Eleven OU students, including seven from the School of Media Arts & Studies, spent their summer in Ireland studying Screenwriting, Documentary Storytelling and Irish Culture Through Media.
Based at the Regional Cultural Centre in Letterkenny, County Donegal, each student learned how to adapt a short story from Irish literature into a short film screenplay and, working in teams of two, researched, conducted interviews, and wrote 15-30-minute non-fiction scripts based on subject matter found in and around County Donegal. Documentary topics included a look at new immigrants to Ireland, in which students profiled Letterkenny residents who are originally from Nigeria, South Africa, Poland, Germany and elsewhere. For MDIA senior Max Stepaniak, working on this project provided some unexpected experiences.
“Originally I thought the program would just teach me more about documentaries and Irish culture, but this program did more than that. It allowed me to interact with people drastically different from myself, improving my people skills and broadening my horizons. I visited a castle with a man from Germany, attended the birthday of a Spanish girl and interviewed the founder of a volunteer group who hailed from Africa.”
Another team explored the history and current status of the Irish vernacular cottage and how many of these once abandoned, iconic thatched roof homes are being purchased and painstakingly restored, largely by non-Irish owners as retirement and vacation homes. “We learned how to write two-column scripts, which are used for documentaries,” explained English major Abby Campbell. “In documentaries not only are you writing narration, but you are also including the audio and visual elements into the script. I have a new appreciation for documentary writers and I will never watch a documentary the same way.”
“I really felt I was a part of the community in Letterkenny,” said MDIA student Tess Greweling. “It broke my heart to leave.” Letterkenny’s location, less than 15 miles from the UK border, allowed for a two-day excursion to Belfast, where the students learned about the difficult history of The Troubles in Northern Ireland, taking the famous Black Cab tour to see the city’s haunting murals in both Protestant and Catholic neighborhoods. While in Belfast the students also visited the majestic Titanic Museum, which, through the use of innovative, interactive multimedia, tells the story of the Titanic, which was built in the massive shipyard adjacent to the museum. The Titanic, and its connections to Belfast, was also the subject of one of the documentary projects.
The six-week program also included a weekend trip to Dublin where the OU contingent gathered at the Irish Film Institute to meet filmmaker Paul Duane, who gave them the very first preview screening of his new documentary set in Greece called, “While You Live, Shine.”
While in Dublin the Bobcats were also introduced to the origins of traditional Irish dance and music at a performance of Riverdance, and to a wide variety of musical and theatrical performances when they served as volunteers for the Errigal Arts Festival back in County Donegal. While volunteering at an event in the remote village of Malin, the students were also able to journey out to Malin Head, to the edge of Ireland’s northernmost peninsula, the site of some recent filming for “The Last Jedi,” the next Star Wars movie.
The Program also featured a four-day trip to the Galway Film Fleadh where the students viewed a wide range of narrative and documentary films, most of which were introduced by the producers, directors and/or cast members. Other Irish filmmakers also presented their work over the course of the program, including Richie O’Donnell, whose film “Atlantic” chronicles the ongoing battle between fishermen who live on coastal islands and the European Union, which denies the islanders the right to fish in their own waters, in favor of international super-trawlers that deplete the stores of fish at an unprecedented pace.
“Every week of the program offered something new, something that brought me out of my comfort zone,” said English major Kasey Shaw, “and I cannot stress how important and valuable that was to me.”
“This was an amazing trip. I don’t even really know how to put it into words,” said MDIA senior Elise Zeitzheim. “Ireland left a hand print on my heart and I can’t wait until I go back.”
To apply for next summer’s Screenwriting and Documentary Storytelling Program in Ireland contact Professor Frederick Lewis at firstname.lastname@example.org or click here.
No screenwriting experience is necessary and ALL MAJORS are welcome. Admissions are rolling so apply early.