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Director Colm Bairéad discusses IFTA Best Film winner An Cailín Ciúin
26 May 2022 : Nathan Griffin
Writer/Director Colm Bairéad.
When the Cine4 scheme was established in 2017, director Colm Bairéad felt it was the logical next step for his career, but little did he know how significant that decision would be.

Having directed shorts, documentary, dramas, and TV movies within the Irish language television production sector for several years, the introduction of the Cine4 scheme offered Colm and other Irish language filmmakers an opportunity to be supported in the development and production of feature films in the Irish language.

“I really wanted to get one of the Cine4s because all of my drama work up to that point had been in the Irish language,” Bairéad tells IFTN. “And yeah, it just felt like a really natural progression in terms of what I had done and what I was hoping to do.”

It was here that Bairéad had the idea to adapt Claire Keegan's short story Foster and develop into a feature film script entitled, An Cailín Ciúin. The director was drawn to the complexities that underlay Keegan’s work, which at a surface level can be perceived as a very simple story.

“I’m quite drawn to that notion of looking quite closely at something that's small’, but then you discover something that's quite profound within that,” Bairéad explains.

“There was also just Keegan's style, her prose is very precise. And it's very economical,” the director adds. “To me, it felt very visual, when I was reading it, I was just seeing it. I was constantly seeing everything and just thinking how you could frame the experience that's being unspooled in her work.”

The director feels that his affinity with stories that have young protagonists also enticed him to Foster when reading it. “A lot of my short drama work would be with young people as the protagonist,” he explains. “So yeah, it was kind of a mixture of all those things.”

The film tells the story of Cáit (played by Catherine Clinch) - a nine year-old girl from an overcrowded, dysfunctional family who is sent away to live with her mother’s relatives for the summer. She is welcomed with open arms by Eibhlín (Carrie Crowley), but her husband (Andrew Bennett) keeps Cáit at arm’s length. Slowly, but surely, a warmth grows within this makeshift family and Cáit blossoms in their care. But in this house where there are meant to be no secrets, she discovers one painful truth.

An Cailín Ciúin is the feature film debut of writer/director, Colm Bairéad and producer, Cleona Ní Chrualaoi of Inscéal. The film was funded by Screen Ireland, TG4, and the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland as part of the Cine4 scheme. It was shot on location in Meath and Dublin in 2020.

When he initially read Keegan’s story, the director also noticed strong thematic commonalities in his work and hers including topics that the director had explored in his previous projects. “I felt that Keegan was doing it in a way that was just so beautifully rendered,” he tells IFTN, “so the challenge then of transposing that to the screen, felt like something really worthwhile.”

“Ultimately, it's a story about love,” Bairéad explains. “I guess, a lot of my work has sort of boiled down to that. And, you know, obviously grief is a big part of it as well, but grief, in and of itself, is a form of love, you know. You can't have grief unless you had love to begin with. So they're sort of inseparable in that sense.”

Bairéad’s gentle, hauntingly beautiful coming-of-age drama has caught the hearts and minds of national and international critics alike, becoming the first Irish language film to be selected for Berlinale, where it received the Grand Prix of the Generation Kplus International Jury for Best Film. The film continued its success, becoming the first Irish language film to open the Dublin International Film Festival, where it was awarded the Best Irish Film by the Dublin Film Critics Circle (DFCC).

“Getting chosen for Berlin was wild,” Bairéad tells IFTN. “It's funny actually because when you're applying for the scheme (Cine4), you have to do multiple applications and one of them is to outline your plans in terms of your festival strategy.”

“I remember writing that our No.1 dream goal would be if we could get into the generation at the Berlinale because it seems like this perfect platform for a film like this, that's centered on a young person,” the director recounts. “I remember writing it at the time thinking, ‘Well, that’s pie in the sky stuff… that would be amazing…’ So when that actually happened, it was just extraordinary.”

An Cailín Ciúin most recently swept the board at the most recent IFTA Film & Drama Awards, winning eight Irish Academy awards including Best Film, with Bairéad picking up both the Best Director and Screen Ireland Rising Star Award. “We were blown away that we got so many nominations to begin with, we felt that was a win in and of itself, so it ended up being this remarkable evening, sat in our dining room in front of a zoom window,” he exclaims.

The IFTA Film & Drama Awards completed their third and final “virtual” ceremony earlier this year with the aim to return to the traditional ceremony next year, something Bairéad admits he was relieved about. “I actually found out I had COVID that day,” he explains. “So yeah, if it had been the real thing, I wouldn't have been able to go!” 

Thankfully, the director was able to pick up his award at a small ceremony in Dublin last week alongside his producer and wife, Cleona Ní Chrualaoi, and the rest of the talented production team such as lead actress Catherine Clinch, cinematographer Kate McCullough, editor John Murphy, production designer Emma Lowney, and composer Stephen Rennicks who were also in attendance to receive their IFTA statuettes.

Having been picked up for distribution by Break Out Pictures in Ireland and Curzon in the UK, the film released to audiences earlier this month and has been building solid momentum. So far, the film has already passed the €300k box office mark in Ireland, making it the highest grossing Irish language film of all time. Word of mouth is also playing a large part with Break Out’s Co-Founder Robert Finn taking to twitter earlier this week to celebrate the great news that audience attendances were up during the film’s second week on release.

However, An Cailín Ciúin was not Colm Bairéad’s first feature project submitted for TG4, Screen Ireland, and the BAI’s Irish language feature film scheme. Another project preceded the now multi-award winning film, narrowly missing out on an earlier round of Cine4. “We actually got shortlisted for the second round of Cine4, out of which came Foscadh, and Roise & Frank,” Bairéad tells IFTN.

“We apparently came third out of the five projects they shortlisted, which each got development funding,” the director explains. “So that was heart-breaking to come so close.”

“I'm actually glad now, though, that it worked out the way it did, because I think An Cailín Ciúin, as a film, is kind of closer to my sensibilities, than what the other one was,” Bairéad explains. “Even though I was proud of the other one. I still feel like the right thing happened in terms of what got made.”

Bairéad however focused on the positives, calling it an “invaluable experience” due to the fact that he was given the time and financing to develop and write a feature script, something he had never done before.

“Just to have that under your belt, it kind of sharpens all your instincts going forward into the next round,” he adds. “That emphasis on development is really crucial.”

There is no doubt that schemes like Cine4 give a priceless opportunity to creatives to have adequate time to properly develop a project rather than rushing into production. Bairéad’s words echo the sentiment of Writers’ Guild of Ireland Director, Hugh Farrelly who recently argued the case for a content levy to be introduced in Ireland, stating that it would “provide more money to invest in development to enable creative people to spend the time to make the darn thing really, really great,” 

The Cine4 funding scheme has so far reaped incredible results with Cine4-supported films such as Dathaí Keane’s Finky being selected for Official Competition at the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival or Tom Sullivan’s Famine epic Arracht being selected as Ireland’s entry for the Oscars Best International Film and later being optioned by Oscar winning Hurt Locker producer, Greg Shapiro.

As far as Bairéad is concerned, the indigenous talent has always been there, however the introduction of the Cine4 scheme has enabled Irish language productions to thrive by giving filmmakers an avenue to make feature films.

“If you take a step back and look at the macro picture of this, you could argue that all it is, is just the natural evolution in terms of the growing confidence of Irish film and Irish language filmmaking,” Bairéad explains. “There was always this latent talent pool, I think, amongst Irish language filmmakers, but there wasn't really any route to feature filmmaking in the Irish language.”

There is no doubt that these achievements are only the beginning for Irish language feature films receiving attention on the international stage. Something that was summed up perfectly by producer Cleona Ní Chrualaoi, when accepting their IFTA Best Film Award (another historical milestone as they triumphed over the Oscar nominated Belfast to became the first Irish language feature film to win this category): 

“I think this is a watershed moment for Irish Language Cinema and we're just so proud to be part of this.” 

An Cailín Ciúin is currently on release in Irish cinemas nationwide.





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