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UK premiere of film profiling the “father of the documentary” announced
Published: 19th October 2010, 3:01pm

Controversial American documentary-maker Robert Flaherty is the subject of a feature-length film making its UK premiere on Monday 8 November.

Co-produced by the University of Lincoln and supported by EM Media, A Boatload of Wild Irishmen explores the moral complexities of the man credited with being the father of the modern documentary after he produced and directed Nanook of the North in 1922.

Boatload has been produced by Irish film-maker Mac Dara O’Curraidhin with the University’s Professor Brian Winston as its associate producer and writer. The film draws heavily on Professor Winston’s academic research into the documentary.

He said: “Flaherty was the first to work out how to transform film of real people going about their everyday lives from mere shapeless surveillance-camera observation into a dramatic, enthralling narrative: and that, in essence, is what documentary is. This was a brilliant breakthrough, but it can cause real moral dilemmas.”

Flaherty’s third documentary feature was shot in 1934 on the Aran Islands off Ireland. For its climax, he filmed a frail boat battling a monstrous Atlantic sea and later recalled “I have been accused of trying to drown a boatload of wild Irishmen off Aran” – hence the title of the new film.

Boatload, which was made with funding and support from the Irish Film Board and TG4 (Irish Language Television) EM Media, Screen Agency for the East Midlands and Brussels will initially be shown on television in Ireland, Finland, Germany and the Netherlands. There is an Irish version (entitled An t-Éireannach Fáin) as well as an English version.

According to Prof Winston, Flaherty was a flawed genius, who was celebrated until his death as the first person to manipulate beautiful footage into a story, but who faced accusations of unprofessional working practices, racism, exploitation and inauthenticity after he died.

Nanook of the North follows the lives of Innuit people but Flaherty used actors to play the family, staged events and carefully omitted all references to the modern world – or at least tried to.

Prof Winston added: “At an academic conference some years ago, my Canadian colleague Seth Feldman pointed out to me the rifle on the beach when Nanook has supposedly harpooned the walrus.

“Some years later, at another conference, someone put up a photo of a striking woman and calmly announced it was Robert Flaherty’s illegitimate grand-daughter from his relationship with the woman who played Nanook’s wife. She was well-known in Canada, but not by the rest of us.”

The team behind Boatload tracked down Martha, Flaherty’s grand-daughter, and she appears in the film.

Debbie Williams, Chief Executive EM Media comments: “In 2010 EM Media backed the development and production of eight documentaries so it seemed only fitting that we should support a documentary which traces the medium’s origins, particularly as it has been written and produced by local talent.  A Boatload of Wild Irishmen has genuine international relevance and appeal and is a fitting addition to our portfolio.”

Other staff from the University’s Media, Humanities and Technology Faculty also worked on Boatload. Senior lecturer and former BBC editor Chris Hainstock edited it and Kay Marriott was its production manager retracing Flaherty’s steps around the world – from the Arctic to Samoa.

Following its first airing at the star-studded Galway Film Festival, Boatload will now be shown at the Lincoln Performing Arts Centre on Monday 8 November 2010.

View the trailer for Boatload of Wild Irishmen here:


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