Named the “Best Irish Feature Documentary” at Galway Film Fleadh back in July One Million Dubliners finally hits cinemas this month.
The documentary tells the story of Glasnevin Cemetery (officially Prospect Cemetery) and the 1.5 million people that are buried there. And since there are more bodies in the ground at Glasnevin Cemetery than people living in the whole of Dublin almost everyone has a friend or relative buried next to some of Irelands most historic figures.
Director Aoife Kelleher intertwines personnel stories with historic facts and creates a unique insight into a world only few of us truly know. And instead of being morbid or depressing the film is funny, interesting, sometimes a little sad but always entertaining.
“To bury people of all religions and none” was Daniel O’Connell’s mission when he established Glasnevin cemetery in 1828 and this is still very much at the heart of the trust today. This means that loyalists and revolutionaries lie side by side, WWI and WWII soldiers lie next to de Velera, Parnell and Collins.
But One Million Dubliners doesn’t just look at the past and Kelleher lets staff and visitors alike share their thoughts on life and death and why Glasnevin plays such an important role in their lives. Florists, gardeners, historians, tour guides, mourners, and grave diggers all get their say, and even a mysterious French woman, who lays roses on Michael Collins grave, talks about her ongoing love affair with a dead man.
Kelleher uses these different narrative strands to link the past with the present and the future. One of the main narrators is tour guide and resident historian Shane MacThomáis and the camera follows him as he brings groups around the cemetery, enthrals them with tales and historic facts. But MacThomáis also speaks directly to the camera and talks about his father, who was also a tour guide, and about his own connection with the cemetery. He explains how his father used to tell him that a great tour needs four things to capture it’s audience: tell them something they know, something they didn’t know, something to make them laugh and something to make them cry.
This is the formula that Kelleher also seems to be following as she not only enchants her audience with beautifully shoot images of Glasnevin Cemetery but lets them rediscover what they have seen before, learn what they have never known, laugh at the oddities and cry at the unexpected.