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Fields of Darkness – An Arts Council Documentary

On an overcast afternoon in September 2021, some of the LIVE team were at the tetrapod trackway on Valentia Island conducting fieldwork when two visitors arrived to view the fossils. They initially struggled to make out the tracks and asked if we could help. We happily obliged by pointing them out, sharing our knowledge and the resources LIVE had created on the geology of Iveragh. “Do you know anything about the Kerry Dark Sky Reserve?” was their next question. The LIVE project was hosting monthly Dark Sky webinars at the time and collaborating with locals to establish the first Skellig Coast Dark Sky festival, so the two visitors had fortuitously bumped into the right people.

Just over two years later, members of the LIVE team were sitting with Iveragh locals at the Dublin Film Festival, the tetrapod trackway was on screen and the audience was mesmerised.

The two visitors were Michael J Whelan (Artist and Director) and Gary Lennon (Gambit Productions). Michael had been working on the subject of darkness for a number of years and had been researching dark sky reserves in other parts of the world. “What really struck me about the reserve in Kerry is that it’s the darkest inhabited place in Ireland and one of the only dark sky reserves in the world with people living in it” Michael revealed to the audience in the post screening Q&A. He was immediately drawn to documenting the lives of the people living in the reserve, along with the history, the language, archaeology, landscapes, and wildlife that occupy the region. Michael won a prestigious ‘Reel Art Award’ funding grant from The Arts Council and began visiting Iveragh more often. In March 2022, he attended many events at the Skellig Coast Dark Sky Festival and it was during this visit that the really got a sense of the community here – meeting many of the locals who would contribute to, and appear in, the final to the film.

‘Fields of Darkness’ had its world premiere at the Dublin Film Festival in the Irish Film Institute in Temple Bar, Dublin, on Tuesday 28th February 2023. Familiar faces from Iveragh were sprinkled throughout the audience along with other festival attendees. Shot in observational style, the opening scenes followed LIVE Project zoologist/Knowledge Gatherer Linda Lyne, walking through the native wood at Ballyhearney House on Valentia Island, with landowner John O’Sullivan. A camera trap was strapped to a tree and the pair retreated to leave it record any nocturnal wildlife that might call the wood home. The film follows this style throughout, casually recording everyday activities of the locals in the reserve. We see a wet and windy GAA event with the kids in Ballinskelligs, Fr Patsy Lynch blessing headstones in the graveyard, locals gathered for set dances in halls, and pub music sessions at night. Aoibheann Lambe (LIVE archaeologist/Knowledge gatherer) is seen hosting a night-time rock art event for Ukrainian families who have recently relocated to the reserve and the ancient landscape of Iveragh is shown beautifully in a scene where Aoibheann explores Loher stone fort.

Steve Lynott is the Volunteer manager of the Kerry Dark Sky Reserve. A scene which seemed to particularly resonate with the audience is where Steve is hosting a stargazing event (supported by the LIVE Project), in Ballinskelligs. Lit with red torches (far better than artificial white light for both nocturnal wildlife and our own night vision), we soon realise that one of the attendees of the event is visually impaired. Unable to see the night sky, Amie Fox uses a braille map of a constellation to imagine the view and recalls her memories of colours and stars from before blindness took these experiences from her.

Locals appeared and reappeared through the film as their individual lives or fields of expertise are followed. Aprille explores ancient rituals, often linked to celestial alignments or darkness. Aoibheann and Linda reappear to speak about both early humans and early land animals – they light the aforementioned tetrapod trackway at night to reveal the fossil imprints in glorious detail. And we repeatedly see clips of our dwellings and journeys being illuminated by artificial lights, while the reserve around us is bathed in darkness.

The wonderful pupils of Scoil an Ghleanna steal the show on several occasions. They speak and sing as Gaeilge and there is a heart-warming moment when one young pupil explains that he loves living in the reserve as enjoys looking at the stars with his young neighbour “….agus an ciúnas sa Ghleann” (the quietness in The Glen). This ciúnas, lingering shots, slow motion, and casual conversations give the film a slow, relaxing pace. The closing credits are filled with thanks to the local communities and individuals, along with the LIVE Project logo, and are interspersed with the footage from the camera traps in the opening scenes. The final local resident of the Kerry Dark Sky Reserve to make an appearance is that of a red fox, it’s bright eyes and pointed ears peering curiously from the darkness in the direction of the camera, gently tiptoeing through the woods on its night-time rounds.

The Q&A session after the screening was an opportunity for Michael and Gary to personally thank all those involved in the film. While they listed funding bodies and sponsors, they reiterated that none of the work would have been possible without the local communities and those who shared their experiences of the Kerry Dark Sky Reserve with them.

All locals who attended the screening were invited onstage for a photo and Steve Lynott took this as a perfect opportunity to promote this year’s upcoming Skellig Coast Dark Sky Festival beginning the 24th of March. Orla Breslin, Local Coordination Operator for the LIVE Project, was on hand to field questions from several audience members who were unaware of the reserve or the importance of areas with low light pollution.

‘Fields of Darkness’ will follow the route of many works from The Art Council by moving to various international film festivals before they return to Iveragh and the Kerry Dark Sky Reserve for a local screening.

Watch the trailer for Fields of Darkness:


More photos from the premier of Fields of Darkness in the Dublin International Film Festival March 2023


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