Boogaloo and Graham

Michael Lennox's BAFTA-winning, Oscar-nominated short took on the world and won the hearts and minds of millions – read our review ahead of two screenings at Queen's Film Theatre

Back in December 2014, following the announcement that his Belfast-set short film, Boogaloo and Graham, had been longlisted in the Live Action Short category at the 2015 Academy Awards, director Michael Lennox spoke to Culture Northern Ireland about his excitement at this sudden brush with high prestige.
 
‘It feels amazing,’ he said. ‘You set out to make a film and you hope beyond hope that it’s going to reach an audience and they’re going to enjoy it because you get massively close to your own material. To have people, not just in Northern Ireland, but across the water, enjoy it shows that a local story here travels and people get it. I think that’s the most rewarding thing. It’s a bigger story than just local to Northern Ireland.’
 
Inspired by his own childhood in Belfast, Lennox was comfortable depicting a story which, to those familiar with the milieu, strikes a perfect note in illustrating the essence of the city’s humbler realities. ‘I know the type of people, the story, the humour and those things just resonate with me. I understand it and get it. I think the personal connection makes it relevant.’
 
 
Two months on, Lennox is the proud owner, alongside screenwriter Ronan Blaney, of a BAFTA for best short and a full Oscar nomination. He and Blaney ultimately missed out on the biggest cinema prize of them all to British film The Phone Call, but nothing should distract from their stellar achievement.
 
Delivering his film at a time when government funding for the arts in Northern Ireland is set to be cut significantly, Boogaloo and Graham appears the perfect answer to any implied suggestions that the country's film industry is unworthy of respectable fiscal backing.
 
The movie itself is an utterly charming affair, a tightly-packed effort very much in keeping with the finest traditions of abridged filmmaking. Lennox channels the tale through a pair of pitch-perfect displays from his diminutive leads, as brothers Jamesy (Riley Hamilton) and Malachy (Aaron Lynch) hone their understanding of the facts of life during the winter months of 1978. 
 
Martin McCann portrays the kindly father who, in the backyard of a terraced house – the British army patrolling the nearby alley – furtively pulls from a cardboard box two chicks for his sons, gifts from the farm on which he has managed to find fleeting employment. The boys are immediately smitten, christening their new friends Boogaloo and Graham, trusted allies while they come to terms with the fact that their mother (a flinty Charlene McKenna) will soon bring a new sibling into the world.
 
Jettisoning any mantra that warns against working with children and animals, Lennox covers much ground during the picture’s 15 minutes. The Troubles linger in the background — the children watch with terror, for example, as an unknown man is chased down and arrested by soldiers before their eyes — but, truthfully, this feels more like a touching family drama than anything else, one portraying believable characters and the intimate experiences binding us together.
 
Beautifully shot through with the faded, blanched visuals, which similarly also made Yann Demange’s ’71 so real a spectacle, Boogaloo and Graham's beating heart forms around the wonderfully frank contributions of its precocious lead duo.
 
Granted the best lines and cheeky enough to pull them off convincingly – ‘You’re the dirty one! You put your knob in her fanny!’ – Hamilton and Lynch fill the screen with their unfiltered charisma. Their rawness as young actors is obvious, but they have both captured the spirit of Blaney’s homely story, suggesting an unspoken and interconnected bond that only brothers might fully comprehend. 
 
As shorts go, Boogaloo and Graham is a slice of cinematic pure pleasure. Given the twinkling cast and unfussy nostalgia, recognition on the largest stage now seems unsurprising. Yet, at its core, this film represents a fond recognition that amid Northern Ireland's years of mayhem there existed things funny, delicate even, to tether our sense of normality. 
 
Lennox is already deep into production on his feature debut, A Patch of Fog, a dark, full-grown cousin to this seminal little yarn. Wearing now the sheen of success, there should be bigger things down the road. 
 
Boogaloo and Graham will play be screened alongside other BAFTA-nominated short and animated films at Queen’s Film Theatre, Belfast, on March 15 and 21.