Monday, October 1, 2012

Glenafooka: Glen of the Ghost (October 4 at 8 p.m. at the Chagrin Documentary Film Festival)

[GLENAFOOKA: GLEN OF THE GHOST screens Thursday October 4th at 8:00 pm at the Chagrin Falls Documentary Film Festival.]

Review by Charles Cassady, Jr.

Reviewer disclaimer: I have personal affection for this untypical short feature, released - barely - on VHS by Icarus Films in 2000. And aye, it was at my urging that they added it to the lineup of the Chagrin Documentary Film Festival, despite its being a dozen years in circulation (or non-circulation; this will be a rare chance to see it in a group forum).

I felt (and still feel) that in an age when so-called paranormal investigators and DIY ghostbusters vie for kitsch-stardom with their infantile acts on the Travel Channel and SyFy, skulking about ruins with their e-meters and digital cameras pretending to be terrorized by invisible demons and "EVPs," filmmaker Mary Sue Connelly's lyrical, poetic approach to the supernatural in GLENAFOOKA is more like visual art. One really gets the sense of entering another realm of awareness here, and of seeing things caught on camera for the first and only time - no, not `orbs,' but rather the testimony and cosmology of the elders of County Waterford. Connelly told me that many of her interviewees have since passed from this veil of tears, and one is glad she spoke to them when she did. 

Video and high-grain 8mm footage (with the sound of a whirring movie projector; that really brought back the old days) blend together in a beguiling and poetic discourse on tuatha de dannan, or "otherworld spirits," in the `Old Religion' of Ireland. Connolly spoke to a variety of Irish academics and old village men and women about such archaic matters as curses, fairies, changelings, the bean si (AKA "banshee") and wonders worked by the saints. Here in old Ireland the ancient pagan traditions merged with the imported, imposed Christian strictures and teachings of St. Patrick and the early church missionaries. Thus, on the edge of the 21st century, belief in (and respect for) spirit-haunted places continue on. In this amalgam of Celtic pre-Christianity and Roman Catholicism, a priest's curse is bad enough - but get cursed by a widow and you're really done for! If you interfere with the Irish fairies there will be "consequences."

Connolly's intent seems to be more to gently lead you into this other world, weave a spell of age-old storytelling by the hearth and ancestral lore, folk-beliefs that explained the mysteries of life and death to these inhabitants of the Auld Sod. And, for many, still do.

As I've said, GLENAFOOKA: GLEN OF THE GHOST is not structured as the usual tabloid-TV paranormal expose, not to mention a Disneyesque take like DARBY O'GILL AND THE LITTLE PEOPLE. The testimony and anecdotes (which are subtitled, assuming the viewers can't penetrate the accents) are often repetitious and devoid of data, CGI special f/x, Bigfoot plaster casts or fantastic! Astounding! Amazing! photos. The intent is more to weave a spell of age-old oral histories and ancestral lore, folk-beliefs that explained the mysteries of life and death to these inhabitants of the Auld Sod. And, for many, still do. Interviews with the old folk are practically ethnographic; one really gets a sense of fragile, esoteric things and Magical Mystical Tour concepts of the Emerald Isle being preserved here that may not have been otherwise. Or would have gone terribly distorted (anyone up for another LEPRECHAUN sequel?) if not for Connolly's camera. 

Needless to say, the short feature may mean more to viewers who are Irish and/or into the pagan-revival vibe (the neo-pagans just had a big festival in Bedford but I didn't attend, couldn't tell you if they're in favor of Romney or Obama, sorry). Oh, and did I add? Good Halloween cred, without someone dressed as the Joker or Leatherface to make you wonder if it's a bad idea to be seen in the vicinity. (3 out of 4 stars)

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