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'I have the van; it has a face': A new documentary looks at the hidden stories behind three Irish film sets

Journalist Pavel Barter researched the stories behind three Irish films from down the years as part of his new radio documentary.

The four-wheeled prop from the 1996 adaptation of Roddy Doyle's 'The Van'
The four-wheeled prop from the 1996 adaptation of Roddy Doyle's 'The Van'

AMONG THE CURIOUS assertions that Pavel Barter heard when researching his new documentary was the claim that the filming of ‘Ryan’s Daughter’ brought pub grub to Kerry.

“Apparently there wasn’t really anywhere for the crew to eat, so the pubs started doing food, which kick-started the whole pub grub tradition in the West,” he tells TheJournal.ie.

It’s just one of the stories Barter discovered as he went about recording ‘Propped Up’, a documentary looking at the props, architecture, and designs behind three Irish films.

The idea for the documentary came to Barter when he was visiting Dunquin, where ‘Ryan’s Daughter’ was filmed on the Dingle Peninsula nearly five decades ago.

During his stay, he found a dilapadated building which he assumed was a relic from the late 1800s, but later turned out to be a prop for the film.

“It surprised me that a building like this could look like an authentic building from the 1800s, and it made me interested in the film and other hidden props,” he said.

Local employment

Barter spoke to west Kerry residents who were involved with the film, and said that in doing so, he discovered a quality of craftsmanship that is no longer found in architecture or film-making.

He discovered how the building was constructed by stone masons in the local area, who had learned the trade after it was passed down to them through generations.

“The one thing about ‘Ryan’s Daughter’ that everyone in Kerry stressed when I spoke to them about it was how the film transformed the Peninsula,” he says.

Schoolhouse then The schoolhouse on the Dingle Peninsula used in Ryan's Daughter

“Mass emigration used to be the norm there, but when the production came along almost everyone in the region got employment in some capacity.”

Barter also looks at the costume from a relatively unknown 1986 horror film called ‘Rawhead Rex’, which was made in Wicklow by Clive Barker, who was also behind the ‘Hellraiser’ films.

He calls the movie an “anomaly” in Irish film, produced by an English crew in Ardmore Studios during what Barter describes as a “tumbleweed moment” for the industry here.

‘It has a face’

“It had a lot of iconic actors from the Abbey and the likes,” he says. “It got bad reviews and has since become a bit of a cult film, because it’s sort of so bad it’s good.

“People say the costume used is terrifying, but in the wrong way, so I wanted to find out the story behind it.”

Rawhead Rex The 'terrifying' costume from Rawhead Rex

In the third segment of ‘Propped Up’, Barter looks at perhaps the most iconic vehicle in Irish film history: the four-wheeled prop from the 1996 adaptation of Roddy Doyle’s novel ‘The Van’.

During his research, he learned the level of detail the film’s creators went into to choose a prop that was such a crucial part of the story.

“Some people say the van is a character itself,” he said. “So the designer Mark Geraghty made it his job to find a van that he could make a character in the film.

“He said that when he found it, the van was on its knees and had no wheels. But he did notice something else about it.

“When he rang the director Stephen Frears, he told him: “I have the van, it has a face”.”

Barter explains that while the three films featured in the documentary have no inherent connection, he chose them partly to tell stories from Irish cinema during three different decades.

“I didn’t just want to tell the story of films that had good narratives,” he says. “I wanted to tell the good stories that were behind those films as well.”

‘Propped Up’ airs at 7:00am on Sunday 28 October and again at 11am on Bank Holiday Monday 29 Octocber on Newstalk 106-108fm.

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