Filmmaker Róisín Loughrey moved to Manorhamilton from Dublin 10 years ago with her husband Rossa and baby Tarach. The family is now complete with another son Rudi. She is a studio-holder in the Leitrim Sculpture Centre where she fine-tunes her important work. Read on, this Mother’s Day weekend and learn about her passions and her loves, her abundant knowledge of the film industry and how she manages to masterfully juggle both her home and working life.
I come alive on a sunny day. Like most people grey skies bring me down so I struggle with the weather in North Leitrim. But a bright blue sky will have me leap out of the bed in the morning.
I’m a bit of a dreamer to be honest so I feel like my dreams can float higher and expand wider on a sunny day. As Emily Dickenson’s poem suggests “The Brain is Wider than the Sky.”
My mother gave me a collection of Emily Dickenson’s poems as a girl and poetry, literature and films have had a strong influence in my life ever since.
The poetic and the visual is what drives and inspires me. As I said, I’m a dreamer and ever since I was a school child I’ve lived for the most part in my imagination. Thank god for my two boys who do a great job of grounding me in the here and now. Them and the hoovering…
I have always loved films but it was a fairly crooked road I took to filmmaking myself. Growing up my Dad had a super 8 film camera he took with him everywhere and a few times a year he’d set up the projector in the sitting room and we’d watch those three minute films spin and shine through the beam of light, magically transforming into silent, dancing images on the bumpy sitting room wall. I was always mesmerized by them. I still have that projector in my studio and all those three minute film reels which I’ve used in some of my work.
Looking back that was the beginning of the journey. When I was sixteen he gave me his old Canon SLR camera and I played around with black & white ilford film, not really sure what I was doing.
I didn’t study film when I left school, I ended up in Galway studying my first love, literature. That took me into theatre and I spent some time in Dublin as an actress. After years of auditions and working as a waitress I decided I wanted more creative control in my life and set about preparing a portfolio to get into the film course in Dun Laoghaire art college, now the National Film School.
I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy as I was in those three years at film school. I fell completely head over heels with the process of filmmaking. It was like all my loves, poetry, literature, theatre mixed into one glorious art form. It was there that I started concentrating on documentary. We had one week of seminars in documentary making in second year and I was seriously inspired by that. One particular filmmaker who made a deep impression on me was John T. Davis, a fairly maverick documentary maker from the North who told us to look in our back yards for inspiration and ideas. His films like Shell Shock Rock about the punk scene in Belfast and Hobo, about train jumpers in America were to me both artistically and emotionally profound.
There have been so many films and filmmakers that have inspired and moved me over the years, too many to name. One thing I can describe is the feeling I get when something moves me. Its like my brain widens a little bit and my heart sort of swells. This can happen while watching a film, reading a novel, looking at a painting or a photograph. It’s the moment when a piece of art connects with your mind and your heart and your soul all in the same instant. The world shifts a tiny bit.
The training I got in film school also gave me a huge respect and understanding of the art of good film, be it in the editing or cinematography or script. The last film I went to see in the cinema was the Oscar nominated Room, which I thought was excellent. The director Lenny Abrahamson is, I think, Ireland’s finest and most skillful filmmaker today. He directs actors with extraordinary sensitivity and intelligence, which results in subtle yet powerful performances. He also has quite a unique poetic style that I love. For example the last scene in his film Garage where the white horse just walks towards the camera and we know that the main character Josie is gone.
I was also hugely inspired and influenced by the ground-breaking Danish film collective Dogme 95 who made films such as Festen and The Idiots. They established their collective with a filmmaking manifesto that created certain restrictive rules about their process; for example using only natural light sources and shooting only on location with no props. Along with a ban on tripods, this gave the films produced a documentary feel but the scripts and acting delivered extraordinary dramatic punch. Lars Von Triers, one of Dogme’s most famous directors is absolutely groundbreaking in his approach to cinema.
One of the most unusual films I ever saw was a documentary about Hitler’s secretary called Blind Spot. The film is an interview with Traudl Junge about her years working as Hitler’s personal secretary and what is unusual about it is that for the whole of its ninety minutes all we see is this interview. There is no archive footage, cutaways or anything else other than this woman talking The result is utterly captivating. I remember watching it learning two things, one is that a good story overrides everything. You can have all the fancy visuals in the world but it is the story that draws us in. Also I realized that so much plays out in our imagination already. It’s why people in the past sat captivated around a radio. Our brains fill in the blanks. We didn’t need to see endless archive footage of Hitler or Nazi Germany, we have it in our heads already. It was an interesting film.
My own films usually start with some kind of visual seed. I could be drawn to an image or something I’ve seen in life and an idea could come from that. Like any seeds, some grow and some don’t. I am aware that making a film is a lengthy, drawn out and expensive process so it is more akin to growing a precious orchid than a field of wild flowers. I also collaborate with other people. Recently I worked with Enniskillen based choreographer Dylan Quinn on a short dance film called Etched featuring elderly, untrained dancers. One of the dancers, Doreen was 86 when we shot the film. It was extraordinary to witness that kind of vivacity and sparkle from someone so old.
Filmmaking is a collective experience and always works better this way. Although I do on occasion work on my own I get tremendous amount of joy working with one other person or a group of inspired and talented people. There are so many interesting, creative people here in the North West that there is no shortage of opportunities to collaborate.
In a funny way motherhood or family life is the utmost in collaboration. I got pregnant with my first child just after leaving film school. Luckily my graduate film Fall Into Half-Angel was fairly successful and got accepted into a lot of film festivals around the world so I managed to keep a connection to the film world while I had my baby. I remember bringing him to my screening in Galway Film Fleadh when he was just three weeks old!
I decided early on to keep working as a mother, though at times it can be really tough. There’s no doubt that I had to give up working on any kind of large film shoot where the hours are long and involve being away from home. I miss that and hope to get back to that side of filmmaking when the kids are older.
Instead I have tailored my film career and have been making smaller films, which I usually shoot and edit myself. Sometimes I even work with my kids. A recent film I made called Kingdoms starred my son Tarach exploring his ‘kingdom’ which was in fact an abandoned building site near our house. It was an expression of how one person’s destruction is another’s creation. The film was another way of looking at the apparent mess of the boom years. Through a child’s eyes, that which is apparently discarded and useless becomes precious.
A number of years ago I travelled to Japan to research and shoot a film I was making there. Some of my research brought me right into the deepest back roads and hills of Japan. It was the most amazing experience not to have a word of Japanese and to have to try and interpret the characters to navigate my way round.
I love to travel. I moved country three times before I was five years old so I guess the travel bug is in my genes. I particularly love to travel on my own. It’s like the ultimate in adventure to me. I love to figure out where I’m going. I love to be lost. As much in my work, as in my travels. It gives me a kind of thrill because you don’t know where you’ll end up. One of my favourite pieces of writing recently is Rebecca Solnit’s ‘A Field Guide to Getting Lost.’
“Leave the door open for the unknown, the door into the dark. That’s where the most important things come from, where you yourself came from, and where you will go.”