The Irish Film Festival London has been presenting the latest and greatest of Irish Film and Animation to a London audience since 2011. This year Harrison Drury attended the festival to see how it promotes the best of Irish creative talent in the UK.
Here Harrison reports from the final night’s screening of Wee Fillums, the Irish Film Institute’s programme of six award-winning Irish Short Films.
First up, my pick of the bunch, Domnhall Gleeson’s Noreen (pictured), a black comedy about two cops.
This family affair stars the director’s father Brendan Gleeson (In Bruges), as the not-so-wise old hand Con, and his brother Brian Gleeson, as the young and inexperienced Frank.
En route to a house call, Frank opens up to Con. From what I gathered between the sobs his girlfriend had left him. Con proposes an ice cream, announcing, “I don’t believe in all this talking,” adding that he hung up on his son when he tried to reach out to him.
In the house they find a man face down in a puddle of blood with a hole in his head, a gun in one hand and a suicide note in the other. Con suspects foul play (perhaps a more palatable explanation for one so emotionally squeamish).
Unchallenged by the young and inexperienced idiot Frank and despite all evidence to the contrary – including the smell of cordite coming from the gun barrel, which he takes from the dead man’s hand and points alarmingly up his nose then bizarrely in his mouth – he retains his suspicions and, as this farcical tale rolls on, takes a bloody hand in confirming them.
Against this surreal backdrop the pair or trio I suppose, counting the dead man, express their feelings. The third having expressed his conclusively, while the two policemen ponder theirs throughout this short.
They make a touching and funny couple of clowns in what is a very well made and at times shocking black comedy.
Up next, Tadhg O’Sullivan and Pat Collins’ What Remains, an assemblage of old film taken from personal collections preserved in the IFI Irish Film Archive.
The footage has been cut together in dynamic joins as a moving collage and played over a track of ambient noise. The effect is weird, upsetting even. Nightmarish. It is certainly dreamlike; the broken images as thoughts reassembled in REM. The whole thing is also distant, like a dream. For example there are shots of children laughing but you can’t hear the laughter.
These shots are intercut with the scene of a burial, shot from high above. It feels like it is cut from a death scene, that their life is flashing before your eyes, and that you are intruding on this most private moment. Though that sense of intrusion is probably a natural response to watching what appear to be scratchy home movies.
It called to mind the Ludovico Technique tried out on teenage delinquent Alex in A Clockwork Orange. The technique involved forced viewing – employing a specula to hold the eyes open – of violent images, combined with a nausea-inducing drug. This fictional aversion therapy was supposed to make the patient associate violence with nausea, so to create an aversion to violence. I cannot speak to the practical application of What Remains but I was forced to watch it, if only out of general courtesy, and it felt a lot like experimental science.
A surreal trip to take in between the dramas and comedies of the festival.
Then came Rebecca Daly’s Joyriders, which follows Kylie, a ten-year-old with an imaginary friend and a penchant for stealing cars, through the harsh realities of her life and up, up and away! into her impossible fantasies. The two worlds joined seamlessly in this clever and uplifting short.
Farewell Packets of Ten
The line-up, which was incidentally picked as part of the International Culture Programme to celebrate Ireland’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union , continued with Ken Wardrop’s Farewell Packets of Ten. This title is a reference to the EU’s recent ban on fag packs in ‘pocket money range.’
Two ladies, a penitent pair, fill the frame for three minutes. They light up, smoke and discuss the fact they are killing themselves.
In his edit Wardrop has gotten their characters down as a skilled sketch artist would. They make a good double act. Their banter is honest and self-deprecating, endearingly so. They present a sad and unhealthy warning or understanding of what it is to be addicted, and of the true horror that is menthol cigarettes. What’s more, they remain human. Wardrop has made an interesting short, not an anti-smoking ad.
Irish Folk Furniture
Then, the only animated short, Irish Folk Furniture. Using stop motion, Tony Donoghue makes beat-up flour bins and cabinets totter magically on four legs out the front door and off to be repaired and repainted.
These handmade pieces are said to be symbolic of harder times in rural Ireland and for this reason are abandoned in barns and sheds.
Donoghue seems to suggest Ireland’s heritage ought not be hidden away for he sees beauty in it, as the carpenters sanding down the old pieces come to see beauty in their rudimentary craftsmanship.
The night ended with Cathy Brady’s Small Change. Karen (Nora-Jane Noone), is a young single mother bored with routine. Taking a seat in front of a slot machine, she rides the emotional rollercoaster of winning and losing. The thrill becomes an addiction. She pays less and less attention to her daughter. Loses more and more money down the slot. And with Christmas round the bend, she comes off the rails.
With dimmed lighting and still, boring shots Brady captures the depression of such an existence while Noone, wide-eyed and erratic, completes the picture with a believable addict.
The Irish Film Festival London took place 20th – 24th November 2013