With new Irish/UK co-production Tiger Raid heading west to play at the Galway Film Fleadh we caught up with director Simon Dixon and producer Gareth Coulam Evans to talk about the war-set thriller.
Can you describe the path of the film’s cinematic journey from the premiere in Tribeca to home in Galway?
Tiger Raid is defined by the tortured masculinity of Joe and Paddy, the two central characters, and the savage poetry of their dialogue. These essential elements were what first drew us to Mick Donnellan’s stage play, Radio Luxembourg, which he wrote while living in Galway. So after a long journey all around the world the Irish Premiere this week really will be a homecoming for the film.
The film began when we were talking to Mick about his work, and he shared an unproduced draft of his next play with us. The beautiful brutality of the language and the desire to go deep into the dark hearts of men of violence were there from the outset. Since then it came to London for the three of us to develop it into a screenplay, and move the story to the middle East, to open up the film to a different scale and context, before immersing ourselves in the reality of that world when we went out to Jordan to shoot.
It’s always been our intention to make films for international audiences, and so in that sense it was really important to us that this first film was such a strong international creative collaboration and it was perfect to have the privilege of premiering it at a festival like Tribeca that’s a magnet for great international storytelling.
You transposed the stage-play to the Iraq war. Was it difficult to retain the essential essence of the play?
Moving the story to the Middle East was crucial to us to open the characters up in a new context, and to invite the audience to to see them through a fresh lens. Putting them in the glare of the desert sun makes us view them without the baggage of a familiar setting, and puts them on a stage where a much broader audience can engage with the brutal truth of their stories.
We were already fascinated by a period there during the conflict when you had a huge number of private security contractors there and there was a really high level of lawlessness, it was like a terrible modern wild west. So it was like a magnet for opportunistic men of violence and when we heard Joe and Paddy’s voices in Mick’s original work it made sense that this is where these guys would want to be at that time.
The essence of the play and the film is in the dark hearts of Joe and Paddy. That’s what drew us to the story in the first place – the opportunity to really dig deep into and pull apart the twisted workings of two guys whose outlooks are so powerfully and differently shaped by their lives of violence. So it was perfect that they almost demanded this new context themselves, and took to it so naturally because it was where they needed to be.
Can you describe the process of making the film?
Working in Jordan was absolutely essential to making the film with the visual scale and emotional power that it has. We wanted to start the film with real scale, vast expansive environments, and then to be able to gradually close in on the audience, pulling them in tighter and tighter to Joe and Paddy until we they’re locked with them in a claustrophobic downward spiral that they can’t escape from.
The shoot was always intended to be an experiential process, we wanted the actors and the crew to feel what it was like to be in the desert that stretched into Iraq. They had the same sand underfoot, passed road signs for Baghdad on the way to set and were woken by the call to prayer in the morning. It was an all round immersive experience that took everyone way outside of any familiar world and gave us all a platform to push ourselves to make something singular and different.
You shot the film chronologically. Was that always a desire,and what did that do for the atmosphere between Damien and Brian, and the rest of the cast?
The material demands total conviction and commitment from the cast to go to very transgressive places and take the audience with them. Giving them the ability to build that chronologically was always going to be essential to achieving the explosive level of performance that they did.
It also meant that we could use the introduction of the third lead, Sofia Boutella, who plays Shadha, to maximum effect. When she appears she becomes the emotional core of the film that Joe and Paddy have to pivot around. By holding her back we allowed her appearance to be as explosive on set as it is in the film, pulling the men apart and forcing them each to respond to the challenge she represents.
What was the training regime like for the lads?
It was really important to us that Brian and Damien not only looked the part, but that they understood how trained men of violence move and think. So we had each of them spend time with soldiers and former military contractors with extensive Middle East experience to train their bodies, but also to allow them to soak up their experiences.
This gave them a real foundation in the truth of that terrifying world, as well as an understanding of the physical discipline that keeps you alive there. That immersion in the thinking, tactics, and experiences of their characters was absolutely essential to them delivering such unusual and distinct portrayals of men of violence with such iron-clad conviction.
Tiger Raid follows two Irish mercenaries (Brian Glesson and Damien Molony) working in a private security crew in the Middle East. They have been assigned to kidnap the daughter of a powerful man as part of a major robbery – a Tiger Raid. One of them has a brutal and unrepentant view of the world, defined by fear and adoration of their invisible but omnipresent boss while the other is recklessly ambitious, hungry to progress through the ranks of the crew. As the raid progresses, their frenzied world turns in on itself as past misdeeds come to the surface
Tiger Raid was produced by Dixon Baxi Evans in the UK together with Samson Films (Once) in Ireland, with funding from the Irish Film Board. It will be released nationwide by Wildcard Distribution this autumn.
Both the director Simon Dixon and lead actor Brian Gleeson will attend the Galway Film Fleadh screening of Tiger Raid which takes place in the Town Hall Theatre on Thursday 7th July at 10pm.