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Sue Bourne talks directing dance

03 May 2011

With the impending release of ‘Jig’, a documentary looking into the contemporary world of Irish Dancing, The Fan Carpet caught up with filmmaker and director Sue Bourne, the brains behind the project, which is set to hit our screens on May 6th.

With a successful career in television, with award-winning documentaries such as the BAFTA-nominated ‘The Falling Man’, Bourne has made the transition over to cinema for the first time in her career, with Jig being her first feature-length film.


As a filmmaker, you can’t really predict how a documentary is going to turn out, so were you pleased with the finished feature?

Yes! This has been two years in the making. A journalist approached me and said “did you know the Irish Dancing World Championships are being held in Glasgow and thousands of dancers from around the world are going to come and compete,” and having looked at it more closely I realised that it is a hidden world and no-one has ever gone in before which was a huge challenge but it’s a nice one, as going into worlds that you don’t know about is fantastic.

In the process of doing the research and working out how we were going to do it we watched lots and lots of other feature films, because feature films are difficult, as for documentaries to get people to pay money and go to the cinema, you really have to give them something to make them want to go. There has to be something about Jig that would make me want to go and see it in the cinema, and the key thing is always characters. My films are always about people and I don’t know anything about dancing.


Would you say that because your learning from it whilst the audience are, benefits the feature?

I think so because I’m curious about the world so I’m discovering things that fascinate me, then I assume that it will be of interest to others.

I shy away from celebrity and I love is working with ordinary people. I like being with ordinary people and I love discovering the extraordinary in the apparently ordinary and I think that some of the characters in this film are absolutely extraordinary and I defy anyone not to fall in love with some of them a wee bit.


Jig is being released in cinemas as a feature-length documentary. Why did you decide to do this rather than put it on TV?

I think that it is very, very hard to come up with an idea for a feature film documentary, for 93 minutes. I’ve done 93 minute films for television before but making longer films for television is okay. However, making a feature film where you’re asking people to go to the cinema and see it, I think, are few and far between. When commissioned I said I didn’t want to do it just for television, lets be ambitious. This film could be big because it’s got international scope; it’s about an international phenomenon. 



Did its worldwide appeal surprise you?

That was one of the things that appealed to me! I mean it’s huge in North America. There are 36 million Americans who claim Irish ancestry – they’re not all gonna like Irish dancing – but that for me meant that I was about to make a film that has an enormous, potential, captive audience, and that’s exceptional for any film. It’s commercial. I did have my business hat on as well. The trailer for the film was on YouTube and within weeks, 200, 000 people watched that video, and that’s exceptional – and that’s just the Irish dance community and we want it to go beyond that to the wider community, and there loads of people who like good documentaries who will like this film.


Dancing, particularly in the UK, is becoming massive again, with shows such as Britain’s Got Talent dominated by dance acts as well as dancing talent shows themselves. Would you say that the popularisation of dance was one of the contributing factors as to why you made the film?

I don’t think I was clever enough to see that! I just think that the timing of the film coming out is perfect, because in the interim since the two years ago that I first started working on the film, there’s been an explosion of interest in dance and I don’t think it could be coming out at a better time. People like dancing, they’re interested in it and that means there will be more people who want to see it, hopefully.


Despite how popular dance has become, Irish dancing isn’t, despite it having a wide and receptive audience, as popular as dance forms such as street-dancing, for instance. Do you think that Jig could really help make it more popular?

I think that’s the hope of the governing body of the competitions and dance schools that we were filming with, and I think the reason they let us in, because they’d never let any other outsiders in before, was to have a vehicle to make people interested in Irish dance and that Jig could make a new generation of people go “I’d really like to do that.”


Looking back at making Jig, would you say that personally, you achieved what you had previously intended to, or did it even go beyond expectations?

That’s quite a difficult one. It would sound terribly pompous if I said it went way beyond my wildest expectations, so I would say that there were many more things I learnt from it that I had expected.



Are feature films are area you would want to explore further?

I tell you what is fantastic – is having the time to do things properly. I think feature films are a difficult world, and documentaries are really hard, but I’ve got a taste for it now. The scope and scale of it are just tremendous.


Having now done much research and followed Irish dancing, is it an area you want to follow further? Have you been following those that you met over the course of making Jig?

We’re still in regular contact with all the dancers, and we were at this years World Championships, which were held in Dublin, and we went there and I stood on the stage in front of four thousand overexcited Irish dancers who were gagging to see Jig, from all over the world. So we’re still in touch with them and we will remain in touch with them. But to be honest, I want to move on to my next film now – I can’t afford not to!


So, finally, what’s in the pipeline? What’s coming up next for you?

I’d like to make another feature film. I’ve got two projects that I’d like to see if I can raise funding for and then I’ve got a couple of things that may happen for television, but I don’t know yet, we’ll see.

Jig Film Page | To see where Jig is playing near you, visit