Hitting the ReBoot button: Darklight returns after one year hiatus

Fifteen years since its first foray into Ireland’s arts festival scene, Darklight is back with a three-day programme celebrating independent creativity in digital media and film. Philip Cummins caught up with both festival director Nicky Gogan and Darklight board member / Le Cool Dublin publisher Michael McDermott to talk about the festival’s origins, those must see events in this year’s programme and Darklight’s most illustrious board member, director Lenny Abrahamson.

Darklight Reboot: The 2014 Darklight festival is ready to reboot.

Darklight ReBoot: The 2014 Darklight festival is ready to reboot.

Originally published by Entertainment Ireland on 8th April, 2014. To read the original, please click here.

Darklight has been a stalwart of the festival scene for fifteen years, so in a way it’s a survivor of the festival scene in Ireland, but it’s still also one of those ahead- of- the- curve festivals.

BUZZING with excitement at the launch of this year’s programme of events in Smithfield’s Block T- described as Darklight’s HQ for the festival’s duration- Le Cool Dublin publisher Michael McDermott, a fresh appointment to the board of Darklight, is keenly aware of how far both Darklight and the Irish film industry have traveled since the festival’s inception, fifteen years ago.

“Darklight started at a time in the late 90’s when people in Ireland didn’t yet fully understand what exactly “digital” meant. Here, in Smithfield, we’re just around the corner from Brown Bag Films, which, in 2014, is now one of the leading animation studios in Europe and a studio that employs 250 people. So I think that Darklight has shadowed and supported the growth of digital industries in Ireland in terms supporting creativity, technology and the intersection between technology and film. It’s always been one of the more experimental and ambitious festivals out there. We had a hiatus, last year, and the idea around the ‘Reboot’ element of this year’s festival is to engage with a new, young, fresh audience to maintain Darklight’s relevancy.”

And a reboot it is: this year’s edition of the festival certainly feels bigger, stronger and faster, anchored as it is in five of Smithfield’s cultural focal points: Smithfield Square, Block T, The Lighthouse cinema, The Generator hostel and Third Space café.

The programme, too, mixes the old and the new: Martin Scorsese’s 1990 classic Goodfellas receives a screening in the festival’s 100 seat Cinemobile on Smithfield Square, while more pioneering work, such as New Irish Experimental Docs, will also be screened in Darklight’s Cinemobile.

Darklight will screen Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas in the Darklight Cinemobile on Smithfield Square.

Darklight will screen Martin Scorsese’s 1990 classic Goodfellas in the Darklight Cinemobile on Smithfield Square.

Certainly, the genesis of the festival and its origins are fresh in the mind of Nicky Gogan, Artistic Director and co- founder of Darklight.

“My friend Susie and I founded the festival in ’99 and it started out as a digital festival at a time when we were paying attention to what festivals like Resfest and Onedotzero in London were doing. Eventually, we thought “Why can’t we do that over here?

“The focus of the festival is different every year: sometimes it’s more U.S. focused, other years the work that we feature is more European focused. It really depends on what exciting creative events are happening around the world, which cities are blossoming with new and exciting work that features the intersection between gallery work and feature work.

“The central points of the festival, though, are Digital Storytelling and What’s Up Doc. Discussing the ideas and the medium is just as important as what’s up on the screen, so there will be two roundtables on the Friday and the Saturday that are free. All the filmmakers that will be in Smithfield during the festival will take part.”

Of course, that intersection between experimental gallery work and feature films couldn’t come at a better time; this year, 12 Years A Slave director Steve McQueen, who won the Turner Prize in 1999, netted this year’s Best Picture Oscar at the Academy Awards, sealing his reputation as one of the most exciting feature filmmakers in the current era.

“Absolutely”, agrees McDermott. “And I think another good example of that transition in this year’s programme is Forsyth & Pollard, Darklight 2014’s Artists in Focus. Forsyth & Pollard started out in the experimental, installation sphere and have now crossed over into feature work. They directed 20,000 Days on Earth, the Nick Cave documentary that premiered, recently, at Sundance.

“I think that the value of installation work is more appreciated, now, in terms of the aesthetics and the ideas that installation work can bring to feature films. So Darklight, I think, is great at blurring boundaries between those two spheres of film and creativity. I also think that by the time cinema- going audiences see 20,000 Days on Earth in late summer / autumn of this year, you’ll be reading about the Nick Cave documentary in The Irish Times, The Guardian, The Sunday Times. Darklight has Forsyth & Pollard discussing 20,000 Days on Earth and showing excerpts from 20,000 Days on Earth several months before the mainstream media, so in that sense the festival is, again, ahead of the curve.”

Closer to home, of course, is director Lenny Abrahamson, who through Garage, What Richard Did and the upcoming Frank has gained a reputation as one of the most exciting filmmakers to emerge from these shores for quite some time. The Dubliner is also on the board of Darklight and Gogan’s praise of the What Richard Did director couldn’t be higher.

Frank director Lenny Abrahamson is a member of Darklight's board.

Lenny Abrahamson, director of Frank (above) is a member of Darklight’s board.

“Lenny’s just a really creative and generous man. He’s a great touchstone when it comes to programming, but he also has an international focus towards discovering new film. He’s always travelling with his work and he’s always discovering new films and new filmmakers. From a programming perspective, he’s great and he’s the only active film maker on the board. Crucially, he’s also very industry focused, so he has a great balance between the international outlook and creative side of the festival, but he also has a focus on the Irish industry side of it.”

Despite Lenny Abrahamson’s continued success in the medium, many young, aspiring filmmakers have, no doubt, been forced to leave our shores in search of opportunities abroad, impacting on the amount of home-grown talent in the Irish film industry. Despite these realities, Gogan is optimistic for the future of Irish filmmaking.

“During Darklight 2012, we showed exclusively Irish films – milestones in terms of the DIY nature of the films. We showed no films that had a logo attached. It was amazing to see the amount of collectives, the amount of groups that are coming together to make films in a DIY, home-grown fashion. Now, two years on, a lot of those filmmakers have garnered awards and acclaim, so that’s great; it’s great that there’s still a strong, grass-roots of filmmakers growing and blossoming.

“Obviously, emigration has meant that a lot of young, fresh, talented filmmakers are leaving the island. It’s terribly sad and upsetting and there could very well be a lost generation of filmmakers. But I was part of that too: during the early – mid 90’s, I went to the U.S. and it was a great experience. My hope is that those who leave will learn new skills, work in different areas and then come home and apply all of those skills and experience that they’ve learned abroad. It’s important to keep that youthful energy in the industry.

“I’m very much a glass half-full person, so I think the future is bright for the industry and bright for Darklight.”

Darklight runs from 24 April – 27 April in Smithfield. For the full programme of events, visit darklight.ie. For tickets, visit entertainment.ie/darklight.

House of Laughs: Watch Kevin Spacey’s hilarious- and frighteningly accurate- impressions of some of history’s best loved actors

House of Laughs: Will the Real Kevin Spacey please stand up?

House of Laughs: Will the Real Kevin Spacey please stand up?

DRY, DEADPAN, ICE- COOL: just some of the adjectives that one could associate with the inimitable Kevin Spacey.

The two- time Oscar winning actor whose performances in Se7en, The Usual Suspects, LA Confidential and American Beauty saw him cast in some of the most memorable and iconic films of the 90’s, has an on- screen personality every bit as distinctive as that of Jack Nicholson or James Mason.

Fitting, then, that Spacey is one of the most brilliant and frighteningly accurate mimics alive. Don’t take my word for it; check out his impressions of Jimmy Stewart, Marlon Brando, Jack Lemon, Johnny Carson, Katherine Hepburn, Al Pacino and John Gielgud, to name but a few, as well as his much- fabled impression of Christopher Walken.

New features: The Saturday Song, The Sunday Poem

As of this weekend, I’ll be running two regular, weekly features on music and literature: The Saturday Song and The Sunday Poem

Keep an eye out for two weekly music and literature features that I’ll be running, as of this weekend: The Saturday Song and The Sunday Poem

SO I’m going to start uploading some new, regular features to run along my published work.

Every weekend, I’ll post up The Saturday Song and The Sunday Poem on their respective days. These features will consist of a detailed, critical analysis of a song and poem, applying music theory and literary theory / poetic terminology to the song / poem in question, though done so- I hope- in a way that is entertaining, at the very least.

Every song that I feature will have either a Soundcloud or Spotify link embedded in the feature. For copyright reasons, it won’t be possible to post an entire poem on the site, though I will encourage readers to dig out the poem in their libraries and, indeed, from their own bookshelves. Certainly, I will list the collections and anthologies in which the chosen poem is published.

Another feature that I am toying with is The Friday Film, which would be written in the same tone as The Saturday Songs and The Sunday Poem. The Friday Film, however, is a longer term idea that I may develop, depending on the success of the The Saturday Song and The Sunday Poem. 

This week’s Saturday Song will be Vampire Weekend’s Obvious Bicycle.

This week’s Sunday Poem will be Simon Armitage’s The Shout. 

If there are songs and / or poems that you would like to see covered, please comment below with your suggestions.

Poetry Review: The Mining Road by Leanne O’Sullivan

The Mining Road: Cork poet Leanne O’Sullivan’s latest collection is available now from Bloodaxe.

Originally featured in the print edition and online editions of The Irish Post on Saturday June 8th, 2013. To read the original, please click here.

Bloodaxe, 64 pp, £8.95. ISBN: 978-1852249687

CORK poet Leanne O’Sullivan’s fourth collection aligns her as closely to the Irish lyric poetry tradition as is possible.

The work of Seamus Heaney, particularly the Heaney of Seeing Things (Faber, 1991), appears again and again in poems that, quite literally, dig deep into memory, into the past, into the earth; taking what it is they need to fulfill a poetic vision. As Heaney writes in ‘Lightenings viii’, ‘…and the man climbed back / Out of the marvelous as he had known it’.

Indeed, O’Sullivan wastes no time in plunging us into the underworld of The Mining Road and opening poem, Townland, is a brilliantly subtle poem, which, like the best poems, works its magic on the reader over repeated readings.

The poem’s sound pattern creates a tension between consonants and vowels; between cutting, guttural sounds (‘A hankering in the skull, uttered and worked’) and the long, assonant ‘O’ sounds (‘Old stone walls’, ‘Old homes’), which embeds in the reader the tension between overground and underground; between past and present.

Soon, however, we are also brought into the world of the domestic: You Were Born at Mealtime, again, strengthens the idea of one’s mind constantly being in transition between two different places, finishing with the telling couplet ‘a silence quickens me, / throws open the door again’; the door, perhaps, being Seamus Heaney’s Door into the Dark.

The theme of discovery threads through O’Sullivan’s collection quite consistently. The Boundary Journey, a two part poem- the first mentioning the Atlantic ocean, the second alluding to the Irish Sea- again, finds O’Sullivan wedged between two different places, two different zones (‘Not to the boundary waters / that part our two counties’).

Perhaps the most successful poem in the collection is A Parcel, a brilliant mediation on emigration, which, like The Boundary Journey, is split into parts, again emphasizing the difference between one thing and another. True, the third and final part of the poem could easily have been cut, the poem standing strong enough on its first two parts, which describe domesticity with great vividness. It’s the feel of the parcel which is best achieved, ‘It smelled of heat and a stretch- marked pull / where the brown paper had word out / against the cardboard, its sides broadening’, writes O’Sullivan.

Subtle, slow- burning and sensuous poems that reward with successive readings, The Mining Road is a step in the right direction for O’Sullivan and, indeed, for Irish poetry.

Theatre Review: Birdsong at The Gaiety Theatre, Dublin, Tuesday 28th May, 2013

Originally published by Entertainment.ie, Wednesday 29th May, 2013. To read the original, please click here.

Sebastian Faulks’ Birdsong, adapted for the stage by Rachel Wagstaff


Sebastian Faulks
‘ 1993 novel WW1 novel Birdsong was ranked 13 in the BBC’s The Big Read, a survey to find Britain’s most loved novel, just ten years after publication. The regard to which Faulk’s masterpiece is held in is not just limited to readers; while critics have swooned over the novel, it has also been adapted for radio, for the stage and, perhaps most recently, for television. Set mainly during 1916 – 1918 at the Western Front in France, it quite wonderfully details the human cost and personal tragedies of ordinary men in an extraordinary situation.


Rachel Wagstaff’s
 adaptation is brilliantly structured; each story and subplot is interwoven with great skill and narrative understanding. The apocalyptic and horrific nature of war is wonderfully illustrated by a deafening soundtrack and by haunting lights, which visualize air strikes with vividness. Death looms large, hanging over the production like a vulture. Upstage center, a fence post is planted in the ground like a cross. True, the first half is slightly longer than it should be, though this is to be expected from an adaptation from a novel that is over 400 pages in length.

There is, however, humor peppered throughout the production. The  the jests and jokes, however, never undermine the solemn tone of the setting and subject at hand. Indeed, since most of the action revolves around underground mines that were planted under the German trenches, the suspension throughout is generated organically; through the actors’ moments under the mines and in areas of the stage the audience cannot see.

The only place where the production is dulled is by the love affair between Wraysford (Jonathan Smith) and Isabelle (Sarah Jayne Dunn), which, though central to the narrative, never quite rings true. The affair is also overshadowed by a brilliant ensemble cast; at times, the richness of the acting and the chemistry between all the actors reaches the heights of a world class Shakespearean production. Moments between the actors, particularly those scenes between Tim Treloar who plays Jack Firebrace and the selected members of the cast with whom he has scenes, are brilliantly executed. The monologues are also excellently delivered, bringing a stillness and elegiac weight to what is an otherwise busy and slick production.

Bound to be enjoyed by those who hold Faulks’ novel dear and who watch period dramas, such as Downton Abbey, Birdsong is a well – rounded, fluid production which will no doubt remind audiences of the sacrifices and horrors imposed on men in war and the life or death choices made by those in the trenches and those who are in love.

Birdsong runs in The Gaiety Theatre from 28th May – 1st June at 7.30. Tickets: €25 – €40. For more information go to www.gaietytheatre.ie

Star rating: 4 / 5
Review by: Philip Cummins
Venue: Gaiety Theatre, Dublin

Wrtitten by: Novel by Sebastian Faulks, Stage Version Rachel Wagstaff
Directed by: Alastair Whatley
Cast: Sarah Jayne Dunn from Drop Dead Gorgeous /Hollyoaks, Eastender’s star Charlie G. Hawkins and Arthur Bostrom from ‘Allo ‘Allo