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Finné producer Aisling Ni Fhlaithearta talks with IFTN
13 Jan 2021 : Nathan Griffin
Presenter Orla O'Donnell.
We caught up with producer Aisling Ni Fhlaithearta ahead of the return of her award-winning documentary series, Finné to find out more about the research and development process, filming during COVID-19, and what we can expect from season three.

Finné returns to audiences' screens on TG4 this Wednesday at 9.30 pm.

Produced by Aisling Ni Fhlaithearta for Galway’s Tua Films alongside series producer and originator Paddy Hayes and presented by RTE’s courts correspondent, Orla O’Donnell, Finné is a shocking, Netflix-inspired documentary series shining a light into the darkest corners of Irish society. Through riveting first-person testimony, Finné recounts intimate stories of triumphs and traumas, of Davids and Goliaths, of dogged resilience and human frailties. Season 1 of the show was awarded the Human Rights award at the prestigious Justice Media Awards in 2019.
 
This 6 x 60-minute original production promises a gripping and rare insight into these high-profile stories as told through the eyes of those still bearing the scars and living with the consequences. It reinforces TG4’s reputation for fresh, bold programming featuring extraordinary Irish stories.

IFTN journalist Nathan Griffin spoke with Aisling to find out more about the series.

IFTN: How does your approach change each season and what was your focus for season 3?

Aisling: “As a minority producer, you always have to be ahead of the curve or at least current. So we will always look at international trends in documentaries – in particular, what kinds of shows are getting traction on the VoD platforms – speaking truth to power, true crime, mental health, sports psychology docs – we know that these stories will find their audience. For season 3, we also asked ourselves: who’s out there that feels their voice is not being heard; who can we give a platform to?”

IFTN: Can you tell me about the exploration and research process to finding the stories and participants for this series?

Aisling: “The series goes narrow and deep into one person’s story rather than broadly into multiple voices or perspectives. So there is always a voice at the back of your head that whispers: Fifty minutes… fifty minutes… can this story/interviewee carry 50 minutes of high-end documentary television. We have often come up with stories that had the legs but the interviewee couldn’t carry it, or vice versa. So you can have half a dozen good story ideas but if your casting doesn’t work, the show doesn’t work.

“They say casting is everything in drama – but the same is true of documentaries. Because the stories are often very sensitive, there have been occasions that we have decided against running with certain subjects, even if they are willing, as we feel they may not yet be ready psychologically to tell their stories. When it comes to a series like this we have to have their best interests at heart. Trust is key for us.”

IFTN: The line-up, as always, is incredibly interesting and diverse. What is involved in the selection and structuring process of a show like this, and do you strive for a varied roaster of subjects?

Aisling: “I would love to say that the series as a whole is beautifully balanced and designed by us, but truth be told, our primary aim is good stories, and the series layout is designed once the shows are finished. However, you have a commissioning editor in TG4 who would of course be keeping a keen eye on diversity both in terms of story and representation which is great. So we would certainly strive for a varied roster of subjects, but to be truthful, a good story always trumps variety in our books.”

IFTN: Episode 1 features the incredibly engaging and charismatic Dr. Andrew Rynne, which some of our readers will know from Paul Webster’s short, The Vasectomy Doctor. What can you tell me about working with him and episode one?

Aisling: “Dr. Rynne is, without a doubt a character! We were very fortunate that the director Paul Webster had filmed the short with him prior to this as he had a relationship of trust already established. I feel I met Andrew at a funny time, in so far as he was in the middle of selling his house, the house that he was born in and had been in the family for generations and in the middle of this massive milestone I felt in ways I just waltzed in with my tight schedule and wagging finger! But I would like to think that the longer format will give a different perspective on Rynne’s story – we had a lot more screen time to focus on the social history of Ireland in the dark ages of the 70s and 80s.”

IFTN: Why do you feel it is important to shed light on these sorts of stories?

Aisling: “I feel after the #metoo movement, there has been a cultural shift towards listening to the plight of people who have had their voices taken away, so that is a major motivating factor for us – to give people control of their own stories. Also, another paradigm shift is that people are more inclined to talk openly about their mental health and this is a constant thread throughout the series. Some of these people have lived through their worst fears, and in some cases, unfortunately, are still living so I’m so proud to be part of helping them do that.”

IFTN: What changes and challenges did you face this season given the global circumstances?

Aisling: “I felt the biggest challenge for me was not being able to get the face time you would like with a documentary interviewee. These are harrowing and deeply personal stories, and it is so important to work up a relationship with the person and have that level of trust before the camera is turned on. So chatting over the phone or Zoom wasn’t the same but I think people are getting used to it. It’s not as if there’s any alternative... For the time being.”

Finné returns to TG4 screens this Wednesday at 9.30pm.




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