IT HAS BEEN QUITE A WHILE SINCE A NEW DIRECTOR HAS BURST ONTO THE IRISH CINEMA SCENE, MAYBE TERRY MCMAHON THE DIRECTOR OF THE SOMEWHAT CONTROVERSIAL CHARLIE CASANOVA WILL CHANGE ALL THAT. CONNOR MOORE TALKS TO HIM ABOUT HIS BREAKTHROUGH FILM.
This is a man who clearly speaks his mind, such as when he told the Hollywood bible Variety to “go fuck themselves” during a live interview on ABC after they wrote a poor review for his film. You may also have heard of the kerfuffle with the Irish Times film critic Donald Clarke who objected strongly to a quote of his being used out of context, – some might say knowingly so – to promote the film on bus advertisements. As a result of these incidents and the nature of the film itself this director has become something of a polarising figure, unfortunately more criticised than complimented. He comments that “some people claim that I am delusional…they assume that I’m an arrogant swaggering prick”. In a conversation with McMahon, however, he comes across as an open and direct individual that is highly critical of certain elements in Irish Society.
His first feature Charlie Casanova presents the searing indictment of a ruling class sociopath who knocks down a working class girl in a hit and run and uses playing cards to determine her fate. McMahon contends he was inspired to write the film about such an obnoxious character by “a strange new breed in Ireland….of guys hopped up on Viagra and coke who’d look for a fight”. However it was a tough process to produce such a critical film of Irish class structures and attitudes to wealth, as the director admits he had to “drag it kicking and screaming into life”. Following the failure of three different projects that he was in the process of making with the Irish Film Board, Terry decided to post the screenplay for Charlie Casanova on Facebook. In an overwhelming response to which the director describes as “humbling”, 130 people replied who wanted to be involved in the film. This first feature film was then incredibly shot in 11 days on a shoestring budget of €937.
The film was not warmly received by the Irish Film Board, however the prestigious SXSW film festival took notice and it became the first non- American film in six years to be selected for the festival’s narrative feature competition. The film was well received by the audience, but as Terry mentions the jury and critics did not agree. “They went crazy for the film and we were supposed to win the grand jury prize, then the opposite happened, the jury was far more conservative than we thought and we got killed in Variety”. It would seem understandable to vent after losing such a prestigious prize and even if it may have been a dangerous action in defying the powerful publication, Terry is adamant that there was no arrogance in his actions. “I was terrified, but I knew we had to separate the audience from the critics as soon as possible”.“mediocre reviews with two or three stars would have been more of a disappointment “
Charlie Casanova was then seen by Paul Higgins of Studio Canal who was so enamoured with it tat he offered the director a full cinema release for his film. It looked as if the film was now destined for success, however, its knack of dividing audiences and critics alike put some cinemas off showing it during the lucrative summer season. The ability of this film to create such diverse views is recognised and accepted by the director. “I’ve seen people writing on the internet about how much they despise the film then I’ve gotten private e-mails off people I don’t even know telling me how they’ve been profoundly moved by the film”. Charlie Casanova has also received some harsh reviews from the critics and according to Terry the “level of savagery” has surprised even him. This, however, appears to be a fascinating feature of the film and director accepts that “mediocre reviews with two or three stars would have been more of a disappointment”.
It would seem that Charlie Casanova was conceived and created beyond any kind of conventional industry or government funding body control and Terry admits this benefits the film. “There’s no way that anybody who was the member of a committee would have allowed me to make the film as it was, if we had gone through the proper channels I can guarantee the script would never have been made”. Terry McMahon contends that it was an interesting experiment but a difficult two years and he would never do it the same way again. Yet he has produced something which the prestigious company Canal has a ten year plan for, they have also given it a Marquee status which recognises that it will be seen as an important piece of work in the future. It must be a positive step for Irish cinema that has a fresh talent capable of creating challenging work in an industry that will happily forsake creativity and ingenuity for hackneyed remakes, sequels and prequels.