The Limerick Leader - Thursday, 30 April 2009

Larkin focused on regeneration

Film-maker Nicky Larkin has been affected by what he has seen in Limerick's troubled estates

Commissioned to make a film of the regeneration process, Nicky Larkin tells Nick Rabbitts his eyes have been opened to poverty

IT'S a quiet spring afternoon in Moyross. There is no-one in sight, aside from a solitary flame-haired filmmaker capturing shots of the estate, where so many of the homes have been boarded up in readiness for the regeneration process.

Nicky Larkin, 25, has been assigned by the Belltable Arts Centre to create a film based around the regeneration process. A process that, although announced 18 months ago, is now under a shadow of doubt as the country sinks further into recession. And this has led some residents to become sceptical.

A seasoned filmmaker, Nicky, who hails from Birr, Co Offaly, was, late last year, commissioned by Belltable chief Joanne Beirne, to "make a film that engages with the proposed regeneration of areas of Limerick city" and "that explores the impact of the regeneration process both on residents and the landscape of the designated areas".

"They felt all this stuff was going on in Limerick, and they basically wanted someone to react to it," he explained.

"My whole remit is to get an idea of how this proposed regeneration is going to affect the people in the areas. What will it do for the people, what are there hopes? At the moment, there is a lot of resentment."

Armed with a bursary from the Arts Council - which through the Belltable is funding the project through its commission award - he set to work on creating the film to "respond aesthetically to a proposed period of dynamic change".

"I suppose I am trying to talk to the people on the ground, and the ones who make the decisions," Nicky added.

Although Nicky is about half way through the filming process, he is still unsure about what format the film will take.

But he stresses it won't strictly be a documentary - more "a cross between video, art, documentary and experimental film."

Inspiration will no doubt be taken from Pripyat, a short film which effectively persuaded Ms Beirne to award the commission to Nicky.

Speaking of this project, Nicky smiled: "This is the whole reason I am sitting here at the moment, and the whole reason this has happened. Joanne liked Pripyat. She thought as I am into bleakness, this would be the perfect project for me."

In 2007, Nicky ventured into deepest Ukraine to Pripyat, a city built in the 1970s for the workers at the Chernobyl nuclear plant.

After the devastating nuclear fallout in 1986, the city - which was home to 50,000 people - was abandoned and remains so to this day, with a 30km exclusion zone around it.

Two years ago, Nicky - who got funding for the trip from the Arts Council - gained access to the area to see what he described as "a city that will never be lived in again".

Still shots of disused factories, flats and apartments abandoned mid-way through someone's life were the order of the day.

And although Limerick's regeneration estates will never come close to this kind of dystopian devastation, Nicky will draw on the same themes.

In his artist statement, he writes: "By using long takes and few cuts in my video work, I aim to give the viewers a sense of time passing, time lost, and the relationship of one moment in time to another. I spend a long time setting up each shot, and then once I am happy I simply let the camera roll."

In this piece, one can only scratch the surface of what 'Pripyat' is all about but it is available online at

Nicky kicked off the project here in January - and in order to ensure he had a strong base in Moyross, he spent a month cultivating his contacts - stating "I did not even take a camera in for this time".

"I was just trying to make contacts in Moyross for the first month. Cathal McCarthy (Weston Gardens) and Tommy Daley (Moyross) have been very helpful to me. They are men in the know, and have been getting telephone numbers of residents who would not have anything to do with me otherwise. He has vetted residents for me."

To this end, Nicky has almost become part of the furniture in Moyross - and Weston Gardens. But he admits there is still work to be done in attracting residents in other regeneration areas - notably Southill.

He said: "I only have one contact in O'Malley Park, Tommy Dillon. He is an amazing guy, he is 70 years old, but he runs a powerlifting club in a derelict building. I have been out there and seen people lifting 40-stone weights, and things like that. I have got a few interviews off the back of that. But that's the extent of my contacts. I am hoping to get into O'Malley Park to do more."

Hearing Nicky talk about who he has made contact with in Moyross and its surrounds - and his plans for the immediate future leads me to ask one question: when does he plan to speak to those in charge of the multi-billion regeneration plan?

He will of course be speaking with Brendan Kenny, who heads up the proposals - and there is a reason as to why he has left it.

"I was always going to spend a couple of months getting the full picture from the residents before approaching the powers that be. My fear was that if I started through the official lines, I would be a little bit brainwashed into making the film that they wanted. For example, a propaganda piece about the regeneration. But that's not to say I am going to be biased in any way," he said.

While interviewing people from the regeneration areas, Nicky has had little trouble - "What has struck me most is that 95 per cent of people in these areas are sound, hardworking people and the bad element is five per cent," he pointed out.

I asked him if anything had 'opened his eyes', and without hesitation, he told me: "The fact that these people (residents] are ignored by the powers that be. There is nowhere else in the country that looks like this. The only thing it could be compared to would be Ballymun in the late 1980s before they regenerated Dublin.

"It astounds me that these (boarded up] structures are still all there. There are guys who board up their own houses and live in darkness out of pure fear. It's opened my eyes to the poverty."

Nicky has travelled across Europe making films - earlier this year, he was in Bosnia-Hercegovina - and later this year, he will travel to Transnistria, a breakaway province of the former soviet state of Moldova.

Jokingly describing himself as a "recovering painter," Nicky explained: "I studied painting in college, and I somehow got into filmmaking. I started at Galway-Mayo IT. You can do sculpture or painting. I did the latter. Each different division had its own media suite with cameras and editing equipment. Sculpture is a big thing, so if you are a sculpture student, you could sign up to get an hour in the suite. But because I was a painting student, everyone else was painting, and no-one had any interest in making films, I basically had my own private editing suite. So that set me off."

And since then, he has seen his work screened at film festivals across Europe - from Locarno in Switzerland to Enschede in the Netherlands, stopping off at Madrid en route.

At the moment, he survives on a bursary from the Arts Council. Money is tight for an up-and-coming filmmaker, but Nicky has no complaints.

"I'm happy enough because up until this time last year I was working s**t jobs and making art on the side. This is my living now, and I am getting by. The great thing about the Irish Arts Council is that they are so supportive to artists, and the idea of the bursary is so you can focus on your work."

Competition for the fees - which come around twice a year - is fierce, with under a quarter of those who apply being given cash.

Nicky Larkin's film will premiere in the Belltable in January next year, when the facility reopens following a massive refurbishment.

But Nicky says, following his past experience, he hopes to take the film Europe-wide.

"It really depends on the seasons, but I would be hopeful. Last year, my Pripyat film saw me as the only Irish artist picked for the European Media Art Festival in Germany, and then after that it spiralled, and got into Strasbourg and Locarno. As I have a bit of a profile now, and as it is a bit more of an interesting topic than my last film, I would be 90 per cent sure it would be shown around Europe."