23 March 2023 The Irish Film & Television Network
“They know they are there to tell their own stories;” Producer Aisling Ní Fhlaithearta discusses Finné Series 4
04 Feb 2022 : Nathan Griffin
Lisa Lawlor in Finné Season 4
Following the return of Finné to Irish screens this week, we spoke with producer Aisling NÍ Fhlaitherta about the upcoming series: what audiences can expect, the process of finding Finnés (or eye-witnesses), and highlights of the series.

The multi award-winning series of documentaries, Finné (Witness) returns to TG4 screens for a fourth series, screening weekly on Wednesdays @ 9.30pm until March 9th, as part of TG4’s Wednesday Documentary Season.

A TG4 Original Production, the series explores the personal testimony of those who have lived through trying times. Filmed over 12 months by Galway’s Tua Films and presented by RTE’s courts correspondent, Orla O’Donnell, Finné is a warts and all re-telling of riveting first person testimonies.

“The recurring theme of this year’s Finné series is human frailty and human resilience. We want to jolt the viewer watching on the couch at home into thinking – if this happened to me, how would I cope?” Aisling tells IFTN.

Finné delves deep and narrow in to one person’s story rather than giving a general overview of these events that made the news over the past 40 years. Here, the series recount intimate stories of triumphs and traumas, of Davids and Goliaths, of dogged resilience and human frailties.

“And in order to crystallise that for the viewer, we have really dug deep into the psychology for this year’s stories: Imagine being locked up in a Greek prison for months on trumped up charges? Imaging being the poster girl for the Stardust tragedy that killed 48 people and being the vessel for all that trauma,” adds Ní Fhlaitherta. “Imagine standing as an eco-warrior in front of the chainsaws in the Glen of the Downs to raise environmental awareness – long before the term became popular. Imagine taking a stand for what you believe is right – often against the powerful forces and the might of the establishment. Would you do the same?”

When asked what the team looks out for in a story, Ní Fhlaitherta tells us that her answer is a boring old cliché, but paramount to the show’s success and accessibility. “For a show like Finné, casting is everything. So the question might better be asked as: what do you look for in a storyteller,” Ní Fhlaitherta explains.

“80% of the show is one person talking directly into the lens about their experiences. If you distil it down, Finné is a human face telling a story,” Aisling continues. “So we would have selected a number of stories during our development phase, but it wasn’t until we met with the subjects and heard their stories, that you get a sense of them working as Finnés or eye-witnesses.”

Over the course of the show’s lifespan, Finné has filmed over 20 episodes and picked up some major accolades including the Human Rights Justice Media Award and the Best Series at the Celtic Media Festival. Something Ní Fhlaithearta feels has certainly given confidence to potential interviewees coming forward, as they know the shows genuine intentions.

“I think definitely as the years went on it was easier, especially due to the fact that you could let them watch previous shows and they can see exactly what it is we’re doing,” said Aisling. “In the early days, there would have been a paranoia about our approach and motivations for going to such difficult subject matters.”

“Now, with over 20 documentaries to show them, they can see we are not tabloid hacks, but there is a quality to the shows and a respect for our Finné’s voice that can be missing in a more general thematic focused documentary,” added Ní Fhlaithearta. “They know they are there to tell their own stories.”

What makes Finné unique is that the show focuses more on story rather than theme, something that is at the forefront of the discussions at the beginning of every season. “In development, we do sit down and ask ourselves is there a particular type of story we feel we haven’t told yet, perhaps an important moment in time from the last 50 years or so,” Ní Fhlaithearta tells IFTN. “This might kick-start our search, but as noted above, the casting dictates the series.”

This season will see six new witnesses tell their story: Lisa Lawlor, Don Baker, Úna Ní Broin, Seán Binder, Rachel Moran, and Roy Galvin (see below). However, like all other productions during the last two years, the fourth season of Finné had to film under the guidelines of Covid, which acted as addition obstacle to scale. “You know what, hindsight is great! You look back and say ‘sure that wasn’t so bad’! But of course it impacted our planning and schedule no end,” Aisling sprightly accepts.

“If you want to make the Gods laugh, show them your 2021 schedule!” Ní Fhlaithearta jokes. “There were times in the past year when our subjects just didn’t feel safe in spite of all the protocols, so there were plenty of delays – and finger crossing. But nothing like a broadcast deadline to make things happen…”

Despite the additional stresses and strains that came with filming during the pandemic, there are always still highlights to look back on, no more that the human connections and relationships that are formed during projects like Finné. “Without a doubt it has been the people I’ve met during my time working on this series over the past 4 years,” said Aisling when asked about her highlights of the series.

“I have been incredibly lucky to have worked with such an incredible bunch. We’re a small team, but one that really had each other’s back at all times, and that includes the support we got from TG4,” Aisling continues. “There’s a solution to every problem. If those of us behind the camera really gave it our all, it is only because we were inspired by these brave and vulnerable Finné’s telling their stories.”

“From editors to camera people to directors, we always felt a duty to do them justice.  I’ve made some great friendships with some of these inspiring people - that is what means the most to me now that it’s all done.”

Finné continues on Wednesday, February 9th at 9.30pm on TG4.

See Finné Season 4’s witnesses and their stories below:

EP 1: Lisa Lawlor recounts how she was orphaned as a baby when her young parents died in the Stardust fire in 1981. She became known as the 'Stardust Baby', and in this episode, she recalls her experience of growing up as the poster girl for this tragedy that still haunts the North Dublin community of Artane to this day.

EP 2: Like many a blues man, Don Baker had a challenging upbring in the Dublin tenements of the 1960s, where he resorted to petty crime and eventually ended up in the notorious Daingean Reformatory School in Co. Offaly. He struggled with addiction throughout his life despite tremendous success as an actor and musician, but now at 70, he reflects on his career with a wisdom that only the distance of time can bring.

EP 3: In 1997, environmental activist Úna Ní Bhroin learned of Wicklow County Council’s plans to widen the road through the Glen of the Downs, and she took to living in the trees to halt the development. In 2000, she was among 12 protesters known as eco-warriors who were arrested and sent to prison for trespassing. 25 years later, Úna reflects on the campaign and whether or not it was successful in raising awareness of environmental issues in Ireland.

EP 4: Kerryman Seán Binder was arrested while working as a volunteer rescuer during the migrant crisis in Greece in 2018. Seán recounts his voluntary work on the island of Lesbos and the three months he spent in a Greek prison whilst fighting to clear his name. He is still awaiting a trial date for the charges which include money laundering, espionage and people smuggling, charges that still hang over him like a sword of Damocles…

EP 5: Rachel Moran spent 7 years from the age of 15 living and working as a prostitute on the streets of Dublin. She recalls in particular how various cultural and legislative changes drove prostitution indoors – into the hands of pimps and making the women more vulnerable to violence. Now an acclaimed writer and activist, Rachel reflects on her time on the streets, and chronicles her life-long campaign to criminalise the purchase of sex.

EP 6: Limerick man Roy Galvin grew up in Limerick’s inner city and became the first male ballet dancer in Ireland. Here, he reflects on his extraordinary career as a musician and professional ballet dancer, while also recounting his story of growing up gay in a very different Ireland.

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