Leap of Faith: Chatting with Director Kieron J. Walsh

People grow apart. New doors open and others close. Fate plays a large role in our lives, even against our own will. This all comes together on New Year’s Eve in Kieron J. Walsh’s existential odyssey, Jump, which hits Irish cinemas on April 26th. “We’re all kind of the same when we’re about 13,” says Walsh, “and then we get into the late teens and early 20s and begin to realize what we want out of life and we grow apart, and that’s what’s happened between these three girls.” The girls are the suicidal Greta (Nicola Burley), reckless Dara (Valerie Kane), and Marie (Charlene McKenna), who is caught helplessly between her loyalties to both as Greta wants to (one way or another) get out of Derry forever and Dara is just looking for a good time. Enter Pearse (Martin McCann), whose drug-dealing brother has been murdered by the henchmen of Greta’s mob boss father, Frank Feeney (Lalor Roddy). Walsh says of Greta, “when she sees Pearse and how he lives his life and how he’s driven, it makes her think differently about her own life.”

            That might be the key to the whole film, as Greta is literally on the brink of suicide when fate intervenes in the form of Pearse, freshly bloodied from an encounter with Feeney’s goons. Pearse forces Greta to rethink her decision to jump off the Derry Peace Bridge, admonishing her (rather morbidly) to think about the poor soul who will find her in pieces at the bottom. It is also Pearse’s fierce determination to find those responsible for his brother’s disappearance, a mission undertaken for the sake of family ties, that inspires Greta to strike back at her own dysfunctional family. As Walsh puts it, “Her mother ended up probably killing herself, [Greta] suspects. She certainly didn’t want to live anymore and Greta believes it’s her father that forced her into that situation. Her father is good to her in material ways, but doesn’t have much obvious love for her. He would disagree, he would believe that he does everything a good father does for her but clearly it’s not enough for Greta.” The pair decide to steal a large sum of cash from Feeney and run away to Australia together, a plan Greta had originally made with the oft-disappointed Marie.

            Jump is Walsh’s second feature film after 2000’s When Brendan Met Trudy, with a considerable body of television work in between. While Walsh prefers not to distinguish between the two with regard to his own output, he finds TV to be a much more fruitful source of entertainment. “I went to see Zero Dark Thirty in the cinema recently and I remember sitting there and I couldn’t help thinking ‘you know what? I’d just love to be home watching Homeland’ because it’s far better,” he told me, “it’s challenging times for the feature film business.” This has been an increasingly common occurrence, he said, and he doesn’t see it changing anytime soon: “Would I like to go and watch the latest Tom Cruise film or would I like to watch the next episode of Breaking Bad? Give me Breaking Bad any day.”

            The subject of Breaking Bad also brought up the current division in the entertainment industry over the merits of digital video versus celluloid film stock (Breaking Bad is shot on 35mm film). Walsh is firmly in the former camp, saying “I want the films I make to look exactly how I want them to look, so if there’s any chance of something getting scratched or a color changing, I’m not very happy… What I see when I’m on the set, on my monitor, is pretty much what is going to end up on the big screen, particularly if it’s projected digitally. Normally it’s exactly what you shot and I think the control of that is very very good.” This is in stark contrast to the “fetish” others have for celluloid. Walsh mentions directors like Quentin Tarantino, who find a certain charm in those imperfections that give Walsh himself fits. “I think eventually they’re going to have to change, there’s no two ways about it.” Walsh says of such fetishists, “They’re not going to be projecting films on film in the foreseeable future… they’ve stopped making film stock so I don’t know what these guys are going to do.” Fully embracing the digital age, Walsh’s future, unlike that of physical film, is looking bright.

            He’s recently signed with Gersh, a Hollywood-based talent agency whose clients also include Kristen Stewart and Jamie Foxx, and he hopes this new partnership will expand his horizons beyond our corner of Europe, though he is adamant that he still loves working here, as evidenced by his forthcoming pilot for SkyTV. “I love making films in Ireland, I love making films in Britain, but I’d love to make a film in America,” he said of the move, “it’s really about opening up opportunities.” Without the reputation of a Martin McDonagh or a breakout success like John Kearney’s Once behind him though, Walsh expects to have to battle his way up the ranks of American cinema. “America is a huge country and Irish films are tiny in that place,” he says, “Unless you are extremely fortunate and happen to make something like Once which captured the hearts of the world really, but particularly America… you really do have to struggle.”

            Jump is sure to at least set him on the right path, with its innovative storytelling and talented young cast supported by a deft directorial hand and cinematography that is at once stunning to look at and unobtrusive. The film, though, is still dependent on word of mouth, “because there’s never enough money to publicize Irish films. They can’t really complete with American products, or British products really in terms of publicity,” so Walsh simply asks for a “leap of faith” and that moviegoers “take time to go and watch Irish film rather than immediately go and see a blockbuster.” You won’t be disappointed.

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