The new trend for Irish films to focus on family dynamics (which are often dysfunctional) rather than on political struggles is front and center in "The Runway", a brand new feel-good film inspired by a true story.
Focusing on the daily lives of two Irish children in the 1980s, "The Runway" is remarkable for a number of reasons, not the least of which is its focus on kids instead of freedom fighters. Could it be that we’re finally stepping out from the shadow of history?
The plot of "The Runway" is as simple and charming as the film it inspired. Based on real life events, the film opens in 1983 when a South American pilot crash lands his plane in a tiny Co. Cork field. Soon, against all the odds, the local’s villagers are building a runway to get him back into the air and safely home.
That’s exactly the kind of true to life storyline that has crowd pleaser written all over it, which is probably why "The Runway" walked off with top honors at the Galway Film Fleadh (Festival) last month.
Demian Bichir (star of Showtime’s Weeds and Stephen Soderberg’s Che) plays the lost South American pilot flawlessly with able support from the beautiful young Irish actress Kerry Condon (Angela's Ashes, Rome), and the film is shot in the timeless, sleepy little Irish village of Schull in West Cork.
Written and directed by young up and coming Irish director Ian Power, "The Runway" reproduces many of the true life events. The local people of Dromoleen come together fix up the plane just as they did in real life, and they also lay an extensive new runway at the crash site just as it happened years ago.
In doing all of this in reality they caught, however briefly, the imagination of the entire nation at the time -- and eventually the caught the imagination of Power himself, whose love for the tale is evident in every frame he films.
Power’s new fictional take introduces us to nine year old Paco Thomas, a young Cork boy who lives with his hardworking mum and misses his Spanish-born sailor dad, who he doesn’t even remember.
Mother and son live in the crippled town of Dromoleen, where Paco spends his days playacting with his traveler friend Frogs and learning Spanish from a linguaphone tape at night (in case his long lost dad ever comes home).
Then late one night Paco’s life (and that of his little town) is turned upside down when a mysterious Colombian pilot crash-lands his plane in the woods just outside of town. But just who is this handsome but impossible to understand stranger, and what does he want?
As the film takes us gently toward an answer, Power manages to skillfully weave all the disparate strands of his story until a compelling portrait of the town and its people emerge.
But interestingly, from start to finish, the kids in "The Runway" would have more in common with the heroes of any Steven Spielberg film than in any number of hard hitting historical Irish political dramas.
The kids in Power’s new film play Nintendo and are devoted to Masters of the Universe. As young heroes in Irish films go, they’re something new by being completely ordinary and recognizable.
“It’s a kids’ film and people might laugh at that because I wrote it, but kids’ films to me are "The Goonies" or "E.T."” Power told the press recently.
“Those were great films that I grew up with which weren’t condescending to you as a kid. And that meant that adults could watch them too and feel like they were also involved.
“That’s the kind of movie that we have here. It is set in 1983, and I wanted to give it a sense of how you remember your own childhood.”
Power has succeeded in that regard. From start to finish there’s a nostalgic glow over the proceedings that underlines the film is unfolding in memory, where’s its obviously cherished.
But it was cherished in reality too. When the original South American pilot, Captain Ruben Ocano, passed away on January 29 of this year he made the headlines again in Cork, where he’s still remembered for being the pilot who had to crash land his Mexican Gulfstream II jet on Mallow Racecourse there in April 1983.
Ocano enjoyed a five-week stay in Mallow where he became quite a celebrity (he even helped judge a beauty contest, an event reproduced in the film). Now there’s the kind of welcome that never wears itself out.
"The Runway" will open in the U.S. later this year.