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Directors Rachel Moriarty and Peter Murphy discuss Róise & Frank, releasing in Irish cinemas Friday, September 16th
16 Sep 2022 : Nathan Griffin
Bríd Ní Neachtain and Barley the Dog in Róise & Frank.
Ahead of the film’s theatrical release across Ireland on September 16th, IFTN spoke with writer/director duo Rachel Moriarty and Peter Murphy to find out more about their heart-warming film.

Written and directed by Rachael Moriarty and Peter Murphy (Traders, 2015), award-winning Cine4 film Róise & Frank will be released in cinemas nationwide this Friday, September 16th by Break Out Pictures.

Set and filmed in the Waterford Gaeltacht, Róise & Frank follows the recently widowed Róise (played by Bríd Ní Neachtain), who is struggling in the aftermath of her husband Frank’s passing in a small Irish seaside town. Grief-stricken and lonely, Róise has distanced herself from the world around her and those dearest to her. However, when a stray dog starts to follow her every move, a rejuvenated Róise starts to believe in the reincarnation of her husband and the power of enduring life in its next, hopeful steps.  

The film has been a hit on the festival circuit in recent months, winning numerous awards including Best Ensemble at Dublin International Film Festival; Best Film, Director, and Actress at the Stockholm Film Festival, and scooping the Audience Award winner at both the Santa Barbara and Sonoma International Film Festivals.  

The reaction at festivals has been great, we’ve been delighted that it is winning awards and we are so excited that our home audience now gets to see it,” Moriarty tells IFTN. “A lot of people seem to be having a big emotional reaction to the story. Happily, people seem to feel quite uplifted and positive as they leave the cinema.”

I think the reviewer that described the film as ‘strange as it sounds, a fun exploration of the various stages of grief’ really captured the odd, moving, and enjoyable quality of the film,” Murphy adds.

“We’re cinema fans and we really wanted that experience - getting to share it with a live audience and on the big screen.”

The film was completed during lockdown, but the directors chose to wait until cinemas were open and festivals were back before the film was released. “We’re cinema fans and we really wanted that experience, getting to share it with a live audience and on the big screen,” they explain. The film made its world premiere at the Dublin International Film Festival back in March where it won the Best ensemble award. “We were thrilled and were given a sense straight away that an Irish audience was going to connect with the film!” they add.

The pair have had a strong working relationship since their college days, having written and directed a number of short films such as Die Cycle, The Family Tree, and Waterloo Dentures. In 2015 they released their debut feature film Traders, which starred Love/Hate’s Killian Scott and Game of Thrones’ John Bradley alongside the likes of Barry Keoghan, Nika McGuigan, and Aoibhinn McGinnity. The tense thriller asked the question: “What if it made perfect sense for ordinary people to kill each other for money?” Set amongst the backdrop of economic collapse, the film follows people involved in  a dark web phenomenon called Trading. The process sees strangers, having sold their life’s possessions, meeting in a pub, digging a grave, and then fighting to the death, with the winner taking the spoils. A dark psychological thriller, Traders was a blackly comic exploration of people faced with financial ruin during what at the time felt like the death-knell of rampant capitalism. This stands in stark contrast with the wonderfully heart-warming story behind Róise & Frank, which is an up-lifting tale of shaggy dogs, a grieving widow, the national game of hurling, and finding hope in the darkest of places.

The writer-director team were inspired by the common occurrence of people speaking of nature conveying a message from a recently deceased loved one.  “The Initial spark was really the idea of how people often talk about a sign or message they receive after someone close has passed. We’ve heard people talk about a butterfly or a bird, maybe a robin that is hanging around the garden, acting in a particular way.” the pair told IFTN.  “That somehow evolved into what if it was a dog? What if the dog really did seem like a loved one who had returned? What if other people started to believe it too? When we started to think about the traits this creature might have so we thought about quite a regular and happy man, who lived in the countryside and loved steaks, country music, and hurling!

“We were able to write full time for about two months. Decisions were fast and we were shooting six months later.”

The film was funded by TG4, Screen Ireland, and the BAI as part of the Cine4 scheme, which was set up to produce feature length original films in Irish. The Scheme has had incredible success to date with films such as An Cailín Ciúin, the first Irish language film to win the Irish Academy Award (IFTA) for Best Film, and received seven IFTAs overall including director, actress, cinematography, editing, production design, and original score, as well as other celebrated films such as Finky, Foscadh, and Tarrach. Róise & Frank is produced by Cúán Mac Conghail of Macalla Teoranta, who also produced the hugely successful Cine4 famine feature, Arracht.

The scheme was crucial to the development of Róise & Frank, with the project being written specifically for the scheme.  Moriarty and Murphy told IFTN that “the scheme really fanned the flames of the idea because the support of Cine 4 offered a route to the screen. Our story was written for the scheme, so it had the vision of Cine 4 baked in, we wanted to tell a story set in an Irish speaking community and we wanted to film it in that community.  The process itself had a really good structure, clear stages of development, and the financial support to take the time to write, to develop. We’re really proud to be part of the scheme, it’s really achieved something new by bringing a lot of Irish language content to the screen with stories that a wide audience can enjoy.

Of particular importance was the time afforded to write and the quick turnaround on the project from inception to shooting, as projects often take years to develop and an enormous amount of time and effort to get into production. The pair were quick to praise this part of the scheme in particular saying “Cine4 offered such a quick route to screen. With TG4, Screen Ireland, and the BAI all backing the projects during the initial development stage we were able to write full-time for about two months. Decisions were fast and we were shooting six months later. That was great.

“It was funny that the sliotar was the only thing that challenged Barley’s professionalism. It turns out that he’s like every dog.”

In showbusiness, W.C. Fields coined the phrase “never work with children or animals,” an axiom that most who have ever appeared on camera would agree with. Most people assume that this refers to the difficulty of working with either, but the origin of the phrase actually refers to the fact that more often than not the child or animal will upstage the lead actors and steal the audiences affections. While Barley (Frank) doesn’t overshadow the excellent cast in the film, which includes Bríd Ní Neachtain as the titular Róise, Cillian O'Gairbhi as Alan, and Lorcan Cranitch and Donncha, he does seamlessly fit into the ensemble, thanks in large part to the work of dog handler Ashley Foster.

Speaking of the canine casting the team explain how they didn’t overthink the casting of the dog at first, with Ní Neachtain being the primary decision for the co-lead. “Bríd was always Róise, we spoke to her as we were writing and when it came to the dog, well, we didn’t really know enough to worry too much!”

“When the casting of Frank Madra started, we quickly realised that we would need an exceptional canine actor. In the end, we flew to England to meet Barley. Gill, his highly experienced trainer, said he’s the only dog she knew of that could do what the script required. We also loved that he’s a mixed breed rescue dog and a family pet, it was a very quick casting decision, and he delivered a great performance,” the directors tell IFTN. “Barley was very much helped by his brilliant handler, Ashley, who just knew every beat of the script and how to make it work. Bríd then created a great emotional bond with Barley on screen, so they really carry the heart of the story.

Speaking of the challenges of shooting with a canine co-lead, the pair explain how First AD Mike Hayes suggested starting with a complicated scene with Barley front and centre as the first set up to explore how difficult it was going to be. They chose a scene where Frank Madra comes into a dark bedroom and searches for a familiar sliotar, but any fears were quickly allayed as the canine thespian’s professionalism was on full display… unless there was a ball nearby.

Barley nailed it on the first take and there was an audible sigh of relief from the crew – we can make this film. It was funny that overall, the sliotar was the only thing that challenged Barley’s professionalism,” they explain. “It turns out that he’s like every dog, he loves to chase a ball so throwing the sliotar was done sparingly!”

“From the very start we knew the story inside out, we’ve talked and talked about the scenes, the dialogue, we’ve had the fights!”

The film was shot over 4 weeks with the production based in Gaeltacht na nDéise. Crew and cast (including Barley) lived in holiday village. The team were particularly taken with the local community who played a big role in the production. “They were so welcoming, and they supported the film in so many ways, the local choir featured as did the local school. We really feel this was a case of a village making a movie,” Moriarty tells IFTN.

The area also represented something of a boon for the project in terms of providing both in front of and behind the camera. Moriarty and Murphy described how they tend to write a large amount of characters into their scripts, which results in a lot of speaking parts. They travelled to An Rinn with casting director, Maureen Hughes, well ahead of schedule and discovered that there’s a great amateur drama scene and a pool of talent that they were able to cast from. They were also able to add to their crew thanks to the people there who had been trained via production company Nemeton’s highly acclaimed post-graduate Higher Diploma in Television and Media Production, which is accredited by South East Technological University (SETU) and backed by Údarás na Gaeltachta. It is widely regarded as the most industry-focused course in the sector, with the pair commenting that “they have been running training courses there for a number of years and we were able to tap into that talent pool, which was really useful.”

The sense of place and community was vital to the production, with authenticity central to the film’s portrayal of the region and its people. “We wanted the community you see on screen to be as authentic as possible, the sense of warmth and wit that is true to the place. There is a tradition of acting in the area, we went down to see a show in the local hall in the pre-production phase. There was some obvious talent on the stage but there was also a wonderful spirit of support in the local audience. People were passionate and creative. We had tea and biscuits and lots of lively chat at the interval and we could feel that this was a place where people were ready to jump on board and enjoy making a film.

When asked about the other benefits to the area the pair were quick to point to one of its other main assets: itself. “It’s a really special place, lush and green with a stunning coastline too. It is also a place that is so culturally rich, music, sport, drama, and a beautiful dialect of Irish. It’s a great community and there were so many people who wanted to take part, they were creative and keen to make something as a collective. I think it helped that our professional cast were all very generous people too, they were happy to work with new talents and there was a great camaraderie.”

The pair hadn’t initially written with An Rinn in mind and did look at some other Gaeltacht areas but, as soon as they visited the area for the first time, they knew they had their location. However, the talent pool and sense of place weren’t the only thing that made the area perfect for the film. “Hurling was always a massive part of the story, and all of the kids seem to have a hurley under their arm down in Waterford and we didn’t want to have to train actors to play, hurling is not a sport anyone can pick up in a few weeks. “

Filming was a smooth process with the team crediting the early development and shared writing process as being vital to giving them a head-start on the shoot: “We know the story inside out, we’ve talked and talked about the scenes, the dialogue, we’ve had the fights!”

“We had no idea what American audiences would make of a subtitled film set in rural Waterford about grief, a dog, and hurling.”

Ahead of its release, the film has made waves at both domestic and international festivals. Róise & Frank has been a hit on the festival circuit in recent months screening at DIFF and the Galway Film Fleadh, and scooping the Audience Award at both the Santa Barbara and Sonoma International Film Festivals.

The Dublin International Film Festival gave the film its world premiere and with it, its first award - Best Ensemble, and it has since gone onto win awards across the Atlantic, which was something of a surprise to the team.

“The festivals in America surprised us. We had no idea what audiences would make of a subtitled film set in rural Waterford about grief, a dog, and hurling. At Santa Barbara they scheduled an extra screening, Claudia Puig, the Programming Director was a big fan and early supporter of Róise & Frank, but we were still shocked to win the Audience Award. The proof that it was completely unexpected is that Rachael had already flown back to Ireland. The film has gone on to win more awards and that’s been a joy.”

Ahead of its release this Friday in Irish Cinemas the writer/director team hope that the film can continue this success and charm more audiences at home: “It’s been said that the promotional image (Róise & Frank the Dog, sitting down to enjoy dinner together) promises a lot, and I hope that audiences feel we deliver on this! That they enjoy the tone, the feelings, the humour, the heart. This is a film that aims to bring a smile to people’s faces!”

Róise & Frank will be released in cinemas nationwide this Friday, September 16th by Break Out Pictures.





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