A film produced by Wheaton Professor of Music Matthew Allen, featuring Irish musician Seán Ó Sé, will air on Irish national television this New Year’s Day.
The film, first completed in 2010, will be shown on Ireland’s channel TG4 and will be available online at tg4.tv for 30 days after its airing.
The film explores Ó Sé’s long and illustrious career in the Irish music business, going back to his work in the 1960s and on.
“Seán’s musical life is explored within the contexts of his deep attachment to the Irish language, West Cork and Beara, and his passion for his career in teaching and education administration in Cork City,” Allen said. “The film features live performances and interviews with longtime associates from the worlds of music and education.”
The project got its start in 2002 when Allen, as a junior member of the Wheaton faculty, received a Fulbright to teach in Ireland. He was walking through the main streets of Cork one day when he ran into Ó Sé—whose “unmistakable tenor voice” Allen immediately recognized. The idea for the film project grew from that initial conversation.
Ó Sé has also performed, alongside Allen, on the Wheaton campus.
After completing the film a few years ago, Allen shopped it around, hoping to find a distributor. He showed the film at a conference in the United States and at a theater in Cork that December. He was also in discussions with a television editor in Ireland, but nothing came of it.
In the mean time, Allen returned to the cutting room to work on editing the 90-minute film down to 60 minutes, based on feedback he’d received.
“As one person told me, ‘Queen Elizabeth only gets 60. Winston Churchill only gets 60,’” Allen said.
This past summer, while teaching the Arts in Ireland course with Professor of Art Andy Howard, Allen discussed the film again with a colleague who was well known in the music business in Ireland. He passed it on to another television editor, which led to the New Year’s Day slot.
While others have done short documentaries about Ó Sé over the past decade, they have mostly focused on the musician’s best-known work and what he’s doing now (he works in education). Allen’s film, however, delves deeper into Ó Sé’s opinions on Irish music and other topics.
“I wanted this film to be his chance to get on his bully pulpit and say what he thinks,” Allen said. “This film explores the mind of a man who was not driven to be a national rock star but who was focused on the quality of life around family, community and education—and just happens to be a crackerjack singer and storyteller.”
Allen said he hopes the promotion will lead to his ultimate goal: to have the film manufactured and distributed, with behind-the-scenes interviews and other extras.
“Hopefully people will love it. Hopefully they’ll want to buy it, and then hopefully somebody in promotion and distribution will take an interest in it,” Allen said.
But for now, having the film widely viewed is its own kind of gift.
“I’m just enjoying it for the moment,” he said.