Behind the Scenes of A NIGHTINGALE FALLING

We catch up with Irish filmmaking duo Martina McGlynn and Garrett Daly…

Having won Best Film at the Sky Road Festival in Clifden, A Nightingale Falling is the work of husband and wife team Martina McGlynn and Garrett Daly. Paul Byrne goes full Mr. & Mrs. on the Irish filmmaking duo….

First, congrats on the Best Film award at the Sky Road festival in Clifden -how important is such early recognition?
It’s nice after such a long journey to know that after just two film festivals we now have an award winning film. First year of that festival, first time filmmakers, it brought a smile to our faces. The Galway Film Fleadh ran an encore screening because of the box office interest, so it’s wonderful to have such good news stories from these festivals.

Irish films are a hard sell, especially to Irish audiences -were you more concerned with the international prospects for the film though…?
I think we were just focused on telling a good story. Irish audiences will respond to that once they are convinced by it. As for large scale international prospects, big cast names are the only thing that will make inroads there. The breakthrough indie hit is happening less and less in an overcrowded market. So rather than worrying about that we focused on making it the best it could be as a wholly Irish film. But with the right film, there are markets. We’ve already been signed by a UK sales agent who sees various international prospects for it. The scale of which is not determined right now, but we’ve had some sales already, so we are very happy.

How did you first come to PJ Curtis’ novel…?
We both worked with PJ in radio many years ago and remained friends since. Just over two years ago we made a short film based on one his stories, and it was following that we read a draft of ‘A Nightingale Falling’. Upon reading it we felt it was a great piece of work from which was perfect for us to take the leap to feature length, and PJ was hugely supportive of this. We loved the lead character of May and her inner struggle, and the challenge of bringing the audience into this period I think really appealed to us.

Cinema has been here before, most recently with THE WIND THAT SHAKES THE BARLEY; what made you feel A NIGHTINGALE FALLING had something new to offer?
It’s the story of the people in the big house, not the small cottage. What challenges were faced by the Anglo Irish community? That was the big difference. Of course there will be similarities because it was a big war in a small country. The violence in ‘A Nightingale Falling’ is not as dominant on screen because we set out to explore the broken relationships that unfold from within. But we know the threat the exists because it is framing all the decisions made the characters.

Ireland has been exorcising quite a few ghosts of late, especially when it comes to institutionalised child abuse. Do you feel there iss till anger out there for the wrongs committed upon Irish people in the time of A NIGHTINGALE FALLING?
Among some people, yes. But thankfully we are moving on and we all have to think about future generations. We wanted to tell a good story rather than tackle any political wrong doings of the era. We were fascinated by characters that perhaps were conflicted by the times and the choices they had to make. We can never fully understand the decisions that were made throughout that period. But we should understand and educate everyone about that time and never forget how difficult a transition it was in our country’s history.

Black and tans manhandling simple Irish farming folk can still make the blood boil – keen not to paint either side as clearcut heroes or villains?
This was always going to be a challenge. Traditionally films set during the War of Independence are from the Irish Republican perspective. In this film our protagonists are Anglo Irish and we explore the conflict of head and heart experienced by them as they try to come to terms with the Ireland of 1920. Loyalty is a central theme in the film and viewers might be surprised by some of the outcomes.

The sheltered enemy prisoner is another interesting device that’s been used before – hard to keep the balance between war story and love story, without slipping into Mills & Boom territory? If you’ll excuse the pun.
The concept of an army man in this situation isn’t new, but then again this was always about exploring these characters relationships within the house. We’ve never read Mills and Boons, but if as many people watch the film as buy their books, we’d be millionaires, right?

Melodrama can so easily tip over into farce, especially when Father Ted regular, Rosemary Henderson, pops up as a nosey neighbour. Another fine balancing act?
Yes it is a fine balancing act. In this case we wanted to break the tension of what has unfolded at that point in the movie. Giving the audience ‘the nosey neighbour’ character is a relief mechanism in part, and this has been met with laughter in screenings so far. I think that matches the character that PJ created very well.
Melodramas deal in mise en scene, performance and music. We make no apology for that.

Two heads are often better than one – not always the case when those two heads share a pillow though…?
Not in this case. We work well together. We’ve always had very clearly defined roles in all of our projects and once you communicate that to the teams, you never have a problem. On the creative side, we debate and argue like any production team, but it’s never personal.
The film business is an emotional roller coaster so stability and trust is key.

Where to from here?
We’ve just started working with Limerick and LA based screenwriter Conor Ryan, on a hugely exciting film based on a true Irish story. Thankfully this project has ‘heat’ as they say, and doors are beginning to open.

A NIGHTINGALE FALLING is released in Irish cinemas on September 12th 2014

Words: Paul Byrne