A good film poster lures you in and when I saw the striking image for Older than Ireland it did exactly that. This elderly woman’s pose, her style and the way the cigarette ash hung precariously; herself nonchalant towards it. I was immediately sucked in and wanted to know more about this woman, her thoughts and the film itself.
I soon discovered that the film was a charming new documentary from Director Alex Fegan and that it was screening as part of the Irish Film Festival at the Tricycle in Kilburn. This meant the added bonus of the Director’s Q&A after the screening, so, ten minutes after having seen the poster and watching the trailer, I had my tickets booked.
In a nutshell, Older than Ireland is a documentary visiting 30 of Ireland’s centenarians; a talking heads style film giving people the chance to reflect on what it’s like to reach 100 and to have seen Ireland change dramatically.
When the film began, the first thing that struck me was how well all these centenarians looked and how sharp they were, despite their impressive ages. I think it is fair to say we probably all have a preconceived notion of what it’s like to be 100 and it’s probably not the most flattering picture. So, it was inspiring for Older than Ireland to be able to blow these notions out of the water and present a sparkling, warm and humour filled insight in to the lives of these amazing characters. I use the term characters in the most complimentary sense, because that is indeed what these people are. There is no doubt they are honest, truthful and completely authentic, yet each and every one is so engaging that you’d be hard pushed to write a fictional character as appealing.
Director Fegan, intelligently chooses to hand the film over to the centenarians themselves and by letting them take centre stage, you forget at times that he and indeed the crew were there. This is purely the centenarians story to tell. Equally, Fegan plays with some marvelous shots, from framing the stunning countryside through one man’s window, to peering through a celebratory birthday card to see the recipient inside. By allowing the camera to linger that extra second or two, he catches moments that serve to add a poignancy or added laugh to the tale being told.
Reflecting back on the lives of these men and women, we hear stories about their schooling, their romances, the changing face of their country and how they feel to have reached such an age. The anecdotes that some share are beyond priceless. The poster girl herself had me in stitches when talking about the young good looking girl down the road who must wear four pairs of false eyelashes. Apparently she’d just love to give her a good wash. That unguarded sense of saying what’s on your mind is refreshing in today’s more controlled society and you can’t help but love it.
Ageing, the changing world, relationships, loneliness; these are all issues we can empathize and connect with, so whilst this is a distinctly Irish film, it will translate in to the hearts of any country. When asked about the release of the film, Fegan said that international audiences do tend to laugh at different sections to Irish audiences. How wonderful is that? The viewing of a documentary is a very personal experience and it’s important for people to have their own connection to it; to take ownership. I defy anyone to watch the film without making a comparison between one of the characters and someone they themselves know. In all truthfulness there was more than one person I smiled away at, thinking he or she is just like so and so. Mind you, for my own sake perhaps I better keep those thoughts to myself.
When I left the Tricycle I had a smile on my face and two thoughts. One, I must see Fegan’s previous documentary ‘Irish Pubs’ and, two, I must encourage others to seek out Older than Ireland. It captures the spirit of the individual in a way that few other films do; with charm and truth and reminds us to always enjoy the journey.
Watch the trailer and buy the film on the Older than Ireland website
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Older than Ireland (2015, 81 minutes)
Director: Alex Fegan