Local filmmaker, Sean Mullan, is causing a stir on the international film festival scene with his award-winning short ‘Inhale’, writes Shanice Atkins.
Centred around one man and his horses, this beautiful piece of cinematic artwork explores loss and the eternal momentum of love.
Recently picking up the Best Short Documentary at the 30th Galway Film Fleadh, Inhale isn’t a work of fiction but a story Sean felt he had to tell - that of his uncle Jim and his strength following the loss of both his wife Ann and, a few years later, his daughter Caitlin.
“I grew up with Jim, he was someone I had a lot of time and admiration for - and I have to be careful here in case I give him a big head, but it’s safe to say he’s a brilliant uncle and one who has always been great craic,” he said.
“I spent my early adulthood working with him on building sites and in the stables, we were very close. I was with him after the death of my aunt and cousin. His resilience, how he dealt with his grief and channelled that energy into positivity at that time stuck with me. I knew I’d tell his story - whether through sculpture, poetry or some other art form.
“Then I began experimenting with moving images and filmmaking proved to be the perfect amalgamation of all these things.”
Sean took his idea and approached his muse asking for his involvement. Hesitant to begin with, Jim eventually came on board and proved crucial to the film’s creative process.
“Once I gained funding from NI Screen and the Scottish Documentary Institute and, more importantly, when Jim agreed to take part, I moved back to Derry to start the filming process,” he says.
“It’s important to immerse yourself in a story, so prior to shooting I spent three months mucking out stables and familiarising myself with the horses. Jim taught me so much about their sensitivity, how spatially aware they are. How to move around them and engage in a unique non-verbal language.
“It was during this time, when Jim and I got even closer, that we understood what the real purpose of the film was.”
Filmed over twelve days and including stunning aerial shots of Grianan Fort, mirroring the unifying and cyclical nature of love, Sean’s background in fine art is palpable in every scene.
Produced by Good Vibrations’ Chris Martin, ‘Inhale’ received its world premiere at the 71st Edinburgh International Film Festival last June. The extended Mullan family, including Jim’s partner Clare, his other daughter Catrina and two sons, Michael and Mark, were in attendance at what proved to be a cathartic moment for all.
“The whole gang of us watched together. Jim hadn’t seen anything prior to the premiere, so it was pretty intense,” he said. “It was a very powerful and emotional experience for the whole family.”
Intent on giving something back, Sean’s fundraising screening at Brunswick Moviebowl last September raised more than £2,000 for the Sperrin Ward at Altnagelvin.
“I have to thank everyone who came that night. Because of them, Ward 50, where Caitlin was treated, has a new family room and facilities,” he says. “And that has given the process added meaning. It has brought the journey full circle for us.”
Keen to make art accessible to all, Sean stresses the need for artistic outlet in any society: “I’d like to think that I’ve shown cinema is more than just popcorn and a movie. It can address the most important of issues in society: politics, economy, mental health- all on a deeper level that sometimes words can’t express. Art can begin a conversation and I think in Derry we need that now more than ever.”
Now showing around the international film festival circuit, Inhale is garnering rave reviews from critics as an emotive work of art, ‘an original voice in Irish film’, with hopes of an eventual Irish TV premiere.
But Sean hasn’t had a minute to lap up the praise, already focused on his next project based on a character from Derry. He is currently in feature development and is having conversations with some of the top movers and shakers in the Northern Irish and Irish Film Industries, details of which are strictly under wraps - all we can say is watch this space. A filmmaker with this amount of raw passion for his craft can’t disappoint.
For an insight into Sean’s work visit seanpatrickmullan.com