New documentary film resonates the spirit of the Brandywell area

Séan Coyle is a local filmmaker who was born and bred in the Brandywell. His new production ‘Down the Brandy’ is a heart hitting insight into one of Derry’s oldest housing estates. Séan has filmed, directed and produced a documentary film which captures the essence and ethos of this working class community.

Thursday, 23rd September 2021, 5:27 pm

The film is just under 20 minutes runtime and features in depth interviews with local heroes such Liam Coyle and Felix Healy.

The project was supported by the Gasyard Féile as part of their summer festival.

Séan and his crew have portrayed the Brandywell community on screen beautifully. The relationship between the Candystripes and the people of the Brandywell has always been a special one, and ‘Down the Brandy’ captures that brilliantly.

What was your inspiration behind making this documentary?

I think the main inspiration was simply being from the Brandywell and being very proud of that fact. I grew up between there and Lower Bennett Street but spent the majority of my time in my grandparents’ house on the Lecky Road.

Growing up there I always felt that the place always got a bit of a bad rap, and that the residents weren’t properly represented.

I thought the people there were the nicest people you could meet, but you would always hear it was a bad place to live, which I didn’t think was true at all.

Of course there were socio-economic problems in the area but that wasn’t the fault of the people who lived there, they were the ones who had been let down.

I just thought it was only fair that their story got told, instead of another negative one being crafted about them.

Obviously because so many of my family were from the area too, I was constantly getting told stories about the history of the place. I thought it was mental how such a small estate had such an impact on the history of Derry.

When did you discover you wanted to be a filmmaker?

I’ve always been obsessed with film, from no age at all. Some of my first memories are watching old John Wayne, James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart films with my Granda.

Amazing pieces of work like The Maltese Falcon or White Heat, I think I was fascinated that the medium could just take you to another world, and even another time period, like you were looking fifty years into the past but it felt as if it was right now.

Since then I’ve just always watched films constantly, I think it’s a bit of an addiction haha.

So from taking in all of these films I knew pretty early on I wanted to try my hand at making something myself because cinema has been a gigantic part of my life, and my main passion.

Were there any challenges along the road?

For Down the Brandy none whatsoever, the Gasyard Féile were very supportive in getting the project off the ground and were always looking to help in any way that they could, such as providing camera gear etc.

The interviewees were all excellent too and were very open sharing their tales of the area, they really made the project what it was and I’m delighted with that because it’s their story at the end of the day.

I’m very grateful to everyone who participated, particularly the families of Sister Clare and Ryan McBride, as they had to share very personal accounts of their loss.

How important is a team like Derry City to the Brandywell?

They are massively important. I think we detailed in the short doc how the club is almost the beating heart of the Brandywell, but I also think that importance goes both ways.

Without the support of the Brandywell people, and people from all around the city, the club would probably not exist, especially after that rough patch a few years ago.

Even in the ’70s when Derry were chucked out of the league it was the locals who maintained the pitch and stopped it going into disrepair.

It’s unreal to have the buzz that a Derry match brings to the area and its great that both the club and people help each other in so many different ways. I think one couldn’t exist without the other.

Why would Derry be ideal for future productions like yours?

I think it’s been discussed a lot before, but Derry has everything that’s needed to have a thriving Film and TV industry.

You look at what’s happening in Belfast and think, ‘That’s an hour and a half away, what is stopping them from coming up the road?’

It’s just another form of neglect that we all just expect now, after decades of it. Derry has endless empty spaces and units where studio or production offices could be built, rent is cheap comparable with the rest of the country, plus you have Donegal on your doorstep if filmmakers were looking for a more rural visual aesthetic.

Most importantly though it has a deluge of filmmaking talent that don’t get the crack at the whip that they deserve. There are countless talented directors, actors, DoPs, costume designers that are all screaming out for work, and that could be utilised if Derry was taken seriously as a viable base for film production.

The frustrating thing is that there is no reason that it shouldn’t be.

Do you feel there is a lack of funding in Derry?

Absolutely, and not just for film funding, but for everything else as well. We’re always saying that “Belfast gets everything” and sometimes you think is this “second city syndrome?” But you look at the figures and it makes you feel that the city is being overlooked.

It’s very depressing because the amount of talent in this city is staggering, and I genuinely believe it’s because they have to work twice as hard.

If you’re working class in this city, and I’d believe a huge majority are, then there is no such thing as a hand out.

If you want to be a filmmaker, and are working class, then you definitely need some sort of support, because you are already ten steps back in the industry compared to people with money and connections.

There is no film grant in Derry and major productions rarely come here, although there is a burgeoning film scene that more and more young people are attracted to.

Even ‘Derry Girls’, bar exterior shots, is filmed outside Derry with a predominantly non Derry cast and crew. That was the chance for the integration of young talent from this city, and it was missed.

One reassuring thing is that there has definitely been a development in film courses and programmes in the city which give young aspiring filmmakers the chance to learn their craft.

Places like the Nerve Centre and Studio 2 are doing great work, and it’s a fantastic way for young filmmakers to get their first experience of the art form they love. There is much, much more to be done though.

What was your experience of working on the project?

I loved it, it was an amazing chance to tell the story of a great area in this city, one that I am extremely proud to be from.

Through all the interviews we did it just confirmed to me that people from the Brandywell are some of the warmest, most generous people I’ve ever met.

There is a sense of community that still thrives there that is maybe being lost in modern life, and it’s lovely to see.

I really hope that the piece of work has done them proud and that we have shown the area in a good light, the light its always deserved. Hopefully the area can kick on and achieve even greater things in the future.

**You can watch Down the Brandy online for free. If you would like to view the film you can visit Féile Media’s Youtube channel, or alternatively at the Gasyard Féile’s Facebook page.