Skip Trinity Banner Navigation

Skip to main content »

Trinity College Dublin

Skip Main Navigation


GILSENAN, Alan (director, scriptwriter) (1962 -)

Best known as a documentary film-maker, Gilsenan has also made feature films, short fiction films and has directed for theatre. He is chairperson of the Irish Film Institute and a member of the Irish Film Board. Most of his later documentaries have been made for RT by his production company, Yellow Asylum Films. Gilsenan made his name with THE ROAD TO GOD KNOWS WHERE (1989), a series of interviews with young people that summed up a general sense of disenchantment with Irish society. The film followed the tradition of critical engagement with Irelands social, political and cultural life established by previous documentaries, most notably Peter Lennons THE ROCKY ROAD TO DUBLIN (1968). Produced for Channel 4, it was the subject of local criticism by the Industrial Development Authority, but it won a Special Jury Prize at the 1989 European Film Awards. In the same year, Gilsenan made the short film, EH JOE, based on a screenplay by Samuel Beckett. Gilsenan followed this with a number of controversial television documentaries: STORIES FROM THE SILENCE (1987), where he interviewed AIDS patients; PROPHET SONGS (1990) about priests who had lost their vocation; BETWEEN HEAVEN AND WOOLWORTHS (1992), a study of the storytelling tradition; and six programmes on American writers, God Bless America (1994). Between 1996 and 1998, Gilsenan made HOME MOVIE NIGHTS, a collage of amateur and historical footage, for RT. In 1997 Gilsenan moved into fiction with ALL SOULS' DAY, shot on a mixture of Super-8, VHS and Super-16 and blown up to 35mm.While the film won many critical plaudits, it was also criticised for its regressive gender politics. Gilsenan returned to documentary with THE GREEN FIELDS OF FRANCE (1998), a poetic memorial to the Irish who died in World War One. The latter film signalled a new engagement with Irish history, particularly in the light of a political agenda that included recognition of the part played by the Irish in both World Wars and a desire to re-interrogate previously ignored historical and political figures. One such was patriot and diplomat Roger Casement, who was executed as a traitor by the British government after the 1916 Easter Rising and whose memoryis tainted by his reputation as the reputed author of the Black Diaries. THE GHOST OF ROGER CASEMENT (2001), a re-assessment of Casements life, won Gilsenan an Irish Film and Television Academy Award and best Feature Documentary at the Celtic Film Festival. Prior to that, Gilsenan was one of three directors behind the ambitious history of the Irish diaspora, THE IRISH EMPIRE (1999), co-produced with Australian television. Gilsenan continues to be a prolific director of television documentaries, making EMERALD SHOES - THE STORY OF IRISH DANCING in 2000 about Irish dancing and, in the same year, Julie's Journey, about crime author Julie Parsons. In 2001, he made a documentary on the topic of the new phenomenon of Irish lap dancing clubs, PRIVATE DANCER, and followed up his previous landmark documentary with ROAD II, a less well-received production, shot in a dizzying style of dissolves, sudden edits and jump cuts. In 2001 he also directed a fictional short, ZULU 9, shot in much the same style, about stowaway refugees, and he followed this with a feature film, TIMBUKTU, the tale of two childhood friends who embark on a journey through Morocco.

Contact: | Last updated: Nov 27 2006.