Writer, director of ‘I Am Belfast.’ Premiere 16th April 7:30pm Moviehouse Dublin Road
Q: Where did the idea for I Am Belfast come from?
I’ve wanted to make a film about Belfast for twenty years. My first idea was to make a movie about two cities, Belfast and Moscow. I went to Moscow in 1989, and it reminded me of my home city.
But the years passed, and filming equipment got simpler, and the Troubles ended, so I decided to walk the streets of Belfast with a small camera, and film what caught my eye. Then I made films about other cities (Mexico City, Tirana) and re-watched the great film I am Cuba, and a light bulb lit in my head: Why not make a film called I am Belfast, where the city itself does the talking? A bit like a fable.
Q: You believe that Belfast is a very ‘female’ city. How so?
Most of the strong characters I knew when I was growing up were women. There were more women on buses, and on streets doing their shopping, etc. Men kept themselves to themselves, so women did the talking, the emoting. Belfast was (and is) a melodrama, which is quite a female form.
Q: How did composer David Holmes become involved in the project?
I was introduced to David by Irvine Welsh, the novelist. I had been a fan of David’s for ages, and was trying to produce a movie that Irvine would direct and David would score.
I loved David from the start. He’s in touch with his emotions. He is great at bypassing boring ideas and getting into really creative work. So I sent him a description of I am Belfast, and asked him if he’d do the music. He emailed to say “Fuck yes” before, as I recall, he’d finished reading the treatment. I was really moved by the fact that he’d trust me to make a film about a place that he knows more about than I do.
And then we worked together, and I felt that I was learning from him all the time.
Q: The great Christopher Doyle is cinematographer on the film. How did that come about, and what was it like to work with him?
David Holmes got Chris and me together. Of course I loved Chris’ images – especially in Wong Kar Wai’s film In the Mood for Love. I’d spent some time in Hong Kong, where Chris lives, and gotten to know Maggie Cheung, the star of ITMFL, but had ever met Chris. It turns out that he had seen some of my work and liked it.
When he was asked to shoot I am Belfast, he wrote YES! YES! YES!, which was exciting. The film world is full of ‘no’s, so yeses are like rocket fuel.
Working with Chris Doyle has been one of the best professional experiences of my life. I felt that I could throw an idea for an image at Chris (a gold wall, or a white hill, for example) and he’d catch it and run with it. I felt that we were talking the same language. And we are as fast as each other – we’re both mountain goats. And we have very similar hair.
I love Chris and am delighted that he’s shooting my next film, too.
Q: What was the production and shooting schedule for the film?
I shot with my little camera, on and off, over a two year period, in different seasons. Then we shot with Chris and a big (for me) Belfast crew, for three days. That’s obviously not a long time, so we focused, on those days, on the signature scenes in the film – the ones that needed camera moves, for example, and everything with our main actor, the great Helena Bereen. I loved it.
Q: What can audiences expect from the finished film?
Expect the unexpected, I’d say. I am Belfast is an unusual film – it’s not a thriller or a documentary or a period movie. We’ve been calling it magic realist. It doesn’t shirk the tough times that our city has seen in recent generations, but it tries to look at the dream life of the city.
Tickets for 7:30 Screening I Am Belfast 16th April at the Moviehouse available HERE