Culture feature, Like magazine, March 2015. Click to enlarge. Read below.
Song and Dance
As award-winning Bantry filmmaker Claire Dix begins work on her latest documentary, the project sees her return to Cork to look at the cultural impact of legendary dance teacher Joan Denise Moriarty.
Claire Dix is no stranger to awards, as her films, from shorts to feature documentaries, have garnered prizes and accolades at film festivals from Cork and Dublin to Hamburg and Boston. Having cut her teeth in television, as both a writer and director, the charming short film “Free Chips Forever” was her first foray into independent film making.
Winning Best Irish Short Film at the Cork International Film Festival in 2009, the film set her apart as one to watch, but it was 2011’s gorgeous and atmospheric short “Downpour” that really marked her as a burgeoning talent, and the success of that film at festivals around the world enabled Claire to start to consider more ambitious projects.
It was while researching a TV programme on community arts practice that a chance encounter with some members of Dublin’s hip hop community led to an idea for a documentary, and as she developed the concept she realised that the Arts Council’s “Reel Art” scheme would afford her the opportunity to make her unique vision for the project a reality.
The scheme – designed to provide film artists with funding to make creative, imaginative and experimental documentaries about art – was perfect for her, and the Arts Council agreed. In 2011 they awarded her the money to make “Broken Song”, a beautiful and intimate study of the lives of three young hip hop artists using poetry and music as a form of self-expression to take them out of their challenging circumstances. It went on to win both the Discovery and Audience Awards when it debuted at the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival in 2013, before being nominated for a Best Documentary IFTA in 2014.
For her second feature documentary, Dix will turn her camera on the arts scene in Cork, looking at the life and work of the formidable ballet teacher Joan Denise Moriarty. “This documentary will have similar themes to Broken Song,” she explains. “In Broken Song the artists were very concerned with spreading positivity through hip hop and reaching out to local kids, getting them off the streets and into something more worthwhile. Joan Denise Moriarty had a similar desire, and that was to introduce dance all over Ireland.
“She brought ballet to some rural areas in Ireland that would never have seen it before. And like the hip-hop artists in Broken Song, her art was everything. Her dancers were her family.”
Having studied ballet herself growing up in Bantry, Claire had always wanted to make a film about dance in Ireland, and along with the visual potential of exploring “this high art form in a rural setting” it was the strength of character of Joan Denise Moriarty that appealed to her. “She had to fight constantly to keep her companies going,” says Claire. “She never had enough money, and when she started in the late ‘40s there was no state support for the arts, especially not dance. There was little understanding of this art form, she was laughed off the stage, denounced from the pulpit, but she kept going.”
With this new documentary also being funded by the Reel Art scheme, Dix becomes the first director to receive that award twice, a testament to both the originality of her ideas and the strength of her vision – characteristics she undoubtedly shares with Moriarty herself.