It may surprise you to learn that Frank was not the first Irish filmmaker to catch my attention.
It was 2004, my first year working for Heartland Film Festival in Indianapolis. I definitely felt in over my head as I frantically tried to manage a massive Call for Entries and plan for the upcoming Festival. I was still in the “I will do anything NOT to get in trouble” frame of mind, so when I got an email from Ireland requesting a fee waiver for a student film, I was immediately inclined to turn the cheeky filmmaker down. The short version is that the filmmaker, Simon Fitzmaurice, twisted my arm with his charm and I let the film in for free, thinking to myself, “this better be good.”
I remember getting the short film, “Full Circle,” in the mail and putting it straight away into the office DVD player, my curiosity driving me on. I pushed “play” and sat there, frozen, captivated in the dark room as I watched a beautiful story unfold, unlike any I had seen that year out of hundreds of entries. I had tears in my eyes and I was in love. This film HAD to make it into the Festival, and from that day on, I did everything I could to nudge it and encourage it forward in the process. When the jury chose “Full Circle” to win a Jimmy Stewart Memorial Crystal Heart Award, I was over the moon.
(You can actually watch “Full Circle” on demand if you go here.)
As I did with all “my” filmmakers over the years, I got to know Simon through email and phone calls leading up to the October festival. We made his travel arrangements, got his tuxedo measurements, and planned the showing of his film with meticulous detail. I recall in one email or phone call how he excitedly told me he’d be getting married just a few weeks before Heartland and how happy he was at the way things were going for him. When I finally did meet Simon face-to-face during those busy days of the 2004 film festival, he jumped out of his chair and greeted me with a hug. He was a wonderful guest to Heartland, and one who made my first year there extra special.
We kept in touch a bit over the years, and I dropped him a line when I first came to visit Frank here in Ireland for Christmas 2006. I was always anxious for the two fellow Heartland alums to meet, but the closest we got was via text message and shared acquaintance. Soon he was promoting another film, “The Sound of People,” which made it into Sundance, and on top of that he and his lovely wife had started a family of 1, 2, then 3 boys! Frank and I were busy as well, with me moving here, then getting married, then having Evelyn and on and on. You know how life is.
But it always struck me, even as my life has changed so drastically from those days of wrestling cans of 35mm film and pleading with Los Angeles agents and researching who was filming the next best thing and where… it has always struck me which faces (and films) I remember most from my time in Indianapolis. To be honest, probably only 2 or 3 per year really pop out at me without thinking too hard. I watched hundreds of films and met dozens of filmmakers. Some were terrible, some were incredible, and many, many just fell into the grey area in between. Simon Fitzmaurice, and his films, were never caught in the grey. His writing alone, then and now, is some of the best Ireland has to offer in modern prose and poetry. It’s lyrical and ethereal. It’s honest and true, yet it’s magical. It’s enduring.
And so here I sit, a couple weeks before Christmas, and Simon Fitzmaurice has brought tears to my eyes once again. Frank heard his wife, Ruth, interviewed on the Ray D’Arcy Show on Today FM a couple days ago, and they referred to a recent article Simon had written for The Irish Times.
Since I last spoke to him, Simon has been diagnosed with Motor Neuron Disease and has been gradually losing the use of his limbs. He’s had to face an awful lot in the last year or two, and he’s had to look at life in a way most strong, ambitious, talented young men never even contemplate. He’s had to look at life with a view of death. He’s had to decide how he wants to live, but perhaps most importantly, that he wants to LIVE. Especially as his wife is expecting twins (a point he particularly wanted her to clarify on live radio, that his “willy still works!”).
No words I can write here would ever do justice to this man’s life and his work, nor should they, as he has proved through his recent pieces for the Times that he can speak brilliantly well for himself.
I guess I just wanted to take a moment to acknowledge someone who has meant a great deal to me, and even more so now that I’m reconnected and reading about his life with the rest of the Irish population. I think it’s sad, yes, but so so so beautiful, and at the risk of sounding trite, it has made me stop in the tornado of Christmas chaos and realize just how precious my own life is, and how much I have to be grateful for. Please read along, but only if you dare to let yourself be moved.
Merry Christmas to Simon, Ruth, and all the little Fitzmaurices. We send you our best from Drogheda.