The sounds of silence

Shelley Marsden speaks to Cork director Pat Collins about his unique feature film, Silence

‘Silence’ follows the journey, both physical and psychological, of Eoghan, a sound recordist from Tory Island who has lived in Berlin for the past fifteen years and is returning to Ireland for the first time.  He’s back to carry out a job – capturing noises in areas which are free from man-made sound. His quest takes him to remote terrain, away from towns and villages. Though his aim is to get away from it all, he is drawn into encounters with locals, and conversations which gradually divert his attention towards a more intangible silence, bound up with the sounds of the life he had left behind.

Influenced by elements of folklore and archive, Silence uses poetic images of a barren Irish landscape and old archive footage to explore themes of history, sound and silence, memory and exile. As films go, it’s a slow one, almost an indulgence to watch. For those used to the cut and thrust of modern life in a metropolis, it’s almost a forced eighty minutes of quiet meditation.

Its creator Pat Collins has made some 25 documentaries since 1998 and his first foray into feature film –ten years in the making – is daring in its remoteness and snail-like pace. “Some of it comes out of my documentary experience, going to remote places and filming landscapes, making films about islands… but originally, about ten years ago, I wanted to make a film that was someway related to folklore collectors. “In the 1940s in Ireland, people like Seamus Ennis would travel from house to house recording stories and music. I always thought it was a romantic notion, someone travelling around on his bike, stopping in on people. I wanted to do something like that but in a modern setting, and I hit on the idea of a sound recordist ,trying to record sounds that aren’t man-made. In a sense, it’s the opposite of a folklore collector – he’s trying to get away from people but is getting drawn back to them.”

The landscape of this film, nature, is almost a central character. Collins also drew inspiration from the book The Hidden Island by Daniel Corkery, about Gaelic Ireland, which got him thinking about how landscape is thought to be clichéd in an Irish context.  He reflects: “It sounds very grand to be saying this, but I was trying to ‘reclaim’ landscapes and say, there’s more to it than that, present it as itself.  A lot of Irish filmmakers tend to run from a certain kind of Irishness, whereas I am trying to do the opposite. Irish people always try to make films which are somehow getting away from the past, or represent a rather sanitised version of it. They tend to make it a very bland place, and Ireland is anything but bland.”

Silence is also preoccupied with themes of exile, the difficulty of going home after being away and what you’ll find when you go back. “The person that leaves is changed by the experience, and the place that they left is either frozen in a certain time by that person, or when they come back it’s moved on. That’s why it’s so hard for immigrants to come back.  It’s an internal exile too; you can be exiled from your own past.”

For the full article see the printed edition of the Irish World, 3 August 2013.

Silence (New Wave Films) is in cinemas from 9 August 2013(including BFI Southbank).




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