22 January 2021 The Irish Film & Television Network
John Connors and Tiernan Williams discuss Endless Sunshine on a Cloudy Day
21 Apr 2020 : Nathan Griffin
Endless Sunshine on a Cloudy Day.
We caught up with Producer Tiernan Williams and director John Connors of Cluster Fox Films to discuss DIFF Audience Award-winning documentary Endless Sunshine on a Cloudy Day, which is currently available to rent on vimeo.

The documentary premiered at the Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival in March, where it received a standing ovation and the coveted Audience Award for Best Film 2020.

A poignant documentary feature film, which tells the story of the McCann family from Ireland. A story about a family battling to stay together with the odds stacked heavily against them. The film examines life in the face of one's own mortality. A beautiful portrayal of acceptance, positivity and the ability to find meaning in the darkest of times, resulting in the discovery of Endless Sunshine on a Cloudy Day.

Click here to watch the feature documentary on Vimeo.

The film has garnered touching testimonials from actor Aidan Gillen, musician Finbar Furey, Damien Dempsey, and Gerry Adams for its raw emotional power and ability to inspire. The film is a touching story about family, love and the unbelievable power of the human spirit to overcome extreme adversity.

Cluster Fox Films believe that this film provides a very important message while people’s health anxiety escalates as the Coronavirus takes hold of our daily lives, and know that Jade & Anthony would have wanted the film to be released now, more than ever as it may help to put everything into perspective.

IFTN Journalist Nathan Griffin spoke with Connors and Williams to discuss the documentary in more depth.

IFTN: How did the idea to do this documentary come about and what was it that initially drew you to Jade and Anthony’s story?

Connors: “I first met Jade at an industry launch party. I had promotional obligations and she was working there, guiding me through that day. We start talking and she told me that she wanted to be a documentary filmmaker and that she loved my Traveller docs, we exchange details and kept in touch. A few months later she was diagnosed and really low. Tiernan Williams my producer suggested that we start filming her journey to give her hope and something to look forward to.”

“We started filming with her after her diagnosis. Jade loved filming. It kept her mind busy but it was also fulfilling a dream. She convinced me and my producer, Tiernan Williams, to keep the project going despite our apprehension. She and Anthony really loved it and we had the best of craic despite the tough subject. ‘Tis the Irish way.’” 

IFTN: The documentary chronicles Jade’s journey as she transitions from supporting her dad, Anthony’s cancer treatment, to coming to terms with her own diagnosis. From an editorial point did her diagnosis impact the way in which the crew interviewed and interacted with the family?

Connors: “We actually started following her post diagnoses, but we went back further through her Instagram once we got access to her archive.”

Williams: “There were so many twists, Anthony was out of danger, then Jade was misdiagnosed, then Anthony was back in danger. It was like a rollercoaster ride, we just kept filming. But above all, Jade and Anthony’s story was a film about life, not death, so that’s what we focused on when we were with them. We were laughing and messing up to the last days of filming. Their energy and passion for life, right up to the end, was enough to energise us all. That’s the type of people they both were.”

IFTN: The powerful message in this documentary undoubtedly originates from the raw honesty and positive outlook of the McCann family. Can you tell me about establishing that trusting relationship with Jade and Anthony to allow them to speak so openly and intimately on camera?

Connors: “Having known Jade prior to the documentary and with Tiernan being a physiotherapist, trust was never really an issue. It was more about having the craic with each other and having a relaxed set so they always felt comfortable and respectfully listened to.”

Williams: “John’s directorial style is really natural and he has an uncanny skill of putting people’s anxieties at ease in front of the camera. Fun was an important aspect of trust-building and we all enjoyed the messing and banter. Jade and Anthony’s personalities were similar to our own, as we all find humour in the darkest of wit. We just clicked and really enjoyed each other’s company; it was a cathartic process for us all at times.”

IFTN: Social Media played a major part in Jade’s life and features quite prominently throughout the documentary. As the story unfolds, the viewer is informed about the date/year and status of her social media audience growth, which fluctuates throughout her journey. Why did you feel it was important to include this? 

Connors: “It shows the toxicity and apathy that exists online. How people are building self-esteem and their ego with likes and shares. It's really shocking and I really wasn't fully aware until we made this documentary. I hadn’t seen it explored in a documentary before so as filmmakers it fascinated us. I knew it had to be a central theme so that the documentary could be more than just a eulogy; it would have a real and meaningful legacy for Jade and Anthony.”

Williams: “I live every day in shock at how social media is such a double-edged blade. It can be used for amazing positivity, support, and fundraising, etc. But on the darker side, there is a voyeuristic aspect to it all. Something that can only be explained as a type of perverse rubbernecking on people’s lives, where others are actively waiting for the car crash to happen to someone’s life.  People lose interest waiting for the calamity and leave; John and I witnessed this and couldn’t believe what we were seeing. This is why we felt it was hugely important to include this observation, as Jade had struggled to understand it too.”

IFTN: The unique soundtrack performed by Jade, which includes renditions of The Parting Glass and Nine Crimes, truly encapsulates the emotion felt throughout the film. Was this something that you wanted to include from the outset?

Connors: “No, this documentary was never planned out. I did hear Jade sing one day and was blown away. One day we interviewed her on the rocks in Greystones after her suicide attempt and I asked her to sing. She sang the parting glass. It blew the socks off us. That song became the theme song and we wanted as much music in it as possible from then on out. Jade recorded a couple of songs but her voice got damaged due to medication before she could complete her album.”

Williams: “We pointed the camera and let Jade do what she did best, light it up. The ‘Nine Crimes’ song was very meaningful to Jade she just starts playing it and sang a few bars in the church. Then she spoke about the online bullying that robbed her of her confidence and the potential of a music career. Jade’s pain just poured out and we just kept filming in an observational manner. Damien Rice’s song inspired Jade to talk about her biggest regrets, her own nine crimes, which was not fulfilling her potential because she allowed other people to kill her confidence and her doubt her own abilities.”

IFTN: A hugely poignant moment in the film is the re-enactments of Jade’s recurring “Tree Of Life” dream, which she describes in detail. At what point did you make the inspired decision to actually film these scenes and include them as you have in the film?

Connors: “That was Tiernan’s idea. We were in the edit, almost there and we needed something else, bigger, spiritual. He said I have an idea!”

Williams: “John and I were trawling through hours of Jade’s Instagram archives and we noticed that she kept referring to ‘cancer dreams’. Vivid reoccurring dreams that were frightening her, she had been asking her fans for advice. I’ve studied Freud and Lacan two psychoanalysts who have theories about dreams. They suggest that dreams are usually encoded ‘wish fulfilments’, surfacing in the preconscious mind whilst we sleep. Jade wished that she and Anthony would beat cancer and hence leave the twilight world of the tree of life, returning to the land of the living. We needed to show a strong symbolic representation of this spiritual battle for life and this is how John and I elected to do it. The scene was filmed on a special infrared camera to get that otherworldly effect.”

IFTN: The film has garnered a number of high-profile testimonials with many stating that the film has changed their perspective on life. Having been a part of this journey, how has it affected your outlook and what have you taken from documenting Jade and Anthony’s story?

Connors: “Their strength has helped me get over some personal trauma and grief. That was their gift to me. I’ll never give up on hope again. Never.”

Williams: “It reminds me that life is short and we all have valuable stories to tell. I think it’s really important to live, love and cherish every moment we have with our loved ones. We can’t take anything for granted, just the moment we currently exist in, so we might as well make the most of it.”

IFTN: After this journey, how significant was it to receive the Audience Award at the Dublin International Film Festival?

Connors: “Winning the audience award was beautiful! Jade and Anthony were smiling down on me and Tiernan who danced the night away! X.”

Williams: “Validation. There were two years with many life turns on the way for us all. As the project went on we were just hoping that we were telling the story, which did justice to Jade and Anthony’s legacy. John and I had some night after winning. We celebrated for Jade and Anthony as we knew how much that award would have meant to them both.” 

Click here to watch the feature documentary on Vimeo.

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