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The Desperate Optimists Introduce Their Film "Further Beyond"

“…as the film developed it also became more personal to us. More personal in terms of its content but also in how it was being expressed.”
MUBI is exclusively showing Joe Lawlor & Christine Molloy's Further Beyond (2016) from November 29 - December 28, 2016 in the United States.
Further Beyond
The opportunity to make Further Beyond came along at the very right moment for us. We were in development on a new script for over a year and we were feeling stuck, and in such moments the best advice is to put it to one side and come back at a later point so you can see it afresh from a new perspective. This might take just a week or two, or perhaps a couple of months. In our case it would take almost a year. And in that year Further Beyond became our new focus. Not only did it help us to return to our script anew, it was also a very liberating experience for us as filmmakers. The commission—from the Reel Art scheme—gave us just 10 months to deliver a completed film to be premiered at the Dublin Film Festival 2016. But it also gave us complete artistic control and ownership. This meant that, as filmmakers, we were back in the driver’s seat in terms of how the film might be made. This ‘how the film might be made’ reminded us of the importance of methodology and its impact on the final product. (We should point out that one year is a relatively short span of time for a film to come into existence from beginning to end but the brevity of the process was complemented by its intensity. We hope some of that comes across in the viewing.)
The process of making Further Beyond is a million miles away from the process of making narrative fiction. We discovered, or should we say, rediscovered the pleasure of walking and talking, researching, filming, editing, writing and back to walking and talking again as a legitimate way of putting a film together. A reminder that it is not always necessary to start with a script. For us, when making Further Beyond, this freedom of approach meant we could continually change the course of the documentary’s direction based on the actual material we were getting and not what we imagined we might get.
There’s a moment in Further Beyond when we refer to Stephen Soderbergh’s comment that making a film is like making a mosaic 10 miles long with your nose 6 inches from the wall. Very hard to do. Almost guaranteed to fail. Like in any ambitious or complex process it’s almost impossible to get back far enough to know what you are doing. The process of making Further Beyond, allowed us many moments to step back and look at what were doing (or thought we were doing). We recall from many years ago this art teacher once saying, ‘you don’t know what you’ve done until you’ve done it.’ We still find that very true.
At its core, Further Beyond is about our desire to make a bio pic about a little known but compelling 17th century Irish man, Ambrose O’Higgins—a poor tenant farmer who left Ireland for South America before eventually becoming the Governor General of Chile. We thought that would be enough. However, we as we began to make this documentary we quickly felt the facts of his life—the history lesson, so to speak—were only part of what was interesting to us. We also found what he represented equally compelling. And then, during the process of researching the material, we came across old video tape footage of my mother, Helen. Like Ambrose, Helen’s story is also one of migration and travel, which began when she was 11 months old and was put on a ship in New York, unaccompanied, to be sent off to relatives in Ireland. Helen’s story began to compete for our attention but, yet again, what interested us was what she represented. What she embodied. Suddenly—suddenly?—no, gradually, we had two intertwining narratives so that the film became more complex and intriguing and, it has to be said, more unwieldy.
In these moments there might be a temptation to make things clean and simple in order to avoid something messy. But, with this being our first documentary, we felt ourselves wanting to keep the mess—the extra bits that allow the fullest and purest expression of the material as opposed to something more easily digestible. In any event, we had a growing belief that both narratives sitting side by side would help to highlight something about history and memory and how time doesn't diminish certain key themes such as identity and travel and the desire to belong and find a meaning in ones life.
All of this is to say that, as the film developed it also became more personal to us. More personal in terms of its content but also in how it was being expressed. In fact, we think it’s fair to say it's the most personal film we’ve ever made. We didn’t set out with this in mind but it just moved in that direction and we felt we had to follow it. This might sound like the film was controlling us and not the other way around. That the film itself could tell us where to go next. What it wanted next. Seems stupid to say this but even as we sit and type these words, we’re not entirely sure that this wasn’t the case. Spooky.
—Christine Molloy and Joe Lawlor, a.k.a. Desperate Optimists

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