Executive Director and Curator of Irish Screen America Niall McKay
Matthew Carlson was at the New York strand of Irish Screen America, which showcases the best in contemporary Irish media.
New York is full of cultural enclaves – a microcosm of America itself, a melting pot of culture, identity, and language, all mingling in the streets beneath glass towers and vertical architecture. What brings these cultures together is the arts, and this year, Irish Screen America (ISA), a bi-coastal film festival celebrating Irish cinema, saw dramas, comedies, documentaries, narratives, animation, television, video games and interactive media come together. I was at the east coast edition at the NYU Cantor Film Center in New York, where I saw some fantastic, criminally underseen films and met with some lovely people who worked selflessly to make this experience possible.
Niall McKay, an Emmy-winning writer/director, is the festival’s Executive Director and Curator. When we spoke, he expressed his passion for filmmaking, filmmakers, and the curating of films, as well as the actual work involved in building a community that could support Irish film in the United States. “We do this by showing their work and connecting them with industry professionals here in New York and Los Angeles.” According to Niall, the industry parties in LA (at USC) and New York (at the Consulate General’s beautiful penthouse) helped visiting filmmakers connect with industry professionals such as distributors, sales agents and managers, while celebratory days such as “local filmmaker day” bolstered a sense of thriving community between visiting filmmakers and citizens of Irish descent who call New York / LA their home.
There were plenty of highlights: Traders [above], by Rachel Moriarty and Peter Murphy, and starring John Bradley, about ordinary people who kill for money in a dystopian world where killing is allowed and organized according to a strict code. Cathy Brady led a directing masterclass and, later, showcased a haunting short, Wasted, about a group of stoners in a tense pressure-cooker as disagreements boil to the surface on a camping trip. But this writer’s favourite piece came in the form of Martin’s Life, a trio of animated vignettes, directed by Liam Hallihan, in which a boy and his parents have a series of elliptical conversations that focus on age-gaps and an inability to relate (in one episode, Martin watches Game of Thrones, but his dad can’t grasp the title of the show or the names of the actors due to a hearing problem.) These minute-long vignettes are infinitely relatable for anyone who’s ever had a parent ask what they’re watching or listening to.
Ultimately, Niall’s festival showed a focus on community, a love of films and their makers, and a genuine interest in helping emerging artists and directors with their careers. Festivals such as these are crucial not only for networking as a director but for keeping the communal aspect of film-going alive – a practice so commonly eschewed in our world of Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and torrents. It’s an exciting time for Irish storytellers – quoth the curator, “I’ve seen a renaissance of Irish filmmakers and artists taking the production of film, television, animation, web-series and games to a new level.”
As for me, as a director and filmgoer, I hope that the bar is never set – and from what I saw, this ideal is evinced at ISA New York.
Irish Screen America New York took place 2 – 4 October 2015