Monday 22 April 2019

Poet centre of O'Reilly's impeccable presentation

Eamonn Wall
Eamonn Wall

THIS section of the paper is generally a poetry-free zone – but that does not preclude an encounter with a poet.

The work of US-based Eamonn Wall is in focus in a remarkable one-hour film documentary created by Paul O'Reilly.

'Your Rivers Have Trained You' allows the Enniscorthy native to take a look back at growing up in the town during the 1950s and 1960s.

The documentary shows that a top-class production can be made on our doorstep by an independent spirit such as O'Reilly.

His subject is now resident most of the year in mid-USA, teaching at university in St Louis.

With his accent carrying strong overtones of America, Wall's commentary on his native land carries the objectivity and authority of an outsider.

With the Enniscorthy quays, Vinegar Hill, Borodale and other familiar places providing backdrop, the one-hour film retains strong local appeal.

This is supplemented by archive photographs of the town and touching snaps from the Wall family album.

The departed professor of Irish studies also speaks to camera of moving on from the Slaney.

Other rivers – notably the Hudson and the Missouri – have run past his doorstep for the past three decades.

Now long enough away to have earned the right to vote for Barack Obama, he looks back with occasionally jaundiced eye at his childhood.

He speaks candidly of how the experience of primary school as conducted in Mill Park Road by the Christian Brothers left its scars.

He was not very happy as a student in the CBS during 1950s and 1960s, where he found the regime destructive.

With physical punishment handed out freely, the result was damaged self-esteem for him and his classmates.

The film moves on to explore how an Irish man can retain native identity while becoming a positive contributor to his adopted country.

It is not the stuff of blockbusters but it is stimulating and thoughtful material, well made and impeccably presented. Yet so far, 'Your Rivers Have Trained You' has been seen by no more than a hundred people.

Though this is a film deserves a far wider audience, it is a long way from finding one.

Movie maker Paul O'Reilly premiered his latest work at Wexford Arts Centre last month.

The venue was selected for the simple reason that the centre has the facilities to present such works in a properly darkened space on a decent-sized screen.

A second showing was arranged in Enniscorthy, though the Presentation Centre is a long way short of being a cinema, with a tiny borrowed screen.

The lot of the independent director/producer is, it seems, one that requires a great deal of patience.

Paul believes that he has created something with the potential to be of interest to executives in RTE, TV3 or TG4.

But 'Your Rivers Have Trained You' will have to jump through a long line of convoluted hoops before it even shows up on the radar of those executives.

At least Paul O'Reilly has a track record as a programme maker, having pointed his lens in the past at ballad singer Paddy Berry.

'The Singer, The Song and The Place' (2012) was followed by a venture last year into drama.

'Men and Women', created in association with the Ink & Light production company, was based on a Claire Keegan short story. Its merit was recognised by RTE with a late-night broadcast, but there is no guarantee that an hour-long interview with a poet will follow suit.

Paul insists that the new work is technically up to the hi-def mark, with a sound track that is of broadcast quality.

Individuals – fans of Eamonn Wall or followers of Paul O'Reilly – will be able to purchase DVD copies in the autumn.

In the meantime, from his tiny office at home beside the Bloody Bridge in Enniscorthy, Paul has embarked on a one-man campaign.

He targets film festivals around the English-speaking world as he strives to gain a slot for 'Your Rivers Have Trained You' on TV schedules.

There are at least a score of such events on the list – the Irish Film Festival of New York City, the Fingal Film Festival, the Toronto Independent Film Festival, the London International Documentary Film Festival, and so on.

Each one represents a chance to edge the movies chosen one notch up the greasy pole and closer to mainstream television.

Paul is not the only one in County Wexford with such enthusiasm and know-how – Michael Fortune and Terence White also spring to mind.

For the man from the Milehouse, film production is a hobby but one which could become something more.'Your Rivers Have Trained You' may well lead on to greater things, if only the phone call comes through from Toronto or New York or London. Fingers crossed.

Enniscorthy Guardian