Johnny Gogan director of an insightful new film bound for The Belltable
Born near London, to Irish parents who moved to England in the late 1950s, they only moved back to Dublin shortly after I was born.
Our family, subsequently, moved to Co Laois when I was eight and I went to Ballylinan National School and then on to the Quaker Secondary School in Waterford. I started working in film after completing a degree in History and Politics at University College Dublin. During this period, I was involved in the early years of ‘Film Base’, being made the first editor of their magazine, in 1987. After an early name change, the publication became known as ‘Film Ireland’. I wrote film scripts in parallel to this work and even visited Chile in late 1986 at a time when General Pinochet had declared a state of siege. My articles subsequently appeared in the Irish Times and Hot Press.
Because of my interest in journalism, it was easier to write for film, but in the end, I settled on directing.
I finally forsook journalism altogether in 1990 after making my first film. There is a hugely collaborative aspect to directing, which I like, as well as the multi-disciplinary aspects of it. Filmmaking embodies most of my interests - music, story, people, and politics. The prospect of telling a story, that needs to be told, and the belief that it will not be told if I don’t tell it, is appealing. It is, also, a beautiful medium to work in and if you have stories to tell, and the stamina to see it through, then it is very rewarding work.
Somewhat distantly related to the great Larry Gogan, he was my father’s second cousin.
I don’t actually know him that well but very much respect him. There are definite inherited traits, (such as his commitment to promoting Irish recording artists), that I recognise in the values of my own family. My grandfather, Liam S. Gogan, was a prolific Irish language poet. He has recently been acknowledged, by Louis de Paor, as the most important poet in the period between the death of Pádraig Pearse and the emergence of Máirtín Ó Direáin. In terms of my own writing, when something (a story or an idea), gets planted in my head, and if it is still there, months later with the same insistence, then I will commit it to paper and see if it has legs. Down the years, I have made both drama and documentary films in equal measure. I enjoy the process of making documentaries as it is less encumbered. I, particularly, enjoy the challenge of the feature drama with its capacity to reach a wider audience.
The route of an independent filmmaker is precarious, scarily so given the times that we have come through, but rewarding in that you get to tell the stories you want to tell.
There is a wider industry out there, which has expanded considerably in the thirty years that I have been working in film. That represents new opportunities to work (most of it freelance) which is another way to go. I have kids myself, and if they expressed an interest in the business, I would encourage them. However, it may be important, also, to have some complementary skills (for example journalism) in order to help get them through the thin patches. Filmmaking benefits from a knowledge of other worlds and disciplines, so I would encourage parallel development.
Currently, I am touring, around Ireland and Britain, with my new film, ‘Hubert Butler-Witness To The Future’.
Many people, in Limerick, may have seen my previous film on Ardnacrusha, broadcast in the spring, and shown earlier this year at the Belltable. This is the follow-up. Tom McGowan, from the Limerick Writers’ Centre (LWC), was aware of Hubert Butler’s extraordinary work and came to see my film in Kilkenny. Indeed, people who knew about Butler, are generally, very enthusiastic about recognising him on film. He was, after all, probably Ireland’s greatest thinker in the field of human rights this past century, with many strings to his bow. For example, he was a market gardener from rural Kilkenny, who smuggled Jews into Ireland from Vienna, in 1938. He, also, wrote about the ‘hidden’ genocide in Yugoslavia and Croatia during World War II. He was the most beautiful of writers and I quickly realised, when researching him that he had not received the recognition that he fully deserved. In order to understand our place in the world, and to broaden our understanding of Europe, we still need these insights today.
No broadcaster or public fund would back the Hubert Butler Film even though they agreed that it was an important story to tell.
In the end, I covered the cost of making it, through my company using a sizeable loan. Over the years, I have built-up my own equipment base, I also shoot some of my own films, as with this case, so that crewing costs are minimal. In addition, I have great collaborators in Leitrim, where I work, not least the wonderful composer, Steve Wickham (of Waterboys’ fame), who produced the beautiful musical score. Like anyone who has lived through the austerity of recent years, and supported a young family at the same time, I have learned to practice a measure of forbearance in channelling the distilled anger of my work!
‘Hubert Butler-Witness To The Future’, will be shown at The Belltable, 69 O’Connell St., Limerick, on Thursday 17 November at 8pm. Contact the Box Office at: 061 774774. Alternatively, call Dominic Taylor, Community Literature Officer of The Limerick Writers’ Centre (LWC), mobile: 087-2996409 or email:firstname.lastname@example.org Johnny Gogan’s feature film; ‘Black Ice’ (RTÉ2) and the concert film; ‘The Leitrim Equation’ (TG4) will be shown over the Christmas period. For further information access: www.banditfilms.ie and facebook.com/hubertbutlerwitnesstothefuture/