“The American Wake” follows Honora Parsons, an 18 year-old girl who has never known a life beyond her home in Aran until she receives a letter from her distant sister inviting her to immigrate to America. Now, Nora must choose between the home that she knows or a life beyond the gray of the Atlantic.
While studying abroad at NUI Galway in the fall of my sophomore year of college, I traveled to Tonroe, County Mayo, a small townland and the birthplace of my grandmother, Ellen Parsons, to meet my Irish relatives. For the first time, I met numerous cousins as well as my great-aunt Annie and uncle Walter, my grandmother’s siblings. They shared with me stories and pictures detailing my grandmother’s time in Ireland before she immigrated to the United States in 1950. It occurred to me that my grandmother, who I had always viewed as a stubborn and emotionally repressed woman had a life in Ireland that was full of memories, both happy and sad, that she had never shared with me. My grandmother became the inspiration for the character of Nora and her story as well as those of her siblings on both sides of the Atlantic wove the fabric of the film’s narrative.
Joined by my partner and cinematographer, Tristan Moffatt, I returned to Ireland in the fall of 2017 for the first time since meeting my Irish relatives and scouted locations on the desolate island of Inishmore, cast and crewed in Dublin and Galway and slowly, what seemed so impossible on paper began to take form in the realm of the Emerald Isle.
We returned to the Aran Islands in December to host production on-location, battling monstrous waves, 90 mph winds and frequent power outages. The island’s population is approximately 850 people. During the winter months, tourism is infrequent and the locals barely make public appearances. There was a unique security as well as a frightening silence to the land which inspired a haunting mood during filming.
Together, our American and Irish units traveled back in time, turning a 200 year-old famine house into a living, [barely] breathing peasant cottage, donning our actors in authentic vintage garments and Aran wear, thrusting our team into the bowels of Aran weather, ensuring that we captured the essence of this land and those who were brave enough to lead their lives here. As the week progressed, I found myself drifting deep into the hypnotic tranquility of the island. It captivated our team and the feeling of isolation and distant, yet limitless possibilities beyond the cliffs of Dun Aengus lingered over us. We departed Aran feeling smaller than when we had arrived, yet eager to reflect our story onscreen.
“The American Wake” was an Official Selection of the 30th Galway Film Fleadh and continues to be accepted and recognized by film festivals across the world. The film will screen on Ireland’s airline, Aer Lingus beginning on October 18th.
This film began with a phone call from Tonroe to the United States. On one end, myself with my Irish family, on the other, my grandmother, longing to see her brother’s face and hold her sister’s hand. “The American Wake” is a meditation on the trauma of immigration, both for those who leave and those who are left behind.
My goal is to develop and produce the feature-length version of “The American Wake” and expand this narrative in order to reach an even wider audience. I believe that these characters’ stories are far from over and that this film shares only the beginning of Nora’s journey.
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