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Manx Language Foillan Films Archive

Posted on 19.07.2021

Nicola Tooms, Assistant Curator at Manx National Heritage, explains more about the Foillan Films Archive now available to watch on iMuseum: Click to Watch

The Film Archive (part of Manx National Heritage Library and Archives) contains a number of films made by Manx language filmmakers Foillan Films. These films have been recently digitised and I’ve had the pleasure of cataloguing them, including creating subtitles in Manx and English, so they can be viewed and enjoyed by everyone online.

Foillan Films was set up in the early 1980s by language activist George Broderick and filmmaker Peter Maggs. George attended the 1982 Yn Chrunniaght festival where he saw two of Peter’s films. Struck by the quality of the films, George recognised the potential of more Manx filmmaking and he had the idea to make a film entirely in the Manx language. In August that year George wrote to Peter with his proposal and by Christmas Peter began filming landscape shots, taking advantage of the snowy weather. Just one year later the first ever film in the Manx Language, Ny Kirree Fo Niaghtey, was premiered at the 1983 Yn Chrunniaght.

Correspondence in the Foillan Films Archive reveals that from the outset George had a very clear vision for the film. Ny Kirree Fo Niaghtey (The Sheep Under the Snow) is a 22-minute documentary film about the well-known traditional Manx song of the same name.

The film expands upon the story told in the song and tells the family history of the people mentioned. It also examines the different manuscript versions of the song. While Doug Faragher narrates George’s script we see Peter’s landscape footage of the places named in the story. The narration is interspersed with the wonderful singing of Brian Stowell, filmed in front of a cosy fire and an appreciative audience in the Mines Tavern, Laxey.

The following year George and Peter made Foillan Films’ second film, Çhengey ny Marey (Mother Tongue) another documentary film in Manx, this time about the Manx language. At 53 minutes Çhengey ny Mayrey was over double the length of the first film, a more ambitious project featuring archive film, sound footage and several interviews.

Working on the films and reading through the accompanying archive really made me think about how much has changed since the films were made. The cost of filmmaking equipment, in fact even the cost of film itself, meant fundraising and a judicious use of film stock, so different to today’s digital filming. One of Peter’s letters gives us a reminder of the realities of filmmaking that today’s TikTok generation wouldn’t believe. Peter writes to George about filming the credits, literally taking film of letters arranged into words, and how his set of letters didn’t have enough ‘n’s for the Manx language!

Peter’s letter to George on filming credits.

Foillan Films went on to make five more films and the archive shows us George had ideas for even more on a wide range of subjects including Laxey Wheel and internment. I have to wonder how many more they might have made if they’d had access to today’s technology.

When the Foillan Films Archive was kindly donated to Manx National Heritage it was given with the hope that it would be able to reach a wider audience and so it’s a great pleasure to make them available online. I’m sure many will enjoy watching them and maybe it will inspire a new generation of Manx filmmakers.

Photograph of Bock Yuan Fannee at St John’s Crossroads. The group are waiting for the local traffic to pass so they can film the sequence. (I don’t think there would be a Manx Dance group willing to brave today’s traffic at the same crossroads.) 

Click to Watch All 7 Films From The Foillan Films Archive

Nicola Tooms, Assistant Curator, Manx National Heritage

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