“The Irish Pub,” a documentary written, produced, directed, and edited by Alex Fegan is a very compelling look into why pubs are the way they are.
The movie had its New York premiere at Swift Hibernian Lounge on Tuesday night before a rapt and chuckling audience. The documentary was released in cinemas and on DVD in the UK and Ireland in 2013 and won Best Film at the London Irish Film Festival. Since then it has had screenings in Canada and the US, including Boston, Chicago and now New York.
The film discusses the efforts to keep the Irish pub ‘the way it was,’ the many other uses for pubs (funeral homes, grocery stores, hardware stores to name just a few), and what it is that keeps us going back night after night.
In the film, the connection with the subjects flowed like Guinness as you feel the joy and sometimes the pain recalled by the ‘publicans’ on screen. Most importantly, the film portrays how in an Irish pub the customers are family: you care about your barkeep and your barkeep cares about you.
One of those interviewed in the film perfectly explains what is that keeps people coming back: “It’s not the drink; it’s the stories.”
This September Fegan plans a month long American road tour which will include screenings of “The Irish Pub” and an opportunity for him to delve into the sequel which will examine how the Irish pub shaped America.
For more information on the movie, upcoming screenings or to buy a DVD visit the site IrishPubFilm.com.
Following the screening filmmaker Alex Fegan took part in a 15-minute Q & A session. Here’s a lightly edited version of his answers:
The pubs look very empty. How do these pubs survive?
I filmed a lot of these in the morning. It just makes it easier.
You’d have to get a release form from every single person in the film, and so on and so forth.
Some of the pubs that you see in the film, while they seem empty in the film, they’re actually very busy in the evening. A lot of these traditional pubs do well at weekends, but that’s not to say the future’s bright for these small rural pubs.
They are struggling and I suppose the future of those pubs depends on the people of Ireland and whether they wish to drink at home or whether they wish to go out and communicate and chat and so the future is really in our hands.
Why do some of the publicans have subtitles?
We started this tour off in Toronto and people said “Oh there was that guy from Kerry that we couldn’t understand” so we said, "Right let's put subtitles on him." When we did that and someone said “actually we can’t understand the guy in Cavan”...I think this is going to end up with us putting subtitles on the whole thing.
We do have to appreciate that while we do speak the same language we do have a different accent.
How did you make the barman seem so comfortable?
Most of these pubs had no idea that I was calling in, including that man in Roscommon [the barman who scoots his young son off the counter, in the trailer below]. When I arrived in he was preparing for a party for triplets and he was under enormous pressure. So I arrived and said, “Oh I’ve driven all this way and I’d heard about this pub and how fantastic it is and would you mind if I filmed. It’ll take five minutes.” So he was like “F****ng hell! Would ye go on” and then he said, “F*** it! I’ll do it!” He had a full on beard when I went in and he went up stairs and came down clean shaven. He was extremely p***sed off at me and everything that’s in the film is exactly what I shot because he was in a real hurry.
Did you feel that the bartenders while on camera were performing?
To be honest I don’t know because a lot of these guys I only met once and that was while I was filming, but most people seemed really natural to me. They really did.
I think if I’d gone in with a big crew and, say, a lighting man and a production designer I think they wouldn’t have acted as natural. I don’t think I would have gotten PJ Guerin saying “Howrya Franky” [see trailer below].
These guys didn’t take me seriously at all and why should they. It was just me and most of the time I never even light and I think that’s what got a more natural aspect to it.
Have you noticed any differences between filming in Ireland versus filming in the United States?
I have to be honest, no. We’ve been traveling around the States since February and the general consensus we have is that there’s so many connections between the Irish spirit and the American spirit which are in common I think that when you watch the new film you’ll see that. It’s the sense of humor, the “having the laugh”, spontaneity and also the sense of value of history is intact.
I do think the Americans probably speak clearer and their diction is better.
What is the sequel to “The Irish Pub”?
We’re looking to discover how the Irish pub has shaped America. There are Irish pubs all over the United States so we’re looking at how this institution has shaped America. We are literally filming all around the United States and discovering amazing pubs.