FROM stonemasons to members of Cork’s Igbo community, from Mahon footballers to people with intellectual disabilities: in Cork, you name it and Emma Bowell and Eddie Noonan have probably filmed it.
For the past 21 years, husband and wife team Emma and Eddie have run a production company called Frameworks Films, which aims to give Cork communities the agency to tell their own story their way.
The duo celebrated Frameworks’ 21 st birthday this week with an online event and the announcement of a new ambitious project for the second city called Cork Community Media Hub, which will combine important film archives from Cork life with media literacy educational programmes.
Cork Community Media Hub will first have its home at Frameworks Films’ Old Mallow Road base, but Emma says they hope to open a separate physical space for the initiative as soon as possible.
“We have lots of plans for it,” Emma says. “We really feel that the time is now for this project. Media literacy is really important in this era of Fake News, not only for young people, but for people of all ages.” The 21 st milestone may be a good time for Emma and Eddie to look to the future, but it’s also a time to look back on the wealth of projects filmed by the couple throughout the history of their production company.
“When you look back, you do think, jeepers, there’s a lot there,” Emma says with a smile.
“We were working so hard on our celebration event that we haven’t stopped to be proud yet. 21 years is a big achievement for Frameworks, but also for all those groups who put themselves out there and told their stories.” The couple are speaking via Zoom from the home they share with their two sons, 9 and 12.
Eddie is a native Corkonian, who grew up “a working-class boy” in Farranree and Blackpool, while Emma grew up in Sligo and Dublin, moving to Cork in 1993 to complete an MA in UCC.
“When I went to UCC, I signed up to do a filmmaking course and Eddie was the tutor on the course,” Emma says.
“But we were very professional, nothing happened until the course was finished!”
At the time, Eddie was already a freelance cameraman and had worked on several community projects as well as teaching filmmaking. His career trajectory had been a varied one since he left school at just 15.
“When I got my first job as a messenger boy, my grandfather told me it was a good pensionable job, can you imagine?” Eddie says.
“I was 15. I had always been interested in film so I got myself a super-eight camera and I used to make short films with friends.” For seven years, Eddie worked as a bus conductor, and it was the offer of redundancy from this job when Bus Éireann switched to a driver-only system in the 1980s that led to him becoming a full-time professional cameraman.
“I bought my own proper camera and I did a part-time animation course in the Crawford College of Art and Design, which was the only film course in Cork at the time,” Eddie says.
“I could have stayed on the buses and become a driver, but I told my parents I wanted to leave. I didn’t like it, even though it was a great experience because I was probably a bit shy at the time and downstairs you’d be talking to older people, upstairs down the back you’d be talking to some of the rough and ready guys. It brought me out of myself.”
So how did the decision to launch Frameworks Films come about? Emma picks up the thread of the tale: “After I did the film course, Eddie and I worked together on an oral history project with the Blackpool Historical Society. They were interested in making a documentary and it ended up becoming a 90-minute documentary called The Lives And Times of Blackpool. We worked on it for a couple of years.
“At the time, more groups were starting to use film to tell their stories. We started to feel there was a real need for a dedicated organisation to work with groups, to collaborate with groups to tell their stories with them involved in the whole process.”
Both partners returned to education to ensure they had the skills needed to launch their production company. Emma completed an MA in film production, while Eddie did a degree in Youth and Community Work in UCC.
Since their launch in 1999, Frameworks Films have made hundreds of films, ranging from short documentaries right the way up to feature-length projects, with a breath-taking array of community groups, often in marginalised communities where people struggle to get their voices heard.
“We’d both have a pretty strong interest in social justice,” Emma says.
“Our work became a marriage between the Youth and Community work, and film: we developed a process for working with groups based on community development models, where it wasn’t so much about the end product but also about working with the group along the way.”
For the most part, Eddie does the camera work while Emma directs and edits, but the roles are fluid and other creative people such as sound designers, composers and graphic designers, will also be involved.
Highlights for the company so far have included producing 12 short films called Cork Widescreen when Cork was European Capital of Culture in 2005, which also served as a springboard for Cork Community Television, first broadcast by the then Cork Multichannel during that year, but now broadcast by Virgin Media.
Both the film projects and Cork Community Television had the power to tell uniquely Cork stories that are true to the voices of participants, Emma says: “People loved seeing Cork stories on the television. Up until then you might get the odd piece about Cork on Nationwide or something but there were so many stories to tell. People love seeing their friends and families and neighbours on the television.”
Looking back on such a diversity of projects produced over two decades, both Eddie and Emma recall stand-out projects that left an emotional impact.
For Eddie, it was filming his own family members for Sunbeam, a documentary about Blackpool’s famous textiles factory which burned down in 2003.
“My parents worked in the Sunbeam and met there, and my sisters worked there,” he says. “I remember as a young fella asking the Sunbeam girls for elastic for our catapults. My parents are both in that film and it’s very emotional because some of the people in it are no longer with us. To me, that’s a favourite.”
For Emma, the experience of working with people with intellectual disabilities on Over Here, screened as part of Cork Widescreen in 2005, continues to resonate to this day.
“I remember some people saying it was the first time anyone had asked them to articulate how they felt about their disability themselves,” she says.
“The word ‘empowerment’ is used a lot, but at the screening you could really see that some of them felt very valued that their opinions had been sought.”
“We don’t have a core salary so we’re always going from project to project and filling out funding applications: there’s a lot of blood sweat and tears that goes into the work that we do, but when it comes together like that it’s very rewarding. That’s what’s kept us going all these years. It’s really about the people and the connections and the reactions.”