The Radharc Awards 2016 will be presented on Thursday 20 October in the Talbot Stillorgan Hotel, Dublin. Two trophies will be presented, one for the best documentary film that was screened on television and one for the best short documentary for new media made in the past two years. This year the guest of honour will be broadcaster and radio columnist Ms Olivia O’Leary.
The Radharc Awards for documentary films were first presented in 2002 to honour the memory of Father Joe Dunn and have continued on a biennial basis ever since then. Many strong and challenging stories in the ethos of Radharc have been presented over the years.
Radharc was the title of a series of documentaries broadcast by RTÉ between 1962 and 1996. The first programme was aired on January 12th 1962, just 12 days after the new Irish television service was launched. Over the following 34 years, more than 400 programmes were televised.
The word ‘Radharc’ (pronounced ‘rye-ark’) is the Gaelic for ‘view’, ‘vision’ or ‘panorama’. What the Radharc team set out to do was to bring to an Irish TV audience reports from around Ireland and later from 75 countries on different ways of living the Christian Gospel understood in its broadest sense. Among the issues covered were human rights, injustice, faith, religion, persecution, struggles against oppressive regimes, famine, and Christian heritage.
In 1959 Archbishop John Charles McQuaid of Dublin sent two priests to New York to learn something about the new medium of television, due to begin in Ireland soon. On their return, Father Joe Dunn and Father Desmond Forristal gathered a few like-minded priests with creative talent around them and began to produce short experimental films. Archbishop McQuaid gave them a gift of £300 towards the cost of a 16mm sync-sound camera and wished them well. When the films were shown to Michael Barry, who was to be Controller of the new TV service, he immediately commissioned them for broadcast. The team of priest-filmmakers got to work and produced the first series of programmes which were over the following three decades among the most popular and critically acclaimed programmes on Irish television. They picked up many awards both national and international and were regularly in the viewers’ top ten most watched programmes on RTÉ.
Many notable documentaries were made during this period. Films such as When Ireland Starved – a film in four parts about the great Irish Famine of the 1840’s, Who is for Liberation’dealing with Liberation Theology and featuring Archbishop, now Blessed Oscar Romero. Grosse Isle – Gateway and Graveyard made in Newfoundland, where up to 10,000 Irish men and women who died from famine and disease on the perilous journey across the Atlantic are now buried. Another significant group of 5 films were those made in 1987 in the Holy Land.
As well as political and social subjects the Radharc team also became noted for historical documentaries, especially the series of 17 films researched and directed by Father Liam Swords a history scholar and one time rector of the Irish College in Rome. Films such as Michael O’Cleary and the Annals of the Four Masters and The Story of the Celtic Monasteries both introduced by Cyril Cusack are included in this series.
Down and Out in Dublin looked at poverty in Ireland’s capital in 1964. It is notable for its beautifully crafted and poignant commentary written by Des Forristal and spoken by Fr Peter Lemass. Radharc in Derry is a powerful witness to the inequality of the Northern Catholic nationalist community in 1964. It was considered too sensitive politically to broadcast at the time and in fact was not permitted to be aired until 25 years later, in 1989.
‘Mother of the Kennedys’ is a unique extended interview with Rose Kennedy, whose sons, President John F Kennedy and Senator Robert Kennedy were both assassinated. She gives a revealing account of how her faith helped her through these very public tragedies.
Night Flight to Uli – one of the most significant films ever produced by Radharc – covers the horror of war and famine in Biafra and the dangers in flying Irish aid to a starving population of refugees.
Commenting ahead of this year’s award ceremony, Peter Dunn, Chair of the Radharc Trust said, “The subject matter of Radharc Films was always an interesting mixture of themes keeping audiences informed about matters in the worlds of Faith, Spirituality, History and Heritage in Ireland and around the world.
“To be eligible for consideration for the biennial Radharc Awards, the documentaries entered must be of high artistic merit that address subjects such as national or international topics of faith, morality, social justice, human rights, history, religion or heritage. Programme makers may belong to any or no religious group but the programme itself should portray positive Christian and human values and challenge the moral conscience of the audience. The tone of the documentary should reflect the ethos that motivated Radharc Films.”
Peter continued, “The number of entries this year show a big increase on 2014 and there are some very strong entries among them. We look forward with interest to the decisions of the jury next week.”
The Radharc documentary film archive contains 425 films made in 75 countries. From 1962 to 1979 a total of 145 films or one third of the collection were made in 25 different countries across the world. For more see www.radharc.ie.