WINTER 2016-2017 / VOL. 16 ISSUE 1
Film News
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Kerr-Collins Knows of Acting Life
By James Bartlett

Having lived in Hollywood for a few years now, Belfast-born Alana Kerr Collins, 32, knows all about the ups and downs of an actor's life. She's appeared in a documentary and several shorts, but her first break wasn't on the big or small screen, but behind a microphone.

Blessed with a voice people loved - and an ability to do accents - she got the role narrating the audio book of The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon just a few months after arriving, and most recently she worked on the audio book of Risen, a biblical drama by Angela Hunt based on the movie that has raked in over $30,000,000 and counting at the box office.

Ironically though, Alana's audio book character "Rachel" didn't appear in the movie - "due to time constraints, supposedly" she says, "which was surprising, because she's such a big part of the novel." 

Alana's mother was a linguist, and she feels that her own lifelong interest in languages and singing has helped her with the sound and imitation required for accents, though improvisation is always a challenge - especially when she's reading a 500 page novel.

Working roughly to the rule that one hour of a book takes two hours to record, Alana likes to use notes and a paper copy of the novel, but she quickly got used to an app that allows her to make digital notes and highlight passages and characters, and make sure the ever-sensitive microphone doesn't pick up any flapping pages.

When she was younger, Alana began acting at a weekend drama group in Belfast, and then progressed to the National Youth Theatre and National Youth Music Theatre before studying for a degree in Drama/English at Trinity College, Dublin. She also spent time training in the noted Meisner Technique under Scott Williams at the Impulse Company in London, and then at the Margie Haber Studio in Los Angeles once she was here in the USA.

Like most actors from Europe, she did her time in theatre too. Her first big professional break was playing Cinderella, and then there were years of musicals and Shakespeare (plus working her vocal muscles and puppeting skills) on "Sesame Tree," Northern Ireland's version of the legendary children's educational show. 

"I really admire the actresses like Amy Adams and Jessica Chastain," Alana says. "I think they've made clever choices and I'd love follow in their footsteps. Theatre will always be in my heart," she added, "and I'd also love someday to tread the boards in a big Broadway or West End production. 

Alana lives in Culver City with her new husband Matthew, who she married earlier this year back in Northern Ireland "in the snow!" she laughs. It was Englishman Matthew who gave her her lucky mascot, a small stuffed toy mouse called Mario, several years ago. "Mario goes everywhere with me," she says, "and he gets his photo taken everywhere too!" 

In her spare time Alana, who was for a long time a qualified rowing umpire, loves cycling and spending time in the 4,300 acres of Griffith Park, something that she says reminds her of home, especially the North Antrim coast, where she spent lots of time as a child.

With nearly a dozen audio book titles in the bag and more on the horizon, Alana has an important transatlantic trip to make: 

"I'm heading back to the embassy in London in a few weeks' time to get my new visa underway, and am excited to get stuck back in on my return."

Belfast Zoo Hitting Big Screen.

By Martin Hintz and Irish American Post Wire Services

This autumn, Belfast Zoo traveled back in time to the Blitz era, when filming took place onsite for Zoo, a new movie based on one of Northern Ireland’s most famous war-time stories.

Zoo is based on the true story of Belfast Zoo’s "elephant angel." During World War II, the Ministry of Public Security issued a directive that all dangerous animals should be destroyed. This was to ensure public safety, in case the animals escaped if the zoo was damaged by German air raids. 

On 19 April 1941, a Mister A. McClean, head of the Air Raid Protection Section, enlisted the help of Constable Ward, from the Royal Ulster Constabulary, and Sergeant E.U. Murray of the Home Guard. A total of 33 animals were shot, including hyena, wolves, a puma, a tiger, a black bear, polar bears, a lynx, racoons and a vulture.

During this time, Sheila, a baby elephant, was protected and taken to the backyard of the North Belfast terraced home of zookeeper Denise Weston Austin. She comforted and cared for the young elephant as the bombs rained down on the city.

When head zookeeper Dick Foster left work in the evening, Austin took Sheila from her enclosure, walked her the short distance to her house at 278 Whitewell Road and walked her back up to the zoo in the morning. It seemed zoo staff did not know about this arrangement until Sheila chased a dog into a neighbor’s garden, breaking the fence. Sheila remained in the zoo after her evening activity was discovered. However, Austin’s fondness for the elephant continued and she visited Sheila in the zoo at night, during the air raids, rubbing her ears to keep her calm.

In Zoo, the story is seen through the eyes of a 12-year-old boy named Tom who, with the help of his friends, tries to save ‘Buster’ the elephant.

Current zoo curato Alyn Cairns said of the tale, "The ‘elephant angel’ is such a famous character in Belfast Zoo’s history. The story has captured the hearts of people across the world and we have no doubt that the movie will continue to inspire people with this heart-warming tale. The cast and crew filmed different scenes at the zoo and met some of facility’s animal family." 

They included Qays, a Barbary lion who will made his big screen debut as "Gilbert." "We are hoping the fame won’t go to his head," Cairns laughed.
Some scenes even took place at the old elephant house, where Sheila the elephant once lived," Cairns added. 

The cast and crew have visited the zoo several times in September, 2016, to film pivotal scenes of the film. Filming has also took place across the city at Belfast Castle, city center and the docks. .

Zoo is due to be released in 2017 and will be featured at the Cannes Film Festival. The £2.8m film stars an all-Irish cast and crew, with the script written by Colin McIvor and produced by John Leslie from Ballymoney. Among those starring in the movie are Game of Thrones hero Art Parkinson along with Dame Penelope Wilton of Downton Abbey fame, Belfast's Ian McIlhinney and Irish actress Amy Huberman. One scene was filmed at the Causeway School Museum, featuring local children aged 7 to 14. 

Belfast Zoological Gardens is home to more than 140 species of animals, many of which are in danger in their natural habitat. The zoo also carries out important conservation work and takes part in over 90 European and global collaborative breeding programmes which help to ensure the survival of many species under threat.

As one of the oldest visitor attractions in Northern Ireland, many visitors have fond memories of visiting the gardens, which have been home to the animals since 1934. Belfast Zoo is now one of the leading visitor attractions in Northern Ireland attracting around 250,000 visitors a year.

Popular attractions include the Asian elephants, giraffes, sea lions, penguins, ring-tailed lemurs, apes, monkeys, Malayan tapirs, Giant anteater, Malayan sun bears, Visayan warty pigs, Barbary lions and Sumatran tigers. A rainforest exhibit creates an authentic immersive environment that combines tropical plants with unusual animals such as Jasmine, the Linne's two-toed Sloth and Rodrigues fruit bats.

The newly developed Adventurers’ Learning Centre offers modern play equipment for children to learn more about animals at Belfast Zoo, as well as study native species and biodiversity.

Four-Plus Million Britons Read About Wicklow and its ‘Vikings’ Connections

Special to The Irish American Post

An article Dec. 12, 2016, highlighting Wicklow as the stunning filming location for the TV series Vikings appeared in The Sun newspaper in Britain. The feature profiled this part of Ireland to more than four million readers – or potential British holidaymakers for Wicklow and Ireland. 

Vikings is a historical drama television series written and created by Michael Hirst for the channel History. Filmed in Ireland for the History Channel, it premiered on March 3, 2013. The program was inspired by the sagas of Viking Ragnar Lothbrok, one of the best-known legendary Norse heroes and considered the scourge of England and France in medieval days. An Irish-Canadian co-production, Vikings was produced by Octagon Films and Take 5 Productions, with Australian actor Travis Fimmel in the lead.

Tourism Ireland in London, in conjunction with Fáilte Ireland, invited journalist Rob Lewis to visit Ireland last October. The resulting article featured great images of places like Glendalough and described the "stunning set" and "awe-inspiring landscape" which features in the popular TV drama series. Rob Lewis also wrote about Waterford’s Viking Triangle, the city’s "cultural and heritage quarter", in the article

David Boyce, Tourism Ireland’s Deputy Head of Britain, said: "We are delighted with the excellent exposure for Wicklow and Waterford in The Sun, which is an great way of highlighting Ireland’s Ancient East to a large audience of potential holidaymakers in Britain. Publicity is an important element of our overall promotional programme, helping to raise awareness through the British media of the many things to see and do on a holiday around the island of Ireland." 

Boyce continued that 2016 has been a good year for visitor numbers to the island of Ireland from Britain, with the latest CSO figures showing an increase of almost +12% for January to October. Since the UK referendum on Brexit, Tourism Ireland has been closely monitoring developments in the British outbound travel market. 

"As our nearest neighbor and our largest market for overseas tourism, Britain will remain a priority for us. The depreciation of sterling against the euro since the referendum means that value for money will be a key message for us in Britain next year," Boyce emphasized. In 2017, Tourism Ireland will continue to work with our industry partners to highlight the ease of getting to the island of Ireland, he asserted. 

Tourism Ireland is responsible for promoting the Ireland overseas as a leading holiday destination. Tourism is the island of Ireland’s largest indigenous industry; responsible for in excess of 4% of GNP in the Republic of Ireland and employing approximately 220,000 people. In 2015, 9.5 million overseas visitors were welcomed to the island of Ireland, delivering revenue of €4.9 billion. Tourism Ireland’s international website is, with 29 market sites available in 11 language versions around the world. They attracted more than 16.6 million visitors in 2015.

Galway Named UNESCO City of Film 

Special to The Irish American Post

Since 2014, Galway on Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way has been designated a UNESCO City of Film, one of only a few in the world to achieve the much sought-after title. It joins Sydney, Australia, and Galway’s twin city of Bradford in the UK as a City of Film, bringing the highest internationally recognized standard of excellence in the creative industries to the West coast of Ireland.

The title, announced in Paris by UNESCO director-general, Irina Bokova, is permanent and also includes membership of UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network. A total of 63 cities around the world were in the running for City of Film status during a competitive two-year campaign.

The designation gives Galway immediate access and links to a global platform of major metropolitan and cultural centers such as Sydney, Seoul, Shanghai, Montreal, Buenos Aires, Berlin and Edinburgh and boosts the city’s and county’s already impressive film and TV industry.

The announcement came just a few days after Galway Film Centre’s annual film and television seminar, with participants that included Beau Willimon, creator and showrunner of the Netflix drama series House of Cards, Bafta-winning producer Claire Jennings and former Channel 4 television drama head Gub Neal, who is producer of the hit TV BBC series The Fall.

Galway Mayor Donal Lyons, said: "This is fantastic news for our film, TV, artistic and cultural community, and of course the city and region as a whole. It reflects so positively on Galway’s strong heritage of film and acknowledges our current level of creative activity, pointing to a bright future for the production, promotion and appreciation of film in Galway and the West of Ireland."

The city is where the black comedy, The Guard was filmed – the story of an unorthodox Irish policeman who joins forces with a straight-laced FBI agent to take on a drug smuggling gang in the famous Gaelic-speaking area of Connemara. It is the most successful independent Irish film ever made in terms of box office receipts.

Galway is the second Irish city to be recognized by UNESCO for its creativity – Dublin won UNESCO City of Literature status in 2009.

The city is a major stopping point of Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way, a lively and young-feeling city famed for its friendly atmosphere, incredible coastal and mountain scenery and its cultural and festival scenes. It is the home for three of Ireland’s best known cultural events – the Galway Arts Festival, the Galway Races and the Galway Oyster Festival. 


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