StoryAs one of the most respected American independent filmmakers, John Sayles has created a body of work as distinguished in its diversity as for its consistent quality and inspiring originality. He's never been one to march to the commercial beat, but chooses instead to follow his creative impulse wherever it leads him. The Secret of Roan Inish led Sayles to the beautiful and moody West Coast of Ireland; it is a tale of a girl who discovers that her family has been touched by myth and magic throughout the years. Following the death of her mother, young Fiona (Jeni Courtney) is sent to live with her grandparents on the Irish coast across from Roan Inish, the island where her family once lived. She's told stories about the selkies--seals that can turn into humans--who have been connected with Fiona's family over the ages. At first she's not sure if the selkies are real or mythological, but she later realizes that they hold the key to reclaiming her family heritage.
What's remarkable about this film (which Sayles adapted from Rosalie Fry's novel Secret of the Ron Mor Skerry) is that it's not told as a cute fantasy for children, but as a straightforward, unsentimental story of a young girl's family history. That gives the film--which was beautifully photographed by master cinematographer Haskell Wexler--an understated charm that is completely absorbing in its atmosphere and subtle tone. There's magic as well, to be sure--you could almost swear that the seals and seagulls in the film took direction from Sayles as well as any human actor! --Jeff Shannon