Interview with JIG director Sue Bourne

As soon as you’ve read this, read our Jig review. Then savour the documentary itself in all its glory.

What inspired you to focus on the little-known world of Irish dancing? Did you have any expectations in advance of what a passionate, driven world it would be?

I was approached by a Scottish Journalist, a former Irish Dancer who told me that the Irish Dance world championships were being held in Glasgow the following year and thousands of dancers from around the world would be descending on Scotland to compete for a coveted world title. I knew nothing at all about the world of Irish Dancing so I was intriqued… film makers like competitions and we like global ones too. Then there was the added plus that this was a world that no outsider had been privvy to before so it started to tick all the right boxes.

Did the Irish Dancing community welcome the filming process?

An Coimisiun who run the world Championships had never allowed an outsider in before. They want to protect the choreography of the steps and also I think they are wary of outsiders coming into their closed world. Because of the wigs, the fake tans, the make up and the hugely expensive dresses they have come in for some criticism so I think because of that they were wary of giving an outsider access to their world.

Until you came along, cameras had never been granted access behind the scenes. How did you achieve it?

We researched the main objections they had to having a film made and set about overcoming those hurdles and objections. We talked to a lot of people – dance teachers and members of An Coimisiun – and discovered that a lot of the younger generation were keen on the idea of a film being made. They wanted the outside world to discover Irish Dancing. And they had seen my films and knew the type of film I made so I think that helped reassure them too. We went to Dublin and presented our case to about 100 members of the ruling body and to our great delight they voted more or less unanimously to let us in to make our film.

Where do you think the meat of the documentary lies? In the hilarity of this other world, or as an expose… or something else?

The film is not an expose. Nor does it make fun of Irish Dancing or the dancers. I don’t make films like that. My films attempt to find the truth and tell it. To find the human stories we can all relate to. To find variety in the stories and people we introduce you to so that you get involved in their lives and you care about what happens to them. Of course to the outside world it all looks very strange – one Mum said when she first saw it it reminded her of a Shirley Temple convention and that’s a pretty accurate description. But once you start watching the dancing, once you find out about the training, about the hard work and the dedication, and about the financial sacrifice and the close knit family life it becomes all the more interesting. These were ten year olds like none I had ever met. They were driven. They were talented. They were disciplined. And they danced like a dream. It was just fantastic material for a film.

Though JIG is entirely real, does it compare with charming mockumentaries like Best In Show?

Best in Show was made to look like it was a documentary – but they made up the characters so they were hilarious and ridiculous. Of course there are some elements of similarity but JIG is nothing like as ridiculous or mad as Best in Show. It is real – and even if you are not that interested in dancing you will find yourself sitting on the edge of your seat, rooting for someone to acheive their heart’s desire and win that medal. I am not a huge fan of dancing but I found myself sitting mesmerised by the talent that was on display – you do not want to mock or laugh at this sort of talent. I think everyone will find something to really like about this film .

Are the goals behind the 9 dancers you feature in JIG the same as the goals of X-Factor contestants, do you think?

No not at all. One of the reasons I wanted to make this film, one of things I found fascinating, especially in today’s money and fame obsessed culture, is that all these dancers are doing it for no material gain. There is no cash to be won or made. On the contrary – it costs them and their parents a lot of money. They are doing it because they are driven. They have set themselve goals and they are determined to achieve them. At the end of 364 days of practice and hard work they may win a title – and recognition in the closed world of Irish Dancing. But that is it. How amazing is that? No money, no fame, no glamour. Just sheer hard work and achievement. There was, for me, something fascinating about that, in contrast to all that is going on around us.

What’s next for JIG? Film festivals? Worldwide screening? Picked up by TV?

This weekend I fly to HOT DOCS in Toronto the hugely prestigious film festival in Canada. JIG has been selected for the festival and will have its North American Premiere there on Sunday. And a second screening on May 4th – the same day as its UK premiere in Glasgow. After that it goes on general release in the UK and Ireland on May 6th – at the moment in over 50 cinemas – and is then being screened at the SHEFFIELD INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL in June. And we are now working on the North American cinema release for mid June. It will have its Television World Premiere on BBC 2 in September. And hopefully global domination will follow!

Our thanks to Sue!

About The Author