“Beneath Disheveled Stars,” by Kevin Baggott, right, has been lined up to kick off the 2nd annual Irish-American
Movie Hooley in Chicago on Sept. 30. He appears here with Finbar Spillane in a still from the film.
By Mike Houlihan
“When I go see a movie, I want to feel like I’m peeking through a keyhole. Just gimme the truth as best you can.”
So says first-generation Irish-American filmmaker and writer Kevin Baggott. The disciple of the late novelist Nelson Algren is an “enigmatic cat,” much like his dead mentor. Kevin won the Best Actor Award at the Winter Film Fest in New York City in February (for “Why Do You Smell like the Ocean”) and he’s premiering his film “Beneath Disheveled Stars” to kick off the 2nd Annual Irish American Movie Hooley on Sept. 30 in Chicago.
Baggott’s unique and funny odyssey, about an Irish American guy taking his mother’s ashes back to Ireland, is a tough adventure for this Brooklyn auteur, who plays the lead as well as directing this totally original story that walks a wobbly line between melancholy and zany. Baggott’s character, Bobby, a Brooklyn tenement super, has enough trouble surviving the wacky New York characters in his life, until he gets to Ireland and encounters Irish men and women of epic personalities and things quickly escalate to a mythical stage.
Starring with Kevin in “Beneath Disheveled Stars” are Nicole Roderick, Vic Martino, Danny Gilfeather, and Ireland’s own Colin Martin. The film also features a terrific original score by Estelle Bajou that transports the audience to Ireland as well as an Ireland of the mind.
Are they just “having some fun with the yank”, or are their motives more sinister? In the best spirit of indie film, Baggott is also the cinematographer of this haunting and comic road movie.
Baggott’s film is the cornerstone of a trio of Chicago premieres scheduled for the Hooley in the windy city this fall. The other two masterpieces are yet to be chosen, but will eventually join “Beneath Disheveled Stars” on the marquee at the Gene Siskel Film Center, once again the home of the Irish American Movie Hooley.
Kevin’s dad is from Galway and his mom from Cavan. He grew up in the Bronx, where his mother “used to beat me with the Irish Echo when I wouldn’t go to school.”
A street kid who could have easily wound up like Rocky Sullivan in the Cagney classic “Angels With Dirty Faces,” Baggott yearned for NYU Film School, but “those bastards wouldn’t let me in.”
He wound up at CCNY, put together his first film on 16 millimeter in Coney Island, the Village Voice raved, festivals clammered, and Baggott’s revenge was sweet. “So they had me going down to NYU every year to show their students the film,” he recalled.
Shot in West Cork in the village of Kilcrohane, Baggott recruited his crew of three for “Beneath Disheveled Stars”: his wife and a kid from a local farm they hired to work sound, and himself. Without a script, he made it up as he went along, meeting the people of the town and recruiting them as characters in the film. They turned out to be terrific actors and brilliant improvisers. Kevin told me, “Oscar Wilde says the Irish talk their books away.
“Everybody we asked, ‘we’re doing this movie, we don’t have any money, we can’t pay you anything, would you like to be in it?’” The response that came back was “Sure I can do that!’”
He shot for a month with “a camera the size of a box of cracker jacks” and then returned to NYC to film the beginning of the movie with his friends. It worked, it’s brilliant, and captures the Irish from a unique and funny perspective; that of a guy with Ireland in his DNA who’d been away too long.
“Beneath Disheveled Stars” premiered at the Cork Film Festival in 2014 and the entire village of Kilcrohane turned up to see it, and loved it. “It’s nice hearing a lot of laughter.”
He’ll be hearing it again when the film makes its Chicago premiere at the 2nd Annual Irish American Movie Hooley at the Gene Siskel Film Center.
Kevin gets diffident when asked what he hopes the audience will get out of “Beneath Disheveled Stars,” and after a few hems and haws tells me, “I don’t know,” he said. “I hope they will all move back to Ireland!”
Please join us in Chicago Sept. 30 through Oct. 2 for the 2nd Annual Irish American Movie Hooley, where you can meet Kevin Baggott and other filmmakers premiering their movies – and, of course, you’ll likely feel like moving back to Ireland yourself!
For more information and updates about the schedule, go to moviehooley.org.