Filmmaker Marion Bergin recalls rapping on Adam Hutchinson’s front door. He opened the door, a cup of tea in his hand, looked at her, and said, “Yeah?”
Standing on the bottom step looking up at him, she pitched her idea. She was making a documentary about men’s connections with their horses, she said.
To her, he didn’t appear interested.
Hutchinson remembers that day too. “Obviously when a stranger knocks on your door you are going to be a bit wary,” he says, laughing.
But he did think it was a good idea, he says. They made the film.
Portrait of a Place: Saoirse features Hutchinson and several other people who keep horses in the inner city and are struggling to keep the tradition alive.
For Hutchinson, it was a chance to set the record straight, to reply to those who assume that horses in the inner city aren’t well looked after.
“But that is not the case,” he says. “It is like I’ve got my word out there.”
Bergin says that as a child she was fascinated when she spotted people on horseback while her mum drove through Finglas.
To make the film, she started talking to anyone in the city who owns horses, she says.
She met some Travellers who were sulky racing. She went to horse fairs and took photos. At first some people were suspicious, perhaps wondering if she was an undercover guard, she says.
She went to the Ballinasloe Horse Fair. There was a lot of banter. Going up to groups of young men you had to be able to take a slagging, she says. “They would literally make a show of you.”
Asking if you like riding, she says, laughing. She gave as good as she got, she says.
Caring for Horses
The film shows the care that Hutchinson takes of his horses, a family tradition handed down through generations.
“I’ve always been into horses since I was 10 years of age,” he says, on the phone.
“I was lucky that I had horses, that kept my mind going,” he says. “I just drifted away from everyone else and fell in love with horses.”
The answer to horse welfare issues is education and guidance, says Hutchinson. “I was lucky I had my old man to give me a bit of schooling.”
He learned from other people who were older than him as well and is keen to pass on that knowledge to younger horse owners, he says.
These days it’s getting tough for people to find enough space to keep their horses, he says.
He would love to see a proper stables provided for people in the inner city. Like the one in Cherry Orchard, he says.
There is lots of space in the Phoenix Park which is close to where he lives. “It would teach the young lads a lot in life,” he says.
Bergin says she is certainly not glossing over welfare issues where they exist. She just wanted to feature people that she admired in the film. “I want to honour people who I feel are good people,” she says.
You can see that their animals are really well looked after, she says. Feedback has been positive, she says.
Some viewers have said the film made them realise they were tarring everyone with the same brush, she says.
Animal welfare issues can arise in any social class environment too, she says.
She learnt to ride and left a well-known stable in Dublin because of horse welfare issues there, she says. “I can’t stand by any kind of cruelty to animals.”
But some young people may only be learning to care for themselves when they get their first horse. There should be training instead of trying to stamp out the culture, she says.
“It is huge and complex, it is so much more than the horses, it runs so much deeper,” she says. “This is our folklore and our heritage.”
Perhaps providing space for horses in the city would be a better investment than a white-water rafting facility, says Bergin, laughing.
A Divided City
Bergin based the film in Stoneybatter just a few miles from where she grew up in Clontarf.
She comes from a suburban middle-class family, she says.
It seems odd to her now but before she started researching horses, she wouldn’t have known anyone like the people that featured in her film, she says.
Dublin is divided along lines of social class, she says. She blames those divisions on middle-class people who have notions about themselves. “All of these notions in Dublin is driving me crazy.”
It is particularly odd in Ireland, where almost every family was working class, just a few generations ago, she says. “One hundred and fifty years ago we were all living off the land and trying to figure out how we were going to survive.”
Some middle-class people might even be afraid to talk to the men from the inner city who keep horses, she says.
“The media has portrayed them as louts,” she says. “Because that is what you are informed by, that is what you are led to believe.”
She hopes the film shows the commonality of the human experience, she says.
Making the film was also part of a personal journey for Bergin. She suffered two serious bereavements in recent years which she thinks changed her for the better.
She used to work in fashion and still loves it. But “fashion is a very judgmental industry”, she says.
She wanted to get away from that whole scene and had always been interested in human psychology, she says.
She dedicated the film to her partner who passed away a few years back. Three years later her father died too. She was diagnosed after that with PTSD, she says.
She says she felt an urge to connect more with people. “It just kind of removes the ego a bit, it just made me a nicer person.”
But at times she had to push hard to force herself to march on with the research for the film.
“We all look for freedom in different ways,” she says. “On a metaphorical level, the release of this film is the freedom for me – after five years worth of digging deep.”