Director-producer Sue Bourne says she loved the challenge of making a film that offers a rare glimpse inside the fierce and passionate world of competitive Irish dancing seldom seen by those other than participants, their supporters and the judges.
"Jig," in theaters now, captures the thrills of the 40th Irish Dancing World Championships, which took place last year in Glasgow.
"For me, what's absolutely critical is that 'Jig' is not just seen by the Irish dance community, that we get this out and beyond that and into the wider community," Bourne told the Irish Echo in a recent phone interview. "Obviously, the Irish dance community is going to go out and see 'Jig.' It's just getting the rest of the world to come see it, as well. I love the film. I'm very proud of it."
Bourne admits she knew little about Irish dancing herself before a journalist, who was a former dancer, approached her and told her the 40th anniversary World Championships event was coming up the following year, sparking the idea for a feature documentary.
"We began to do our research and discovered that no one has ever been allowed in from outside to make a film about Irish dancing, so that's really interesting for a filmmaker - that you're going into this world nobody has seen before," Bourne recalled.
The filmmaker, whose credits include episodes of TV's "Q.E.D.," "Cutting Edge" and "Only Human," as well as the documentaries "Mum and Me" and "My Street," said she won access to the Worlds after explaining to its protective organizers what her intention was and assuring them her piece would be thoughtfully crafted and well-executed.
"I think a lot of people had seen my previous films and were reassured by them and, in the end, we got them to let us in, and that was the beginning of the journey," Bourne said.
Despite the confidence An Comissium showed in letting her film at the competition, Bourne said the dancers and their families took a little time to warm up to her.
"I think everyone was a bit wary," she explained. "Probably because of the wigs and the tans and all that stuff, they probably thought: 'Oh, gosh, what's an outsider going to make of it? Are they going to be critical of it?' So they were a little wary in the beginning, but, generally, everyone we met was fantastic and once they got to know us, they liked us. ... And they got excited about the prospect of the film."
Joe Bitter, a California native whose family moved to Birmingham, England so he could study dance at the prestigious Carey Academy, said he certainly got a kick out of appearing in the movie.
"Not in a million years did I think Irish dancing would take me this far, but, luckily, Sue decided to explore this world no one knew was going on," the 15-year-old, three-time Worlds champ told the Echo. "So, I'm really thankful and it's really exciting."
Bitter said, thanks to the documentary, his non-dancing friends now appreciate a little better what he has been doing all these years.
"They've understood how hard I work, but not really why," he said. "Now I find they get to see what's put into it and what I get out of it with the film."
Julia O'Rourke, a dancer from Long Island, N.Y. who appears in the film and was 10 when she went to the Worlds for the first time last year, said she fell in love with Irish dance when she saw another girl perform during Show and Tell in kindergarten.
"I just thought it was so unique and different from any other dance," she observed.
The sixth grader, whose mother is from the Philippines and father is of Irish descent, went on to say she loves practicing to perfect her steps and enjoys traveling to compete.
"My whole life is about dance," said O'Rourke. "I thought it was very special being in the movie and I was really proud of myself.
"But it was kind of nerve-wracking having the camera right in front of you as you're dancing at your first World Championships," she added.