Monday 18 December 2017

Greta set to grace the silver screen

Fingal filmmakers Brian Baneham and Robert Maguire tell John Manning about their new documentary film 'Greta' which tells the inspirational story of a Swords paralympian

Brian Baneham
Brian Baneham

A tale of inspiration and perspiration will make its film festival debut at the Galway Film Fleadh as two local filmmakers take the extraordinary story of Swords Paralympian, Greta Streimikyte to the silver screen.

When the Fingal Independent met Greta last September, just days before she headed to the Rio Paralympics, we wrote: 'Greta's story is an extraordinary one and sounds like the script from a film, and who knows? One day it could be.' Well thanks to Balscadden film producer, Brian Baneham and Swords director, Robert Maguire, Greta's story is now a film entitled simply 'Greta'.

For those unfamiliar with this remarkable young woman's story, she was born some 22 years ago in Lithuania as one of three premature triplets. Shortly after birth as she spent her first days in an incubator, Greta's eyes were damaged by retinopathy, rendering her almost totally blind.

What followed was an extraordinarily determined campaign by her parents, Asta, her mother and Raimundas, her father to raise the money needed for Greta to have experimental surgery in Sweden that could potentially save her sight.

In the new documentary film 'Greta' Brian and Robert show how Greta inherited her parents' determination and made the very best from the hand she was dealt in life, and after moving to Ireland, became a world-class Paralympic athlete.

Brian Baneham first encountered Greta's story working for this newspaper as a sports reporter. He was asked to write a story about Greta's bronze medal won at a European Championships in Italy - her very impressive debut running for Ireland.

Brian took up the story: 'In the course of researching it, I felt this was a remarkable young woman who had a very inspirational and extraordinary story that I thought could be told on the screen.

'I had finished the two-year course in Colaiste Dhulaigh and was preparing to do the Degree year and I said when I went back to college, I would pitch the idea. I wrote a proposal and I pitched it to the class and everyone felt it had potential. So, we began researching it further and then I contacted Greta and asked if she would be willing to participate in it and she said she would be delighted to do it.

'Having done the initial research, I knew her parents were very integral to the story so I asked her if they would be willing to take part. Initially she was a bit concerned about that because English is not their first language but that wasn't a problem at all. I contacted the parents and we said we would get an interpreter but as it turned out, we were advised maybe the best thing to do was to have Greta be the interpreter and that worked out great because they were more relaxed.

'To be honest with you, meeting Greta and talking to Greta and her parents was the highlight of the whole process. It was a great thrill to meet the. Great is a great character, a lovely girl altogether but very determined and also very modest.

'Her determination you can see comes from her parents. They defied the medical advice that she was going to be permanently blind and didn't accept it and went to great lengths to raise the money they needed to save a little bit of the sight in one of her eyes. So she is the product of that kind of determination and we are hoping that the audience will see that in the film.'

As well as interviewing Greta and her parents for the film, Brian and Robert also approached her coach in DCU, Enda Fitzpatrick and used footage of her races, particularly her Paralympic Final in Rio, which was kindly supplied to the filmmakers by RTE Sport.

Brian explained: 'Basically it's a profile of Greta and her journey from the medical mishap at birth to how she was discovered as an athlete and her preparation for London (World Para Athletics Championships) next month, and hopefully for Tokyo (Paralympic Games) in 2020.' Throughout the film we used archive footage which we were very lucky to get from RTE. We revisit her race in Rio at different parts of the film.'

Having spent many hours with Greta during the six month process to put the film together, Brian share his impressions of the Paralympic athlete, saying: 'She is very modest and modest about her own talents but very determined. She is an inspiration. She wants to highlights her abilities more than her disability and she won't let her disability be any kind of obstacle. From what I can make out she has very minimal sight but she makes the best of the little sight she has.'

The film has finished top of the two men's graduating class and has now won the rare honour of a place at the one of the country's most prestigious film festivals - the Galway Film Fleadh but more than all these plaudits, the filmmakers are happy that Greta and her family are happy with the film.

Brian said: 'The family have seen it and they are very happy with it, which is a relief. The film won the best overall production in Colaiste Dhulaigh which was fantastic but to hear Greta and her family loved it was an even greater reward as far as we were concerned.'

Asked what he hoped audiences would take from the film, the Balscadden film producer said: 'We would like the audience to get a taste of what it's like to be in Greta's company. She is an inspiring young woman. And to get a sense of her parents too, and get a taste of how dedicated they are to their children and Greta is a product of that. While it's set in the sports arena, it's really a story about triumph over adversity and shining the light on someone's ability rather than their disability. I think it's a positive story about immigration too and how Ireland has benefited from this family who came here from Lithuania.'

Film director, Robert Maguire said he was as impressed by Greta and her parents. He told the Fingal Independent: 'What they faced as young parents with triplets was crazy. They were hoping that there three babies would be healthy and one has an issue, it must have been terrifying because they were very young parents.

'To think they went through that traumatic situation and came out of it with such a positive attitude that they've passed on to Greta herself because she is the most positive person I've met anyway. She is positive and inspirational but she's got a real 'can do' attitude about her and she almost has an issue with people who have a 'can't do' attitude.'

He added: 'She is living proof that you should never say you can't do anything.'

The pair of Fingal filmmakers have struck up a great working relationship and plan to pursue other projects together but for now, they are enjoying getting 'Greta' out there to be enjoyed by audiences and local audiences might well get a chance to see the film very soon in Swords.

The film has been entered for the Fingal Film and Arts Festival and if accepted as both of the local filmmakers hope, it will be screened in the beautiful surroundings of Swords Castle which becomes a temporary and rather extraordinary cinema for the August festival.

But first on the agenda is the Galway Film Fleadh. Participation in the festival is a 'dream come true' for the filmmakers who hope to do themselves and their college proud as well as represent Greta's remarkable story in the best way possible.

They thanked Greta and her family and everyone who participated in the film. There was also thanks for the filmmakers' tutors, Leticia Agudo and Frank Berry who are award-winning filmmakers themselves and the talented crew of the film, which included Evangeline Gibson as cinematographer, James Culleton as sound mixer, Stephen O'Loughlin who composed an original score for the documentary, Ashley Parsons, who was project manager on the film and finally, Lisa Dwyer who was the assistant editor.

Fingal Independent

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