Thank goodness for older sisters! They really do come in handy, especially when you’re thirteen and need someone with a more mature, authoritative voice to threaten legal action against a couple of idiots from school that keep prank calling your house in the summer between 7th-8th grade. Wait. Wait. Wrong anecdote.
I mean, thank goodness for my sister taking an interest in my more eccentric hobbies (like pretending Glass of Win is a legitimate press that warrants access to awesome events). She drove us to the legendary Aero Theater in balmy Santa Monica on Sunday, October 2nd, the final day of the festival. We arrived painfully early but that gave us plenty of time to chat with the volunteers and pitch in a bit as they prepared the hospitality room next door to the theater – not to mention fiddle with the settings on my camera so that I could take photos of the Q and A after the screening of the documentary Knuckle.
Attendees started to file in to the hospitality room, furnished in part by Rosemarie McCaffrey Antiques, with rare photographs of The Beatles were hung on the wall for all to admire. The hospitality room offered guests a cozy place to have a drink and a light snack before we were called to take our seats at the Aero.
Filmmaker/Director: Ian Palmer
Synopsis: Residing in Ireland, the Travellers are a traditionally nomadic clan with a deep sense of communal pride. In a feat of dogged persistence, documentarian Ian Palmer followed the Travellers for 12 years, becoming close with the people and their traditions, particularly James Quinn McDonagh, the confident if reluctant bare-knuckle defender constantly called upon to fight his cousins.
This film struck an interest with me as soon as I read about it; the Irish traveler community has only recently begun to permit outsiders close enough to share their stories with the rest of the world. Their social structure and culture are always with one foot deeply rooted in traditions while the other foot is trying to balance in the modern world around them. While certain laws keep the travelers from being as nomadic as they once were, there are still many old customs that are kept, including the settling of tribal disputes through organized bare-knuckle fighting.
What initially began as a documentary about the Quinn McDonagh family history soon transformed into a twelve year immersion into the world of Irish Traveler bare-knuckle fighting. Filmmaker Ian Palmer was fortunate enough to be able to follow the Quinn McDonagh tribe for twelve years as a sort of impartial eye for the feuding between the Quinn McDonagh and their cousins, the Joyce family. It was very interesting to see how structured these fights are – the rigid rules that no family members of either fighters may be present least chaos and fighting breaks out, the use of referees from neutral families, and the fact that James Quinn McDonagh himself was a reluctant fighter at best, admitting in person during the Q & A that had he known he didn’t have to fight he would have opted out. Bare-knuckle fighting is a tradition that is beginning to show signs of wear as more parents are hesitant to encourage their sons to participate.
James Quinn McDonagh
During the post-film Q & A, Mr. Quinn McDonagh was asked how has the family reacted to the film upon its completion. He said they were very positive about it and that it “opens peoples eyes that it (the feud and subsequent fights) should’ve never happened.”
When someone inquired after his impressive fight record, Mr. Quinn McDonagh modestly replied, “I don’t think I was a good fighter. I was just better than those other guys.”
Both filmmaker and subject seem to be very humbled by the attention the film has received, deservedly so. Ian Palmer has two more documentaries about Irish travelers – The McDonagh Pictures and Vidra.
This was an amazing evening. I won’t go into details about my time after the movie; suffice to say I spent a number of hours in the hospitality room before heading off to the amazing after party at the renovated landmark hotel, The Shangri-La. We had a gorgeous view of late-night Santa Monica, the perfect backdrop to a glorious weekend of culture, film and new friends.
I am already eagerly anticipating the 5th annual Los Angeles Irish Film Festival. Keep your eyes and ears open for news at http://www.lairishfilm.com and be sure to read about the full programming for 2011 so you can look up these wonderful films if you missed out this year.
See you in 2012!