Black 47 director speaks about the difficulties of making a film about the Great Famine
The director of the upcoming Irish Famine revenge drama Black 47 has revealed that there were times during filming that he wondered what he had let himself in for.
Lance Daly admitted to feeling a little overwhelmed by the dark subject matter he had taken on.
The film is set during the Famine and follows the story of an Irish soldier named Martin Feeney, who returns home after fighting overseas for the British Army.
When he returns, he finds that his mother has starved to death and his brother was killed by the British.
He vows to avenge their deaths.
It is certainly a powerful premise for a revenge drama, but Daly has said that setting the movie during the Great Famine, with such suffering and desperation, was at times an uncomfortable experience.
He told the Irish Independent: “We got into week two and I was like, oh my God, what have I done? I’ve signed up to this and now I have to do it, but how am I going to get it finished?
“When we were making it, I began to wonder was it cursed because we were trying to make a movie about the Famine! I haven’t actually said this to anyone before, but it really did feel like that.
“I felt like I’d been carrying this, and I don’t know if it was just that the film was so hard: period detail, the weather, ensemble cast, resources, horses, action, two languages, kids – it’s like all the boxes that would tell you this is going to be a tricky shoot, they were all ticked.”
Despite the difficulties he faced in shooting the film, he believes that the strong revenge plotline was the right way to go about making a movie about the Famine.
He continued: “I think this was a really smart way of addressing the subject, and the producer Macdara Kelleher had spent a long time developing this script in various forms before I got involved.
“This is the first ever film about the Famine, isn’t it? And when you think about it, maybe the genre route was the only way to go. I mean, do you want to make a film that’s just about suffering, about people watching their children starve and families lying dead in their homes?
“Do you want to watch it, do you want to make it, do you want to be someone who tries to dramatise that? You had to tackle it in a less direct way.”
Daly also spoke about the lengths they went to in order to keep their movie as true to reality as possible.
He said: “From the time I signed on till when we started shooting, I read maybe seven or eight books on the Famine.
“I also had an assistant who was reading, we had a military historian, a political historian, an art historian, and we had the Quinnipiac Famine Museum in Canada, which is the biggest visual archive – they have every newspaper cutting from the time, they’ve every image, all the paintings.
“So we had all that and I think we did everything we conceivably could. The historians have been very positive about it.”
Daly also commented on the lack of knowledge many of us actually have about the Famine, saying that people are aware of potato crop failings leading to the Famine, but the general public don’t know many details further than that.
He said: “I think it’s vague for everybody: we all have this basic idea that there was a dependence on the potato crop and the crop failed, that’s about as far as it goes.
“And internationally, people say, ‘Oh yeah, there was a famine in 1840-something’, and there’s this idea that the Paddies were all a bit thick and a bit lazy, and they depended on the spud and it backfired.
“And then in Ireland, there’s this other narrative where people say there was food and they exported it and there was a genocide plot, but when you begin to delve into it, it’s just so much more complicated than that.
“There are so many different ways to look at it, but it’s great to see how fired up everybody is: if you look at the YouTube trailer for the film, the arguments after it are just endless.”
Daly believes many Irish Americans would be interested in the movie as the Famine forced so many of their ancestors to leave their homes in search of a more positive future.
He said: “It’s just getting them to hear about the film that’s hard – it’s such a big place: it’s guaranteed a hundred screens over there for its opening, though, so that’s good. Everybody always goes on about the diaspora, and you hear there are 40 million Irish Americans.
“Well if this doesn’t find that audience, given its subject, I don’t know what will!”
Black 47 has already opened in Ireland and will be released in the UK and the US on September 28.
Take a look at the trailer below.
Written by Michael Kehoe @michaelcalling
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