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One Million Dubliners

This is a guest review by Carol Mulligan from the 2014 Galway Film Fleadh 2014 coverage here.

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One Million Dubliners premiered in the Galway Film Fleadh last weekend and was named “Best Irish Feature Documentary” in their awards given out on the closing night.

The title “One Million Dubliners” references the 1.5 million bodies buried in Dublin’s Glasnevin Cemetery. This means that there are more people buried in Glasnevin Cemetery today than are currently living in the whole of Dublin. Director Aoife Kelleher expertly weaves around the cemetery in her debut feature, collecting the facts, figures and stories of the living and the dead who frequent Glasnevin and the result is engaging, insightful, entertaining and heartbreaking.

glas2Because there are so many people buried in Glasnevin Cemetery nearly everyone has a relative or friend resting there. Chances are, you’ve visited a grave, gone for a gawk, or taken a guided tour and so the temptation is to think that you already know what this film is going to say. With so many graves to choose from, no matter how many times you’ve visited the cemetery, no matter how many stories you’ve already heard, you will be surprised by how much extra you will learn from Kelleher’s documentary.

One of the main narrative devices of the film is following the tour guide and resident historian Shane Mac Thomáis as he takes a couple of groups for a spin around the cemetery. He tells the camera in interview that his father (who had also been a tour guide) used to tell him that you needed to tell them something they already know, tell them something new, make them laugh once and cry once – and if you could do all that in an hour, then it was a good tour. Kelleher captures some brilliant responses to MacThomáis gift for drama and comic timing. A great Dubliner himself, knowledgeable, charming and with a great sense of fun, MacThomáis is exactly the kind of guide we all hope for when we sign up to any tour!

One of the best things about this documentary is Kelleher’s humanistic yet comprehensive approach. We are introduced to a great variety of graveyard figures from the florists to the grave diggers to the director to the crematorium technician and with each person we meet we get this growing sense of community. Kelleher moves from the general to the specific with her interviews, and has a gift for highlighting the little quirks that make people human. The cemetery director for example, who might have appeared quite a dry character, admits to claustrophobia, and the irony of this is not lost on the Fleadh viewers, whose chuckles were contagious.

I’ve decided that the formula for a good documentary is just like Mac Thomáis’ Dad’s formula for a good tour. I heard some things I already knew, I heard plenty of things I had never known before, I laughed and I cried. Not bad for an hour and a half! From the powerful response in Galway’s Town Hall, I think it is safe to say that I was not alone in my response. This is a great documentary.

Screened at the 2014 Fleadh on July 12th, One Million Dubliners is on limited release in Ireland on October 31st 2014

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