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Director Donald Taylor Black discusses New Gaels, Poolbeg Productions' timely sports documentary
09 Sep 2020 : Nathan Griffin
New Gaels debuts on RTÉ One.
We caught up with producer director Donald Taylor Black to find out more about the origin of the idea, the influence of COVID-19 on production, and how the influence of the Black Lives Matter movement helped open up the conversation.

Poolbeg Productions' latest documentary, New Gaels, will be broadcast on RTÉ One this Thursday, September 10th at 10.15pm.

New Gaels tells the fascinating stories of four GAA players who began life in different countries and immigrated to Ireland. Boidu Sayeh (Monrovia, Liberia), Zak Moradi (a Kurd whose family were from Iran, but who was born in a refugee camp in Ramadi), Jeannine O'Brien (Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo), and Shairoze Akram (Haroonabad, Pakistan). They came here for their own reasons - political and personal - but all now share a common love of Gaelic games.

As they tell us of their experiences on and off the field, we will hear how their involvement in sport in the community has influenced their lives and their connection with their new homeland - as well as seeing them in action. They discuss the varying degrees of racism that they have suffered over the years and reflect on how they have recently reconsidered the issue in the light of Black Lives Matter.

It was commissioned for Poolbeg by Paula Fahy of RTÉ Sport, produced and directed by IFTA nominee Donald Taylor Black (Back to the Joy, Skin in the Game), and co-produced by Eavan  Mulligan. It was edited by IFTA winner, Mairéad McIvor (Pilgrimage), photographed by IFTA nominees Colm Hogan (Henry Glassie: Field Work) and Patrick Jordan (O'Casey in the Estate, The Young Offenders), with original music composed by Michael Fleming (Katie).

IFTN: How did the idea for this project come about?

“I'm very interested in sport and have made several documentaries with sport as a starting point, which frequently also deal with socio-political issues at the same time. So when my co-producer, Eavan Mulligan, whose first film as a producer is New Gaels and who has a sporting background, were discussing possible ideas just over a year ago, we came up with this one. At the same time, RTÉ Sport was looking for documentaries with a broad GAA theme and so we pitched it to Paula Fahy and she liked it.”

It’s a fantastic and timely project – what was the catalyst that caused it and was it forged by recent international events?

“Yes, you're right, it couldn't be more relevant. However, when we originally decided to try and make the film, it was 9 months before the tragic murder of George Floyd in the U.S. and the resurgence of support all around the world for the Black Lives Matter movement. Sadly, as we all know - and as Zak says in the documentary - racism never goes away and is always with us, but we have to be vigilant and keep calling it out.”

Can you tell me about the production process and working with the great crew involved?

“I've always tried to get the best crews available and New Gaels was no exception, although I hadn't worked with this entire group before. However, it can be difficult when you're shooting a day here and a day there over a longish period of time, which I often do: the crew from day one might be busy and unavailable on day two. For instance, as well as Colm Hogan and Paddy Jordan - who did the majority of the cinematography - two other superb professionals, Ronan Fox and Michael O'Donovan also did a couple of days. That's just the way it goes.”

How was the production affected by COVID restrictions?

“Originally, New Gaels was supposed to be completed and on-air in April. We shot 8 days between last October and March and began the edit on 9th March but halted everything a week ahead of the lockdown after only 2 weeks in the cutting room. Obviously we had to wait to resume the edit but we also had to delay production until competitive hurling and football was allowed to restart (for Boidu and Zak) and until religious services were permitted to come back because we needed to show Jeannine at the Abundant Life Church in Limerick.

“Clearly everything has been different since Covid - both the final 4 days of the shoot and in post at Outer Limits in Dún Laoghaire, who were scrupulously careful, and where I was in a different room from the editor and the colourist, sound mixer, and online editor, but we communicated via iPads on permanent Zoom calls! I hope I don't have to do it again but it worked and it's just a relief to finish it without any compromises - despite the restrictions and the 5 month delay.”

What were your takeaways from the project and how did the BLM movement, sparked by the death of George Floyd, change the participant’s outlook on the subject matter?

 “It was interesting that a couple of our participants were slightly reticent about talking about the subject at first. When we re-interviewed all of them, which was always the plan anyway after the death of George Floyd, they had re-thought their attitude to racism to varying degrees.

“In their second interviews, they were a little more forthcoming, sometimes recalling things as racist that they may have ignored at the time. Racism is a hugely important issue in Ireland as it is in every country in the world. It's not as bad here as it is in some places but it's essential that we're not complacent.

“I'm impressed with the work of the GAA and Sport Against Racism Ireland (SARI) but all of us have to do more and I hope that New Gaels has some influence in helping to continue the debate and to be aware of our own attitudes and behaviour.”

New Gaels airs on RTÉ One this Thursday, September 10th at 10.15pm.





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