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Wednesday 21 November 2018

Forgotten man of Irish cinema celebrated in film

Ciaran Byrne

GEORGE Morrison received a fee of £375 for making 'Mise Eire'. But he never got a penny in promised royalties for the seminal Irish film.

Described as the forgotten man of Irish cinema, he also persuaded Eamon de Valera to fund the restoration of precious black-and-white footage from the Civil War.

Now the life and work of the 85-year-old is being celebrated in a feature-length documentary, which will premiere in Dublin this weekend. 'Waiting for the Light' has also inspired a retrospective of Morrison's work at the Irish Film Institute and an exhibition at Filmbase in Dublin.

Made by director Ciarin Scott, a friend of Morrison, the film concentrates on the 85-year-old's work, which one critic said was "a masterpiece of the filmmaker's art".

Yet today, few people would recognise his name.

"This dedicated filmmaker, editor, writer, photographer and teacher has become the forgotten man of Irish cinema," said Scott.

Morrison himself is delighted with the results. "I was enormously happy to see Ciarin make a film about my life.

"I regard her work as singularly original and innovative".

Without Morrison, most film footage and stills from the beginning of the century would have been lost.

In 1957, he told de Valera that footage from 1916, the War of Independence and the Civil War was in a state of decay.

De Valera immediately provided €4,000 to set up a film archive and restore the damaged material.

Morrison's most famous film, 'Mise Eire', is regarded as a masterpiece which defined Ireland's modern history -- mixing archive film and photographs with Sean O Riada's haunting soundtrack.

Morrison's films were the first to tackle the establishment of the Irish State and have been described as the official history of the struggle for independence.

The popular view is that when 'Mise Eire' was shown to audiences in packed-out cinemas in 1959, it helped establish confidence in the State.

'Waiting for the Light' will be shown at the IFI on Saturday at 5pm.

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