As I’ve just come back from a two-week trip to Ireland, it only seems fitting that I was able to have a conversation with Kevin McCann, producer of the upcoming film The Rising about the 1916 Easter Rising. Fed up with British rule and 800+ years of oppression, a valiant group of patriots started a rebellion which lasted 6 days before it came to a close. Fifteen of the leaders of the rebellion were tried, convicted and put to death shortly after the rising. One of those leaders was Seán MacDiarmada and he is the focus of The Rising. While the Easter Rising is a subject that has been referenced in other films (Michael Collins and The Wind That Shakes the Barley are two that come to mind), MacDiarmada is a person who has not made an appearance and doesn’t have the recognition that someone like Collins or Eamon de Valera do. However, that doesn’t mean that he is any less important in a historical context.
So this is what drove my conversation with McCann. As we trundle towards to the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising, McCann is trying to capitalize on the attention on this milestone anniversary to produce the first film about arguably Ireland’s most important rebellion. He is currently on a tour of six cities (New York, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Washington DC) in order to find fund the $6 million production budget to get this film made and ready for its expected premiere date of March 17, 2016.
In one hour, McCann passionately described his efforts and motives for making this film. This was one of the most enjoyable conversations I’ve had in quite some time. Being able to talk about some of my own heroes and why their struggle is still worthy of discussion today meant a great deal to me. Here’s what we talked about:
How has your tour of America been treating you? What cities have you been to besides NYC and Boston?
I’ve been three times to Chicago and will be going to San Francisco, LA and Washington DC. I’m saying look – I’ve been working on this since 2012 and it won’t be made unless Irish Americans help. There isn’t money or really a sense of urgency in Ireland. Families of the signatories [of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic] are worried there will be no celebration, that a tumbleweed will be rolling through Dublin on April 24, 2016.
I’ve been coming to the US in regards to the film since October 2013. The response in the US has largely been very positive. Financing in Ireland is tough these days. I’m here to promote the movie and have one-to-one meetings. To inform people.
We did a Kickstarter late last year that netted 50,000 euros in 35 different countries. This is proof it’s not just an Irish story. We have a $6 million budget that needs to be raised almost exclusively privately. We got some production funding from the Irish Film Board. I was recently in Cannes, but distribution funding is scarce.
Why do you think it took so long for a film about the Easter Rising to come out? I know it was touched on briefly in [Neil] Jordan’s Michael Collins film.
I started to write a document about this. There seems to many reasons to ignore ’16. Next year is an election year and in Ireland a film this can be seen as advantageous to Sinn Fein only. All parties have the right to this, Fine Gael. Fianna Fáil. Why has it not been?…I don’t know. It will take an hour to explain. Political capital, not wanting to rattle [England and Northern Ireland]. We aren’t quite a fully formed nation yet. It’s almost a philosophical question – if we recognize someone as an Irish hero that responds to their conscience, it’s up to us to recognize us as an Irish people. If this happened in another country, they would have certainly looked into it.
I was interviewed by the Irish Times – first question they asked me, you’re making a film about ’16…are you a supporter of violence? What they’re saying is you’re an IRA man.
It’s very difficult to have a discussion about it. Irish politics have tainted it. Survivors guilt.
I genuinely feel that I MUST make a film about 1916. I started from a point of complete ignorance. I didn’t know 1916, the proclamation, who Sean MacDiarmada was. I see other men & women crying because we haven’t celebrated ’16 enough.
MacDiarmada is a relatively unknown player in the historical context of the Easter Rising. What was the motivation to use him as the lead in this film as opposed to [Patrick] Pearse or [James] Connolly?
To be honest, I called to the library in County Leitrim, to ask if there a grant available to look into MacDiarmada as a subject of the film. There were films being shopped, but the scripts weren’t very good and they’ve all fallen by the wayside. This is a film that can compete. The people are going to be talking about 1916.
I didn’t know anything about MacDiarmada until I did a documentary called Leitrim During the Troubles. I wanted to research more about and the library gave me a grant of 1,000 Euros and it started there and snowballed. I moved to Belfast to learn more about him and work with Dr. Gerard MacAtasney [writer of The Mind of the Revolution]. He was a farmer’s son who cracked the world’s largest empire. You can’t get any better of a story than that of Sean MacDiarmada. Led his country from slavery to freedom. The hero gives up his life for the greater cause.
His mother was dead by age 9, his neighbors were being evicted from the land, so you have all of these perfect mythological things that are TRUE. Make the GOD DAMNED FILM. I have a particular interest in how the Irish treated those who participated in the Rebellion. The nation changed forever when the 16 were killed.
Seamus Heaney helped motivate me from that poem ‘From the Canton of Expectations – “what looks the strongest has outlived its term.” Keep their faith and keep on the road and they would succeed. We will not go off this path, we will see it through. It was Goethe that said “Our duty is the demands of our day.” MacDiarmada followed this.
I think of Robert Emmet’s speech From the Dock from the 1803 Rebellion. MacDiarmada was motivated by this speech. It was part of his conscience.
Rebellion and violence isn’t an answer for every disagreement, but at the time, it was necessary.
They were looking for a democratic republic just like what happened in the US.
Has there been any pushback about making this film? Any threats against the production?
Every day. More pushback from folks in the South than the North. There is a lot of reluctance there. The whole question of the North hasn’t really been reconciled in the South. It hasn’t been properly discussed. There is fear that the film will make some moderate revisionist apology. Some people are content with their Irishness and are concerned that we are going to make a pro-violent and pro-IRA film, which is blather from both sides. So I carry on regardless. My responsibility is to the men and women of 1916 and to the people who want to know the history of Ireland. It’s happening on our watch. It’s your responsibility as well [as an Irish-American]. What will you tell me in five years that you did to help remember this event?
The Easter Rising was funded through Irish America therefore 100 years later, we are following in the footsteps of MacDiarmada and [Patrick] Pearse as we are trying to get funding for this film.
I’ve seen that Liam Neeson likes the script. What role would he play if he joins the project?
That was two weeks ago. We want to see him help us make the movie through his contacts, not have a role. We are enthused with the fact that he’s read it and loves it. I think we’ll be able to make an announcement about this in two weeks. I hope.
[UPDATE: an announcement was made July 1 that Michael Neeson, Liam’s son, will be playing the young Michael Collins in The Rising, reprising the role Liam played in Neil Jordan‘s 1996 film.
I LOVE that Shane MacGowan is doing the theme song. Perfect. How did you come by that decision?
I know the former manager of The Pogues and he asked him for me. Connections. He’s just doing the theme song to feature at the end.
I just got back from a trip to Ireland where I met with President Higgins. I know he’s a big film guy (we spoke about Julia Roberts’ accent in Michael Collins and had a laugh). As a former Culture Minister, I would expect that this is something he would love to see made. Have you had any conversations with him or his staff about this?
You have to remember that filmmaking is perceived as profit-making venture so political leaders’ hands are tied when the project has commercial value. I’ve discussed it with his staff and asked for a meeting with him and hope to get one. There’s hesitancy in the Irish political establishment to discuss ’16. Next year is going to be our time.
Dublin, studio, Leitrim, Irish countryside. MacDiarmada’s estate is still there and in perfect condition. That’s where he was born, raised, learned about nature, his place on the earth. You need only stand on the front doorstep and you’re looking into County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland. And you see an example of the division. It’s not just divided North & South, but all axioms.
So that’s that. I want to give a huge thanks to Kevin for taking time out of his busy schedule to speak with me about this film. I contributed to the Kickstarter for this film and wish Kevin and his team nothing but luck. I think that this film is a terribly important step to recognize a series of leaders who put country before self and is incredibly important with respect to us as Irish-Americans. That we are only days after celebrating the 239th anniversary of the declaration of our own independence from the same colonialist country, the parallels between the rebellions are closely tied.
Should you wish to stay up to date with what’s going on with this film, check out their website. And more importantly, if you wish to contribute to the cause, you can also do that there. Here is their Facebook page as well as their Twitter. I will do my best to keep posting about the film especially as it careens towards production this November.