Saturday January 12, 2019 Cavan Town: Extras are lined up outside the Abbey Bar for the casting call for a feature film by Philip Doherty. It will star Aaron Monaghan. A disparate crew, young and old, all with the dream of celluloid immortality.
After weeks of shooting in Swanlinbar and Cavan Town the director called it a wrap, the wait for the manifestation of Mr Doherty’s vision began. In just over a week’s time that wait concludes, writes Thomas Lyons.
In these unusual times it’s not unusual that a film premiere should not be, well, unusual. The 2020 Galway Film Fleadh will be experienced in the comfort of homes across the world thanks to the magic of the internet and the inconvenience of social distancing.
One of the movies being premiered at the prestigious event is ‘Redemption of a Rogue’ a celebration of the cold austere beauty of West Cavan. Jimmy seeks redemption in the pouring rain in a story where the setting is as all pervasive as the precipitation.
‘No normal here’
“We are just putting the finishing touches to it, it’s at the exciting end of things,” Philip Doherty enthuses of the final phase of his journey. “I’m very happy how it’s turned out. So grateful to be handing it over to be premiered soon. There is a lovely sense of gratitude and joy. It’s nearly there.” The gestation period for the film is slightly less than that of an Asian elephant. For the director it feels about the right length of time: “I think it is, it’s my first feature film, so there’s no normal here. It’s a year and a half since we shot the film. A year from the shoot to the premiere is pretty good, particularly considering the resources we had.”
There is a giddiness to Doherty as he speaks of his first cinematic offspring: “I really enjoyed the whole post-production, the editing. There was a lot of learning, I just can’t wait to get it out in the world and have people see it.”
This is not the first time Cavan enjoys a moment on the silver screen, but the county is very much centre stage in Redemption of a Rogue.
“The whole world of the film is in Cavan. It’s a huge inspiration for the whole piece. I am from Cavan, I grew up there, I spent most of my life there. You can see the entire inspiration for the film is those larger than life characters, the delicious Cavan vernacular, the landscape and the weather. All those things are huge inspirations. From the GAA to brawls on the dance floor, to the religious undertone that is part of everyday life.
“I don’t want to say that Cavan is a character in it, but it is certainly the inspiration for the world even if it is heightened from the real world,” Doherty says.
Another unconventional character in the film is music: “An early subtitle was ‘Redemption of a Rogue: A Blues Opera’. Music was always a hugely important part of it. I wrote a lot of the film while listening to music and being inspired by it,” the director explains. “In the last 10 years I have worked with a lot of artists and musicians and I wanted to make that part of the film.
Robbie Perry wrote and composed all the original songs.
“There’s a dreamlike feel to the film created by the music, it helps evoke emotion– which is bluesy and downbeat as the rain starts to pour, but lifts to joy at the end. We got the opportunity to work with a lot of brilliant musicians,” he revealed.
The influences are many and varied, all having a very personal context.
“At one point in the film the rains starts to fall and all the musicians traipse into the town. They take over the pubs and businesses. I think unintentionally the Fleadh in Cavan had some influence on that image.”
In the film, Jimmy, played by Monaghan, is a prodigal son. He returns home to visit his ailing father and seek redemption before he intends to say goodbye to the world. Jimmy’s father’s will has a condition: he cannot be buried on a wet day.
“It’s the story of a prodigal son who faces up to his demons and his past. It does have a downbeat mood, but it goes from a dark place to a place of light. The rain, the music, the production design, the colour; all these things help create that atmosphere, but we are always working toward him being cracked open and seeing light in the world. The film lifts in tone.
“It’s very much a comedy, even if it is a black comedy, and I love trying to find comedy in the darkest of situations. I think no matter how unbearable things get it is humour that lifts you out of those situations. The change of mood is the main story in the transformation of Jimmy,” Doherty outlines.
“It’s set in a fictional village in West Cavan called Ballylough. It was shot in Swanlinbar. It would not have been possible without those communities and people all across Cavan,” Philip says of the production. “This was a labour of love for everyone involved. Pale Rebel Productions produced and Wildcard have come on board as distributors. It is like the finale piece for the Gonzo Theatre. An 11th year anniversary. I just want to say how grateful I am to all the people involved, particularly the Arts Office in Cavan. They have been so patient over the years to help me get this over the line. There are a lot of brilliant people around Cavan who have helped get this over the line.”
The ideas in Redemption of a Rogue have meandered around Doherty’s head for a while. His choice of Aaron Monaghan as the Rogue is not a recent one: “I had the idea for years. It was one of those stories that would just not leave me. I wrote other screenplays before this that didn’t quite work, or you needed a billion euros to make,” the director laughs, “I probably wasn’t brave enough to write this script initially, because it came from a very personal place. Once I started writing and getting into the actual second draft of it I did have Aaron in mind because I talked to him about making a film. So from an early draft he was the actor that I had in mind. That helped me visualise the story as I went from scene to scene. And what an actor! He is at the top of his game. He is a dream to work with, his performance is absolutely stunning, powerful and very funny.”
Another character in the film is the weather. The magic of commanding the Irish weather fell to one man: “Rain is a symbol of Jimmy’s depression so the whole film is pretty much under rain. We had no budget for a rain machine. We would have blown the entire funds to hire one for two days. So Shane Carroll built his own rain machine. He invented and built one for the shoots. Since then he has gone on and done other films with this machine.”
Pace and tempo
The director describes the 13 script drafts before it was the bona fide article: “It was lovely to have the luxury to be so rigorous with it. It stood up to the challenges of production, we shot the script as much as we could on the film shoot. I think we did a successful job. Obviously a film is more of visual than a play. My brother Joe is production designer, and he did a brilliant job and Burschi Wojnar as the director of photography was also magnificent.”
The main changes came in the editing process: “Mainly it was a matter of tightening things up, establishing pace and tempo. We did remake the film a bit in the edit, but it was very much the same film from script to screen. Some scenes that I really loved had to go, but you got to make the decisions that are best for the film.”
Aside from the “showing” at the Galway Film Fleadh on Saturday July 11, a prime spot, Philip hopes to bring the film to Cavan for a traditional premiere. When the Covid-19 restriction ease the director says there will be a big premiere in Cavan town or Swanlinbar. If you can’t wait for that you can go to the Galway Film Fleadh website and book in to watch the show on the Saturday night.