Sue Bourne's Irish Dancing documentary Jig fails to excite (2 stars)

Sue Bourne's Irish Dancing documentary Jig fails to excite

(PG) 97min

A year on from being named one of the UK’s top ten directors by Broadcast magazine, documentary filmmaker Sue Bourne would seem to actually be obeying the law of diminishing returns. Her last film for Channel 4’s Cutting Edge series The Red Lion was a pointless and depressing foray into Britain’s pub culture and now Jig – a film about the fortieth Irish dancing World Championships (held in Glasgow in 2010) – is just plain dull. It’s all a far cry from the empathetic simplicity of her earlier films My Street and Mum and Me.

Taking her lead from Jeffrey BlitzSpellbound and Marilyn Agrelo’s Mad Hot Ballroom, Bourne builds up her portrait of parental obsession and ingénue determination with indulgent interviews and padded backstory, all edited to create some kind of mild conflict within the competing age groups. Back and forth we go. We meet their coaches, who for the most part seem to be angry yelping terriers obsessed with succeeding in their minority sport. Then there’s the wigs, the overpriced dresses, the financially challenged parents. It’s all very My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding.

It takes a long time to get to the tournament itself, by which time it’s difficult to care or even understand what’s going on. There are couple of problems here, and the biggest one is structural. By its very nature Irish dancing lacks the romance of ballroom dancing or the nerdy familiarity of the spelling bee, so needs to be tenderised for public consumption. Jig lacks those lyrical segues, the poetry, those moments snatched from eternity that make Blitz’s and Agrelo’s films so compelling. The film also lacks context and conflict, a little archival footage and foul-mouthed abuse would have gone a long way.

Though undoubtedly a work of intense research and hard work, Jig drags when it should be making you root for a winner, a sure sign of a short film stretched beyond its content.

GFT, Glasgow from Fri 6–Thu 12 May and selected release.

YouTube - Jig Trailer


  • 2 stars
  • 2011
  • UK
  • PG
  • Directed by: Sue Bourne

Though undoubtedly a work of intense research and hard work, this documentary about the Irish dancing World Championships lacks context and conflict and drags when it ought to have you rooting for the winners.

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1. Avid movie junkie25 Apr 2011, 11:11pm Report

I have been waiting for a honest review, not one from an individual who has something to gain from the success of this film. I think Paul is spot on in his remarks of obsessive parents, angry yelping terriers as instructors and so on. I was hoping it would show this side of Irish dance. Irish dance is as sick as it's secrets and it is sick. After this project is done some brave film-maker should record the real story.

2. Dancer_Beth2 Aug 2011, 3:16pm Report

I went to see Jig today, as it only just came out in my area of the States. And I couldn't agree less with either of you. Maybe it's because I'm actually an Irish dancer, and can actually relate to the movie, and know what they're talking about, unlike some people, but I love the movie. It accurately portrays all of us freakish Irish people as a bunch of total crazies -- and that is exactly what we are. But SICK? Go watch Black Swan, then tell me that ballet is less obsessive and "sick" then Irish dance. Watch any movie about any style of dance, and tell me that Irish is the sickest of them all. Because Irish dance is about preserving your heritage and doing something you love. And that is a beautiful thing.
So for all you people who think it's "sick" -- take your opinion and SHOVE IT.

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