Obituary: Groundbreakting TV director Louis Lentin
Acclaimed former drama director at RTE behind 'Dear Daughter' helped set up Israeli television.
Published 27/07/2014 | 00:00
Perhaps Louis Lentin has died at the wrong time. The wrong time in Ireland, at least. He was 80, born in Limerick in 1933. So he was an Irishman; but he was also Jewish, and deeply committed to the Israeli state. And to be committed to Israel is not currently popular in Ireland, where the overwhelming majority is not so much pro-Palestinian as anti-Israeli.
Louis Lentin made an enormous contribution to drama, television and film in Ireland throughout a long career in the arts. Most people remember that the late Alan Simpson staged the first production in Ireland of Beckett's Waiting for Godot. Few remember that Louis Lentin founded a little company called Art Theatre Productions in 1959, and staged the first productions in Ireland of both Krapp's Last Tape and Endgame… the play which co-incidentally, is widely accepted as being post-nuclear apocalyptic; and Louis, a Jewish child safe in Ireland during the Holocaust, had reason to grow up aware of wipe-out.
But he was never dewy-eyed about the position of Jews in Ireland and as late as 1998 made No More Blooms, a documentary for television about Irish attitudes towards Jewish refugees during the years from the emergence of Hitler as Chancellor of Germany and the end of World War II.
It was muted, but there was hurt in it. We did, after all, conveniently re-write the history of our national attitude to Nazism when the gates of Auschwitz and Belsen finally swung open on their grisly spectacle. That horror led to the setting up of the state of Israel and Louis documented it. But he also documented the setting up of the Irish State, with Insurrection, his documentary on the 1916 Rising. Lentin was invited to join the fledgling Telefis Eireann by Hilton Edwards, its first drama director, and he would succeed Edwards in that position. Many distinguished pieces of work emerged.
However, Dear Daughter - the magnificent documentary produced and directed late in his career in 1996 - came long after he left RTE. In it, he shone a light on the heroism and achievement of the late Christine Buckley and her treatment at the hands of the religious and the state while a child in the care of the Mercy nuns in Goldenbridge in Inchicore.
Often a prickly character in the way he "presented", Louis Lentin was nonetheless a man who cared deeply; it may have been that which brought him to Israel to assist in setting up the country's national television service.
The trip had another outcome: he met his wife there, and brought her home to Ireland. Ronit Lentin was to become eminent in her own right in the fields of women's studies and women's rights. But in the early days she joked: "They're saying Louis married to an Israeli army sergeant."
She was no army sergeant, but it was a reminder that women, as well as men, do national service in Israel - a country which from its foundation has been progressive in its attitude towards women.
Louis Lentin did not concentrate only on politically based work, however. He was responsible for four contrasting and provocative documentaries on vastly contrasting Irish playwrights: Tom Murphy, Paul Mercier, Frank McGuinness and Graham Reid. Significantly, the series was titled Personal Concerns.
Louis Lentin's personal concerns brought him deserved recognition from his peers, and he died a member of Aosdana - the association of eminent Irish artists - leaving behind quite a testament including Grandfather, Speak to Me in Russian, the programme which explored his relationship with the grandfather who escaped to Ireland from Lithuania in 1936.