Knack of the Irish

Alex Fegan: The young man knows what he’s doing. The Dublin-born Co. Kerry resident is creating aesthetic eye candy and the visual storytelling the instinctually eloquent Irish can orate.

The Palace Theatre, which knows how to put on a community event, held the Syracuse premiere of Older Than Ireland (2015), a documentary coming this April, showcasing the ageless insight of the centennials throughout Ireland and including one Kathleen Snavely, who emigrated and found a home in  Syracuse, NY.

After the film, a group had ventured down to Kitty Hoynes Irish Pub in Armory Square, and the group especially included executive producer Micha Crook, who easily coerced me into the situation. We embarked in conversation, small talk chatter, learning about who he is as a person and how he came about making the film. His work is eye catching and conversational, don’t get that wrong or take it as a jab, but it’s easily explained on the screen.

Still from Older Than Ireland
Still from Older Than Ireland

You watch. You listen. You get it.

Preceding Older Than Ireland is The Irish Pub (2013). In a similar fashion and the same natural Irish light as the most recent effort, Fegan captures pub life throughout the country. The pub life may incorporate people of various ages, old and young, engaging in talking about the structures around them.

To waltz closer to the point: Fegan began the pub documentary with a quote:

“There are no strangers, only friends you have not met yet.” – William Butler Yeats

The quote serves as a backbone through the two films I’ve seen of his. Being the fashion and tact of Irish-based fiction or such documentaries — and any story no matter the origin, let’s be honest — relationships are the key factors that propel each of the stories. The plots do weigh heavily, but stories cannot continue if it weren’t for the relationships involved.

Each person Fegan incorporated into the film are focal points, but they don’t make it about themselves.

Still from The Irish Pub
Still from The Irish Pub

The purpose is for them to answer questions, so the segments and contributions are solely them. However, the answers are honest. As many times as they designate themselves as part of a story, they throw others into the mix. The relationship, however it may be, enriches the non-fiction tales.

The pub owners talked about the history of their bars. The centennials talked about growing up. The publicans explained meaningful pictures which decorate their walls. The seasoned Irish residents explained the excitement of getting a new pair of shoes. The pub names were explicitly mentioned, how they reflected their owners. The 100-plus-year-olds talked about the love for their spouses.

The director and writer, of course, had to connect with these strangers and make the filming work. Most of these Irish residents were strangers at one point; although he may not know them thoroughly now, steps were taken, moving him toward friendships.

It was something he had to do. The repetitive processes were things he wanted to do. Fegan told me he just wanted to make film, and the productions are solid proof. According to his IMDB page, he has a handful of credits and a mix of fiction and documentaries. All the man did was take his one camera and begin filming, capturing shots and capturing audio.

He has a confidence, but not the kind of hubris to eventually get him into trouble. The family man is acting on a love and passion, and his attempts are calculated. It’s not to say he hasn’t made mistakes — I’m sure he has, he’s human — and he’s gotten around and over those obstacles. In my opinion his judgements and reevaluations have served him well — a personal thought generated from watching Older Than Ireland and The Irish Pub.

Still from The Irish Pub
Still from The Irish Pub

The latter film was actually obtained through an auction, a fundraising additive thought up by Crook as she planned the premiere at The Palace Theatre. The money acquired went to a great cause, The Food Bank of Central New York. Of the delightful gifts that were put out on the table, I really wanted to win the film. I do consider myself lucky, because I never really win anything.

Fegan is a conversationalist. It’s his Irish eloquence, youthful charm, patience and ability to channel his curiosity and excitement into asking the right questions. Although the two documentaries are distinct, they’re similar in many regards:

  • The angles he shoots at are simple, basic. They are straight on, sometimes from above and very few are stray for artistic and aesthetic appeal.
  • His being conventional is his artistry, which makes his shots and the transitions work so well, not taking away from the people or the stories. The shots usually involve one person with a natural, unique background, which bears importance to that said person.
  • The shots are incredibly descriptive. The background and settings, if there is a lot going on in terms of decor or the opposite, say so much. It’s tempting to hit pause and take a look at what is around, as if you’re stepping into this person’s home or pub, and taking a look at the pictures or nicknacks sitting on the mantles, shelves or tables.
  • Silence. There are many instances of silence in both documentaries. The actions and expressions do speak louder than words.

The stories are open-ended. The conversations (technically) don’t have to end, and I’m left wanting more.

Thanks to Crook and Fegan, the Syracuse premiere was met with a very populated Palace Theatre and a positive response. Many stuck around for the Q & A, which was led by the former. It seemed everyone left with in good spirits.

Still from Older Than Ireland
Still from Older Than Ireland

Although there may be a gap or divide with consideration to the cultures and generations, there are numerous similarities saying differently. There is a lot to learn from those sharing the planet. Even if you may not be a traveler, there are people and places to experience and explore in the city, county, region and state of residence.

I wish Fegan and Crook the best of luck. Whether or not they work on a project together in the near or distant future — it’s too soon. I hope the director continues his direction and continues making film, whether his productions are documentaries or not. Having the opportunity to work with and getting to know Crook over the last couple of years — all I can say she’s fantastic, and she knows I wish her the best.

I raise my glass.

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