Irish Documentaries Shine at Sundance Film Festival
Posted: 26th January 2017
Neasa Ní Chianáin and David Rane's In Loco Parentis and Frankie Fenton's It's Not Yet Dark are currently taking the Sundance Film Festival by storm, with both documentaries receiving rave reviews from the international press. Supported by IFB, In Loco Parentis and It's Not Yet Dark are screening in the World Cinema Documentary Competition at the prestigious festival, which is currently taking place in Park City, Utah until 29 January.
Telling the story of Irish director Simon Fitzmaurice who was diagnosed with Motor Neuron Disease (ALS) at the age of 34 in 2008, It's Not Yet Dark is a life-affirming documentary, portraying Simon's fearlessness in the face of extreme personal adversity. Based on Fitzmaurice's acclaimed memoir of the same name, the film documents how he went on to direct his first feature film, My Name is Emily, using only his eyes. The documentary is narrated by Irish actor Colin Farrell and Screen Daily notes how Farrell's voice provides a "shattering, lyrical narration" to Fitzmaurice's poignant story. The site goes on to write: "Festival interest should be keen for this documentary, which tempers the wrenching nature of the subject matter with a crowd-pleasing message of the triumph of will and art over physical adversity."
IndieWire hailed the film as "inspirational"; praising the pacing of the piece in its portrayal of the "preciousness of every passing moment", as well as lauding Simon's emotional resilience. It's Not Yet Dark was also named as one of the best nine documentaries at this year's Sundance Film Festival and the film received a standing ovation from an impressed Sundance audience.
In Loco Parentis is set in Headfort; the last remaining boarding school in Ireland for primary-age children and the Neasa Ní Chianáin-directed documentary is continuing to impress Sundance critics after it garnered major critical acclaim at IDFA in November. Three years in the making, the documentary follows John and Amanda Leyden; two teachers at the school who met in the 1970s with the couple acting as both mentors and surrogate parents to the pupils in their care.
Variety commended the film as being "delicately executed in every department", complimenting Eryck Abecassis's "fragile, shimmery score" which serves as "an asset throughout". The Film Stage observes how Ní Chianáin's cinéma vérité allows for a truly insightful look into this particular school experience with another critic calling it "a joy to watch."
John and Amanda's unconventional and modern teaching style works to offset Headfort's dramatic eighteenth-century architecture and critics have applauded the couple for their dedication to the school and its pupils. IndieWire writes that "it's easy to imagine them [John and Amanda] being played to perfection by Jim Broadbent and Fionnula Flanagan in a wistful, understated adaptation".
It's Not Yet Dark was produced by Lesley McKimm and Kathryn Kennedy and directed by Frankie Fenton while In Loco Parentis was produced by David Rane at Soilsíu Films and directed by Neasa Ní Chianáin, with both documentaries supported by IFB.