A FILM produced by Creeslough woman Sheila Friel of Imagine Media won a much-coveted audience award at the Thessaloniki International Documentary Film Festival in Greece last week.
An Buachaill Gealgháireach / The Laughing Boy / Το Γελαστό Παιδί– a trilingual film which was written and presented by Corkman Theo Dorgan, has been presented with the award. It was produced by Belfast based Sheila Friel and Kathryn Baird and was directed by Dubliner Alan Gilsenan.
An Buachaill Gealgháireach is the remarkable untold story of a song. An Irish song called The Laughing Boy written by a teenage rebel called Brendan Behan in memory of another iconic rebel, Michael Collins. But this song also had an extraordinary and dramatic afterlife as To Yelasto Paidi, the powerful left-wing anthem of resistance against the dictatorship that ruled Greece in the late Sixties and early Seventies. Translated by the poet Vassilis Rotas, Behan’s words in Greek were set to music by the legendary Mikis Theodorakis, the most famous Greek composer of all time. The song remains an enduring and potent cultural force in the heart of Greece today.
The film, from Ms Friel’s media company takes poet Theo Dorgan on an odyssey of his own, as he attempts to uncover the truth of the story behind the song.
It is a narrative that interweaves the tragic and bloody birth-pangs of both modern Ireland and modern Greece and shows the power of a song.
Having won the award Sheila Friel said it was immensely gratifying to win an award always, but this is special since it comes from the audience.
“We were anxious, of course, bringing such a quintessential Greek film to Thessaloniki, given the sensitive political and cultural issues we are dealing with, but we got an amazing response there, a sense that we had, somehow, bridged the gap between two peoples, two cultures,” she said.
Producer Kathryn Baird, whose original idea the film was, said “We could not have hoped for a better response. A standing ovation is always heartening, but when the audience at the end began to sing To Yelasto Paidi, The Laughing Boy, I knew we had really hit the mark. This is the most important documentary festival in Europe, one of the key world festivals, and I am proud of all who worked to make this film possible. “We are immensely grateful, also, to those who backed our film and made it possible-TG4, NI Screen, BAI, Culture Ireland and the Irish Embassy in Greece,” she added.
Filmed in Ireland, the UK, France and Greece, the film also features performances from a number of Irish musicians – including Andy Irvine, Donal Lunny, MayKay, Liam Ó Maonlaí and David Power and well-known musicians and singers from Greece, foremost among them Maria Farantouri, honoured throughout the world as the pre-eminent interpreter of the songs of Theodorakis.
President Michael D Higgins and Sabina Higgins hosted a special screening of the film, An Buachaill Gealgháireach, in Áras an Uachtaráin last month. The Greek and Cypriot Ambassadors to Ireland and guests from the Greek community joined the production team at the screening where they celebrated Behan’s extraordinary achievement.
Founded in 2000, Imagine Media has produced content for national and international broadcasters such as BBC, TG4, ITV and RTÉ, specialising in Irish language, documentary, factual entertainment, sports and children’s programming. Sheila Friel is its managing director and executive producer.