Filmmakers Tom Berkeley and Ross White will show their Oscar-winning short film, “An Irish Goodbye,” followed by a question-and-answer segment at the Vermont Film and Music Festival.
The festival will be held at locations throughout Stowe, and the directors will cap off an afternoon block of short films screened at Stowe Cinema on Sunday, June 4.
While neither Berkely or White have ever stepped foot in Vermont before, the pair can already see the thematic resonance the film will have with its audience.
Over its 20-minute runtime, “An Irish Goodbye” tells the story of two brothers attempting to navigate the farm left to them following their mother’s death. In a story told in a darkly comic form that has long been a hallmark of the region’s art.
The film follows Lorcan — played by James Martin — as he tries to convince his brother Turlough — played by Seamus O’Hara — not to sell their family farm. Their mother, Grainne, enters the movie through a voiceover provided by “Game of Thrones” alumnus Michelle Fairley.
Lorcan, who has Down syndrome, tries to convince his brother to let him manage the farm and concocts an elaborate scheme with the help of the local priest to bring them closer together. Throughout the development process, it was important to Berkeley and White to craft a story that conformed to the true-to-life elements of humor and drama that characterize grief.
A brief but plaintive and inventive meditation on grief, family and disability, the short film squeezed into Oscar qualification and went on to win the award for Best Live Action Short Film in a year when Irish filmmaker and elder statesman Martin McDonagh was nominated for nine awards for his movie, “The Banshees of Inisherin.”
The “Irish Goodbye” directors spent time with McDonagh across the award circuit, including the British Academy Film Awards where they also won Best Short Film. Aside from sharing a dark humor and rural Irish setting, Berkeley and White now have this particular award in common with McDonagh as well, as he won for his short film, “Six Shooter,” in 2004.
“You’re sort of rubbing shoulders with your heroes a bit, but he’s just such a humble guy, and he has literally been in our shoes at the Oscars with a short film back there before us,” White said. “He was incredibly generous with his time, and his sort of well wishes to us.”
Berkeley and White had been roommates in London before returning to their hometowns of Belfast in Northern Island and Gloucester in the west of England, where they began the correspondence that grew into the movie they would eventually make in 2021.
“We were speaking a lot about things like men grieving badly, or refusing to grieve, and the kind of problems that brings up and then we were speaking about the kind of complication of leaving your hometown, and then returning to that and not feeling like you belong again,” White said.
White drew inspiration for the main characters from a pair of brothers he saw at a soccer match who demonstrated the sort of antagonistic yet tender dynamic on display with the brothers in their film.
For both filmmakers, it was important that Lorcan’s disability was not his primary character trait, but merely a role that allowed an actor from a certain background to play a witty, mischievous and complicated character.
“It’s not enough just to sort of stick somebody in front of the camera with Down syndrome, you’ve got to write a really compelling, three-dimensional character that has these foibles and these different kinds of sides you would with any actor,” White said.
Like McDonagh before them, Berkeley and White hope to parlay their short film success into a full-length feature, which they plan to begin tackling in earnest as they take another short film through the festival circuit next summer.
“An Irish Goodbye” concludes the 1 p.m. block of short films showing at Stowe Cinema on Sunday, June 4. For a full schedule of times and locations of music and film in Stowe for the Vermont Film and Music Festival, go to stowestorylabs.org/vfmf-film-schedule-2023.
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