Arts Week with Judy Murphy
“The most disturbing filming experience I ever engaged in,” is how Bob Quinn describes making The Family, shot nearly 30 years ago in Donegal. It’s being shown as part of the Tulca Festival of Visual Arts, which runs in Galway City until Sunday, November 19.
The half-hour documentary offers a glimpse into a controversial commune of the same name, set up by English-woman Jenny Jones in Donegal in the 1970s. The hippy group, officially called The Family, became better known as ‘the Screamers’ because of their philosophy of releasing all their emotions by screaming and shouting – usually at each other, including children in the group.
Connemara-based Bob decided to film the Screamers in 1979 when he was commissioned by the new RTÉ 2 TV station to make four programmes as part of a series on alternative living in Ireland.
He’d heard of this group and travelled to Donegal to meet their founder, Jenny Jones, to discuss making a film.
At a time when nuclear families were replacing the more traditional extended Irish family, Bob felt this commune would offer a fascinating counterpoint and would fit the RTÉ remit of alternative living.
Jenny Jones was happy to welcome him in but from the outset, Bob had issues.
“I sat in on a session and it was awful,” he says, referring to the ‘therapy’ groups run by the commune. He watched as Jenny Jones bullied a 10-year-old child during the session, and found the abuse of power very difficult to witness.
“I suspected I was meant to jump in and save the child,” he says.
Jones offered him accommodation for the night, but unable to sleep after what he had witnessed, Bob left and drove 18 miles to a B&B where he wrote a list of pros and cons of making a film about the group.
He returned the following day and told Jenny Jones that he was happy to go ahead with it on the basis that she didn’t involve any of his crew in an incident like the one he’d seen.
She agreed. The crew returned a few days later and the film was shot over five days, with the crew staying in a hotel.
For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.