Thursday 26 April 2018

Fresh look at iconic vision of island life

'Man of Aran' has been painstakingly restored for a new release, writes Jerome Reilly

'Man of Aran', the 1934 fictional documentary by Robert Flaherty played fast and loose with the truth but the stunning images of the Aran Islands in all their windswept grandeur remain an enchantment.

Now the film, which on its original release more than 60 years ago won the Mussolini Cup at the Venice Film Festival, has been painstakingly restored and released on DVD this weekend.

The film remains controversial. It featured the hunting of basking sharks for lamp oil which had not been practised on the Aran Islands for nearly a century before the film was shot and the 'family' who provided the focal point of the documentary weren't even related. They were 'cast' by Flaherty because they were photogenic.

On the Aran Islands it is still known simply as 'the film' and the spectacular cinematography of land and sea has been brought back to life by Park Circus, a film company based in Glasgow. Managing director Nick Varley told the Sunday Independent that the original film elements on Man of Aran were in surprisingly good condition.

"While the British Film Institute holds the original negatives, we chose to work from the 35mm fine grain positive master held by ITV. The film was scanned at Reliance Media's London facility. The picture had multiple dirt and inbuilt film damage that had to be cleaned up manually using digital restoration tools," he said.

"The film also had significant unsteadiness in the picture and we were able to stabilise this to a certain degree. The soundtrack has undergone clean up to remove certain interference which was inherent in the original recording.

"The one challenge was to ensure the film did not end up looking 'plastic'. It was shot in the early 1930s on location and using early equipment and film stocks. This still comes through in this new restoration while improving the visual and sound considerably," he added.

TV presenter Maura Derrane who is from Inishmore said the film still has a special place in the hearts of islanders despite its flaws.

"It is still shown on the islands every day for the tourists. One of the most remarkable things about Man of Aran is the really dangerous situations that the cast were placed in by Flaherty. The storm scene is absolutely real and there was a real danger they could have drowned," she said.

Sunday Independent

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