17 July 2024 The Irish Film & Television Network
“There is a real energy to Irish language cinema at the moment;” Director Seán Breathnach discusses Foscadh
16 Mar 2022 : Nathan Griffin
Dónall Ó Héalai in Foscadh
Following the film’s selection as Ireland’s Official Entry into the 2022 Best International Feature Oscars, the Irish language drama is currently on release in cinemas nationwide.

We spoke to director Seán Breathnach ahead of the film’s release to find out more about adapting the film from Donal Ryan’s novel The Things About December, working with Dónall Ó Héalai, the importance of pre-productions, and being part of a Golden Era of Irish language filmmaking.

Set in the wild mountains of Connemara, Foscadh tells the story of naïve recluse John Cunliffe who is suddenly propelled into manhood at the ripe old age of 28. When his over-protective parents pass away, friendless John inherits mountain land that is in the way of a lucrative wind-farm development, and he is forced to navigate the choppy waters of romance, trust, and vengeance for the first time. The ensuing drama is a taut and absorbing late coming-of-age tale from the North-western tip of Europe.

The film has had to wait patiently for its opportunity to screen in front of cinema audiences, but that time has come with audiences safely returning to big screens across the country. “In a word, it feels amazing!” Breathnach told IFTN, when asked about how it felt to final have a release date in sight. “I've been living with Foscadh since late 2017 when I first began adapting Donal Ryan's The Thing About December.”

Funding for the film was secured in late 2018 with filming beginning in November 2019. “That was a hugely enjoyable and gratifying experience,” Breathnach recounted. “Unfortunately, Covid 19 arrived during the post-production, which delayed our plans for release somewhat, so I'm beyond happy that the film will finally be available for Irish audiences to experience from the 11th of March onwards.”

Foscadh has deservedly earned some significant accolades prior to its releases including being  selected as Ireland’s Official Entry into the 2022 Best International Feature Academy Awards, winning Best First Film at the Galway Film Fleadh 2021, Best Director at Newport Beach Film Festival 2021, and picking up two nominations for Dónall Ó Héalai and Cillian Ó Gairbhí in the Lead Actor and Supporting Actor categories, respectively, at the 2022 IFTA Awards.

“It was wonderful to gain such recognition and further justifies all the energy, time, and hard work required, in making a feature film,” Breathnach told IFTN. “I'm particularly delighted for the very talented cast and crew as these awards and recognitions are a testament to their work. Making a film is such a communal experience and what we see on the screen involves the talents of so many people, working incredibly hard in a relatively short space of time.”

Foscadh is an adaptation of Donal Ryan’s novel The Things About December, a book producer Paddy Hayes of Tua Films approached Breathnach about adapting due to thematic similarities he saw between Ryan and Breathnach’s work. “He saw similarities between it and a short film I made a few years previously, called Solitude,” Breathnach explained. “Paddy handed me a copy of The Thing About December one particularly wet Friday morning in Galway, and once I started reading, I couldn't stop. Literally. I read the entire novel in one sitting and fell in love with it.”

“After we secured the funding and began writing drafts of the script, we kept in touch with Dónall; we also provided updates on the filming and provided him with an early copy of the film,” Breathnach continued. “Easily the most gratifying moment on this journey for me, was watching Donal leading the applause at the premiere of Foscadh last year at the Galway Film Fleadh. If the film is well received, then that is a reflection of Donal Ryan's amazing source material.

“I'm indebted to producer Paddy Hayes, because he structured the pre-production and shoot so that I was given considerable time to workshop and then rehearse many of the scenes you will see in the finished film,” Breathnach told IFTN. “After completing a number of drafts, I brought the main cast together and we started to interrogate their characters.”

The film boasts an indigenous Irish speaking cast lead by Connemara actor and Screen Star of Tomorrow Dónall Ó Héalai (Arracht) with support from Fionnuala Flaherty (Out of Innocence) from Inis Mór, Aran Islands, Inis Meain actor Macdara Ó Fátharta (Ros na Rún), and Limerick actor Cillian Ó Gairbhí (Blood).

“We were then able to record the contents of these workshops and I wrote a further draft based on what we excavated in these sessions,” Breathnach explained. “All in all, I believe this approach helped the performances and allowed us to add a truth to the characters that is difficult to create on the page.”

Foscadh sees Dónall Ó Héalai take on the role of John Cunliffe, the film’s protagonist who features across every scene – a challenge that Breathnach was confident Ó Héalai would relish. “It is somewhat unusual to construct a film entirely around one character but that was an early creative decision, and quite possibly the best creative decision made, because it ensured that the hugely talented Dónall Ó Héalai would be a part of every scene,” Breathnach told IFTN. “The source material is quite internal and the reader is privy to John's thoughts and feelings, even when those around him are not.”

“So, my strategy was to stay with John on the screen throughout the story and to gently reveal his feelings and history as we journey to the climax,” Breathnach explained. “I knew that Dónall had the talent and right sensibility to portray this inner world that slowly comes to the surface as he comes to terms with his present and his past. Dónall has the ability to communicate so much on screen without uttering a single word of dialogue.”

Breathnach filmed on location in Connemara where the film could avail of the beautifully rugged landscape of the wild Atlantic coast. “As the film was always going to be as Gaeilge, and because I favour a naturalistic aesthetic, it made sense to shoot in Galway in the Gaeltacht, using a primarily Gaeltacht cast,” the director explained, when asked if he had considered other locations. “We did look at a few different locations, but ultimately went with the hidden and beautiful landscapes in Corr na Móna, in north Galway.”

“In the mountains and valleys of Maam, the low winter light is beautiful, but only falls intermittently,” Breathnach continued. “It has a unique quality that seemed to complement the themes and characters we wanted to explore in the film. An added bonus was the welcome and support we were given by muintir Chorr na Móna. I cannot speak highly enough of them.”

Golden Era
Foscadh is one of several Irish language feature films to be produced over the past five years through the Cine4 scheme, which has led to what many are calling the Golden Era of Irish language filmmaking. “There is a real energy to Irish language cinema at the moment, due in no small part to our funders, TG4, Screen Ireland, and the BAI, who created the Cine 4 scheme in 2017,” Breathnach told IFTN. “It was always my intention to write and direct as Gaeilge and thankfully there is now a pathway to feature film production in the Irish language, long may it continue.”

“It has been a banner year for Irish language features with the release of Doineann, and Foscadh, and of course An Cailín Ciúin, and Róise & Frank are on the way,” Breathnach explained. “Previous Cine 4 productions like Finky and Arracht have also made a big impact at home and abroad. The Cine 4 scheme is going from strength to strength and the various funding bodies involved deserve a huge amount of credit for their support and vision.”

Eclipse Pictures currently have Foscadh on release across Irish cinemas nationwide.

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