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Irish Voice Entertainment
Irish Student Wins Fulbright
August 23, 2007
By Cahir O’Doherty
NEW York-based Irish playwright and film director Imelda O’Reilly has just been awarded a prestigious Fulbright Scholarship to travel to Morocco to make a new film.
O’Reilly, a native of Maddenstown, Co. Kildare is currently attending Columbia University where she is a masters of fine arts candidate in film. In September O’Reilly, who is also a published poet and novelist, will fly to Fez in Morocco where she will learn Arabic for five months before beginning work on her new film.
O’Reilly, who published her first poem at the age of seven, began writing at a young age and has worked at every discipline in the craft. Poems, plays and screenplays are well represented in her work to date.
Her first play CooooLouds was developed at the Dublin Fringe Festival in 1998. Her second play, Faz In Ate was selected as part of the Mabou Mines artist in residence program in 2000. It was then co-produced by the well-known Deadalus Theatre Company in New York.
Emilita and the Faery Glen, was commissioned and co-produced by Deadalus Theatre in 2001. Most recently, O’Reilly was commissioned as a writer on Mabou Mines’ upcoming production of Song for New York.
O’Reilly came to New York as a student in Media and Communications at the age of 18. “I made my first trip here at the age of 11 and I fell in love with the place. I was of the generation that expected to leave Ireland, the pre-Celtic Tiger era when it was still pretty typical that Irish people left,” she says.
“I was dying to get away from Kildare and to explore larger ponds. I came here to be somewhere else. It was probably the most difficult year of my life. It was like jumping into a large ocean.”
Her daring has clearly paid off. Since 2000 she has written and directed five short films. These include The Seamonster and the Milk Thistle, which won an award for best cinematography. This year Beneath the Boy’s Cry, her feature length screenplay was short-listed for the Sundance Screenwriters and Directors Lab for 2008.
O’Reilly is thrilled to have won the prestigious Fulbright, which boasts an impressive line of previous recipients including writer Gish Jen, the architect Daniel Libeskind and CNN Middle East correspondent Aneesh Raman.
“I applied because I felt it would be a great way to help create my new film and have it not cost an arm and a leg. I applied for it because I discovered they do in fact sponsor artists to do pursue their goals,” O’Reilly says.
“I was quite surprised by that because I thought it tended toward heavily academic projects. I proposed to do a narrative film in Morocco and I came up with a story based there and in Ireland. The film is about a Moroccan immigrant’s experiences in Ireland.
“Now that I’ve won it I’ll be doing research in Morocco. I’m hoping I’ll be able to develop the screenplay into a feature film.”
O’Reilly suggests that her Fulbright award will provide essential pre-production money to augment her forthcoming film.
“The Fulbright will fly me to Morocco and give me a monthly stipend and so basically it’s your living costs for the year,” she says.
“In film it’s great to be on location to figure out the lay of the land, epically if you’re in a country where you don’t speak the language. It will definitely give me context. While I have this script that’s set in Ireland and Morocco I’m hoping to generate a larger script out of having spent time in Morocco.”
Immigration into Ireland, a subject that that excites the interest of many Irish people nowadays, is the starting point of O’Reilly’s new film.
“I myself am an immigrant,” says O’Reilly, “so the theme of the film is about cultural displacement. There’s a joke about James Joyce – he left Dublin and moved to Paris and elsewhere, but still all his stories are set there. He couldn’t get the place out of his head.
“So the point is that a lot of people emigrate from their home country but a lot of times the paradise that you hope to find may not live up to your expectations. A lot of times your homeland inhabits your consciousness on such a deep level that it keeps coming up in your writing. I’m interested in that theme of what happens when you step out of one place and into another. It’s an interesting one to explore.”
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