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'Inspirational': This Irish documentary is getting great reviews at the Sundance Film Festival

Another hit is the Irish documentary In Loco Parentis, about a boarding school in Co Meath.

Image: YouTube

TWO IRISH DOCUMENTARIES selected for the prestigious Sundance Film Festival have been getting great reviews.

It’s Not Yet Dark, about the filmmaker Simon Fitzmaurice, who has Motor Neuron Disease (ALS), and In Loco Parentis, about the Headfort boarding school, have both been on show at the festival this month.

Sundance, which runs for 10 days in Utah, is an opportunity for Irish filmmakers to get their work seen by critics and film insiders – and a chance for networking and the all-important reviews.

“As the largest independent film festival in the US, the Sundance Film Festival provides an important and powerful platform for both Irish films It’s Not Yet Dark and In Loco Parentis to achieve global recognition,” said James Hickey, Chief Executive Bord Scannan na hEireann/the Irish Film Board.

He noted that Ireland has had a very successful experience at the festival over the years, with films such as Brooklyn, The Guard and Calvary all having had world premieres there.

“The importance of being selected for major festivals such as Sundance cannot be underestimated in terms of ensuring wide international audiences for the films,” he said. “Both films were chosen from thousands of international films and we are very proud of the teams behind each project.”

Of being selected for Sundance, Frankie Fenton – who directed It’s Not Yet Dark – said:

It’s the highest honour to have our film invited to screen at the Sundance Film Festival. We’re all smiling with the news. It means so much to our small team to know that we are bringing Simon and Ruth’s inspirational story to Utah audiences.

The documentary, which is narrated by Colin Farrell, was funded by the IFB and Wellcome Trust in the UK. It looks at how Fitzmaurice himself was premiering his short film The Sound of People at Sundance when he noticed an unusual pain in his foot. He was diagnosed with ALS soon afterwards.

The film explores his journey since, and how he directed his feature film My Name is Emily.

Source: film tribe/YouTube

It’s Not Yet Dark has been getting excellent reviews, with IndieWire describing it as “inspirational”, and giving it a grade B-:

Fenton, however understandably, is too drawn to the raw power of Simon’s story to let viewers work their own way through its darkness. On the other hand, it’s the questions that Fenton can’t answer — maybe even the questions he doesn’t mean to ask — that make “It’s Not Yet Dark” such an illuminating experience.

On RogerEbert.com, Brian Tallerico writes that the film is “incredibly powerful”.

Ultimately, what makes It’s Not Yet Dark so remarkably powerful is the open-book honesty of its subject and those he loves. Ruth is such an honest, well-spoken, interesting woman. Many people will walk out of the film praising Simon, but this is Ruth’s story too. And it’s something relatable for all of us. When Simon says “I dance for the last time,” remembering the moments before he lost control of his muscles, that’s something that connects with the heart.

Over at Screendaily, they praised Fenton for the way she shapes a portrait of Fitzmaurice, and add:

But it’s as much through his words – the film takes material from, and shares a title with, an autobiography written by Fitzmaurice – and the words of his loved ones, that we get to know the man.

In Loco Parentis, directed by Neasa Ní Chianáin, is a documentary about a year in the life of the Headfort boarding school. The Kells school is run by married couple John and Amanda Leyden, who have been in the role for 46 years.

Source: Guth Gafa International Documentary Film Festival/YouTube

“When we got the call from the Sundance Film Festival programmers, we couldn’t believe it,” said Ní Chianáin. “They said that ‘the world needs a life-affirming film like this at the moment’.”

Indiewire gave the film a Grade B, saying:

In Loco Parentis thrives whenever it regards Headfort as a place suspended between an ancient institution and an overgrown home, one that fosters both the transient children and the adults who have become part of the furniture.

Variety, which calls the school a ‘prep school’, compared the documentary to Nicolas Phillibert’s Etre et Avoir, and said that “it’s hard not to be moved by the dedication and affection that the Headfort staff… put into their work”.

…the filmmaking is delicately executed in every department. Eschewing any visual or graphic gimmicks, Ní Chianáin keeps the look airily naturalistic throughout, lighting and framing Headfort’s rather imposing architecture — which could look darkly austere in a different film — with a consistent emphasis on its breathing room.

The Film Stage said that the film is a “warm work of cinéma vérité”, and “a celebration of the school experience, free of the kind of context that a talking head interview may provide”.

In Loco Parentis has moments of rich beauty as we watch the exact instant where the light bulbs go off for pupils. For those not without background knowledge on the institutions it studies and the alternative it offers to traditional schooling, the film could benefit from a little added context, even if it would sacrifice the its adherence to the traditions of its cinéma vérité approach.

Keep an eye out on Irish festivals this year for your chance to watch both documentaries.

Read: ‘The Whatsapp is whopping away’ – Ruth Negga’s Limerick family on Oscar nomination>

Read: Ruth Negga: ‘Race was this subject that no one wanted to talk about’>

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