Oscar-winning director Terry George tells JOANNE SAVAGE about new film Whole Lotta Sole
HE was walking on air in February when his film The Shore scooped the live action short category at the Oscars.
Starring Ulster actors Conleth Hill and Ciaran Hinds, and filmed entirely in Northern Ireland, the uplifting piece was about reconciliation after decades of impasse - a suitably post-conflict mood invoked.
Now the Belfast-born director is back in action with his new film Whole Lotta Sole, set to have its European premiere at the Waterfront on June 10 as part of the Belfast Film Festival.
“It’s a dark comedy,” says Terry on the phone from his home in New York.
“It’s about an American in Belfast who gets himself into a lot of trouble. At the same time there’s a kid, Jimbo, who has robbed the fish section of St George’s Market because he’s in dept to a mob boss.
And then things come together in a kind of Dog-Day-Afternoon-meets-Belfast.
“It’s a sort of madcap comedy, very accessible, and really about the city as it is today, how it’s changed from the way it was.”
Hoping to pay back some of the gambling debt he owes to local mobster Mad Dog Flynn (David O’Hara), Jimbo (Martin McCann) robs the fishmongers only to discover that it’s actually a front for the mobster’s business. So then he’s on the run, pursued by crotchety detective Weller (Colm Meaney). Cornered in an antique shop, he takes a colourful collection of characters hostage, including owner of the shop Joe Maguire (Brendan Fraser) and his girlfriend Sophie (Yaya DaCosta). Caught between the mobster’s gang and the police, the unfortunate Jimbo must find a way out of this very tricky situation.
But it proves serendipitous, as Jimbo and Joe unearth certain truths.
The action, set to an original screenplay by Foy Vance, was captured in locations across the city and in Co Down.
“We filmed it in and around Belfast and in Downpatrick. We were shooting in St George’s Market, up the Donegal Road and up the Cave Hill, then round by the City Hall.”
And Terry, who made his name with films like In The Name of the Father and Some Mother’s Son - films which deal explicitly and deftly with Ulster’s conflict - feels the new addition to his filmography speaks very much of the city that inspired it.
“This is, I think, a very Belfast film, but with a lot of big, universal appeal. I do think audiences over here will love it.”
It took some time for George to return to earth after his Oscar glory, which put the eyes of Hollywood moguls momentarily on picturesque locations in Ulster.
“Well, then you settle down and then you have to get back to work,” he confides.
“It was great, this little film about Killough in Co Down which my family and the people down there worked on and then it’s at the Oscars.”
George has a tradition of Oscar nods.
In 1993 he made his debut as screenwriter and assistant director with In the Name of the Father, starring Daniel Day-Lewis; it was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including best adapted screenplay.
He earned his second Academy Award nomination in 2004 for directing and co-writing Hotel Rwanda, which starred Don Cheadle and Sophie Okonedo.
Born in Belfast, George is a former Republican prisoner who spent time in Long Kesh on an arms charge. He arrived in the States in 1981 as an ‘illegal’ because of his jail time here.
His first play, The Tunnel, was situated in a Long Kesh prison camp and his work has repeatedly engaged with the Troubles.
But he feels The Shore was about a ‘new Northern Ireland’: “I hope this is just a reaffirmation that things have changed and that we’re trying to move on.”
George sees his new film as in tune with this positive, post-conflict mood.
“Whole Lotta Sole is very much in the vein of The Shore - a funny film with characters who have depth, and interesting stories to tell.
“I am so looking forward to it being shown here and particularly at the Waterfront.
“I’m coming back for the premiere and Brendan Fraser and Colm Meaney, who star in the film, will both hopefully be there too. The full gang will be in Belfast.”
Whole Lotta Sole will have its gala premiere at the Waterfront Hall, Belfast on June 10 as part of the Belfast Film Festival. For more information visit www.belfastfilmfestival.org/