The John Ford Ireland Film Symposium concluded on Sunday evening (10th June), in Dublin with filmmakers and scholars from across the world ending a four-day celebration of cinema’s most-lauded Irish-American director “in the land that he wished that he had been born”.
Lively debates, incisive lectures, public interviews with filmmakers, documentary premieres, anecdotal stories on Ford, live music events and, of course, a series of screenings of Ford classics marked a hugely well-received inaugural event, which was an initiative of the Irish Film & Television Academy (IFTA), in association with the John Ford Estate in the US, with the support of Ireland’s Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.
Oscar-nominated Irish director Jim Sheridan, who took part in the Ford Filmmakers Hub Directors Panel on Friday afternoon, commented that “the whole Symposium has been great,” adding that it was “fascinating” to hear in-depth discussion of Ford’s work.
Sheridan added of the director – whose parents hailed from the West of Ireland: “I think that it [the Symposium] will help set Ford as an Irish director, as opposed to solely an American director. I think that it’s an important event in bringing Ford home.”
Honorary Irishman and fellow Oscar nominee John Boorman commented that the four-day celebration of Ford’s work was “a marvellous thing” adding of the series of screenings that included such classics as ‘The Searchers,’ ‘Fort Apache,’ ‘The Quiet Man’ and ‘The Informer’: “Ford’s films play much better on the big screen than they do on DVD so it’s fantastic that people have had the opportunity to see them again.”
The Symposium was also attended by Ford’s grandson and author Dan Ford who said his grandfather “would have been tickled pink to be so appreciated and honoured in his ancestral home.” He added: “I think he would have been delighted to have been here and he certainly would have appreciated the interest people are showing in his work today.”
As well as Sheridan and Boorman, the list of guests, filmmakers, academics and panelists who took part in the Symposium offered a series of interesting takes on Ford’s work and the filmmaking process in general.
The guests included Oscar-nominee and ‘The Last Picture Show’ director Peter Bogdanovich; renowned film historian and Ford biographer Joseph McBride; Oscar-winning editor and long-time Clint Eastwood collaborator Joel Cox; musicians and film score composers David Holmes, Christopher Caliendo and Kyle Eastwood; screenwriters Colin Bateman, Pat McCabe, Eoghan Harris; directors Stephen Frears, Neil Jordan, Ian Power and Brian Kirk as well as a host of leading Ford academics which included Gaylyn Studlar, Charles Barr, Luke Gibbons, Kevin Rockett and Waylon White Deer.
The Symposium had gotten underway last Thursday (7th June) with a rapturously received Irish premiere of Ford’s 1924 silent masterpiece ‘The Iron Horse’ at Dublin’s National Concert Hall with live musical accompaniment from US composer Christopher Caliendo and the RTÉ Concert Orchestra.
It continued on Friday with a series of events that included a Directors Panel, a Public Interview with Peter Bogdanovich and an Opening Lecture from Ford biographer Joseph McBride, whose ‘Searching for John Ford’ biography has been described by Martin Scorsese as a “treasure”.
McBride’s opening lecture – entitled ‘John Ford: Poet and Comedian’ – offered a take on Ford that examined his Irishness; his often cantankerous responses when probed by interviewers about his career and the use of comedy in this work to counterpoint tragedy. McBride commented that Ford seemed to “contrast the tragic with the ridiculous” all his life.
Saturday’s highlights included the RTÉ Guide’s Michael Doherty In Conversation With… with Oscar-nominated director Stephen Frears (The Queen), in which the director discussed his work and early career and recalled his years filming ‘The Snapper’ and ‘The Van’ in Ireland.
The day continued with a lively Writers Panel with screenwriters Colin Bateman (Divorcing Jack), Pat McCabe (The Butcher Boy), Ian Power (The Runway) and Eoghan Harris (Sharpe) as each writer discussed a series of chosen clips from Ford films.
The near two-hour debate touched on Ford’s influence on modern cinema; the use of rhetoric in his films and screenwriting as an art form with Harris using the scene in which John Wayne’s Captain Brittles is presented with a watch in ‘She Wore a Yellow Ribbon’ to highlight Ford’s power at handling sentimentality between his male characters. Each of the writers were quick to praise Ford’s ability to tell his stories using images as opposed to dialogue and, as Power noted, at times “say so much using so few words”.