Caitríona is a producer and director from Indreabhán, Connemara. She spoke to us about how the vast, rugged land can naturally make you a philosopher, her love for minority languages and the need for more positive news in the world. In her work, she captures the innate Irish humour and the feeling that no one is really a stranger.
Photos and Words: Julia Monard
How did you come to be in your field?
I studied journalism in university, which wasn’t a difficult choice for me. I always liked writing stories and had a certain curiosity about the world and how things work. While doing that course, I took a particular interest in the broadcasting side of it – cinematography and doing interviews. It made sense to pursue documentary film-making after I’d left college.
What have you been working on up to this point?
The biggest documentary project I’ve worked on is The Corridor, an 80-minute film about a school inside a jail in the U.S. justice system in San Francisco. ‘A Day in the Life’ was the idea behind it, but it was filmed over five years. It took two years just to get all the permissions sorted. I got on board in 2013, just as they were about to start filming and I was involved up until it was finished. When I was over there, I was the assistant editor and when I came home, I did transcription and offered feedback on cuts. It was a fascinating project to work on. I got to hear all these stories that didn’t end up in the finished film. The teachers in that school really believed in their students. These are people that a lot of the time haven’t had a good start in life and sometimes they just need a leg up. It’s amazing the difference it can make for someone to believe in them and to see past their convictions.
What are your more recent highlights?
When I was over in San Francisco, I felt like I was watching stuff here from afar and I was just so inspired by the amount of talent that was in Galway. I really feel like Galway is such a hub for creativity. There’s something about the people of Ireland or the people that gravitate towards here. There’s so much humour that is innate to what people do and make. Some of the stuff I was seeing, like comedy sketches from Little Cinema screenings, was often a lot better than what I saw made on crazy budgets for quite large news organisations in the U.S. I wanted to get back and get more involved in that. I was really lucky then when I got home to meet people that helped me to get more experience, like the Project Spatula team and the director Cathal Ó Cuaig; he got me involved in some really cool documentary projects. Then last year I directed Grá & Eagla.
Can you tell us a little bit about Grá & Eagla?
With Grá & Eagla, I set out to explore how people react to the Irish language. It’s something I find interesting because I come from a native-speaking background. There’s such a variety of perspectives towards the language out there, from disdain and people who think it’s a waste of time, to admiration. We only really scratched the surface in the 15-minute film, but I wanted to make a start on trying to figure out how to look at minority languages in a different way and hopefully inspire people to see the value in it. I think it’s important to make content in or about Irish that is approachable to people from a variety of backgrounds. There has been a lot of content made that is in Irish for Irish speakers, but I haven’t seen a lot that is bilingual or in English, with the hope of welcoming others to the language. I think one of the best ways to explore a topic like that is through humour, because it is a language that is just filled with it. When you speak a few languages, it’s very hard to explain what is missing in translation and I think it’s important to break that down.
What makes minority languages precious to you?
I think it’s important to hang onto things that make us unique. I feel like the world is getting more and more globalised, more same-y, everyone is starting to speak the same language. Which is good in certain ways, like in trade and business, but so much is lost when a language is lost – so much of people’s identity and culture. I think it’s a natural progression, in places where there are many languages, that some of them will die off eventually, but where we can, I think it’s important to preserve them. They contain so much history and a people’s way of thinking – it’s stuff that you can’t bottle, but it’s there in the way people speak.
How much of Irish language do you bring into your projects?
At the moment, it’s probably about 50:50 but I don’t know how I’ll answer that in a year or two. I’m feeling a bit language-fatigued at the moment. When you work on a subject for a certain length of time, you kind of need to take a breather from it. I think for many Irish speakers, there is a certain amount of fatigue that comes from talking about the language. You’re constantly made to feel like you have to defend your right to speak it. It’s seen as a quirky or an unusual thing about you and people feel the need to justify why they don’t speak it. At times, the conversations can get a bit repetitive. It’s not a political thing for me – it’s just a language I grew up with.
What’s your driving mechanism in creating art?
I doodle a lot. I like drawing and writing things down that I hear that stood out to me. It’s a form of journaling, something I feel I need to do. It’s preserving something – memories, a moment in time or a bit of advice that resonated with me. Film-making for me is similar. There are so many precious moments in life and people you come across and it’s just taking the time to value that and preserve it.
“So much is lost when a language is lost – so much of people’s identity and culture.”
How does growing up in Connemara influence a person?
I think when you grow up roaming around a landscape like that, it does make you a bit of a thinker. Maybe because of the scope of it and having the sea on your doorstep and all these elements that naturally lead to pontificating about things and life. Also, there’s a huge sense of community in a place like this, so that influences how I look at subjects; I see other people as familiar to me. I feel I am quite good at adapting to different personalities in interviews for that reason.
What is your relationship with Galway?
I love Galway; the quaintness of it. I love Shop Street and Quay Street and my friends here. The best friends I have in the world, I met most of them in Galway. It’s a very musical, magical little town with a very friendly vibe, an expanded village full of very creative people. There’s something about having the sea right there, when you’re walking over Wolftone Bridge and it’s wild on either side of you – there’s something very powerful about that. It’s a great place to live, though it can be hard to avoid drinking pints here. That’s the one negative aspect.
What do you feel is missing in Galway with regards to culture?
I’d love to see a place in Galway like The Nerve Centre in Derry. It’s a building with lots of different practice rooms and musical instruments that people of all ages can go in and use. It’s created an amazing homegrown music scene up there and I’d love to see more of that in Galway. There are some great bands here, amazing musicians, but there is more potential to foster that if we invested in it more and had places for people to meet and borrow instruments.
How would you describe Generation 20 in your circles?
Humble, possibly to a fault. Not realising the importance of their own talents. That’s a condition of Irishness, I think, where you’re ashamed for being overly confident about anything. Very intelligent. There’s that great sense of humour that I’d mentioned, that comes with a lot of the creative people that you meet in Galway – they don’t take things too seriously. People possibly work for free a little too much. We need to get used to getting paid more.
If there were no financial restrictions, what would you be doing?
I would be traveling a bit more and making films. If I had the resources, I’d love to make films about those that are doing great things for other people in different countries. There’s enough bad news and negativity and it’s good to highlight the heroes. I’d love to start a website, a news or film organisation that would focus on the good in the world.
What is an obstacle you’ve had to overcome?
I can be a bit of an overthinker. I’m learning to just follow my instincts and do something anyway if it feels like the right thing to do. Directing Grá & Eagla, for instance. I had a full-time job and I just didn’t have the confidence in my abilities as a director. I’ve never directed anything before, so I had to figure out how to go about it. That was something I could have ran away from, but I’m glad I didn’t.
What would you like to see happening in Galway in 2020?
I’d like to see the community getting behind it more and for it to create new interesting projects and perspectives. To strengthen the arts community in Galway, which is really vibrant.
What do you hope Galway 2020 would achieve for your generation?
To create more Irish content and Irish artists. I’m looking for a new podcast to listen to at the moment and there’s a lack of ones with Irish accents. There’s a lack of things on Netflix with Irish accents too. I’d love to hear more Irish voices out there. Maybe Galway 2020 could inspire more young people to get into the creative industries.
The three words you would use to describe the art you wish to create?
Inspiring, thoughtful and moving.
Is there a quote that represents you at the moment?
There’s one quote I really love by a neurologist and writer called Oliver Sacks. In the last four months of his life, he wrote a book called Gratitude which has this line in it: ‘Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.’ It’s such a lovely way of looking at the world and at life, I remind myself of that a lot to put things into perspective, that we’re lucky to be here in the first place. When you maintain that attitude, the small things won’t bother you as much.
“We’re lucky to be here in the first place. When you maintain that attitude, the small things won’t bother you as much.”
Generation 20 is a photo and interview series focusing on the new wave of artists in Galway. With each interview and portrait, we aim to uncover their motivations, aspirations and frustrations. To get the full authentic picture and find their common link, bring them all together and into the light. How does their journey relate to Galway and where would they like to see it in 2020? We want to see the people in the budding stages of their expression, those that are quietly grafting and doing wonderful things.
Open, bold and colourful, this is #generation20.
Photos and interviews by Julia Monard.