No one knows where Paul Ritchie is. His girlfriend is here, so he must be somewhere nearby.
People are starting to gather on one of the sunless lower levels of the Light House Cinema, on a recent Tuesday evening.
They’re waiting for the premiere of short film Blind Man’s Bluff, the first of a new production company – Hour Hearts Productions – based in Ballyfermot. Ritchie and lifelong friend Myles Maher started the company about six months ago.
Ritchie and Maher want to make films set in the disadvantaged areas of Dublin they grew up in, and still live in. And they want local people living in their community involved in every aspect of production.
Ritchie is easy to spot in the end, dressed in an orange and black North Face jacket. He’s inside the theatre, talking to the DJ, wearing a serious look.
“We’re working on the sound,” he says.
After the film, he’s going to perform a song he wrote for the end credits. A local children’s choir was supposed to be here, too, but a Covid outbreak kept them at home.
At the Light House
Ritchie’s girlfriend of 19 years, Ann-Marie McCann, is among the crowd of people gathered outside the theatre.
“His brain is constantly going. He’s always writing things down on his phone, on pieces of paper,” she says, of Ritchie.
McCann’s mother’s house in Ballyfermot served as the base of operations during filming, which took place over two days last October.
The house became the trailer, dressing room, hair-and-makeup station, and canteen for the whole crew.
“We were fed dinner, and we were well looked after,” says Richard Mason, the only experienced actor in the film, and one of the few people involved who isn’t from the Ballyfermot area.
Cillian Byrne (13), who plays bad boy Steo in the film, is here with his mother, father, nanny, grandad, uncle, sisters, and a whole pack of friends.
Byrne is pretty new to acting and says he’s a bit nervous. But he’s playing it cool. He’s clad in black and is darting between groups of friends.
“Cillian comes from a rough old area, so it’s great to see the area come together in making a film. Big thanks to Paul for giving him the opportunity. He’s excited about it,” says his dad, Laurence Byrne.
Byrne’s co-star is Dominic Berry (also 13), who’s wearing a sharp-looking white tuxedo jacket.
“The name’s Bond. James Bond,” he says, and his mother Breda laughs.
Berry hasn’t acted before. “I wanted to try it,” he says.
He loves horror films, though Blind Man’s Bluff isn’t horror. “It’s a thriller film, so it’s kind of scary.”
Berry plays Steo’s friend Johnny in the film. “He’s quite shy and he gets dragged along with everything Steo says.”
Nearby, Michael Maher, Ritchie’s co-writer, sits on a bench waiting for the theatre to open.
“We all grew up in the same area. We know each other well.” Two of Maher’s brothers are in the film.
He can’t say too much about the film, he says, without giving it all away. As the audience will find out later, there’s a pretty shocking twist towards the end.
Does he write about his own life?
Michael laughs. “Some of them we’ve done, definitely. This one. No, definitely not this one.”
“I haven’t always had the confidence to write stuff, but I’ve always wanted to,” he says. “I’ve been writing a good while now, it’s just [Ritchie] is the one who got me started doing it.”
He and Ritchie have a few more screenplays ready to go. “It’s the first one we’ve brought full circle.”
He says it was good to show the local people involved “that they can do this”.
Michael hopes they get the chance to make more of the films they’ve written.
Ritchie hopes they get the opportunity, by securing funding, to turn Blind Man’s Bluff into a feature film. Or to tell another story.
The film, Ritchie says, is a kind of metaphor for how young people can lead one another astray.
The guys at Hour Hearts want to tell stories that don’t glamourize crime.
“I feel like music saved my life; writing saved my life,” Ritchie says. Many of his friends from school, he says, have died by suicide.
He’d like to provide an outlet for creative expression in his community.
Ritchie’s background is in the music industry, but he’s done some screenwriting for projects in the past that didn’t pan out.
“We wanted to take matters into our own hands,” he says.
They brought in an experienced filmmaker – director Colm Sexton – this time, to get started.
“We want to make a feature film and hire everyone in the area, from set designers, to costume designers, and makeup artists and everything, you know?” Ritchie says.
The Day After
It’s the afternoon after the premiere, and Ritchie and Myles Maher are wrecked.
They’re walking in Labre Park, the Traveller housing site in Ballyfermot. Maher grew up here, and much of his family still live here. More than one cousin stops for a chat as he walks.
“My brother Dominic and myself, that’s where we grew up there, and that’s our little bit of yard,” Maher says, pointing to a caravan with a small patch of concrete out front.
He’s talking about the culture of music and storytelling that has faded out in the Travelling community.
“When Travellers used to travel, they’d sit around and tell stories, and a lot of that doesn’t happen anymore because they’re on sites like this,” Ritchie says.
When Maher’s grandfather was dying, he dictated a whole book full of stories he used to tell, so they’d be written down.
“I was looking at the pictures and reading the stories and saying to myself, ‘Who was this man? He was a great storyteller, but he never got the opportunity to bring this to life,’” Maher says.
It was important for Ritchie and Myles Maher, they said, to include all of those who make up the Ballyfermot community in the making of Blind Man’s Bluff.
Both Maher and Ritchie take issue with the way the people from disadvantaged areas of Dublin are portrayed on film. Series like Love/Hate and Kin, they say, glamourize violence.
Kids in the area watch shows like that and think gang violence is cool, Ritchie says. “We want to show the darker side, like, if you go down this path, this is what you’re in for.”
“Here, we’re storytellers,” Maher says. “Why shouldn’t we be able to bring a story about romance, dramas, thrillers? Why does it always have to be violence? That’s why we started Hour Hearts Productions.”
“We wanted to show that we have the talent. We have the poets, the singers, the actors, the filmmakers, the chefs. We can do all of this, it’s in our community,” Maher says.