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An escape, a date spot and a babysitter: Irish cinema through the years

Documentary film See You at the Pictures! looks at the history of movie-going in Ireland from the censorship of Casablanca to the tales of first love.

Image: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland!

DO YOU REMEMBER priests “censoring” movies by placing their hats over the projector during objectionable scenes or maybe your first viewing of Casablanca didn’t include the famous “We’ll always have Paris” line?

The directors and producers of a new film, which has just been offered €105,000 in funding by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, have asked members of the public to share their experiences of going to the movies in Ireland.

The 90-minute documentary entitled See You at the Pictures! aims to explore cinema-going through the decades, examining everything from censorship and theatre raids to personal stories of courting and labour.

The programme’s producer Lisa McNamee told TheJournal.ie that the idea evolved from a failed pitch by director Jeremiah Cullinane and his co-author Bartolemeo Dibenedetto. They had initially looked at the raids on cinemas, in particular the Savoy in Dublin, in the 1930s when Republican elements took British film reels and dumped them in bogs.

That concept was expanded and became a broader film, to include the memories of lay people and their experience of cinema.

The final product will be a mix of dramatic memories and a nostalgic look at personal accounts, explained McNamee.

The significant funding from the BAI will mean that the film will be able to include archive footage of the big American pictures of the 20th century.

“We will get to see the Golden Era of cinema,” said McNamee. “People who have spoken to us remember the glamour of that time – the Westerns and movies like Casablanca. Those pictures took them away from the drab, dull and ordinary island and lifted them into something special.

“We are really happy to be able to include the material that managed to do that,” she added.

Ireland never had Paris

Despite unsatisfactory editing jobs that could see films hacked to pieces, the American movies were wildly popular.

McNamee reminds us that Casablanca was not allowed to be filmed in Ireland until after the end of World War II, in case it would be seen as anti-German and jeopardise the country’s neutrality.

Even after the war, any elements of the extra-marital relationship were taken out because they were deemed anti-Catholic. And so from 1946 in Ireland, Humphrey Bogart lost his “We’ll always have Paris” line.

His and Ingrid Bergman’s characters were actually denied their whole love story, so the film really didn’t make much sense, said McNamee.

While many of See You at the Picture’s stories are about censorship and other historic elements, many accounts from the public are more personal.

As well as priests hiding scenes under hats, a group in rural Donegal explained how nuns would patrol the cinema aisles, knocking couples apart with well-placed canes.

One contributor remembers her friend pulling out of a date last minute and being sent to tell the young man the unfortunate news. He had already bought the cinema tickets and not wanting to be rude, she went in the place of her friend. That was 40 years and eight children ago for the couple.

Another man told the production team how his wife went into labour but before heading to the hospital she dropped the kids to the cinema for the Saturday all-day showing. She returned that evening – with the newborn – to collect them.

“We have heard of the cinema being used almost as a babysitting service in awkward times,” said McNamee.

Call-out

The film will be broadcast some time next year as a 90-minute special on RTÉ. As part of a series on Ireland’s relationship with the cinema, it will also feature some well-known faces but the producers have kept those details under wraps for now.

The film makers are still searching the country for stories and will be travelling – with their cameras – to various locations over the summer. If you have a story you would like to share with them, write to Frances Harvey at Planet Korda, Irish Film Institute, 6, Eustace St., Dublin 2 or email stories@planetkorda.com.

And in the meantime, if you are one of the unfortunate people who saw an edited and censored version of Casablanca, here’s those two immortal lines. Here’s looking at you, kid.

Read: Tommy Bowe and Titanic documentaries to receive BAI funding>

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