Irish women now – they’re driven, perceptive and at times, provocative. IMAGE meets eight intriguing creatives who are challenging the status quo and influencing Ireland’s cultural landscape through their achievements, and striking a chord with modern women everywhere. These pioneers don’t just prove that the connection between women is exceptionally profound, but collectively, we are capable of achieving incredible things.
AOIFE KELLER, DIRECTOR
Whether it’s the Irish way of living and dying or questions about faith, Aoife Kelleher has a finely attuned sensibility for stories that fascinate. Her documentary, One Million Dubliners, which brought Glasnevin Cemetery to life, and Strange Occurrences in a Small Irish Village, which reflects both on Knock and the position the Irish church occupies in modern Ireland, have established her as being at the forefront of exceptional Irish documentary making.
In terms of what attracts her to a story, it’s always a case of something that piques her curiosity. “Whether it’s familiar or unfamiliar, the sense of being in a position where you can ask people big questions and you can really get to know what motivates someone, or get to know what it’s like to live their life… I think those are the big things. And then, irrespective of topic and location, those are going to be the key motivating factors every time,” she says.
Whereas Glasnevin Cemetery was practically in the Swords native’s DNA, the Knock story was more of a leap into the unknown. “I think that there is a chasm, it can seem, between urban and rural Ireland, and a bit of a lack of understanding,” she explains. “What convinced me that Strange Occurrences in a Small Irish Village was worth making was the fact that 1.5 million people go to Knock every year, which in a country as small as Ireland is a huge phenomenon. The majority of those people would be Irish or of Irish descent, and I think it’s important to create an awareness of that and tell those stories.”
Kelleher, who studied broadcasting and film in DIT and went on to do a master’s in Oxford University, has a broad range of interests. Sociology, law and languages all tempted her and she considered going into academia, but the lure of documentary making proved more powerful. She first made waves with her RTÉ series Growing Up Gay, and her CV covers a wide remit, from current affairs to Don’t Tell the Bride. Currently in an edit for another documentary for RTÉ, We Need to Talk About Dad, which explores care options for older people in Ireland, she has other projects in development and is hoping to branch out into drama over the coming year.
She believes that things have improved vastly in documentary making over the last few years, due to the support of funders like the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, the Irish Film Board and RTÉ, aligned with Irish audiences’ increased appetite for this type of programme.“If you look at Twitter, when anything like One Million Dubliners, or Older Than Ireland [the Alex Fegan documentary about Ireland’s centenarians] comes out, it absolutely lights up. I really think there’s a renewed confidence in Irish stories and renewed interest in watching Irish documentaries,” says Kelleher. “You have these stories being told with extraordinary deftness and ability, and there is a lot of great talent working in the area and, as a result, each year with each new release, the audience grows.”
While she says there is also a fallow period after a new feature comes out (Strange Occurrences in a Small Irish Village was released in September), she’ll be back to the drawing board very quickly, coming up with new ideas for documentaries, and the list of potential topics that attract her is endless. “I think that you never make a documentary in a vacuum,” she says. “Whether it’s to create an insight into something or highlight an injustice or just create a sense of awareness or understanding, you’re always hoping to have some sort of an impact, and obviously that varies from project to project.”
PHOTOGRAPH BY AL HIGGINS. HAIR AND MAKE-UP BY BROWN SUGAR. SHOT ON LOCATION IN RAYGUN POST PRODUCTION HOUSE.
This article originally appeared in the November issue of IMAGE magazine, on shelves nationwide now.