Local director's debut feature film chosen for DIFF

(Above) Director Cathal Nally, back, fourth from right, with the cast and crew of Be Good or Be Gone.

A Mullingar director’s debut feature film is the only Irish entry in this year’s Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival (DIFF) not backed by a major studio or in receipt of any state funding.

A truly independent production, the Cathal Nally directed comedy drama, Be Good or Be Gone, follows two petty criminal cousins from Dublin, Ste and Weed, as they attempt to turn their lives around during a four-day temporary release from prison.

Ste, played by Les Martin, who also co-wrote the script, wants to make a better life for himself, his long-term partner Dee and their six-year-old daughter Ellie Mae; while Declan Mills’ character Weed’s ambition is to conquer the world of high fashion, but a chronic substance abuse problem needs conquering first.

To say that Be Good or Be Gone’s journey to being selected for inclusion in the biggest and most prestigious film festival in the country was tortuous is an understatement. Lead actor and co-producer Martin wrote the script with Paul Murphy more than a decade ago, while Nally agreed to direct the project in 2015 after falling in love with the story.

Using a skeletal crew, the bulk of the filming was completed in a three-week spell in January 2016. However, as it is for most independent films funding was a perennial issue and the remainder of the film was shot over three days in January 2017 and a final day in March 2018. The project finally got over the line in 2019 after a successful crowd funding campaign to cover the costs of final post production.

The film’s only traditional screening to date was in the summer of 2019 for the cast and crew, while director and co-producer Nally started entering it in film festivals with the aim of securing a distribution deal on the back of positive reviews.

After the film was accepted into the Garden State International Film Festival in New Jersey, which was scheduled to take place last March, Nally and writer/lead and co-producer Martin booked their flights and accommodation and were looking forward to the trip. With only weeks to go, the festival was forced to move online as Covid-19 spread across the globe.

Its creators may have missed out on a trip across the Atlantic, but Be Good or Be Gone impressed Garden State’s judges sufficiently to be awarded the award for Best International Feature Film and for Jenny-Lee Masterson to be receive the Best Supporting Actress accolade for her portrayal of Dee, Ste’s long-suffering partner.

The film also won awards at the Sherman Oaks LA International Festival (Audience Award Best Feature Film, Best Actor – Les Martin) and the Ontario International Film Festival (Best International Actor – Les Martin and Declan Mills).

Speaking to the Westmeath Examiner, Nally says that receiving positive reviews and rewards at some of the best regarded independent film festivals in the world wouldn’t have hurt Be Good or Be Gone’s chances of being chosen for to be featured at this year’s DIFF.

“It’s a big thing for us. We wanted a big Irish festival and at the end of the day it is a Dublin film, and we wanted to screen at the Dublin Film Festival. I think we are the medical card movie (laughs) – we got in on that. We were championing independent cinema and when Gráinne Humphries, who runs the festival saw that, she thought ‘we have to do something for these guys’.

“You could be knocking on doors in Ireland all day long and you mightn’t be entertained, but when you start doing well outside of Ireland, people take notice.”

Nally, who had directed a number of well received short films before choosing Be Good or Be Gone as his first full-length feature, says that he was initially attracted by the quality of the script and characters created by its writers.

“I read it and really liked the script. I thought it was authentic, very authentic to Dublin. There is great dialogue in it as well. Just the way the characters were defined, it seemed very real. It was different to the scripts that I was used to getting. It’s not really a gangster film, it’s a simple redemption story.

“It’s a slice of life movie. It’s two guys who have got out of jail for four days and they want to clean up their lives as much as they can before they go back. The way I view it is everyone has seen Young Offenders – this is like middle aged offenders (laughs).”

While delighted with the critical acclaim and the awards that his first feature film has received, Nally, who is spending the current lockdown in his family home in Mullingar with his parents, says the experience has been tempered somewhat by not being able to attend any of the festivals.

“It is kind of bittersweet in that regard. We won, but you are sitting there in your PJs at home collecting an award at a virtual event in Canada. Great!

“It’s been a long journey and it would have been great for us to have our moment, but we did have a moment but it was just differently.”

Looking ahead to next month’s Dublin International Film Festival, which has been forced to go online this year due to Covid-19 restrictions, Nally says he is looking forward to Irish audiences seeing Be Good or Be Gone. It’s inclusion in the festival is particularly special given how hard its creators have worked to get it there, he says.

“I am really happy for Les and Declan because they really wanted to get it in the film festival more or less from the beginning. Each year there tends to be one independent film picked, but you have to remember four or five, or maybe more, independent features are made in Ireland each year fighting for that spot, so it is really hard to be accepted. They really have to like your movie a lot.”

How to watch Be Good or Be Gone

The film will be screed online on March 4, while its Cathal Nally will be taking part in the Screenwriters Panel with fellow producer/actor/writer Les Martin on March 14. To book a ticket for the online screening, click here.