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Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Leo Maguire and Telling the Story

I was so blown away by Leo Maguire’s (a Newport graduate)  Gypsy Blood that I decided to interview him. He was kind enough to talk. Here are his views on getting into a project, story telling, motivation and the huge reaction to the programme. 

Leo is supremely talented, brave and driven. If I'd worked this hard, and with this intensity, I would be so up for putting my feet up and having a bit of a rest. Not Leo. He's up and away and setting to work on more projects that build on some of the themes you can see in Gypsy Blood. We'll all be hearing a lot more of Leo in the years to come. 

"It took me more than a year just to shoot one photograph. I talked to so many people and they just didn’t want to know. They weren’t interested. It was very closed off. Then I found some people and started hanging out with them. Fred Butcher was such a larger than life character that he stood out. That helped me get in.

So I started shooting stills, but there was so much texture I was missing. I couldn’t get the dialogue, the humour, the warmth. So I started taking more and more video.

Then there was the awful night when Fred nearly got killed. I showed James Reed, an editor in Bristol, the footage and he really encouraged me to make a documentary so together we cut a teaser of what I had and I began showing it around to try and get some interest in what I was doing.

A girlfriend of mine who lived in the same building as Tim Hetherington, the co-director of Restrepo who was killed in Libya last year, showed the footage to him and he was so encouraging. He told me that I had something really special, something unique. His belief and encouragement gave me the confidence to pursue the project and try and make a film..

The first production companies I showed it to weren’t so keen. I would show the trailer and they’d say, “Oh no, not another Gypsy Wedding,” but then when I did get interest, the commissioning process was so quick it almost happened overnight.

Now I see myself as a photographer and a film-maker. I’m a storyteller and you can tell stories in so many ways. But I love film because there are so many possibilities. Film has taught me so much about story-telling because when you make a film you’re always thinking and analysing and reflecting. I didn’t always do that with my photography because I would just be thinking about taking a great picture.
There are quiet moments in the film, times when you don’t really know what is happening. There’s no voiceover to tell you what is going to happen or what just happened. I think that can really diminish a film because it’s important for there to be some mystery in the film. It’s more magical if you don’t understand what you’re seeing, if you have to discover the meaning for yourself.

The reactions to the film have been amazing. First of all the travelling community and the people in the film love it because it’s a true representation of their lives. They laugh at the funny scenes and they appreciate the tender scenes. They like that I don’t stitch them up. They’re really happy with it and that matters so much to me.

Gypsy Blood is about the travelling community but it is also about other things. There are so many layers to it. It’s about coming-of-age, fatherhood, masculinities, about a different way of life, about fathers being with their sons, it’s about love.

That’s why it there has been such a huge response to the programme. It was the second most talked about topic on Twitter the night it was shown and there were all kinds of comments – there was prejudice and racism, outrage about the scenes with animals and the children fighting.

But so many people understood the central message of the film. I was there for 2 years and the thing that struck me was how much the fathers loved their children, how much time they spent with them, how much energy they put into being a parent. There is an outcry about the children fighting but all the time I was there I never saw anyone abusing their children. Sure, the kids have to be tough because honour is such an important thing in the community. But at the same time, they have to be tough because if you aren’t you are going to suffer. Taking kids out hunting every day might seem alien to some people, but for them it is a  part of growing up and a way to be close and together in a natural environment.

That sense of honour and how important that is also came through in the film. I had an incredible email from a teacher who teaches travellers’ children and she was in tears because suddenly she understood how difficult it was for them. They were in school and they wanted to stay in school and learn, but they were torn because sometimes they’d get into fights. And if they wanted to stay in school, they had to back down or lose face, which is something that goes against that code of honour. She saw the film and hoped it would open the minds of other teachers and help them understand just how difficult life in school could be for the children.

The film was very personal for me, but it had to be. To do something as intense as that for 2 years, you have to have a personal interest. This was the culmination of a five-year dream.

Now I am working in film, but I still want to use photography as well. The problem is there is not the money around for long-term editorial photography projects anymore. There’s more money in film-making but at the same time, it is so intense. There are so many people you work with and it is about man management, time management, project management. But photography is hard and it’s not regular. With a film commission, you might have a year if you’re very lucky make a film, so for a year your income is stable. And if you make a good one, then you can make another and move up the film ladder."


duckrabbit said...

Thanks for posting this Colin. Interesting read.

colin pantall said...

Thanks DR - it was a great film!

Kirsty Mackay said...

Thanks for this Colin. I watched it in the week. It is great to get some background from Leo about how he made it. Great post.

mark page said...

Just watched it Colin. Bloody brilliant! Best Doc I've seen since Marc Isaacs 'Lift'

colin pantall said...

Thanks Kirsty - I think it was incredibly hard work to make, quite an achievement and learning to do things as he went on.

It's one of those things you see where you think I wished I'd done that, and then you realise that you couldn't have done it in a million years.

Glad you liked it Mark - I was just talking to someone about the lift a couple of weeks ago and now you mention it. But that was 10 years ago. I think he's going to be in for quite a career.