Interview: Colin Farrell of ‘Stories of 1916,’ Part 2

This is the second part of my interview with Colin Farrell, creative director at Tile Media. The Dublin-based multimedia company produced ‘A Terrible Beauty (Áille an Uafáis),’ a 90-minute docudrama focused on the events of Easter week 1916, and the affiliated website Stories From 1916. If you missed it, here is Part 1. MH


Q: The Internet has created many new options for researching and telling historical stories. As more archives become digitized and accessible worldwide, more people are bringing fresh perspectives to the material. Digital video and audio production makes it easier to produce and distribute such stories. Do you agree? What are your further thoughts about telling history in 2016?

CF: I completely agree with that point. The reality is that without the digitization of so much material it would be very difficult to research the stories that we cover as quickly as we need to. Similarly, without modern digital and audio production, we would not be able to produce the amount of material that we have done. Also, both the research and production would be a lot more expensive to undertake, meaning that we could not produce a project like ‘Stories from 1916’ in the manner that we have done. That’s why it was important for us to make the project so interactive and bring the idea of how oral history is presented up to date. It’s really exciting to think about what we might do next after going through this process. Technology has opened so many doors for ourselves, and everyone else, to produce really high-quality stuff for a fraction of the cost of what it would have been even a few years ago. It has also opened many new doors for how a story can be told. The possibilities for presenting your work are so broad now, which is really exciting for us.

A Terrible Beauty (Áille an Uafáis) - Irish Volunteer (Noel Whelan) on North King St.

A Terrible Beauty (Áille an Uafáis) – Irish Volunteer (Noel Whelan) on North King St.

Q: “Stories from 1916” says it focuses on “accounts of ‘ordinary’ men and women, involved in the Rising, that have never had their voices heard or their stories told,” and that you’ve been able to tap family archival material. How have any of these stories or material changed the overall narrative to 1916? Has this approach resulted in a particular new insight(s) about Easter 1916?

CF: I don’t think that this approach has necessarily changed the narrative of 1916. Instead, I feel like it has added to it and shown people that what happened during Easter Week went far beyond the seven signatories and the GPO. I think by presenting the ‘ordinary’ men and women’s stories, that it demystifies what happened during the Rising and shows people the power of believing in something and being willing to fight for it. I think that because of the executions of the leaders, the story, for a long time, became all about their blood sacrifice and was mythologized, which definitely served a purpose for a time but now, 100 years later, I think it’s important to look at the story from a new perspective. For us, it’s always important to look at it from an apolitical point of view and to present the true history without “taking sides.”

Q: Reactions from academia and the traditional historian community?  

CF: The reaction to the project from everyone has been overwhelmingly positive, including the academic world. I think the fact that we are not trying to pretend to be academics or historians helps. We’re coming from a filmmaking background, and that has allowed us to look at the history in a slightly different way I think. Much the same as when we are making a film, it is important for us to make the project interesting and entertaining for the audience, so that’s why we have tried to make it interactive and use different multimedia elements such as mini-docs, podcasts and using touch-screen technology as part of the traveling exhibition.

In this short documentary, the family of Irish Volunteer Patrick Rankin discusses his involvement in the 1916 Easter Rising.


Q: What’s next? Plans to bring this approach to War of Independence/Civil War centennials? Other Irish (or non-Irish) projects you can talk about?

CF: “Stories from 1916” was never meant to be purely about the Rising and lots of the stories already go beyond Easter Week, 1916. We’re interested in looking at someone’s whole life, not just one week of it. We’ll be continuing to work on the project right up to the end of the year and beyond. We’re lucky that we have a 501(c)(3) fiscal sponsor in the States, the Chicago Irish Brotherhood, so we will be continuing to tell the story of Irish-America’s involvement in the whole revolutionary period. Ultimately, we would like to produce a feature length documentary looking at the story from ‘the other side of the Atlantic’. We’re also working with Fingal County Council in trying to find funding to make a short 20-25 minute documentary on the North County Dublin involvement in 1916, which culminates in the Battle of Ashbourne, the only really successful engagement during the Rising. Again, another really great tale that is less well known.

We also have another project set during the War of Independence, ‘Jubilee Nurse’, which we are currently developing. The whole revolutionary period in Irish history is a goldmine of great stories, so we are definitely looking at telling more of them. Outside of that period, we are working on developing a history/music program with the Irish singer-songwriter Eleanor McEvoy, about the life and work of Irish poet Thomas Moore, who was the ‘rock star’ of his day! In this industry, you have to constantly be on the lookout for new material and be developing ideas so hopefully there will be a lot more to come from Tile Media in the coming years.