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Turner Prize Winner Duncan Campbell presents his new Irish film at IMMA this November with Support from Bord Scannán na hÉireann/the Irish Film Board

23rd Nov 2016

A new film work by Irish-born artist Duncan Campbell entitled The Welfare of Tomás Ó Hallissy is the artist’s first film based in the Republic of Ireland and is produced with support from Bord Scannán na hÉireann/the Irish Film Board. The work will be presented at IMMA this weekend, running from 25 November 2016 – 7 May 2017 and is his first new work since winning the Turner Prize in 2014; when he was the first Irish born artist to do so. This is also the first of Campbell’s films to feature actors and scripted scenes and marks the first time that IMMA and Bord Scannán na hÉireann/the Irish Film Board have collaborated on a film work.

Duncan Campbell himself says of the work “the film is set at the interface of the activist perspective of the two American anthropologists and their focus on individual minds to be saved; and the communal but conservatively Catholic perspective of the people they are studying. The main character in the film is a speechless 10 year-old boy, Tomás, who is seen in the light of the tension between these two perspectives.’  At the heart of the film is the question of Tomás’ welfare and, if he is in need of salvation - whether this lies in tradition or modernity.”


Commenting on the collaboration James Hickey, Chief Executive, Bord Scannán na hÉireann/the Irish Film Board said "We are delighted to have had an opportunity to work with renowned Irish artist Duncan Campbell and for his work to be seen not only in art galleries but potentially by audiences at film festivals and markets around the world.  The IFB is open to supporting filmmakers from all artistic disciplines with the aim of further developing their talent in film.  We are also delighted to work in partnership with IMMA on this project."


The Welfare of Tomas Ó Hallissy is filmed in and around the Kerry village of Dún Chaoin and directly integrates newly scripted material shot with actors with footage from The Village which was also set in Dún Chaoin.  Indeed this new film is set against a fictional visit by two American anthropologists to Dún Chaoin, mirroring the premise of Hockings and McCarty’s 1968 documentary. Campbell’s original material also echoes key scenes from documentary that captured the day to day routine of the village; the creamery, turf cutting, rabbit hunting and gatherings in the local pub. In revisiting these scenes Campbell looks at some of the assumptions, ethics and misconceptions that frame the relationship between the filmmakers and the villagers.


Commenting on this new work Ross Keane, Director of the Irish Film Institute said; “The Village is a fascinating ethnographic documentary looking at how modernisation affected the inhabitants of Dún Chaoin and their relationship with the unpopulated Blasket Islands, and we are delighted that Duncan Campbell found inspiration for his latest work from this film and through his research into our collection at the IFI Irish Film Archive.”


As with many of Campbell’s works The Welfare of Tomás ó Hallissy questions the validity of documentary form as historical representation, blurring fact, and fiction, recording and interpretation. His extensive research into a specific time and context uncovers the unknown and unexpected in a representation of Ireland that at first seems familiar. On one level The Welfare of Tomás ó Hallissy represents the uses and misuses of the past as the implications of the societal shifts and misrepresentations it explores still resonate and inform contemporary Ireland today.


The Welfare of Tomás ó Hallissy takes into account the long history of ethnographic study in rural communities in the west of Ireland.  In particular Campbell is interested in the moment when the revered Gaelic speaking peasant culture society of places like Dún Chaoin came to be seen as an obstacle to progress. In various ways the anthropological studies he draws on link the increasing predominance of the ‘bachelor farmer’, sexual repression, the breakdown of the traditional family structure and conflicts over farm inheritance as contributing to the high levels of mental illness in rural Ireland at the time. In Campbell’s film the rural traditions continue but are coloured by sense of the subjects are either acting out or resisting the roles expected of them by their visitors. The depiction of village life is mediated by attempts by the anthropologists to say what is not said and a simmering anger and impotence that fleetingly appears in a drunken scuffle that closes the film.


As with many of Campbell’s films this new work is underpinned by extensive research into archival and documentary material. In this instance, stemming from research in the archive of the IFI (Irish Film Institute), the work takes Paul Hockings and Mark McCarty’s 1968 documentary film The Village as a starting point alongside three influential anthropological studies; Inis Beag by John C. Messenger, Inishkillane: Change and Decline in the West of Ireland by Hugh Brody and, in particular, Saints, Scholars, and Schizophrenics by Nancy Scheper-Hughes.


The Welfare of Tomás Ó Hallissy is commissioned by IMMA (Irish Museum of Modern Art) Dublin with co-commissioners Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven and Western Front, Canada. This new work has been made possible through the support of commissioning partners; Irish Film Board; the IFI Irish Film Archive; Creative Scotland; Nakba Filmworks; Fastnet Films, the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs and Matheson, who proudly support New Art at IMMA. The Welfare of Tomás Ó Hallissy is part of the official Ireland 2016 programme.

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