Irish writer and director Imelda O'Reilly has just been invited to the Cannes Film Festival where her latest project We're The Kids In America has been selected for development by the Cinefondation Atelier program
The invitation will allow O'Reilly to showcase her projects to producers and potential funding partners.
We shouldn't be surprised. Ireland is having a major film moment, with writers, actors and directors making big waves world wide – to say nothing of the sought after location scenery - and the interest just seems to keep on growing.
This week the Kildare born, New York based writer and director heard the welcome news that her latest film, We're The Kids In America, has been picked up for development in the Cinefondation Atelier program which runs as part of the Cannes Film Festival.
Established back in 2005 with the aim of encouraging new films and fostering a new generation of filmmakers by helping them to secure necessary funding, to date the Atelier program has introduced 202 projects, of which 145 have already been completed and 28 are currently in pre-production.
It's success rate stands at an impressive eighty percent for new features, in other words. Those are encouraging odds for the Irish writer and director.
“The feature length screenplay of We're The Kids Of America is based on my short film Eggs and Soldiers (which has already played at forty seven different festivals across nine different countries). It has been accepted to the Cinefondation Atelier, part of the Cannes Film Festival, they accept 15 films internationally and I will representing Ireland in the competition this year.O'Reilly's new feature length screenplay is about three generations of Irish father's and son's. It's set in Ireland in 1950's, Ireland in the 1980's and then New York in the present day, exploring classic Irish themes of identity, exile and in this case abuse in relationship to the legacy of colonization.
If she were to describe the film in one word she would say it is about culpability, O'Reilly says. “It's a relevant theme to todays world with the Me Too movement and the question of culpability has an Irish context. In terms of issues being handed down from generation to generation, Ireland still has a long way to go. There's a lot of great storytelling that's coming out of Ireland now and hopefully our generation will tackle thorny issues that have previously been ignored.”
O'Reilly then quotes rising Irish screen star John Connors, who recently noted that a lot of the darker Irish stories from the 1950's have not been told yet. Moving away from those oppressive times has been a life journey for many, she notes.
“Especially if you had a creative bone in your body. If you were interested in the arts. I would have liked more development in that area in my schooling.”
The first man in O'Reilly's script is a father with nine kids and a drink problem. This section is set in the 1950's and it leads on to the 80's where one of his sons' trajectories includes a desire to become a carpenter and leave Ireland.
“He doesn't want to even wait to get his Leaving Certificate exam, he wants to get out of the country as fast as he can. That's when he meets a local girl who is a Kim Wilde lookalike (hence the film's title) who's mother doesn't approve.
“He moves to New York just after he and his girlfriend break up. Then we skip forward to 2016 where he's older and wiser and a single dad returning to Ireland to demand an apology from his elderly father for the way he behaved and the things he has said and done.”
When immigrants left Ireland in the 1980's it was a genuine severance, O'Reilly says. The experience wasn't like today where flights are cheaper and Skype and Facebook can keep you connected. It was a psychic and physical severance. A ripping out of your old life.
“Often people left and didn't get to return for long periods, often years. That contributed to a state of arrested developed for many where they carried a romanticized version of the homeland. But when they return from New York they discover that everything has changed. I was interested in capturing that mindset and what happens when they return. Being an Irish immigrant in New York is not easy. There's often this gap of expectation between the people who have left and the people who have stayed.”
O'Reilly is currently working as an assistant professor at James Madison University after teaching at NYU Singapore on their graduate program for three years. “I teach screen writing and film aesthetics and directing down here in Virginia at the moment,” she says.
Getting selected for the Cinefondation Atelier program is a big deal, but O'Reilly underplays it. “I think I'm the first Irishwoman to be selected for it. They basically endorse your project and set up meetings with producers for an international co-production. Eighty percent of the projects that go through this process get funded.”
Meanwhile O'Reilly says she sees Irish history – and to an extent Ireland – as a thing that must be contended with in order to grow. “When you think of Ireland’s history we are still digging our way out of the British colonial ditch,” she says candidly.
“The genocide of the British empire is only now being beginning to be documented. A country’s past will always need reconciliation and I am interested in the theme of culpability. When you think of Ireland’s past there is huge culpability with regard to colonization, and also the Church and State.”
Culpability, that word again and again. Meaning responsibility for a wrong or fault. “The Magdalen Laundries was only one of many atrocities in Irish history that impacted young women,” she says. “Each generation moving forward has a responsibility to make it better for the next and not live in denial... we can’t continue to bury our past.”
O'Reilly has the legendary Barbara De Fina attached as a co-producer for We're The Kids In America (Martin Scorsese's ex-wife and the name behind films like Goodfellas, Casino, The Color of Money, Kundun, The Last Temptation of Christ and The Grifters). “I'm looking for a European co-producer next, so I'm looking forward to the program,” O'Reilly concludes.