The Audi Dublin International Film Festival closed on Sunday with a gala screening of Viva. Some Irish stars who attended the screening included Andrew Scott (Sherlock, Spectre), John Carney (Sing Street, Once), Cathy Belton (Red Rock), Barry Keoghan (Mammal), and Ferdia Walsh-Peelo (Sing Street). The crew of new Irish feature Viva were also in attendance while one of its leading players, Luis Alberto García, came all the way over from Cuba to see the film in Dublin.
Winner of the AUDI-ence award at this year’s festival, Viva was also shortlisted for Best Foreign Language Film at this year’s Oscars. It follows a young man named Jesús who works as a hairdresser. Jesús dreams of becoming a drag performer at a local club in Havana, but when he finally gets his chance to shine, his father, an alcoholic and once-famous boxer, returns from prison and refuses to let his son perform.
We caught up with the director of Viva, Paddy Breathnach (I Went Down, Man about Dog, Shrooms), and writer Mark O’Halloran (Adam & Paul, Garage) on the red carpet. Paddy described Viva as ‘a labour of love’ and has been delighted with the reception the film has received thus far: ‘People who have seen the film have been surprised. Emotionally, it’s a roller coaster, and they leave the cinema having laughed and cried, and feeling quite uplifted.’
He went on to describe what it meant to have the film close ADIFF: ‘It’s great to be here at this festival because for me, and I think I can say this for a lot of other Irish filmmakers, Dublin Film Festival in a way is where we were born. It’s a kind of half-sweetshop half-library that gave us so much.’
The film first received attention on the international film circuit. As Paddy describes: ‘When we first screened it in Telluride, which is a really prestigious festival that only chooses 22 films and a lot of those go on to be Oscar nominated, the reaction was just immediate and palpable. That’s what you dream of as a filmmaker, that your film moves people and has a life of its own. You make it, put it out there, and let the audience create its life for you.’
Paddy described how he knew from an early stage that Viva was something special, and praised writer Mark O’Halloran’s work in bringing the story to life: ‘I knew that the world it is set in is a really exuberant, reactionary world and the script that Mark had written was very poignant, very meaty drama with muscular relationships in it. So I knew the combination of those elements – the exuberant world and meaty drama – would release something much greater than the parts.’
In approaching the screenplay, Mark O’Halloran stated: ‘I suppose one of the things that I asked when I started was what does one Cuban man say to another Cuban man, and I didn’t really know. So I had to go live there for a while and observe people. I went to the drag concerts, hung out with the drag queens, and got their life stories. I also looked at Cuban films, read Cuban books and generally immersed myself in the culture.’
Mark also played the character Ray in the movie. ‘I’ve had a bit of experience acting in films I’ve also written,’ Mark jokes, referring to Adam & Paul for which he played the titular character of Adam and also wrote the screenplay. ‘It was fun. I only had three days of filming as it was really only a small part. The character I play is a sex tourist and not a pleasant guy, we’ll say, but it was fun to be a part of the film in that way also.’
Finally, there was Oscars talk with the pair, particularly in relation to Lenny Abrahamson’s Best Director Oscar nomination, which he lost on the night to Alejandro González Iñárritu for The Revenant. Paddy spoke in high praise of Lenny’s achievements and commented that: ‘there’s a great support network in general among the Irish film directors. They’ll champion each other if they get the opportunity.’
Mark O’Halloran’s work with Lenny Abrahamson resulted in Adam & Paul and Garage, two films that ignited both their careers, and there is anticipation for further collaboration in the future. Mark states: ‘Lenny is a great friend and yes, there will be another project. Maybe not next year, I think Lenny will be busy for a while, but certainly there is a screenplay coming along that he’s attached to and going to make. It really would be a dream come true because he’s so brilliant, as is Paddy Breathnach. I loved working with him and I’ll continue to work with him as well. It really is such a pleasure to have worked with such two fine men.’