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Sacred Heart University’s School of Communication and Media Arts launches its first semester-long film program in Dingle, Ireland.

FTMA students at the Dingle Brewing Company.

by Tim Deenihan

It seemed like a good idea—develop a program in the School of Communication and Media Arts specifically for the University’s satellite campus in Dingle, Ireland, that might facilitate the school’s integration into the local community and make use of that community as the backdrop for students cultivating an interest in filmmaking. The program might be a useful selling point for students on the fence about a semester abroad. It might be the opportunity to explore Irish culture and countryside. Perhaps they might even make a connection or two.

It seemed like a good idea.

It’s quickly turning out to be one of the best ideas anyone involved with the project has ever had.

Only a few weeks into the inaugural semester of the offering, the handful of trailblazing student filmmakers had either completed or were in the pre-production stages of several professional-grade films. The work ranges widely in subject, from documenting their own physical and cultural explorations of the country to commercial and promotional work with and for professional companies expecting professional results.

Of these, there’s the Dingle Brewing Company, which produces Tom Crean’s Lager. The five-minute documentary highlights the brewery’s evolution, the lagers’s namesake (the famed local antarctic explorer who joined first Scott, then Shackleton, in a journey to the end of the earth no less than three times), and portrays their brewmaster, Emily Star, one of the country’s first women in the profession.

They also worked with Shane Finn, a local fitness instructor preparing to complete 24 marathons in 24 days to help raise money and awareness for spina bifida.

They made an eight-part film project for the Dingle Tourism Alliance that was shot on locations throughout the region over five production days, interviewing locals and highlighting some of the “Best Of…” gems that the quaint, provincial corner of Ireland has to offer.

“Through working with local subjects and getting to tell real stories about real people, our students are getting an incredibly wealthy cultural experience on top of their academic and production lessons,” said SCMA professor Justin Liberman. “I have to admit that I was unaware of just how rich of a cinematic tradition there is here in Ireland. There are the classics everyone knows, but there’s so much happening here in the country that we don’t see in the U.S. That is really exciting because it means the people here have a tremendous sense of aesthetic – they really know what looks good – and that, in turn, means we get held accountable,” Liberman adds, with no small degree of relish in his voice.

Liberman, a co-program director of Sacred Heart’s graduate film school, Film and Television Masters Program (FTMA), is spearheading this new program and living in Dingle for the semester. “I am so impressed by the students here in our program. They have totally stepped up and have impressed everyone so far. They have pushed themselves to explore new cultures and are using that energy to inform and inspire their creative output,” he said. “They are producing some of the best work I have ever seen at the student level.”

Eric Torrens is one of six students, some of whom had never held a camera before, who laid the groundwork for the course this semester. “At first I was afraid of the pressure the situation presented,” he admits. “But pressure makes diamonds,” he adds, typical of the roll-up-your-sleeves-and-let’s-do-this mentality that seems to pervade the program, transcending the usual definitions of schoolwork, or even work work. “We are all eager to cut our teeth on every production,” Torrens says. “That kind of energy is contagious.”

In addition to SHU’s established curriculum offerings in Dingle, the SCMA program offers four discipline-specific courses, Media and Cultural Literacy, Irish National Cinema, Introduction to International Field Production and an internship. “The program is a great example of our commitment to integrating theory and practice,” notes Sally Ross, director of Undergraduate Programs for SCMA. “The media industries are increasingly global in scope, and we think it’s important to give our majors opportunities to learn intercultural skills that are relevant to their fields of study.”

“I really feel like the very best of SHU is on display here,” Liberman says. “Say ‘Sacred Heart University’ in the street, and the people here just light up. It’s a real honor to be able to help forge the next bond between the campus and the community, and I’m just so grateful to Jerry (Dr. Gerald Reid, director of Irish Cultural Studies) for believing in SCMA and giving us this shot.”

“Knowing that I have been a part of creating such a confident and rewarding atmosphere is something that I am proud of, not only as a student, but as a person,” says Torrens, the budding filmmaker and accidental ambassador. “It just feels right. How often do you get to feel like that?”