In the following three-part series, Sixteen Films' screenwriter Paul Laverty writes about the genesis of "Jimmy's Hall." His observations were first published in Sixteen Films' Production Notes, and are reproduced here with permission. Production Photos see here are by Joss Barratt.
Having traveled the world, and witnessed the roaring twenties in the States, followed by the depression after 1929, and the ripple of misery that flowed from there around the world, Jim Gralton must have seen tremendous poverty and brutality, but he never seemed to turn into a cynic.
I was struck by anecdotes of his generosity (housing a homeless man in New York who stole his trousers) and sense of humour. He was no sectarian. His sister, based in the States, was a nun who attended the hall to enjoy the music during a visit to Ireland until warned off by the local parish priest. Jimmy was very popular with many of the other nuns, too, in a convent in the US where his sister was based. Jimmy was intensely political, a committed socialist, but we had a sense of a man who appreciated that we need many types of nourishment, including fun and companionship. People travelled for miles to attend the dances despite the denunciations from the pulpit.
'The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.'
As well as digging into the secrets of the characters, another major challenge was trying to imagine the texture of lived experience of the 20s in the flashbacks, and the quite different atmosphere of the 30s after a decade of authoritarian rule of the Cosgrave government, not from the safety of hindsight, but in the moment with the characters. Historian Donal Ó Drisceoil from University College Cork, who worked with us on The Wind That Shakes the Barley, was once again a bedrock of support to outline the political atmosphere of the times, fill in the details and answer endless questions -‐ which he did with the sharpest of observations. [You can read the historical backdrop to Jimmy's Hall, courtesy of Professor Ó Drisceoil, on our pages.]
On a visit to the National Archives in Dublin I confirmed what Donal had told me: The records relating to Jimmy’s detention and subsequent deportation have mysteriously disappeared. What is intriguing, and what we couldn’t find out, was when this happened. The vital question is how the decision was made in such secrecy and who was privy to it. It reminded me of the subversive first page of The Book of Laughter and Forgetting. Milan Kundera gives details of a famous propaganda photo of Communist leader Klement Gottwald on a balcony in Prague in 1948. In freezing weather Gottwald’s comrade Clementis, by his side, gave his own furry hat to his bareheaded leader. Four years later Clementis was charged with treason and hanged. The Communist Party airbrushed him from the photo and history. But like the corner foundations of Jimmy´s hall poking through sods of grass, Clementis’s hat still remains. Kundera wrote, “The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.” It was not enough that Jimmy’s hall was burnt to the ground, that he was deported from his birthplace -‐ the official record of the events disappeared into nothingness too. Little wonder so few had heard the story of Jimmy Gralton, even in County Leitrim.
What attracted us to this story too was the physical courage of Jimmy and his comrades in intolerant times. I was reminded of this on Day 26 of the shoot when six people were set upon in Athens for distributing posters for a youth festival organised by the left. Fifty Golden Dawn fascists attacked them with baseball bats and they were seriously injured and hospitalised. On Day 29 of the shoot, on the 17th of September 2013, a hip-hop artist, Pavlos Fyssas, was chased by an armed group of 30 Golden Dawn members and then stabbed to death. While the circumstances were very different, and it would be specious to draw exact parallels (though the Guardian did mention Golden Dawn have been encouraged by clerics). it did make me reflect on the physical danger to our characters who refused to bow the knee before the Catholic elite in both Church and State, especially after the massive display of Catholic power following the Eucharistic Congress of 1932 when over a million attended mass at Phoenix Park in Dublin. It must have been terrifying for Jimmy and Co. to be called “anti‐Christs” and the “anti‐God people” each Sunday from the pulpit with hatred whipped up in a hysterical fashion. A mine was placed at the entrance to the hall, which did not explode because it was faulty. The hall was shot into (though in defiance they danced on) and I have little doubt Jimmy's friends must have feared for his life. It seems not much had changed, a decade later from Jimmy’s first flight, when a crowd of 2,000 in Dublin, egged on by a priest, burned down the [James] Connolly House in 1932.
'If I can´t dance, I don´t want your revolution'
I hope this little tale will be an antidote to the instinct to conform and the tugging of the forelock to those in power. Between takes, I found myself wondering who would be the modern-day equivalents to the anti‐Christs of Jimmy´s time. Would it be Chelsea Manning, sentenced to 35 years on Day 7 of the shoot, for revealing torture and murder by US troops while the murderers go unpunished? Or Ai Weiwei, China's most famous artist who had his art studio, which was also to be used as an education centre, demolished by the Chinese authorities because they could not control his criticism or wit. Or Julian Assange, who finds himself facing serious personal allegations which, out of all sense of scale, dwarf in the public narrative the systematic crimes against humanity he and his collaborators had the courage to expose. Or Edward Snowden for revealing how the State and Corporations collaborate on massive surveillance of our private lives. Or independent trade union activists risking life and limb in the maquilla factories along the Mexican border, or the vicious sweatshops in China. Or gay activists in Russia, or women educationalists in Afghanistan, or those brave teachers in Greece threatened by Golden Dawn to have their ears cut off if they continued to teach immigrant children? Or those activists today in Ireland who demand a transparent accounting of deals done in private between politicians and financiers that have had massive repercussions in public services that will affect every level of life for the foreseeable future, or who have criticised Irish budget details discussed in Germany before the Irish cabinet even saw them? What a mockery of the democratic process.
It seems clear we need a Jimmy´s Hall of the imagination, whether material, virtual, or a combination of both, if we are to be citizens; a safe free space where we can meet to think, debate, listen, learn, organise and analyse the world around us, and examine how power is shared, or not, in our daily lives. If our resistance is to last we need the nourishment of mischief and friendship in the process. It was Emma Goldman who told the Bolsheviks "If I can´t dance, I don´t want your revolution" and the executed Nigerian writer Ken Saro-Wira who wrote "Dance your anger and your joys, dance their military guns to silence, dance their dumb laws to the dump, dance oppression and injustice to death..." Somewhere, somehow, in every corner of the world, Jimmy´s Hall and Clementis´s hat, reveal themselves, despite the brutality. -- Paul Laverty