Photo: Students in the Screenwriting and Documentary Storytelling in Ireland Program ventured out to Malin Head, Ireland's northernmost point of land, and the location of scenes shot for "The Last Jedi."
Eleven students, seven from the School of Media Arts & Studies, two from the Journalism School, and one each from Film and Theatre, spent six weeks in Ireland this summer studying screenwriting, documentary storytelling and Irish culture.
Based at the Letterkenny Institute of Technology in County Donegal, each student learned how to adapt a short story from Irish literature into a short film screenplay and, working in small teams, researched, conducted interviews and wrote 15-30-page documentary scripts based on subject matter found primarily in Northwest Ireland.
Letterkenny’s location, just 15 miles from the UK border, allowed for a three-day excursion to Belfast, where the students learned about the violent history of The Troubles of Northern Ireland, taking the famous Black Cab tour to see the haunting murals in both the Protestant and Catholic neighborhoods.
They also visited the majestic Titanic Museum, which, through the use of innovative interactive multimedia, tells the story of the ill-fated liner, which was built in the massive shipyard adjacent to the museum.
“What was most interesting,” wrote MDIA student Curtis Balko on the program blog, “was learning the deep effect the sinking had on Belfast, being the pride of the city when it was built and launched, and how locals reacted to the news of the sinking, which is something I had never seen or experienced in any media about the Titanic.”
Also while in Belfast, the Bobcats heard about the career path of Maria Mulhall, who was, for five years, an assistant director on Game of Thrones. Mulhall also talked about the Irish film industry in general and discussed her current duties on “Normal People,” the upcoming Liam Neeson film that was shooting in Belfast.
The group also made a day trip to nearby Derry, another UK city steeped in the history of The Troubles. One of the documentary teams traced the growth of The Nerve Centre, Northern Ireland’s leading creative media arts facility located in Derry. Begun as a modest rehearsal space for young musicians during the height of The Troubles, it has grown to become a successful social/economic enterprise, offering a wide ranging program of arts events, training opportunities in the creative industries, and state-of-the-art production facilities.
Because the program’s annual trip to Dublin coincides with Ireland’s Pride Weekend, another documentary team was able to explore how Ireland has quickly gone from being a strongly conservative country with regard to the LGBT community to becoming quite liberal, as evidenced by the 2015 popular vote to legalize same-sex marriage.
“Working on my documentary film project has been a great learning process for me in many ways” wrote Theatre major Beth Greenman. My partner, Ed (Kelly), and I chose a topic close to my heart—the LGBT community in Ireland. The stories we got were varied and fascinating; we even interviewed a transgender man from Poland who has been living in Donegal for two and a half years. The varied experiences of people we talked to were eye-opening.”
The weekend in Dublin also afforded the group the opportunity to learn about the origins of traditional Irish music and dance by attending a performance of “Riverdance.” They also gathered at the Irish Film Institute where they met filmmaker Paul Duane who presented a private screening of his recently completed documentary set in Greece called, “While You Live, Shine.”
The 8th annual program featured a four-day trip to the ocean side city of Galway, to attend the 30th annual International Film Fleadh, where the students viewed a wide range of films, most of which were introduced by the producers, directors and/or cast members.
“The Galway Film Fleadh was where we got to fit in most of our film watching and was a great example of the Irish film industry as a whole,” said Journalism student Delaney Murray. “My personal favorite was actually a collection – “Irish Talent: New Shorts Two” which was a festival collection of documentary shorts. It showed a fantastic, wide spectrum of topics and filmmaking styles, all made by Irish filmmakers, centering largely around Irish people. It’s been really fantastic to get to delve completely into filmmaking, both as a creator and as an observer.”
Of the many visits to cities large and small, the students’ very first weekend trip, to Tory Island seemed to captivate them the most. MDIA student Tanner Bidish reflected, “The wild spirit of Tory is everywhere: In the puffins tucked into the cliffs. In the seals diving off the rocky shores. In the isolated cabin of the painter, Derek Hill. In the bonfires lit for the pagan solstice. Saying goodbye to the island is a struggle. You aren’t just saying goodbye to the power and serenity of the world there. You’re saying goodbye to the freedom it provides.”
Photo 2 (Inline): The towering headlands of Tory Island
The last week of the program found the students hiking near the northernmost point in Ireland, Malin Head, the site of scenes shot for the Stars Wars film “The Last Jedi” which MDIA student Ben Baker called, “another location where Ireland seems its greenest and healthiest self, untouched by the chaos of the changing world. It felt quite romantic to end there, as it seemed bookended with our trip to Tory at the beginning, and we could once again look over the cliffs into the royal blue water and let the calm of the Irish Sea cradle us.”
“Study abroad has taught me a lot,” wrote Tanner Bidish. “Not only am I getting better at formatting scripts and doing documentary research, but I’ve learned a lot about what’s important to me. Belfast and Derry taught me about generational trauma and how taking healing seriously means giving our children equal opportunities. Galway taught me the importance of a good bike ride. The cliffs and beaches taught me to feel comfortable with being small. “
To read more from this past summer’s program blog go to https://ohiotoireland.wordpress.com/
To apply for next summer’s Screenwriting and Documentary Storytelling Program in Ireland contact Professor Frederick Lewis at email@example.com or click here.
No screenwriting experience is necessary and ALL MAJORS are welcome. Admissions are rolling so apply now!
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