By Kim Lyle
“In the midst of death, we are in life,” were words once uttered by great Irish novelist James Joyce. The same quote is used to set the tone in the opening sequence of Aoife Kelleher’s documentary, One Million Dubliners.
Chronicling the history and colorful characters behind Dublin’s Glasnevin Cemetery, the film consistently makes one point very clear – this is the place where ‘both ends meet,’ the living and the dead. As the resting place for over 1.5 million souls, Glasnevin receives about the same amount of tourists and locals alike each year.
The feature-length documentary is thorough in its investigation of the burial ground, covering everything from the happenings at the nearby flower shop to the many famous historical and artistic figures buried there. While this may become a bit much for those not obsessed with the topic, there’s one reason to stay tuned – the people.
We are quickly introduced to the charismatic resident historian of Glasnevin, Shane Mac Thomáis and his lively walking tours of the grounds. From scaring the local school kids with ghost stories to joking about the slow pace of the elderly visitors, Shane becomes the highlight of the film. With a father that held the same position before him, it’s evident he is a master of his craft.
Sharing the spotlight with Shane are a few of the cemetery’s celebrity residents. Folk singer Luke Kelley and revolutionary leader Michael Collins are both afforded an extended sequence delving into their legacy. It’s told that even to this day Collins receives an influx of flowers and stuffed animals from devoted admirers on Valentine’s Day. Many details like this one are sprinkled generously throughout the film.
While the documentary is at its core a human-centered story, the cinematography provides a broad range of images that help to mobilize the narrative. Shot mostly on dark, cloudy days the mood rests on the gloomier side of things albeit an intimate one.
Through the course of 80 minutes, Kelleher has taken a top-rated tourist attraction and dived more than six feet beneath its surface. He has intentionally placed the viewer’s fingers on the pulse of a story whose human qualities transcend nationality, as only the Irish can.
Those interested in viewing more Irish film have reason to be excited, as the Baton Rouge Irish Film Festival is an annual affair showcasing an array of top-rated movies coming out of the country. To keep up to date with their activities, visit batonrougeirishfilmfestival.com.