“Like a lot of people, it was becoming impossible to ignore the physical changes happening in the city.” We talk to Clare McQuaid, Director of Cranes vs Creatives
What prompted you to shoot Cranes vs Creatives? Can you give explain your own creative connections to the city?
Dublin is my favourite city in the world. Many of my friends have moved away and the thing they always miss the most is the people and their wit and humour. There’s always something going on when you walk down the streets of Dublin and I find that really inspiring.
Like a lot of people, it was becoming impossible to ignore the physical changes happening in the city. All cities evolve but when you take away a creative space and don’t replace it then you’ve lost it. If you do that over and over again in a small city like Dublin then you have a serious problem. In a very short space of time we’ve seen the closure of some of the major artist studios, markets and late night venues in the city. The idea behind Cranes vs Creatives was to document these changes and give a voice to the people who were directly affected and contribute to a bigger conversation.
Can you explain the Docland strand on RTE Player which this is part of?
Docland is a new short online documentary strand coming out of the RTÉ Documentary unit. The main aim is to tell stories; there will never be presenters or experts on screen telling you what to think. This is all about real people telling their story and giving them a voice and a platform to share their experiences. Visually, we want to maintain a really high standard and always be truthful to the story.
Did you approach them to be part of it? What support did you receive besides the platform to showcase it on?
I was working in long form documentaries for a number of years. When the opportunity came to work on shorter online pieces I found that really exciting. It’s good to change up the creative process and think in a new way. I pitched the idea for Cranes vs Creatives and got the green light.
Can you discuss the angle and approach you decided around the shooting the short doc? Was it a conscious decision from the outset to focus on creatives rather than say politicians, developers or commentators?
The idea for Cranes vs Creatives was to create a love letter to Dublin. To show what makes the city so special and what we are at risk of losing. We wake up with the city and meet some of the creative people who contribute to it, The Dublin Flea Market, The Bernard Shaw, Club Comfort, Dublin Digital Radio, all these spaces are at risk and each person is fighting to keep them in the city. There is a bigger conversation to be had involving policy makers, but this documentary was an insight into what was happening on the ground and the creative spaces that were feeling the immediate effects.
Did shooting Cranes vs Creatives give you any sense of optimism for the direction in which we are heading? The overriding mood seems to be one of fragility and uncertainty regarding creatives, space and their continuing existence in Dublin. We’ve witnessed the closure of the Dublin Flea Christmas Market and Beatyard signalling the end of their current location since it’s been filmed.
We should be very worried about the direction our city is taking. Recently the Dublin Flea Christmas Market announced the closure of their market after an exhaustive search for a new venue. The monthly flea has a pop-up this summer but it is at half capacity because they can’t find a big enough space. 36,000 people came through the doors of the Flea last Christmas to visit 140 different traders, so it’s not for a lack of demand from the community. Likewise, The Bernard Shaw is at a crossroads after their planning permission for the outdoor area was denied. This all seems very bleak except, for the fact, that every single person who took part in the doc is involved in campaigning or activism of some sort. In the last few years, particularly with our referenda, Irish people have found a new confidence to fight for their rights. I can’t see any of these people sitting down and letting their city change without a fight. It’s not about sitting back; everyone has to do whatever they can to keep this city alive, vibrant and for the people.
How long was the shoot and edit on this?
We started filming last winter following some of the key stories like the flea market and Club Comfort who were about to celebrate their first birthday and had just been kicked out of their space. I had a couple of projects on the go so when The Bernard Shaw petition started it felt like the right time to pick up the camera again and get the film out so it could add to the conversation. The edit was done in a week and it just so happened that we were finishing at the same time that the flea announced the closure of the Christmas market.
Your previous short doc was on super fans. What other ideas are you exploring?
The soundtrack for Cranes vs Creatives is all Irish music, Soulé, Lankum, Elaine Mai, AE Mak. It was a joy finding songs to bring the city alive. In my next doc I’d like to explore the Irish music scene and bring some of that energy and creativity to the screen. There are some really interesting docs coming down the tracks from Docland, topics include gay conversion therapy and the Lolita fashion movement in Ireland.
What is the essence of a good documentary? Is there a seminal documentary which you return to or reference as a template?
Good documentary is all about story-telling, that’s the first step in my mind and everything else, exists to enhance that story. It’s no surprise, but one of my favourite documentaries is Bill Cunningham New York about the street fashion photographer who became an icon in his own right. He is an incredible character to follow and you’re also presented with the visual feast that is New York City.
Which documentary makers out there are currently inspiring you?
I went to the Q&A screening of Diego Maradona in the IFI recently. It was fascinated hearing about the process from director Asif Kapadia and how archive can be used to create an entire documentary. Even when his researchers came back with excellent archive material he always wanted more, they managed to get incredible footage that was found sitting in an attic, that’s some research skills!
Photo: Kenny Mac Giolla Phádraig