Belfast Film About Boxer Sean Mannion to Hit US Screens

Set for release this autumn, Rocky Ros Muc chronicles the Galway native's in-ring career, his move to Boston and ties to the city's criminal underworld

Sean Mannion outside the Somerville Theatre at the Boston Film Festival earlier this year

A film directed and produced by Belfast-based production company Below The Radar is set for its US release and will qualify for the 2018 Academy Awards – a first for an Irish-language feature length documentary.

Rocky Ros Muc tells the story of world-class boxer Sean Mannion, who left the Irish-speaking village of Ros Muc in Galway, for Boston, in the 1970s. It premiered in the city in March and screened in Ireland for the first time earlier this week in a sold out event as part of the Galway Film Fleadh.

Sharing the name of Mannion's 2014 biography, the film was funded by TG4, the Broadcasting Authority in Ireland, the Irish Film Board, Northern Ireland Screen’s Irish Language Broadcast Fund and MG Alba.

The film will then go on release in cinemas in New York and Los Angeles in the autumn, meaning it will be eligible for consideration on next year's Oscar shortlist. Plans are also underway for a theatrical release in Ireland, north and south, later this year.

Rocky Ros Muc examines Mannion’s fighting spirit inside the ring as a professional boxer, and his life outside the ring where his sparring partners and friends at the time were at the heart of Whitey Bulger’s notorious Winter Hill gang and the South Boston criminal underworld.

ROCKY ROS MUC Sean Mannion

Sean Mannion

Director, Michael Fanning said: 'We have had a phenomenal response to the film since it was first screened in Boston in the spring. Sean Mannion’s story is one that needed to be told and we are especially excited to be able to bring this film home to Ireland – first to Galway and then to Sean’s own small home town of Ros Muc, which will be an emotional night.

'I first came across the story of Sean Mannion through Rónán Mac Con Iomaire’s book, Rocky Ros Muc and it fascinated me. Mannion is a humble man despite the fact he was a world-class boxer and his story is one that audiences will find gripping.

'To think that his story is going to reach audiences across the USA is thrilling for everyone involved. The fact that it’ll also qualify for the Oscar next year is a boost for everyone on the team. We’re particularly excited to hear the response to the film on Irish soil in Galway this week.'

James Hickey, Bord Scannán na hÉireann/the Irish Film Board Chief Executive, said: 'We are delighted to have supported this powerful Irish language film which is the documentary feature debut from Michael Fanning, a director we hope to work with again in the future. I’m sure that both Irish and international audiences will engage with the film on its theatrical release later this year.'

Proinsias Ní Ghráinne, Commissioning Editor at TG4, said: 'The cinema release of Rocky Ros Muc in Ireland and the US is testament to the quality of this superb Irish-language film. Rocky Ros Muc is a fine example of TG4's continued commitment to bring character-based, compelling narratives with the scope and ambition to work on many platforms to audiences at home and abroad. We look forward to the premiere TV broadcast on TG4 in 2018 and to seeing how the local, skillfully and authentically produced, can have global appeal.'

Michael Fanning

Director Michael Fanning, Under The Radar

Áine Walsh of the Irish Language Broadcast Fund Northern Ireland Screen, one of the funders, said: 'We are delighted that Rocky Ros Muc will air to a US audience, it is a beautifully produced documentary dealing with the universal theme of emigration that deserves a wide audience. This opportunity will raise the profile of Below the Radar, a company with an excellent track record in Irish language production, as well as raise the profile of Irish language production in general. This also aligns with Northern Ireland Screen's strategy of promoting local content to an international audience.'

In another coup for the Belfast production company, its short documentary Tit for Tatt, about cancer survivors who were tattooed on their surgical wounds, has also been listed to play at the Galway Film Fleadh on Sunday July 16.

Director and Producer Mairéad Ní Threinir said: 'Getting a film listed at the Galway Film Fleadh is a dream come true for any filmmaker. The festival showcases the best in filmmaking talent from around the world and it is a real honour to be able to bring the story of Sabrina, Nina and other cancer survivors to such a wide audience.

'Their story is an inspirational and uplifting one for cancer survivors who have been through the wars but are still standing and still fighting. I know they will inspire others when the film is shown in Galway.'