Sue Bourne's Irish Dancing documentary Jig fails to excite
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 Blitz’ Spellbound 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.