23 February 2024 The Irish Film & Television Network
Director Keith Walsh discusses When All Is Ruin Once Again
24 Apr 2020 : Nathan Griffin
When All Is Ruin Once Again
We caught up with director Keith Walsh to find out more about his documentary When All Is Ruin Once Again, which releases on Vimeo this Friday, April 24th.

The film was originally scheduled to tour a number of cinemas and access Cinema Clubs following festival acclaim but with cinemas and arts venues now, unfortunately, closed you can watch When All Is Ruin Once Again direct from your living room. Click here for more information about how to watch.

When All Is Ruin Once Again picked up a number of accolades on the festival circuit including the award for Best Feature Film at the Kerry Film Festival, Best Cinematography at the Galway Film Fleadh, and a Special Mention Award at Doc Fest Ireland. This highly acclaimed documentary was filmed over a seven-year period amongst the communities of Gort in South Galway and Crusheen in Co. Clare where the filmmakers live. 

In this poetic documentary from director Keith Walsh, who lives in the area where the documentary was made, a myriad of personalities weave an epic tapestry through the bog lands, farms, fire-sides, race tracks, and hurling pitches of recession Ireland.

The film is shot, edited, and directed by Keith Walsh, produced by Jill Beardsworth, and executive produced by Aileen McCauley, Emma Scott, and Dearbhla Regan for Screen Ireland. The music is by Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh, with Killian Fitzgerald handling the sound mix and Keith Walsh handling the sound design. Archive research was conducted by Jack Lunt who is also credited on additional cameras along with Jill Beardsworth.

How did the decision to begin documenting this journey by your local community first come about?

“Having spent 5 years making Apples of the Golan as complete outsiders in the Israeli occupied Syrian Golan Heights it felt natural and necessary to look closer to home in relation to making another film, although that makes it sounds like it was a conscious decision, it wasn’t.

“Myself and Jill Beardsworth, who is my wife and also producer on this film, moved to Crusheen in Co. Clare in 2006 and in a way, making the film was about figuring out the world that was around us. It just so happened that a new motorway was by-passing Crusheen at the time and that seemed like a good marker in time to base a film around. We didn’t plan on it taking 10 years to make, but Jill’s father Ian passed away right at the beginning, followed quickly by the birth of our two kids and a recession, and the film changed to match how I was seeing the world in a different way. Thankfully the financier's Screen Ireland were incredibly understanding in keeping with us throughout the process, although their patience was tested towards the end.”

Having shot this documentary over seven years, can you tell me a little bit about the filming process itself, and how it evolved over time?

“We film as a two-person crew and often I was filming on my own so that helped to create a naturalistic atmosphere on and off-camera. When I was thirteen my older brother exploited me as a second camera op for his wedding video business so making people comfortable in front of the camera and moving fast is something that comes with a degree of ease.

“One of the biggest challenges was keeping consistency in the camerawork over such a long period. There was a time when I wanted everything to be handheld after seeing Nikolaus Geyrhalter’s beautiful film Angeschwemmt and that then changed as other influences like Andrey Paounov’s The Mosquito Problem and Other Stories and indeed some of Geyrhalter’s later work like Elsewhere came in where the shooting is more composed and static. The fact that we are both editors means that we were constantly looking at the rushes and editing small scenes so we were able to steer the style away from becoming disjointed.

“Other than that the main thing of note is that I tried to keep reactive as much as possible and that meant not having a plan a lot of the time when I went out filming. I tried to go where the mood took me or where the person I was filming took me. Obviously there were times where I needed to plan a bit more but I tried to keep flexibility somewhere within the process.”

Having previously filmed your last feature doc, Apples of the Golan, in the Israeli occupied Golan Heights. Can you give me some insight into your approach to this project and whether it differed from your previous work?

“Other than the obvious geographical distance and the logistical considerations that come with making a film over 5 years in a country far away, the approach was similar with the two films. For both films, we were strangers in a society and the main issue was to learn how to move in a way within the community that felt complimentary to the type of filming we do. We spent lots of time living and filming to find the stories, scenes, and characters we wanted to film. Each involved a lot of filming – over 200 hours for both.

“Having something (a theme, a motif, a place or a thing) that connects a group of people into a community is something that we seem to favour in our filmmaking - the apples, the road and in a short we made called Analogue People in a Digital Age it was a pub on the day of the analogue to digital switchover. The apples in the Golan Heights were a symbol of that community’s resistance and also a natural clock by which they set their lives. The road in Ruin started off as a time marker in the lives of the characters in the film but then transformed into a symbol of our age as the timeframe of the film elongated to take in its seven-year span.

“The main difference in Ruin, as opposed to Apples, was the lack of the political context which made it a little easier to frame. With Apples there was always a struggle to communicate what was going on as the occupation in the Golan Heights has very particular aspects to it that are difficult to communicate visually. It was much easier to communicate the ideas in Ruin as they are more universal in many ways.”

Establishing a rapport with subjects is crucial to garnering the sort of access and intimacy that is captured in this documentary. How did you go about achieving that closeness and comfort on screen?

“The main issue we had when we started this film was that we were still outsiders living in a new area so the first thing to do was to become part of the community as we couldn’t make this film without being trusted. So Jill joined the ladies' football team and I joined the Junior B hurling squad, neither of us having played before. That helped immensely in gaining the trust and friendship of the community. We were also never short of practical help during the filmmaking process – one of my coaches helped me film the two ladies at the fireplace, Cella & Angela, and another pushed the boat when the brass band played by the lake. This whole film features a lot of our neighbours from the two places we lived in during that time so a lot of the filming process was about living and being in the community. In some way, we became a type of outsider insider – not a local and not a stranger – and that helped us to film in the way we wanted.”

How did you approach the editing and structuring process, and did the wide timeframe of the filming impact this?

“Initially the film was supposed to have a much smaller timeframe and be focused around the opening of the first section of motorway but a few things happened around that time which changed things. Firstly the building of the motorway was finished nearly a year ahead of schedule which had the knock-on effect of disrupting our schedule. Then the IMF/EU bailout happened just days after the motorway opened and those two things influenced the timespan of the film greatly.

The economic crash meant that the building of the next section of the motorway was postponed with the very real possibility that it would never be completed. This sense of a motorway going nowhere seemed to resonate in the dark year's post-bailout. It also had a resonance with the grief we were dealing with at the time and the end of the motorway began to represent a borderland between time and space, life and death perhaps.

“It was always going to be a multi-character story and funnily enough I said to myself I would never do that again after my last film! But weaving many different voices and stories is something I’m often drawn to. I suppose the process of making the film was about trying to understand the world around me, but of course, there are many worlds coexisting in any place so I felt I could only do that through the lives and voices of many, rather than a few.”

The documentary also avails of archive footage. How did the decision to include this come about?

“It was never our intention to use archive from the outset, but in our research, we came across a wealth of folklore that had been recorded in the area and it sort of told us that it needed a place in the film. I think it’s important to look and listen for what the process is telling you when you are going through it and with luck, you can hear it. I think the archive in the film helps to create a sense of the past in the present and speaks to the transience of our existence, which the film’s title relates to.”

The film picked up an award for Best Cinematography at the Galway Film Fleadh. Can you give me some insight into the decision to film it in Black & White?

“I’m not sure I have a complete answer for that other than that’s the way both myself and Jill always saw it. It was B&W from before we started. Many aspects of this film just happened or felt right and we made decisions based on these happenings or feelings. This was probably true of the choice to shoot it in B&W and if I was to try to justify it retrospectively, I would probably say that the B&W helped to blur the lines between what was archive and what was not, and thus create a sense of the past and the present coinciding.”

What is next for you?

“I make my living as an editor, rather than on projects that take 10 years to make, so at the moment I am editing a project on the Famine directed by Ruán Magan and have to finish an edit on a documentary about Michael Keegan Dolan’s dance show Mám directed by Pat Collins so that is keeping me occupied right now. After that, we are making an Arts Council Reel Art documentary. I morph between editing, directing, and at times camerawork and I’d like to film for other documentary directors in the future if the right project comes along.”

Click here for more information about how to watch.

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