'The Swell Season': Documentary revisits couple from 'Once'
Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova ascended from little-known musicians to beloved pop culture couple in the briefest of moments at the 2007 Academy Awards. Hansard, guitarist and vocalist of the Irish rock band the Frames, and Irglova, a Czech singer-songwriter, won the Oscar for best song for “Falling Slowly,” a ballad from their indie musical “Once.” Their heartfelt acceptance speeches — and blossoming offscreen romance — immediately won over audiences.
A new documentary, “The Swell Season,” which opens in Los Angeles today, picks up where the Oscar ceremony left off, as filmmakers Nick August-Perna, Chris Dapkins and Carlo Mirabella-Davis follow Hansard and Irglova on tour with their band, the Swell Season. Shot in black and white over a period of three years, the documentary includes performance footage and intimate moments of the duo grappling with their newfound fame and evolving relationship.
August-Perna, Dapkins and Mirabella-Davis spoke with 24 Frames writer Rebecca Keegan.
Question: How did this movie come about?
Mirabella-Davis: I was teaching a class at the New York Film Academy just after the Oscar win and Glen was one of my students. He was learning how to direct short films, and we became friends over the course of the class. After it was over, he approached me and described how he and the rest of the Swell Season were about to embark on this epic tour across America and the rest of the world and he expressed his conflicted feelings, his elation at the journey they were about to embark on but also his fears of being suddenly in the limelight and being under the scrutiny. We got together, Chris, Nick and I, and talked about the possibility of there being a really interesting documentary there, and Glen invited us to go on tour and that’s how it started.
Q: Did Glen and Marketa have oversight over what went in?
August-Perna: They were fairly hands off. We reached a point where we had respectful boundaries with each other when we were shooting. They saw a cut six months into the edit and had some feedback that was mostly about doing some more interviews and trying to capture this quickly evolving perspective that they had on this very intense period of their life.
Q: Why did you shoot it in black and white?
Dapkins: Glen felt black and white would be exciting. It was one more step toward a more narrative, fiction language, contrasted with “Once,” which was a fiction film shot like a documentary. This was the complete opposite.
Q: Was there anything that surprised you about these two people?
Mirabella-Davis: It was interesting to spend time with Glen, someone who had really managed to fulfill the dreams he had when he was a 14-year-old busker on the streets of Ireland and then struggling with the idea that it hadn’t brought him the happiness or the enlightenment that he hoped it would. That was interesting for us as aspiring filmmakers because sometimes we lose sight of that.
Q: You shot a lot of footage of Glen and Marketa interacting with some very avid fans. What did you notice about their relationship to their fans?
August-Perna: When Glen and Marketa fell in love, it was as if the world had watched it happen. In “Once,” people felt like they had watched it come about. There was a sense that they were old friends and people knew them.
Mirabella-Davis: As the touring went on, we saw Marketa become more anxious about being cast in a certain light. It was a struggle for her about finding her place as a private person and a private artist. The trappings of celebrity were a philosophical conflict for her.
August-Perna: She really needed to find her own experience of this time period. Some of that anxiety had to do with wanting to experience that time period differently, not as a couple that went everywhere together.
Q: This movie follows Glen and Marketa as they fall out of love, and some of their songs about lost love turn out to be eerily prescient.
Dapkins: We became quickly aware of the fact that they were working out certain unconscious undercurrents through their art form. So we started shooting the concerts in this intimate way where you couldn’t get a sense of where the venue was, which helped to bring out the commentary that they’re almost unwittingly providing.
Q: After showing them perform together throughout the film, the movie ends with a scene of Marketa watching Glen perform, and over the credits a scene of Marketa watching Glen. Why did you end that way?
August-Perna: It solidified the idea that two people can fall out of love personally and still love watching each other do what they do best. They have that musical relationship that will live on quite possibly forever and that’s what we were trying to capture.
Photo: Musicians Marketa Irglova and Glen Hansard, stars of the 2006 movie "Once," are featured in the new documentary "The Swell Season." Credit: Elkcreek Cinema