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Interview: Film Director John Carney

The director of Zonad talks Tiger Woods, The Late Late – but not politics
Sheena Sweeney


Director John Carney
Director John Carney

Already hollywood bible Variety, and ‘newspaper of record’ The Irish Times, have reviewed John Carney’s latest film Zonad as “gleefully unhinged” and “uproariously funny”. It stars Simon Delaney, of Bachelors Walk and Eastenders fame, as an escapee from an alcohol rehab centre who winds up in fancy dress on the living room floor of the Cassidy family home in Ballymoran. Naturally the Cassidys believe the red suited interloper to be an alien – what else? – and…there’s your premise. Zonad, written and directed by Carney along with his brother Kieran, couldn’t be more different from his last film, the award winning, Irish-cinema-defining Once that starred Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, and netted the pair an Oscar for Best Original Song. Zonad nominated in six categories at the Irish Film and Television Awards in February won for Best Original Score by Brian Byrne. John Carney who was personally nominated in the Director and Script categories, says he’s not remotely disappointed with “failing” five times, “It’s sort of like a glitzy wedding…[Sundance and the Oscars] matter to your career, so they’re sort of important from a practical point of view, the IFTAs don’t mean much…I actually don’t think they’re about career, I’m not sure what they’re about, I think they’re about having a big, sort of, party in a room and they’re fun to go to”.


Carney as the man behind the heartfelt male yearnings of Bachelors Walk, and the charming love story that was Once, strikes me as someone who might be uncomfortable around the fabulous trappings of nascent Irish Exposesque celebrity culture. Lucky John Carney has never heard of TV3 show Expose, but when I explain it he says, “I hate that. In general terms I do have a problem with celebrity culture and I think we’re going through a real crisis internationally with this obsession with both adoring and humiliating stars. And I think the Tiger Woods thing is a case in point. That was insane, to hold that one person – the most vacuous, the most unemotional multi, multi millionaire – up as if he was a President or something… he has nothing to add to society whatsoever. It’s sort of proof that we’re going through a really odd phase at the moment and we’ll look back on this in twenty years and go, ‘what the?’” What makes him think it’s going to get any better? “Well I read Liam Fay in the Sunday Times and it was so timely about the Late Late Show and what that means and it’s great, someone really needed to say it”. Journalist Liam Fay called Ryan Tubridy, “a karaoke talk show host”, and wrote amongst other things, that his interviewing approach makes him “appear dated and smarmy”, and that he approaches his celebrity guests “like an oily supplicant”. “It’s a terrible, terrible show”, says Carney “and it’s hard to watch Ryan Tubridy impersonate all these [other hosts]. And I like him, Ryan Tubridy is a very nice guy, but for some reason when he’s on TV he has this sort of gossipy cheap light entertainment thing…”

Despite his strong views, Carney practically flinches when politics is mentioned, “The older I get the more I realise that politics has to, sort of, play a role in work and in art and in filmmaking, or that you have to be aware of that. But on a personal level I’m not really that interested in talking about it”. But I am by now very interested as to why he is so reluctant, and try again. Do you vote? “I do.” And would you have any opinion on our current leader? “I would, but I’d rather, sort of, talk about filmmaking and gossip and Ryan Tubridy to be honest”. Fair enough. So then, what do you think is important about filmmaking I ask him. “For me it’s an art form that….I dunno. For me films are always where I’ve gone to blow off steam, or where I’ve gone when I’m feeling alienated or lonely, it’s the one thing that’s sort of connected me for some reason.” He talks about old films, and going to the cinema, and how he feels that cinema is undergoing a crisis. “Studios are bust at the moment, they’re going for the very safe bets. A recession has an effect on cinema in two ways. In the first couple of years it sort of has a negative effect, in that the studios and financiers, sort of bet the favourite and put their money into the safe films. And it takes a couple of years before, sort of, an independent voice rises to the surface again and challenges the banal bigger budget films, which is starting to, sort of happen now, in America anyway, where there’s a few filmmakers who are making films for small amounts of money. But yeah, no, film has always been the most important thing to me in terms of entertainment and art…”

I ask him what he would say to a child about cinema, how he would explain to the them what film adds to culture and society and he sidesteps the question, it seems unwittingly, by telling me that he thinks children are very savvy when it comes to cinema. It seems that John Carney is one of those artists who can’t explain or dissect his work, rather he just does it. We chat, and he tells me favours small independent cinemas like The Lighthouse (In Smithfield, Dublin) over the omniplex; and he likes the idea of people getting together in a room to watch a film. In this time of Twitter and Facebook and “all that nonsense”, he feels that cinema is more important than ever now, in that it gets you out of the house. One of the last films he thought was amazing was The Hurt Locker, he feels that more films like that would “make people question the war a little bit more in America”. He hated Avatar, “an appalingly horrible film, I liked nothing about it…racist, tree hugging…” He says the key thing about Zonad is that it’s very original. “It’s like nothing else and it will divide people. And there will be certain people who will categorically hate it and who wont get it. But I think most people will find something in it to enjoy, because it’s not like anything else. And that’s what I’ve been trying to do, to not repeat myself”. And so far, on that count at least, John Carney is winning. Zonad is released on March 17th