I saw The Bookseller at the Belfast Film Festival in 2012 and blogged the following review:
John Clancy is a man of letters. For years he ran a second hand bookshop in Smithfield. He admits to being a "crap businessman" often giving away books for free to customers. But he's a believer "in what goes round comes around" and always reckoned his generosity will be repaid. With the shop gone, his house is now stuffed full with books. But that doesn't stop him matching books to his old contacts.
John Clancy is also a man of community. He hails from Sailortown - a mixed community with poverty in common.
"We were so poor we got parcels from the third world. But you get fed up with bananas."
With an easy humour and a willingness to help, he's comfortable relating to all ages. Robert is a neighbour who lives across the road and dips into John's back catalogue to read books about Rome and the great emperors. The camera focuses on individual words as he voices each one under his breath, moving line at a time down the page. His brother Connor writes and performs raps about what he sees around him.
By day Jolene serves John his fry in the local greasy spoon. By night she's singing along to karaoke and entering music competitions, belting out medleys of country and western hits. And John's there in the audience proving support and enjoying the craic.
With amazing close-ups of the characters, it's as if the director Allesandra Celesia McIlduff is looking into their souls as she captures each person's image. Linkages across the generations - smoke, combing hair - are visually reinforced in exquisite shots that linger and resist the urge to pan away to action off screen.
As the director admitted in the Q&A after the screening, it is a film about dreams. Alcoholism played its part in shaping John's life. While he looks back on the pain in his family life, his younger friends look forward to a life in Detroit, or to musical success. And John – surrounded by a cloud of smoke – will be behind them all the way.
It's a beautifully shot film, that warmly portrays four wonderful open and warm Belfast characters. An amazing film that shouldn't be missed if you spot it popping up at a cinema or a festival near you.
One of the unexpected privileges of blogging is the emails that appear out of the blue, often from people I've mentioned online. John tells me that the film has now been shown at over thirty film festivals worldwide from the jungles of New Caledonia to Florence and has been picking up a slew of prizes on the way.
If the local universities had any sense – or soul! – they’d award John with an honorary doctorate of literature to recognise that he may single-handedly have excited more people about books than anyone else in Northern Ireland.
Monday 10th at 10.35pm on BBC 1 NI. Dreams, books and friendship. Don’t miss it.