Pier pressure

In 'The Pier,' Gerard Hurley takes a poetic yet unsentimental look at the relationship between a father and son.

Gerard Hurley, Karl Johnson in ‘The Pier' 370 (photo credit: courtesy of Gerard Hurley)
Gerard Hurley, Karl Johnson in ‘The Pier' 370
(photo credit: courtesy of Gerard Hurley)
Ireland and Irish culture have been in vogue for some years now, even though their popularity have tailed off somewhat off late. We have had River Dance, Lord of the Dances and several other leg shaking extravaganzas here over the past couple of decades, there was a delightful and well-attended Irish music festival that did good business at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque for a few years, and there has been an Irish Film Festival here for a half a dozen or so years.
Next week’s installment of silver screen entertainment from the Emerald Isle kicks off tomorrow, at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque, with a screening of Gerard Hurley’s The Pier. The film opens the Haifa and Jerusalem sections of the festival on March 29 and March 31 respectively.
The Pier is a low-budget effort, and that comes through loud and clear throughout the film. It is an intimate story based in a small village on the southwest coast of Cork in Ireland and, despite Hurley’s protestations, appears to have a strong autobiographical element to it.
The basic elements are true to life. Jack, the main character, is an Irishman who returns to his homeland after a long absence in America.
Hurley has lived in the US since the age of 17 and The Pier is the first film he has made in Ireland.
The director also hails from the neck of the Irish woods where the film was shot. So one wonders if Hurley’s relationship with his own father was anything like the tempestuous association between Jack and his dad in the movie.
“I had a difficult relationship with my father... no, I’m just joking,” quips Hurley.
“The film is not autobiographical, but it is personal.”
He adds that there is something of a documentary element to The Pier, too.
“Things are not good in that part, and other parts, of Ireland today, with immigration and high unemployment where I come from.”
Hurley says he was also keen to highlight a social problem.
“The father and son in the film have problems expressing emotions to each other, and that is a problem in Ireland.”
The Pier was made on a tiny budget of just 100,000 euros. Mind you, that was quite a step up from the finances Hurley had at his disposal for his directorial debut, 2008 drama Pride, about an Irish traveler living in America who returns from prison and tries to win back his wife, after a life of trouble and abuse together.
The shoestring budget meant that Hurley had to be resourceful in the extreme, and shot some of the scenes very close to home in the Big Apple.
“I built four of the sets, that were used for shoots in Ireland, in my basement in New York,” says Hurley. “I have done so many jobs in my life so far, so I have learned to manage with what I have. Still, it would be nice, one day, to have a big budget, and just to do what I love – making films.”
Hurley is certainly no spoilt Irishmanmakes- good-Stateside character.
“I would like to have lots of money to make my films but I really love this work, and I am willing to do anything to make it work. I’ve already got a couple of projects in the pipeline. I love writing stories.”
The storyline of The Pier has plenty of facets to it. In addition to the dysfunctional fatherson relationship, there is Jack’s platonic relationship with a New York woman who is struggling to get over a recent divorce and whose grandmother came from Jack’s part of Ireland.
Hurley’s film also addresses something of a potential minefield – the deep divide between Catholicism and Protestantism in Ireland. One of the characters in the movie, an elderly lady called June, is aghast when Jack tells her his father asked to be cremated – a heinous crime for a Catholic to consider.
While Hurley says he didn’t exactly set out to open a Pandora ’s box, it is a subject he feels very strongly about.
“I am fascinated by religion, but religion can cause so many problems. For instance, in the film, June is a good woman but she takes a very heavy approach to religion.”
That may also be partly due to a generation gap.
“I think younger people in Ireland tend to take religion less seriously,” observes Hurley.
Much of The Pier’s charm comes from the coziness and the somewhat off-the-cuff presentation.
Most of the characters who appear in the film are not professional actors and, betwixt some highly emotive exchanges between father and son, there are some lovely, unpolished scenes in the local pub. Naturally, there is plenty of scenic footage, too.
While The Pier was a homecoming for Hurley, in more senses than one, he says he doesn’t really care where he works, as long as he’s making movies.
“The bottom line is that I just have to tell my story. That’s the bottom line for me.”
There are five other movies in the Irish festival, including Tom Hall’s darkly comic Sensation, Conor Horgan’s post-apocalyptic drama One Hundred Mornings and Thaddeus O’Sullivan’s 1950s drama Stella Days starring Martin Sheen.