Pitched at the MeetMarket in 2017, The Lonely Battle of Thomas Reid has since had its world premiere at IDFA before travelling to, among others, Hot Docs, DocAviv, Zagreb Dox and One World International Human Rights Film Festival. Since its UK premiere at Sheffield Doc/Fest in June, the film has been touring in Ireland, Wales and Scotland.
We spoke with director Feargal Ward about his film, working with Thomas Reid, his long-time collaboration with sound designer and editor Tadhg O’Sullivan, and how one single individual can disrupt a whole system.
Manon Euler - When and how did you hear about Thomas Reid’s battle against the IDA, and what made you want to tell this story?
Feargal Ward - I was driving in Ireland one day and I passed this house with all these handwritten signs covering the garden wall. I stopped to read them, and Thomas Reid came out from his house. After many months of visits I started to understand the complex story and history of his battle to hold onto his farm. I was quite interested in the subject matter of corporate power and its growing influence over state policy in countries around the world. But it is a difficult subject matter with which to make an engaging film. With Thomas Reid I found this unique individual who could represent the ramifications of these policies on people directly affected by them. I spent months getting to know Thomas and then asked him if he would be interested in making a film about his struggle.
M.E - The relation between a filmmaker and his/her subject can be quite complex. Thomas lives quite a recluse life and does not seem to be the talkative type: was it difficult to get him on board?
F.W - It was difficult. He was very wary of strangers of which of course I was just another. It was a battle for me to maintain his trust for the entire making of the film. I had to totally respect his timetable and wishes while trying to make the most accurate and compelling film I could manage. Sometimes months went by without being able to shoot.
M.E - The cinematography is stunning, and the sound design make for a very atmospheric film. How did you and your long-time collaborator, Tadhg O’Sullivan, approach and treat the story from a technical and artistic point of view?
F.W - 'Documentary Cinema' is a big part of how we approach the work. The key breakthrough was the realisation that the film should be a retelling of this legal battle through the prism of a psychological portrait of our main character. I credit Tadhg with this formalisation. With that established it became very clear how far we could push things structurally.
M.E - A lot of people would have taken Intel and the IDA’s offer to buy their land. But Thomas is completely detached from monetary interests, therefore making him quite disruptive to a system obsessed with profit, development and competition...Why do you think his fight is so important and necessary today, not only in an Irish context, but globally?
F.W - Yes, it is quite disturbing that we have arrived in an age where a man who refuses large sums of cash to sell his home, his livelihood, his heritage - is essentially branded a madman. But it also illustrates how pervasive and total these ideals of capital, finance and progress have become. Thomas's barrister told me that in all the 40 years he has worked the courts, he had never found a person who ultimately, in the end, didn't have a price and that couldn't be bought. Until he met Thomas. Thomas is an example to us all in how we can affect change and disrupt the system - once you undermine the idea of money as an entity of worth, the entire system struggles to come to terms with you.
M.E - You pitched at the MeetMarket last year. Since then your film has had a successful festival run around the world and in the UK. Documentaries can take years and years to be completed, but it seems like things went relatively fast with The Lonely Battle of Thomas Reid: looking back on your film’s journey, what do you think went well, and what obstacles did you face along the way?
F.W - When we pitched at MeetMarket we had a lot of the film shot - we needed new funds to complete the film and to shoot the more ambitious elements involving actors and scripts. Every film I have made has been difficult to make and has had its own unique rollercoaster of trials, pitfalls and headaches. But if you believe in the film, and you retain full creative control, then all this other stuff eventually falls away. Screen Ireland were our main funders and were great in allowing us the artistic freedom to pursue the project. Barbara Beimann from German tv station NDR then came in at Sheffield to help us over the line.
The Lonely Battle of Thomas Reid is currently touring around Ireland. Check out when the next screening is here.
The Lonely Battle of Thomas Reid, Ireland/Germany, 2018, 77 minutes, English.
The Lonely Battle Of Thomas Reid tells the story of Thomas, an Irish farmer living on the fringes of mainstream society. Beyond the walls of his 17th century farm looms a vast American factory - vital to the national economy but an unsettling presence. Thomas does not welcome the State agents who come to forcibly purchase his house and lands. He vows to resist.
Director: Feargal Ward
Producer: Luke McManus
Production company: FSE Films
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