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Some Say Chance (1934/2016) screens at Barbican

"Over several months I have been at Irish Film Institute (IFI) attempting to re-assemble and somewhat recut a partially lost silent film which was originally shot in the early 1930s by Irish novelist and filmmaker Michael Farrell. The film is called Some Say Chance, his only film. Now with surviving 16mm elements in the form of 2 x 400ft cans of edited materials and 7 cans of rushes, which were donated to the Irish Film Archive many years ago, we have attempted to rebuild fragments of the original narrative.

The film tells the story of a young girl who is sent to a boarding school in Wicklow, she believes that her mother is dead, a lie spun by her father who is away working in Australia. Unbeknownst to the girl, her mother is indeed alive and well trawling the London pubs as a heartbroken, penniless prostitute by the name of 'Irish Moll'. Moll's pimp discovers secret letters from her estranged husband and begins to scheme. In the end the mother actually dies, the father returns and kills the pimp, and finally reunites with his daughter, freeing her from the oppressive boarding school. Unfortunately none of this happy ending has survived, and so I took delectation in wallowing in the grim, frightened and naive fragments of the film that remained. Naturally.

'Irish Moll' is played by Rita FitzSimons, who in turn got parts for her daughters, marking Some Say Chance with the first onscreen appearance of Maureen FitzSimons (later O'Hara), who in 1938 went on to star in My Irish Molly. The most fascinating element of Some Say Chance was the filming locations. It was shot on sets built in Farrell's back garden in north Wicklow, while also featuring scenes near Kilmacanogue, Bray, Kilquade, and Greystones my home town and where I shot many films over the years. Nice to see that an extreme spirit of independent filmmaking was alive in Wicklow (around the corner from my house) in the '30s.

The production was very much an amateur event, but fascinating and wonderful nonetheless, and the rolls of 'edited' material (replete with abrupt re-takes) are more akin to 'reference edits' than a completed set of sequences. Through correspondences made by the filmmaker and associates found at the National Library, we can state that the film screened at a Dublin cinema in 1934, but not in its completed state. Some Say Chance went on to screen in small venues throughout the early 1940s, presumably in a completed form until it disappeared.

Though unfortunately not a restoration project (hopefully the missing elements of the film will be discovered one day) the film now stands as a new experience gleaned from surviving elements of the original plot, with scenes expanded and shaped using rushes and additional material. I was given the freedom to create a new cut, concentrating on the surviving narrative elements, which now runs at 39 minutes. A clean 2.3K overscan was performed at Haghefilm Digitaal, Netherlands, with the edit and online taking place at IFI.

The film will screen this evening at the Barbican alongside work by Mitchell & Kenyon, R.W Paul and others, all to a live score"

- Dean Kavanagh

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