Ruth Hogan reports from a gathering of Irish people celebrating their history and heritage thousands of miles from home, in the heart of Sydney.
Céile dancing, traditional music and Jameson whiskey might not be particularly out of place on a Thursday night in rural Ireland, but in the trendy suburb of Paddington in inner east Sydney? Not considered a common sight. It was quite fitting in fact that the old Town Hall should feel the rap of lively dancing souls on its floorboards once again as it had many years ago as The Paddington Town Hall ballroom. But they weren’t brought there to dance! That was just a happy coincidence. Since 1977 this old gem has been operating as the Chauvel Cinema; a place for film lovers to share their passion for the best of independent and world film. Irish film was what everyone was there to celebrate. What they did celebrate was so much more. Irish history, Irish culture, Irish music, Irish sense of humour and of course, Irish dancing.
The Irish Film Festival Australia is the brainchild of Dr Enda V Murray, an award-winning Irish filmmaker and academic originally hailing from Drogheda but now based long-term in Sydney. He, along with Assistant Director, Loretta Cosgrove, a successful industry Art Director, and a small team of dedicated film lovers brought the Irish Film Festival to Sydney for the first time in 2015. After a very successful run, it was decided to come back this year, bigger and better.
Director Enda and Assistant Director Lorretta
The festival ran over four days and featured eight Irish films, three shorts, an Opening Night Gala and a Festival Party (hence all the whiskey and high kicks!).
The opening night saw the Chauvel Cinema packed with enthusiastic, cheerful and chatty Irish people. The tricolour hung proudly above their heads as the room filled with the sounds of home. The flute, fiddle, banjo and mandolin belted out traditional Irish tunes to the merriment of festival goers. The crowds filed into the reformed ballroom for the Opening Night film, Glassland, a collaboration of the best of Irish and Australian talent in the form of Jack Reynor and Toni Collette. It was strangely wonderful to hear a Northside Dublin accent in Eastside Sydney.
Opening Night at the Chauvel Cinema
A focal point of the festival this year was the 1916 Easter Rising centenary. Two films were dedicated to marking this significant event. 1916: The Irish Rebellion, a hugely informative documentary narrated by Liam Neeson and After 16, a collection of contemporary shorts each with a unique take. The cinema lounge itself was a walking history tour as hanging posters adorned the room detailing events of the Rising in chronological order. There was an overwhelming feeling of nostalgia and Irish pride that night. Cinemagoers young and old, Irish and Australian, stayed back after the film sharing stories and trading facts about the Rising. There was a noticeable thirst for knowledge that had just been heightened by the cinematic trip down memory lane.
1916 Info Boards
Over the course of the weekend familiar faces returned. Back for more! From crime dramas to love stories and tales of Irish life over 100 years, it couldn’t be criticised for lack of variety. The wealth of talent in the Irish film industry in 2016 is really something to be proud of. From the outstanding actors and old favourites like Aidan Gillen and Brendan Gleeson to talented young directors like Robert Manson, who flew over from Ireland to answer audience questions and watch his feature film Lost in the Living come alive on the big screen for the first time on Aussie shores.
The festival created an opportunity for filmmakers and actors to reach a new audience. It wasn’t limited to Irish passport holders! There was a wonderful mix of Australians, New Zealanders, English, Saudi, Korean and much more experiencing cinema like they never had before. It offered these people a break away from the norm, be that US blockbusters or Australian cinema. Hearing an Irish accent and sense of humour come to life in front of a room full of Sydneysiders to roars of laughter was something very special indeed.
The depth of Irish talent was definitely a reason for returning customers but there was more to it than that. Irish people were coming out in support of each other; to celebrate an Irish event and be a part of something positive in the community. All walks of life came through the doors of the Chauvel Cinema that weekend, from the Irish General Consulate of Sydney to the New South Wales GAA players, each with a bigger smile than the next. The festival brought with it a sense of community. A chance for people to come together over a shared passion: a love for Ireland, love for its culture and a love of film.
Ruth Hogan is an Irish freelance journalist currently residing in Sydney.
The Irish Film Festival 2016 took place in Sydney from 7 – 10 April.