IFI launch archival treasure trove on IFI Player and June Dark Skies Festival

Sé Merry Doyle.

By David Prendeville

The Irish Film Institute recently announced the launch of the Loopline collection on the IFI player. Loopline was set-up in 1982 by Sé Merry Doyle.

A film-making company, its prominent focus was on documentaries. This launch of their collection highlights what is a veritable treasure trove which provides a fascinating insight on Irish society through different periods in the company’s near forty-year history. 

Merry Doyle, director and producer of many of the gems uncovered, also worked as an editor on distinguished films by First Wave Irish film-makers such as Cathal Black’s Pigs and Joe Comerford’s Reefer and the Model.

Over a twelve-month period, Merry Doyle and archivist Eugene Finn fully catalogued 16mm and 35mm films, a variety of tape formats, and numerous audio materials, which were then preserved and digitised by the staff of the IFI Irish Film Archive.

The material is accompanied online by never-before-seen out-takes, interviews and additional material, giving unparalleled access not only to the subjects themselves, but to Merry Doyle’s immersive, detailed and committed
filmmaking approach.

Speaking at the launch of the collection, IFI Director Ross Keane said, “Over the last 20 years, Loopline Film has amassed an extensive archive that comprises master broadcast programmes along with over 900 hours of rushes, off cuts and extensive interviews made during the production process and featuring a wealth of important social and cultural footage. This is a truly fascinating and critical collection that captures a changing Ireland, and it was vital that it be listed, catalogued and then transferred to the IFI to be preserved. We are delighted to now be in a position to make Volume One of this collection available to the public through the IFI Player.”

Commenting on the project, Sé Merry Doyle said, “I started off as a young man with the burning desire to make documentaries and then as age starts to creep up on you, you realise that it is has been your life. The work Loopline Film has created over the last 30 years was filmed on a multitude of formats that include film and different video and audio tape formats, while all the recent work is now part of the digital age. The problem of what to do with all this material was solved by the BAI and the Irish Film Institute, and I am so happy to know that future audiences will have the opportunity to explore our shared past and both learn from and enjoy the experience.”

The highlight, for this writer, amongst the gems on show is the documentary Alive Alive O: A Requiem for Dublin, which features original poetry from Paula Meehan, and examines a time when the livelihoods of Dublin’s iconic street traders were under threat and when drugs became a scourge of
the inner city.

The film, directed by Merry Doyle, includes footage shot by cinematographer Robbie Ryan, Oscar-nominated this year for his work on The Favourite. It provides a comprehensive and often desperately sad portrait of the changing face of Dublin as it jumps through footage filmed over a vast number of years, including shots of a young U2 performing in Sheriff Street in 1982.

Meehan’s poetic voiceover could also be seen to pre-figure the spoken word style of Emmet Kirwan, amongst others. Liam McGrath’s Essie’s Last Stand, a look at an elderly woman’s fight to stay in her home as developers look to take over her apartment block for redevelopment, is another all too timely offering.

Other titles to feature as part of the collection include the intimate portrait Patrick Scott: Golden Boy, produced by Andrea Pitt and Maria Doyle Kennedy of Mermaid Films as part of RTÉ Arts Lives, which gives an unparalleled insight into the work of one of Ireland’s foremost abstract painters; the film includes footage shot by Seámus McGarvey, the Oscar-nominated cinematographer of Atonement and Anna Karenina. 

Patrick Kavanagh: No Man’s Fool is a focus on the life of the renowned poet, with contributions from poets John Montague and Macdara Woods, writer Dermot Healy, and singer Jimmy Kelly.

The Imprint series, hosted by Theo Dorgan and first broadcast on RTÉ between 1999 and 2001, features in-depth and revealing interviews with some of the literary world’s most notable figures such as Margaret Atwood, Richard Ford, Gore Vidal, Eavan Boland and Colm Tóibín, while the six-part series The Good Age, originally broadcast in 1997, is an intriguing look at the issues facing older people, with candid personal testimonies about intimacy, self-care and ageism.

James Gandon: A Life looks at the career of the renowned 18th century architect who designed some of Dublin’s most iconic buildings including the Customs House and the Four Courts; the documentary is notable for a particularly frosty interview with former Taoiseach Charles J. Haughey at his Gandon-designed home in Abbeyville, North Dublin.

Rounding out this release are Martina Durac’s documentary Mairéad Farrell: Comhrá nár Chríochnaigh (An Unfinished Conversation) about the Republican activist who was shot by the British Army in Gibraltar in 1988, and John Henry Foley: Sculptor of the Empire, a look at the 19th century sculptor whose most famous statues include those of Daniel O’Connell on O’Connell Street and Henry Grattan on College Green.

Before its launch, The Loopline Collection was already an award-winning project. Last December, the IFI Irish Film Archive won the prestigious international Digital Preservation Coalition Award in the Safeguarding the Digital Legacy category. Seeing off competition from the White House Historical Association Digital Library and the UK Parliamentary Archives, the project required the creation of new custom tools to appraise the 350,000 pieces of the collection.

These open source tools, known as the IFI Scripts, have been shared widely with the preservation community worldwide and have been adopted by a number of institutions globally, including the University of California, Berkeley.

In other news with the IFI, they recently announced its third Dark Skies season will run from June 8th to 30th, and will have Man vs Machine as its theme.

The season will be headlined by James Cameron’s action epic Terminator 2: Judgment Day, screening on 70mm on Saturday 15th. Other films set to screen are: Westworld on the 8th, The Stepford Wives in 35mm on
the 9th.

There’s a rare chance to see a 35mm print of Donald Cammell’s Demon Seed, starring Julie Christie, on the 16th. On the 20th there’s a screening of the documentary Hi, A.I, which takes a look at some contemporary human-robot relationships.

Shin’ya Tsukamoto’s iconic 1992  body-horror sequel Tetsuo II: Body Hammer screens on the 22nd, followed by Star Trek: First Contact on the 23rd. There’s a new 4K print of The Matrix on the 29th, while the festival closes with Steven Spielberg’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence on the 30th. 

Commenting on this year’s season, IFI Head of Cinema Programming David O’Mahony said, “The rapid development and integration of automation, information and biotechnologies offers seemingly limitless opportunities in all aspects of our public and private lives, but at what cost? This year’s Dark Skies season explores how the science fiction genre since the 1970s has responded to our ambiguous relationship to the machines we have created.”