The Belfast Film Festival’s Jim Meredith caught up with award-winning filmmaker Mairéad McClean ahead of her screening at this year’s festival. Mairéad will present a survey of her work which brings together themes of memory, migration, and identity. You can find out more here
You were born and raised in Beragh, County Tyrone, and studied art in Belfast. What first drew you to film and video art?
My interest started in my teenage years when I became more aware of Documentary film making. Several film crews had come to our family home over the years to conduct interviews with my father and I found the process mysterious and intriguing. I remember secretly listening at the living room door while Dad was being interviewed. It was the silence and the concentration and seriousness of it all that struck me at the time. I thought I wanted to make Documentary films but I didn’t know how to go about it so as I was good at drawing and painting, I went to study Fine Art at Middlesex Poly in London. During my time there I started to work with video and old cine film.
Who or what are your major influences and inspirations?
In the mid 1980’s at Art College in London my tutor was filmmaker, Patrick Keiller who went on to make films London in 1994 and Robinson in Space, 1997. He introduced me to many different forms of filmmaking, structuralist and experimental films as well as socially engaged filmmaking. I also became aware of the films of Tarkovsky, David Lynch, Agnes Varda, The Maysles Brothers, Terence Malik and in more recent years I have been inspired by the work of Turner Prize winner Elizabeth Price, Marky Lecky and other more poetic filmmakers like Margaret Tate, Chantal Ackerman and Chris Marker.
Your past work has dealt with time and memory, as well as the unreliability of perceived history. Why are these themes important to you?
Time and moving image for me run along side one and other. In film cameras (as opposed to video cameras) the film runs through a gate, capturing still images that when projected create movement. Then in post production, with the expertise of an editor we can make time jump forward or skip backwards; it can fast forward, it can rewind, it can speed up and slow down. Editing manipulates time and plays with it like a magician. Our memories are from different time periods in our lives and sometimes we want to replay them in our minds eye, in order to remember the place, the time, the love we felt,the nightmare we went through,etc. We can do this through writing stories or with Moving Image and sound the film-maker visualises the scene with images and acoustics which brings the viewer into their world. With regard to history being unreliable, I think this has been informed by watching the goings on in Northern Ireland over the years. It is clear that how things were represented or reported were not always the way they happened.
You’ve also explored the theme of migration in your work. Having lived and worked in London for more than 25 years, what are your thoughts on both home (London) and home (Northern Ireland)?
When I came to London in the 1980’s I was acutely aware of my Northern Irish accent. It was at the height of the IRA bombing campaign and I was sensitive to how I fitted a certain stereotype. However, I did not want to loose my accent or be someone who I wasn’t so at the beginning I quietly went about my own business and ended up making friends with others who like me, were not from England or people who felt outside of a certain type of English culture. I love the multi-cultural nature of a big metropolis like London but I love the character of the people at home; the colloquial turns of phrase that only someone who is from here will understand. So it’s a bit of a strange one because it’s this kind of thing that can keep others from fitting in but it has the opposite affect on me and makes me feel right at home. It’s the complexity of it that intrigues me and makes me what to make work about it.
Your work ‘No More’ won the inaugural MAC International Art Prize in 2014. What did this mean for you and your work?
Wining the MAC International has had a big impact on my career. I have been invited to show the winning work across the world from Russia, France, Spain, Scotland, UK and most recently in the USA where I took part in Film Festival called Faces of Conflict and ended up on the same bill as Spike Lee! I have also recently been commissioned by The Museums of Ireland to make a short film with a group of Migrant Women which was a great opportunity to make a piece that had a positive impact on the lives of those who participated. This coming year there are several other opportunities opening up which will give me the opportunity to produce a longer form film and collaborate with different people.
The Belfast Film Festival event will feature a range of your work, spanning the period from 1991 – 2016, and will premiere ‘Memories of My Mother,’ a collaboration with the National Museum of Ireland Migrant Women project, filmed in 2015. What can the audience expect from the event at the Queens Film Theatre?
I have worked on the programme for this event with the Belfast Film Festival programmer Rose Baker. She and I will be in conversation and lead the audience through a back history of my early work right up to my most recent work produced for the The Museum of Country Life in Castlebar. We will be making connections between the work, talking about how I approach working with film form and what it’s like to work in a non-commercial film setting. We might also have a sneak preview at something I’m currently working on but that’s all hush hush so don’t mention it ;-)