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Features & Interviews

24 Oct 2014 : Paul Byrne
With ‘The Guarantee’, filmmaker Ian Power tackles the backroom banking skulduggery that brought the Irish economy to its knees. Paul Byrne tries to keep calm.

For Ian Power’s second film – his first being 2010’s little charmer, ‘The Runway’ - the Irish filmmaker decided to tackle the moment when the Celtic Tiger turned into a sickly little kitten, the night when the boom suddenly went bust. Based on Colin Murphy’s eponymous play, ‘The Guarantee’ looks at the events of September 28th 2008, when the Irish government shook hands with the entire Irish banking system, swiftly bringing the Irish economy to its knees.

The cast includes ‘Love/Hate’’s Peter Coonan (playing The Central Banker, aka David Drumm), David Murray (aka Brian Lenihan), Gary Lydon (aka Brian Cowen), Orla Fitzgerald (Hedge Fund CEO, aka Kate Walsh) and Morgan Jones (aka Sean Fitzpatrick). Hitting cinemas on October 30th, the John Kelleher Media production - in association with the BAI, the Irish Film Board and TV3 - will also hit our TV screens later this year.

PAUL BYRNE: A lot of people feel angry about what went down during those faithful, fate-filled days covered here - did you?

IAN POWER: Yes. There’s a lot to be angry about. But anger is a useless emotion to linger on. As a nation we sort of ‘anger’ ourselves out. We get angry with people and politicians and then we feel bad about it or we think ‘they’ve learned their lesson’ and we welcome them back. There’s a really unhealthy cycle of anger and blame in this country and very little change. It’s nuts.

Is it important to be impartial, to report just the facts, or is it the artist's job to put some of their own passion into proceedings?

I’m still getting my head around what a director does. I get the craft part but there’s an aspect of the work that’s much closer to acting in terms of an approach. I put my heart into everything I do. For me everything stems from character and I have to invest in that. An actor can’t judge his character but it doesn’t mean he can’t put his soul into that character. Directing a film like this is a bit like that - unless you invest into it, you can’t expect an audience to.

With something like ‘The Guarantee’, the truth is so incredible you don’t have to embellish. At one point Colin read a scene he’d just written and I said ‘you can’t write that - no one will believe it’, to which he replied, ‘it’s a transcript from the Anglo tapes’…

I wouldn’t have signed on if there was any sort of salacious agenda but that’s not what Colin has ever been about.

Colin would have done quite a bit of the research already - feel the need to go digging yourself?

Colin has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the events surrounding the bank guarantee and that’s his thing. And because we had that I could be the devil’s advocate for character and drama. We sort of pitted ourselves against each other that way at the start and Colin was incredibly generous about letting me deconstruct and re-assemble his baby. What we discovered almost immediately was that truth and good drama are rarely at odds. Too often I’d say to Colin ‘if this was piece of fiction you’d have a scene at this point where someone does x,y,z’ and he’d sort of look at me and say ‘actually, that’s kind of bizarre - something very like that actually happened’. When we got into post in Windmill Lane, Vinny Beirne (the editor) took it to a whole different level in terms of a cinematic translation but he’d done a lot of homework. That’s where the film really came together. His contribution was remarkable.

And what of those depicted; get to do lunch with any of them to hear their side of the story? Has Sean Fitzpatrick returned any of your calls?

No. I’m not breaking bread with any of them.

How do you feel about the people depicted here? Fine, upstanding people just caught in a bad situation, or complete and utter scum simply looking after no.1?

I think Irish people have been presented with a cast of arch villains for too long. Something about that feels deceptive and easy. Lots of people hiding behind pointed fingers. It’s really important to me that people recognise human beings in this because then it’s a cautionary tale - the reality is it could happen again.

There’s this brilliant little documentary that Alain Renais made about the Holocaust called ‘Night and Fog’ and he starts with the architects of the concentration camps - not Hitler or Goebbels but the actual architects - the people who designed and built the camps. That’s hugely powerful - to remind us that human beings did this. It’s too easy to dismiss an arch-villain or a cartoon as a sort of bogeyman.

Do you think a film like ‘The Guarantee’ can light real political fires?

I think there’s a perspective to seeing everything laid out in front of you. This is a story the Irish people have heard in snippets and soundbites, usually from people with an agenda of some kind. We have no agenda other than to present the truth in as unbiased a way as possible. But when you see it laid out like that I think it presents some interesting questions. There’s been a lot of discussion about the ‘should we or shouldn’t we’ and not enough of the ‘why did we’ (guarantee the banks)?

As a nation we’ve been made feel very guilty about enjoying the boom, but if credit is crack cocaine and we were the worst crack addicts in Europe we’re still not the cocaine cartel. You have to look outside the country for that. That’s where the money came from. If the film makes people think about anything, I’d like them to think about that and maybe we can stop beating ourselves up about it and realise that we’re the victims of a fundamental injustice.

Had Colin gotten any feedback from those in power when his play was unleashed? Are you expecting some heat?

I think there was a bit, yes. But with this kind of subject matter, where things are live, you have to be careful. So we’ve had a legal team across it from the get-go and at every stage of the script, shoot and edit. And we’ve told the truth - we don’t have anything to worry about. But we didn’t shy away from anything.

We're a long way from building runways in the wilds of Cork for cute foreigners – was that part of the attraction here?

In part, yes. But the story had everything I would look for in a piece of drama. It resonates because I’ve lived through the guarantee and its ramifications and I definitely felt a responsibility as an artist and an Irishman but I think it would be hard to ignore a story like this in any setting.

‘The Runway’ got some glowing reviews, and some real love - why do you think that didn't translate into big box-office?

I don’t know. I think marquee-cast is important. Demian Bichir who starred in ‘Runway’ is an incredible actor - Oscar nominated for Best Actor a year after it came out (not for ‘Runway’) - but no one here knew who he was so it was very hard to get the film on people’s radars. ‘The Guarantee’ is different - it plugs into something the media are hungry to talk about. That’s a good thing, I suppose. No pressure...

Fundamentally though, I think it’s very difficult for an Irish film to compete with the big boys in terms of public awareness and media spend and that’s what counts at the end of the day. When it comes to cinema - money talks.

‘The Runway’ is a fine calling card when it comes to selling your wares abroad - any Hollywood action coming your way?

Hollywood is hard to ignore in terms of the vibrancy and sheer traffic of work. I’d love to work there. At the end of the day, 'The Guarantee' is a small independent film shot in 9 days (I shot my first film in 35 days) - it’s hard to know how it will resonate with people who aren’t Irish.

What's next?

I’d like to make a horror film. I said that to someone the other day and they suggested that I just had… I’ve also recently finished writing a script for a thriller set in California in 1930, but it’s a big movie and will need cast to become a ‘go project'.

Finally, anything else you want to share with the group?

‘The Guarantee’ is in cinemas from October 30th.

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