WINTER 2014 / VOL. 14 ISSUE 1

‘Stone’s Throw’ Captures Windblown Soul
of the Burren and Beyond

By Martin Hintz

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Milwaukee filmmaker Cecelia Condit knows her way around Ireland’s rocky, remote Burren. Actually, while filming her critically-reviewed installation, Within a Stone's Throw , was a life-changing experience for her, as well as a change in direction from her earlier work. Here, she was taking the themes of life and death and expanding them into an exploration not only of time, but also space. The movie became a hit plus at the Milwaukee Film Festival last autumn.

Her movie, Annie Lloyd (2008) was about her aging mother's world as she prepared to face the inevitability of old, old age and death. Near the very end of her life, her world shrank to a space the size of her bed. As it did, Condit’s world shrank with hers. Within a Stone's Throw is her own taking account of a world that is indeed not so small, but a huge and variable place, where she was free to explore and measure as she wished. For Condit, this film is in some ways more a journey than a story: a journey of a woman in search of beauty and healing in the Burren. 

While planning for the movie, Condit had an idea of picking up a stone and throwing it around the world. When she got to Ireland, she found this simple narrative was all she needed. Condit chose the Burren (from the Gaelic boíreann, meaning rocky place) - in Western Ireland because it is a barren, stony landscape ripe with tales both real and mythological. It is also a terrain that has been deforested, and cleared to make way for sheep and livestock. Where once there were great oak forests, there are now fields of large rocks that butt up against the ocean. The woman in the installation is a guide through this landscape wilderness that is both timeless and present. 

Condit was attracted to that landscape when a colleague returned from a residency at the Burren College of Art in Ballyvaughn and she was fascinated by her stories about the region. She applied and received the Lighton International Artist Exchange Program grant through the Kansas City artist Coalition. She also received funding from Mary Nohl Foundation and a Faculty Development Grant from the Peck School of the Arts at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Condit did not travel through Ireland when there but focused on knowing well the place that brought her there.

Caoimhe Cusack, the daughter of the college director, assisted Condit at times during filming. But more often, she was out there on the rocks alone, setting up shots, filming myself and the landscape all morning. She edited in the late afternoon and evening each day. Condit pointed out that she fell into a daily pattern that allowed her to shoot, see what worked, try an edit and prepare for filming the next morning. When she needed a photographer, she tapped the skills of another resident at the college. 

Scenes in Stone feature Condit swirling about in a brilliant red dress. "I had intended to wear black, but found I disappeared into the gray rocks of the Burren," she said, adding that she decided on the color red when venturing into the fanciest store in Galway and asking if they had any red dresses, size 10 - - on sale - and they did. First store I tried! I learned later that I was very protected out there on the rocks, as fairies don't mess with people wearing red," she laughed. 

"I was fascinated by the Irish fairies, which were so different from what I had imagined. And there were so many centuries-old stone structures that were everywhere I turned," Condit explained. "They were so exposed and yet seemed so protected. No graffiti. Nothing! Once I found an ancient fairy circle and I remembered that someone had told me not to go inside, as the fairies wouldn't like it . So I didn't," she confided. Yet Condit admitted that she believed there is a strong sense of spiritually that exists in Ireland that is terribly haunting and magical and very real. "Having experienced it there, I still feel it, even here," she said. 

In the film, Condit looks as if you were almost blown away in the gale. "The wind was terribly strong. Sometimes approaching the edge of cliffs for a shot, I would use my tripod almost as an extra leg to steady myself. By the end of the five weeks of shooting, I felt almost worn down by the sound of the wind - day in and day out each morning - It seemed ever-present, even inside my head when I was inside and quiet," she went on.

Her filming expedition in 2010 was Condit’s first time in Ireland. However, the entire installation, consisting of photographs and a three-screen video projection will be exhibited in the Burren College of Art Gallery from Aug. 16-Sept. 30, 2014. 

"I am so excited that it will be exhibited where it was filmed. Perhaps I will try to visit, work on a film, and help install the show. It may be just wishful thinking, but Ireland has such a strong pull on me. I have no Irish ancestors, but I claim it as an inspirational homeland," she said.

Stone's Throw has been received quite well, according to Condit, being shown at the McNay Art Museum in San Antonio, Nevada Art Museum, Kansas City Artist Coalition and film festivals such as Milwaukee.

"If this summer I find myself in the Burren installing my exhibition,I will shoot images of Ireland for this next project about memory, childhood and the imagination," she promised. 


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