In 2022, with partners Gael Linn and An tUltach, the Festival ran an open commission for an Irish language project. The winning submission would be delivered during #LIF2022, which took ‘hunger’ as its core theme. Run as an open call, we were thrilled to receive a fiercely ambitious project plan. Generated by Dogleap Productions and its Creative Director Connor Richmond, Reroot was born. What followed was a behemoth project. It involved scores of people and resulted in two animated films; one in Gaeilge and one in English. Reroot has now featured in many international film festivals, winning awards and delighting audiences. Below, Connor takes us through the process of mounting his project. He also shares the highs and lows of Reroot’s development, one year on.
Reroot follows an ensemble of discarded objects, quirky weeds and wildflowers. Plastic Bottle is thrown into a weed-filled patch of urban wasteland, under a Belfast carriageway. She’s down-in-the-dumps and homesick. Ever the optimist, she tries to fit in with the eco-community, making friends with the wild lives growing around her. After meeting a (not-so-prickly) Nettle, a comforting Claddagh Ring and a fearless Face Mask, they learn it’s okay not to be okay. We’re allowed not to know our way; we’re all wildflowers in this world.
Connor, director/producer: “My desire for Reroot was to provide viewers –young and old– with an opportunity to talk about difference in a positive, celebratory way. I wanted to share some messages about remembering our natural world. I used the film to discuss cultural heritage, carbon foot printing and the importance of minding ourselves (and the minds of others). Today, we’re battling with issues of division and diversity and our natural world is suffering. Reroot remembers we’re all part of one eco-community; all waving one flag, together!”.
Claire Handley, writer of Reroot, says “Reroot is about belonging, identity and finding your place in a world where we can often feel adrift, whilst underlining the societal goal of sustainability, where we can all co-exist on Earth, together”.
The film features a star-studded cast of contemporary talent, including the bi-lingual line-up of
- Siobhán McSweeney – Extraordinary, Redemption and Derry Girls
- Orla Mullan – Hope Street, Marcella and The Fall
- Sadbh Breathnach – Sol
- Liam Fox – Emmerdale, Dinnerladies and Coronation Street
- Aaron Barashi – Thomas and Friends: All Engines Go and Ladybird & Bee
- and Liverpool-actor Philip S McGuinness – Coronation Street, The Responder and The Alienist, who voiced in the English version
- Morgan C Jones – Harry Wild, Magpie Murders and Boys From County Hell
- Aidan McCann – Clean Sweep, Bad Sisters and The Holiday
- and Diona Doherty – Soft Border Patrol, Penance and Give My Head Peace, who voiced in the Irish version.
The number of investors (see below) demonstrates that although the project was ‘only’ a short film, it required a lot of financial backing. There was a lot of friendly favour-pulling. Producing short-form content brings many pressures, but producing an animation -in two languages- added further complexity to the production and post-production process.
Connor continues: “I’ve produced live-action short films before, but never a short animation and certainly not in two languages! This was made more difficult because I’m not a native Gaeilge speaker! However, I’m passionate about the language. I’m fascinated by the impermanency of identity and our craving for belonging and community. The cast and crew’s hunger to shine a spotlight on this hyper-regional and yet globally tangible story spurred me on. With fire in my belly, and help from a committed crew, we ploughed ahead. Our aim was to centralise and normalise -rather than marginalize- the Irish language through storytelling. We ‘rerooted’ paths in people’s psyches, by making the film accessible, fun and informative, using a ‘local for global’ story”.
Connor’s an emerging Producer from Northern Ireland. Alongside working as development in scripted drama development for Two Cities Television, the makers of the recent hit drama Blue Lights (BBC One). He also runs his own company, Dogleap Productions. As well as these shows, Connor has worked in children’s animation, on
- Pablo – Cbeebies and RTÉ Jr
- Sol – TG4, BBC Alba and S4C, and
- Ladybird & Bee – RTÉ Jr for Paper Owl Films.
Connor began as third assistant director and script supervisor’s assistant on Emmerdale (ITV). He’s since production coordinated the feature film Boys From County Hell. He was script secretary on LOLA; script assistant on A Bump Along the Way and worked as a reader for Mammoth Screen and UK Film Festival. He’s now studying a PGPD in Script Development at the National Film and Television School (NFTS) in Beaconsfield. Through the NFTS, he is also a temporary shadow script editor for BBC Writersroom’s Drama Room 2023 programme.
Reroot was made by an entirely Northern Irish creative team. The film was written by children’s TV writer, Claire Handley. The animation was directed by Liam Wheatcroft; animated by Jessica Maple and edited by Charlotte Kieran. Storyboarded by Rosie Cash, it was art directed and designed by Maebh McHugh. The Irish-language voiceover was directed by Clíodhna Ní Chorráin, with a musical score composed by Calum McCormick.
Connor explains, “Although the script was first written in English, the translation process was an organic part of the animation pipeline*. This meant parts of the process had to be flexible. We cast three roles using bi-lingual talent. This interesting creative condition, required from the actors, is unconventional for a short-form medium. When the film was finished, we ensured subtitled versions were available. This supports accessibility, but also translation and -of course- education! Irish-language open captions were embedded onto the English and Irish films, and the same for the English!”.
*Pre-production, production and post-production process.
Since the film’s premiere at #LIF2022, Reroot has been screened at seven other film festivals internationally. It launched in the New Irish Cinema category at the Belfast Film Festival –the filmmaker’s and crew’s home territory. Then, the short was shown in the Irish Professionals category in
- Animation Dingle (Kerry)
- Achill Island Film Festival (Connacht)
- Cannes Film Awards (France) and
- most recently, at the London Director Awards.
During the London Director Awards, Reroot was listed within the best 150 projects from more than 1500 submissions. This meant Reroot made a shortlist of the top 10% of films! It was also selected for Nenagh Children’s Film Festival (Tipperary). There, it came second for Outstanding Voiceover Character Performance and Connor contributed to a ‘Meet the Filmmakers’ panel. Featuring at Intuition Earth Film Festival (Austria), Reroot was made a finalist in the Animated Film and Environmental Film categories. It will go on to be shown at Kerry International Film Fest and REX Animation Festival in Stockholm.
Expected to continue to perform well on the international festival stage, the creative team are enjoying the recent successes. Like the discreet messaging on the plastic bottle artwork (‘Dóchas’, which translates as ‘hope’), they are hopeful for more screen time around the world. The big wish now is the potential development of the characters in a TV series format.
Emma Smith, director of Liverpool Irish Festival and Reroot’s co-commissioner and executive producer, reflects:
“Our colleagues at Gael Linn and An tUltach -nor we- could have foreseen what an ambitious or successful project this would turn in to. From our earliest talks with Connor, about the characters and messages, the warmth and generosity of this story shone. It’s light never dimmed and the awards and acclaim it is winning now is testament to its great heart. Reroot is proof that it is possible to take a risk on something and -if other people join in- you end up with something worth far more than the sum of its parts. It’s a glorious film, we’re we are proud to have a small part in”.
Lynn and David Coleman of DAL Productions, comments:
“Reroot really appealed to us because it was such a refreshing concept and completely different to the other projects we are working on! Connor included us in the whole process which gave us valuable experience into the production of an animated short. It’s been great to see its continued success at festivals because this really helps get the message out there about the environment and the importance of good mental health, and of course that language is a bridge, not a barrier. We’ve loved being part of Reroot!”.
Louise Gallagher remarks:
“it’s been wonderful to watch the journey Reroot has been on this year. I’m very proud of Connor and this important film, and the message it has for us all”.
Northern Ireland Screen
Áine Walsh of Northern Ireland Screen’s Irish Language Broadcast Fund, observes:
“we were drawn to Reroot from the beginning as the story looked at themes which centred on the sense of identity and language and their connection with a sense of home and a sense of belonging. The appeal for the ILBF was strengthened by the fact that these themes were explored in a lovely animation which can be enjoyed by a young Irish speaking audience”.
“Reroot was such a collaborative project. There was a huge amount of professional learning for me! It would be remiss of me not to remember and remind everyone else that it would not have been possible without the unflagging dedication, drive, talent, and kindness of so many people and parties; from cast, to crew, to financiers, to investors, to followers, to friends. Everyone helped to plant the seed and let this small film -with a big heart and soul- take root, grow, and flourish! Thank you everyone for making it a dream!”.
Reroot was executive produced by DAL Productions and Gallagher Films, with additional funding from executive producers Northern Ireland Screen through their Irish Language Broadcast Fund; CelAction; Turning Point NI; Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council through their Creative Practitioner’s Bursary; Aisling Ghéar Theatre Company; and independent financier -Cherry Love- from Lovely Looks Boutique (Limavady).