Land is God Film Premieres at Fermanagh Live
Out of Orbit productions feature starring Ciaran McMenamin screens at Fermanagh Live Festival, which runs from September 20 to October 5
I sit in late summer sunshine on the terrace of a Belfast café with Brian J Falconer, Chris Myers and Jonathan Beer, respectively producer, co-producer and writer/director of Land is God, the short film that will premiere at the upcoming Fermanagh Live Festival.
The entertaining trio, who have combined their film-making talents to create the Belfast-based production company Out of Orbit, are upbeat as they look forward to the launch of their latest work. The film, after all, was shot in Fermanagh, and shows that most picturesque of counties in a very beautiful light.
Following a 'crazy' pre-production schedule and a roller coaster shoot, the entire crew enjoyed a wrap party at Blakes of the Hollow pub in Enniskillen, followed by a big breakfast on Lusty Beg island. Post-production, however, took place at Yellowmoon, the Hollywood company who edit Game of Thrones.
Falconer, who trained as a civil engineer, and Beer, a Winchester Art School graduate, met by chance on Rossnowlagh beach in Donegal, while Englishman Myers, married to a Fermanagh lady, has worked as location manager for NI Screen on film and television productions, including Miss Julie, filmed at Castle Coole and Blandings at Crom Castle.
Having lived in Belfast for the past seven years, the three are now well connected within Northern Ireland’s growing film industry. 'It’s a small pool of people which is getting bigger,' observes Falconer. 'And we’ve perfectly positioned ourselves right where it is starting to happen.'
Orbit’s previous films include Yuki – the story of a Japanese girl in Belfast who strives to cope with her mother’s terminal illness (pictured below) – and they have several feature projects in development. Land is God is, perhaps, their most ambitious project to date.
Filmed over two days in October 2013 at a lakeside farm in west Fermanagh, and at the Lough Erne Golf resort, Land is God is a story of estrangement between a father and his son. Written and directed by Beer, it stars Ciaran McMenamin as Seamus, a successful young writer who returns home for the funeral of his mother Lily (Stella McCusker) but leaves again quickly, still angry with his father Jim (Pat Deery), a farmer.
Alone in his kitchen, Jim makes two mugs of tea and then realises that Lily is not sitting in her usual chair by the fire. Weary and disconsolate, he struggles to complete the daily chores on the farm until an unlikely catalyst lifts his spirits and inspires him to reconnect with his son.
Although the film never openly reveals why father and son fell out, they are finally reconciled and Seamus sets about writing his new book entitled, Land is God.
27-year-old director of photography, Kevin Treacy – who trained in Los Angeles with award-winning Austrailan cinematographer Christopher Doyle – captures the mood and beauty of the Lakeland landscape in painterly fashion, favouring long, low horizons, vast cloud-swept skies and majestic trees bathed in pallid sunshine.
Deery’s central performance as the family patriarch is sensitive and touching, especially when he meets another star of the film, the butterfly which magically appears in his farmhouse kitchen and seems to conjure up the spirit of his late wife.
Beer explains how, during rehearsals as he discussed the scene with Deery, the Monaghan-born actor revealed that when his brother died and a robin kept coming to the house, his mother swore it was a manifestation of her lost son. On the other hand, Beer is not about to reveal how he achieved the special effect in the film that allowed Lily to appear briefly to Jim on the lake.
Back at the Belfast café, Falconer and Beer tease each other about their role as butterfly wranglers, the received term for butterfly handlers. Although it was the job of the producer to locate the butterflies needed for the film, it was the director who traced them to a butterfly farm in Stratford.
Beer ordered ten Great Eggfly (Hypolimnas Bolina), which arrived wings folded, cuddled in cotton wool, in a sheet of A4 paper and vacuum packed in a polystyrene box. Beer concedes, however, that his producer would probably have negotiated a better cut price fee.
Falconer insists that while Land is God was written by Beer, it is very much a Fermanagh story. 'And I suddenly realised how much it relates to me personally, given that Seamus is my father’s name and Jim is the name of my grandfather.'
Land is God is, after all, something of a family affair. Falconer’s sister Clare, a well-known painter, has a cameo role in the film, as does one of her landscape paintings. When Myers chips in to pay tribute to the extraordinary generosity and enthusiasm of the local Fermanagh people who helped out with the film, Falconer concurs.
'A shortfall in budget makes for creative solutions. Even with the support of our main backers, NI Screen and Fermanagh Lakeland tourism, we were working with a budget that would normally have covered only the cost of the equipment and paid full fees to the actors, and the cameraman.
'So we relied on favours, the generosity of friends and family and the goodwill of sponsors like the Lough Erne Golf Resort and the Enniskillen Hotel.'
Land is God will enjoy its premiere screening, appropriately, in the former Regal cinema in Enniskillen, now the Unionist Hall, on October 4. The crew will be present for a question and answer session before the screening of the full length feature, The Field (1990), directed by Jim Sheridan and starring Richard Harris, John Hurt, Sean Bean and Brenda Fricker, which party inspired the film.