at the annual New York festival that takes place on October 25th-27th.

Winner of the Físín Script Award at the 2018 Dingle Film Festival, the Irish language short film centres on a couple embarking on a journey in the midst of a family crisis and stars Gary Lydon (The Guard, Calvary, Pure Mule, The Clinic) Ally Ní Chiaráin (The drummer & the keeper, Michael Inside) and rising star Hazel Doupe (Float like a butterfly, Michael Inside, Calm with horses).

The film sees Heanue team up with Cinematographer Narayan Van Maele (Gutland, Gridlock) who was supplied with camera equipment from Vast Valley Ltd as part of the competition win.

Ciúnas is written, directed and produced by Heanue, with Tor Cotton and Dingle International Film Festival featuring as executive producers. The edit was done by John Desay, sound by Nikki Moss, Score by Michael Fleming, trailer score by John Paul O’Connor, colour grade by Michael Higgins, sound mix by Michael Heffernan, sound recording by Poe Ramon Assistant Director by Hugh O'Donoghue, assistant camera by Brian Durcan & Rossa O'Dowd, script supervisor by Lelanya O'Reilly and Make Up by Colleen Allman McGrath & Isabel Hardman.

We spoke with Tristan ahead of the film screening at the Irish Screen America festival in New York this October.

Can you tell me a bit about the experience of bringing the project through the Físín pitching competition?

“I initially submitted a paragraph of an idea to Físín and from the submissions, they picked 10 of their favourite ideas. After that, we did a weekend story development workshop with Gerry Stembridge in Dingle where he helped us shape the ideas. Then you went off and wrote the script and submitted it, from the 10 scripts they choose 5 to pitch to the panel at the Dingle Film Festival and one winner was picked. It was my first time going through any kind of funding development and I really enjoyed it. It's a wonderful scheme and I was delighted to hear that it will be continuing to run after the sad closure of Dingle Film Festival this year.”

Where did the inspiration for the story come from?

“I was visiting someone in a psychiatric hospital a few years ago and I saw a middle-aged couple sitting at the table next to me in the waiting area. They weren’t speaking and just sitting there in silence.

“A few minutes later their daughter arrived, I had no idea why she was there and nothing was addressed when they met. They just proceeded to make small talk even though they both looked like they had a million things they wanted to say to her and ask her. It just stuck in my head, that old Irish thing of not being able to express your feelings or say what you feel. I started to imagine their morning before they came to the hospital and that was where the main story came from.”

The film is shot amidst the scenic landscape of the Renvyle area of Connemara. Did you always intend to film there and why did you choose this location?

​“That area is where I grew up, so when I was writing it I was doing so with a specific set of locations in mind. When you are producing your own work you get into a habit of writing for locations that are accessible to you. But that wasn't the only reason; it very much fitted in with the characters and their backgrounds. Rural Ireland can be a tough place to live at times; despite its beauty, it can be incredibly lonely at certain times for a lot of people. I think that's very much reflected in the suicide rate in the more rural areas.”

You have previously mentioned the admiration you previously held for the acting talent involved in this film. Can you tell me about the casting process and how Gary, Ally, and Hazel got onboard?

“I had originally seen Hazel in Michael Inside, she was in one scene and I remember being so blown away by her raw emotion. I reached out to Frank Berry who put me in touch with her mother and I sent the script to her. Thankfully she liked it and she came on board. She is a really special talent, it was an incredible experience working with her and I am really looking forward to collaborating with her again.” 

“I met Gary on a film we had worked on together last August; he had been in my mind for the role already at this stage. On our last day of filming I asked him would he read the script and he was in right away. I was always a fan of his work so to have him on board was amazing. We spent hours on the phone in the weeks building up to the shoot talking about his character and he was constantly full of fresh questions and ideas which kept me on my toes. 

“I met Ally Ní Chairáin through a friend and we just hit it off. I was aware of her work and was very keen to do something with her. She was the first person to be cast as she had been in my head for the character while I was finishing the script. Again like with Gary we talked extensively beforehand about her role and her relationship with Gary's character, how much they communicated, did they keep secrets, etc. I think it really added to their performances as there is not a lot of dialogue so they had their research and backstory to help their performances.”

Ciúnas sees you once again team up with Cinematographer Narayan Van Maele. How beneficial is it working with a shorthand already established?
“I feel incredibly lucky to have found such an amazing collaborator like Narayan. He is a very gifted cinematographer and I think I have become a better filmmaker and learned so much through working with him. It's great going into a new project with that relationship in place as I think it’s one of the most important ones, we know each other’s styles and I think we complement each other.  

“He is also very honest when it comes to feedback etc, which is good in cases where you may be too close to something and may be missing a trick, he won't be long telling you!” 

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