Culdaff director’s film, ‘Backwater’ wins big at Royal Television Society awards

Brendan, second from right, pictured with Frank O'Malley (far right), Robin J Cavanagh and representatives from the film school.
Brendan, second from right, pictured with Frank O'Malley (far right), Robin J Cavanagh and representatives from the film school.

A moving film, co-written and directed by a Culdaff man, has won three prestigious awards at the Royal Television Society Student Awards in London.

‘Backwater,’ which was co-created by director Brendan McCallion for his final year at the National Film School (IADT) picked up ‘Best Drama,’ ‘Best Camera’ and ‘Best Editing’ at the event last week.

The 24-minutes film tells the story of Tommy, based in rural Ireland with his father, who lives with Alzheimer’s. Tommy’s sister, Dylan, returns from London, older and wiser, to help her brother escape a life of loneliness.

The subject matter of Backwater’ is close to the heart of Brendan and his co-writer and producer, Frank O’Malley. Both have family members who lived with Alzheimer’s or were sick. In Brendan’s case, this was his grandmother, who has since passed away.

Speaking to the ‘Journal,’ Brendan said the award wins, ‘mean so much’ and it was an honour to just be nominated.

‘The RTS has branches in Ireland, Northern Ireland and all over the UK in different regions. Each region has their own separate awards and if you win your category, as we did in the Irish awards last year, you are judged with every other region. The top three in each category is shortlisted and we were very, very lucky to be shortlisted.”

Brendan attended the film with co-writer Frank O’Malley and Robin J Cavanagh, who also worked on the film.

Now in its 24th year, the prestigious awards celebrate the best audiovisual work created by students, with an undergraduate and postgraduate winner both awarded in each category across Animation, Comedy & Entertainment, Drama, Factual, News and Short Form.

Awards were also presented in the following categories at the judges’ discretion: Camerawork, Editing, Production Design, Sound and Writing.

In the citation for drama, the judges said: “This film takes a big topic but cleverly delivers it in a small and sensitive way. Very well directed with a structure that allows the conflict between its characters to play out sensitively and without judgement. This film was confident, beautifully shot, well acted and really delivered on its promise.”

Brendan told how the film received five nominations.

“We were trying to console ourselves that if we didn’t win, it was still great to be nominated and it was. But we were absolutely over the moon to win. We received five nominations and won three of them. The last time the college was nominated was in 2014 and they won two. So to get three was pretty incredible. We were also really happy to win the craft awards, as they recognised the hard work of the crew.”

And work hard they did, as ‘Backwater’ was filmed on Frank O’Malley’s land in Mayo during a winter hit with heavy snow. But it all paid off.

Alongside the awards, Backwater has also been showcased at a number of film festivals, including the Galway Film Fleadh and the Newport Film Festival in Los Angeles. It is due to be screened next month at a film festival in Longford.

Brendan said he always wanted the film to do well, but admitted the writing process was initially frustrating.

“When we were first starting to write the script and it was in the very early stages, I could tell there was something really good there, but at that time it wasn’t good enough. The clock was also counting down to filming.

The characters were hard to figure out and Frank and I spent so many nights asking ourselves: ‘What’s this character’s purpose?”

He continued: “We were honestly on the verge of wiping the slate clean, as it was so difficult in terms of what we were trying to do.

“Then Frank messaged me one night and asked me: “What do you see this character as?” I said I saw him as someone who hasn’t been able to take control of their own life. He is constantly feeling he has to have a purpose, but the purpose is looking after his dad. After that, it all came together.

Brendan admitted he “bared” his soul in making the film.

“I laid all my emotions on the line, as I really wanted to be able to represent the college well.

“I felt more pressure for the Irish awards than last week’s. I set a standard for myself when we were first doing the film in that I wanted to be the one to represent the college at these awards.

“I wasn’t going to settle for anything less. I wanted to do this and do it really well. I put a lot of pressure on myself, but looking back on it all, it was all worth it.

To read more about the awards and the citations, see www.rts.org.uk/