Podcast: Capital Irish Film Festival 2016, Washington, D.C.

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Adam McPartlan was at the Capital Irish Film Festival 2016 and talked to some of the filmmakers.

 

Director Alex Fegan and producer Garry Walsh of Older Than Ireland – a landmark documentary that tells the story of a hundred years of a life as seen through the eyes of thirty Irish centenarians.

Rachel Lysaght, producer of Traders – two strangers put all of their money into one bag and fight to the death to claim it all.

Donncha Gilmore, director/writer of Bonsoir Luna (pictured) – an Irish-language musical, which tells the story of Duke, a street artist, and Luna, a blind barista, who fall in love.

Paddy Hayes, director of Deoch an Dorais (Name Your Poison) – the legend Mike Malloy, the man who wouldn’t die.

Eileen Davis and David Dryden, co-directors of Together in Pieces – the infamous murals of Northern Ireland that have plagued both communities are being painted over into something more positive.

The Capital Irish Film Festival 2016 took place 3 – 16 March.

 

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Q&A: David Dryden and Eileen Walsh, co-directors of ‘Together in Pieces’

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Ahead of its screening at Washington’s Capital Irish Film Festival in the Northern Ireland Shorts programme on Sunday, Adam McPartlan had a few questions for David Dryden and Eileen Walsh, co-directors of Together in Pieces, a new film documenting the fluctuating backdrops of Northern Ireland. The infamous murals that have plagued both communities are being painted over into something more positive.

 

Why this movie? What drew you in about this story, and why do you think it needed to be told?

The historic city walls in Derry are being used as an unsanctioned political billboard for dissident republicans or factions of a republican nature. The graffiti on these walls stands tall in large white letters overlooking a predominantly Catholic area of the city, the Bogside, the immediate area where Bloody Sunday took place.  The graffiti reads ‘END INTERNMENT’ or ‘UK NO WAY’ and more recently a commemoration to the death of the radical socialist Paddy Bogside.

As Eileen Walsh and myself both live and work in and around Derry, we wondered why these messages were left up and not removed, especially considering their inciting nature and the negative social influence they bring to an already highly politicized area. We wanted to know what visitors and locals felt about this graffiti. Walking past it either for the first time, or every day, we wondered if it was right that children, teenagers and adults of either denomination be exposed to these messages in a publicly shared space and what effect it has on creating a peaceful future.

It seems that this low-level sectarianism is being ingrained into the minds of the city’s youth by this type of graffiti. Young people are especially easy targets for politicization and getting to them young is the best way to perpetuate a divided society.  This is something that the majority do not want so we questioned why we are still being bullied by these slogans. The city’s youth haven’t a chance.

 

About how many groups are there? Aside from marking their territory, what is it these groups, like the RUC, want to do or hope to accomplish with their graffiti?

There are a multitude of groups from both Republican and Loyalist factions; IRA, INLA, UVF, UDA and UFF, being the main ones.

Often graffiti will tout ‘We haven’t gone away’, which seems to denote that despite the peace agreement, these paramilitary  groups are still a threat, which ultimately is showing defiance to any political ground made in Stormont, advocating a righteous refusal to partake in joint talks based on a sense of entitlement of land or beliefs in a united Ireland.  Often political parties such as Sinn Fein (now in government) are considered ‘sell outs’, particularly by dissidents opposed to the peace process. The graffiti, maintained predominantly in urban areas, is a finger up to the establishment and the police force which serves them.

It is also important to realize that it is also very much perpetuated due to the memory of past tragedies. It can be argued that these deaths are being used to incur sympathy and a vote for a group’s cause; ‘Remember the 14’.

It could be that the graffiti sets out to embed a sense of political unity within the community.  Historically persecuted under British rule and its police force the PSNI (formally the RUC), this idea is perpetuated. These public adverts serve as a show of strength for people whose alternative views have no political representation and who feel like their identity is being eroded away.

Some of the graffiti is a clear show of strength and defiance, for example, by writing over the Derry walls, which themselves are a symbol of Protestant plantations in Ireland. Graffiti is left on these walls because the local council can’t get workers to clean it up for 2 reasons: they will be attacked, and, also, if cleaned up, the graffiti goes straight back up.

Some graffiti has included a twitter address ‘#32CSM’ so there are clear goals to direct people online.

The graffiti often is clearly intimidating, and is there to deter residents from neighborhoods close by from entering or to make them feel unwelcome. It also serves to antagonize the police force which is still seen by many to be an occupying force.

 

Why do some kids who graffiti not understand what the IRA is, even today?  Are they unwilling to know?

There is a complete systematic failure to educate children about the Troubles. It is an area of history not taught at schools. Schools are largely segregated, and this is a big problem. Any education children get often will be from family and people in the (ghetto) neighborhoods first. They will hear stories and obviously form opinions.

These opinions are also coloured by the history of partition itself, as well as by their political landscape, and the murals, sectarian graffiti, lack of social opportunities and high unemployment they see every day in their neighbourhood.

Children are politicized from an early age without seeing the bigger picture or getting to hear opinions from other sides.  Our film proves that their opinions change quickly when exposed to less bigoted versions from open minded elements in society.

 

Michael Doherty talks about the losses the Protestants are experiencing.  What are the losses they are dealing with? Why are they experiencing these losses, especially in these times? Why do the Catholics not recognize or understand the losses of the Protestants?

Michael Doherty was a hugely interesting interviewee with a wealth of personal experience through his years of work in peace and reconciliation. In Together in Pieces he talks about the sense of loss felt by Protestants through the Peace Process. He talks about how many Protestants feel a sense of isolation and abandonment through the loss of many things that they hold dear.

After partition, Protestants in Northern Ireland held the majority of seats in government, and with this came massive inequalities in economic, cultural and political representation between Catholics and Protestants, with the majority of Catholics living in poverty. Since the Troubles and the peace agreement and official recognition of these inequalities, these issues are still being addressed today.

The changes that have been taking place have been equal representation in government, so loss of the Protestant majority in government, and room for Republican parties such as Sinn Fein, who, were up until 1994 held to British broadcasting voice restrictions.

The loss of the RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary) – a Protestant majority police force, is mentioned in the film. The RUC has been replaced by a new police service, the PSNI (Police Service Northern Ireland) and this strives to have equal representation from the Catholic community.

Cultural and social changes;  On December 3rd 2012  Belfast City Council voted to limit the days that the Union Flag (the flag of the United Kingdom) flies from Belfast City Hall. This sparked violent protests from Unionists.

After so many years of inequality, Catholics feel like the balance is only being set equal now for fair representation in Northern Ireland.  So for this reason, Catholics don’t understand Protestants’ sense of loss (at the flying of the Union Flag, the RUC, etc.).  They don’t see this as a loss – instead they think that things shouldn’t have been this way to begin with. Protestants are feeling their identity being eroded away, as these great symbols of their culture that once featured dominantly in the landscape are gone.

More importantly there is a lack of public education about these issues and little opportunity or interest in getting people to talk about these issues. This means neither side is ever fully informed about what is actually going on with the peace process. The media perpetuates this situation and too often is more interested in representing negative narratives, rather than reporting on any real change.

In the film, Michael recognises the problems caused by the segregated education and housing systems in Northern Ireland and thinks that the two communities (nationalist and loyalist) don’t understand each other and don’t live together, co-existing in the same place in parallel worlds without actually living together.

 

In what way(s) do you see the landscape of Northern Ireland changing? Politically, culturally, etc.?  Is it becoming more radicalized or open-minded and accepting?

Northern Ireland is becoming more multi-cultural with large Indian and Chinese communities already established and this trend will continue to grow despite the social issues.  There will be no substantial changes to society between Catholic and Protestant communities unless the issue of segregated schools is addressed and until the so called ‘peace walls’ are removed.

Also political parties are not trying hard enough to work together – they are actively not working together on many issues, and the public cannot understand why they are doing this. This is setting a terrible example for our society and is perpetuating the division and misunderstanding.

The overwhelming problem is the high unemployment rate in Northern Ireland. If people have jobs and something to work for in society they will feel more accepted socially. And as they mix with other people from different backgrounds, there will be less chance of them wanting to get involved in radical movements.

There is still a sense of frustration that things are moving too slowly. People now want politicians to focus more on real issues like the economy and jobs, more on the issues that unite people and less on the issues that divide.

The brightest hope at the moment in Northern Ireland for young people is from graffiti art workshops. City centres are increasingly the focal point for artistic graffiti murals. This colourful street art not only helps to brighten up city centres, making them more welcoming.  It also helps to combat anti-social graffiti, helping to change the attitudes of people living there, while also uplifting mindsets and allowing more creativity into mainstream society.

 

Do you think the “graffiti movement” ferments these changes, embodies or reflects them, or both? 

Graffiti art is non-political by definition. This philosophy is upheld by most artists. This is a great starting block to base the movement from and to help initiate positive social change, especially in a country so fundamentally divided by politics. Young people here are tired of this political division.

Walls will reflect what you put on them into the mind of the viewer. Similarly, what is in the mind of the artist who paints is projected onto the wall – if the message is positive, then one cannot help but be filled with a positive vision. If the message is negative however, the viewer will be filled with negativity. It sounds very basic but this visual stimuli has a profound effect on one’s mental health. It is primal, and it is proven to be the catalyst to changing mindsets.

 

 

The Capital City Film Festival runs 3 – 6 March 2016

 

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IFI Ireland on Sunday Interview: Sinéad O’Brien, director of Blood Fruit

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This month’s Ireland on Sunday features Sinéad O’Brien‘s documentary Blood Fruit.

Earlier this year Adam McPartlan spoke to Sinéad at the Capital Irish Film Festival about her film, which tells the story of the Dunnes Stores strikers in 1980’s Dublin.

Mary Manning, a 21-year-old Dunnes Stores checkout girl, refused to sell two Outspan grapefruits under direction from her union in support of the anti-apartheid struggle. She and ten other supporters were suspended and a strike ensued. The 11 knew little about apartheid and assumed they’d be back to work before long but the arrival on the picket line of activist Nimrod Sejake changed everything, setting the strikers on a path they could never have expected.

 

Blood Fruit screens on Sunday, 5th July 2015 at 13.00 at the IFI as part of its Ireland on Sunday monthly showcase for new Irish film.

Strikers Mary Manning and Cathryn O’Reilly will take part in a post-screening Q&A.

Tickets for Blood Fruit are available now from the IFI Box Office on 01 679 3477 or online at www.ifi.ie

 

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Report: 9th Capital Irish Film Festival

Adam McPartlan reports from the 9th Capital Irish Film Festival, which brought some of the best of contemporary Irish film to Washington D.C.

 

The 9th Capital Irish Film Festival was held in Washington, DC on  5 – 8 February. Featured were a number of Irish films, documentaries, and shorts. The organization Solas Nua, with the help of some generous donations, held an extraordinary event that celebrated the beauty of Irish films made within the last year or so, including Frank, Gold, An Bronntanas, Blood Fruit, and A Terrible Beauty.

The films were extremely well-received. By the end of the festival, the entire audience praised the festival organizer and the Board of Directors of Solas Nua for their best festival yet. Certainly for me, as my first film festival of any kind, it was something spectacular.

Each of the films, particularly An Bronntanas, Gold, and Frank, showed the quality of acting Irish movies produce. Maisie Williams (Gold) and Michael Fassbender (Frank) were the two strongest performances of the entire festival. Williams, only a teenager, showed that her age does not measure her maturity; the Game of Thrones star made it exceedingly obvious that she is on her way to being an actor of the highest caliber. Fassbender, already an established actor, showed why he is so good: you see his face for all of fifteen minutes at the end of the film, but his emotions are visible through his papier-mâché mask because he so clearly defines them with his body movements.

An Bronntanas, Ireland’s submission for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film, showed more about Irish film than the other two, because it was primarily spoken in Irish Gaelic. This stunning piece about deception, crime, and drugs kept the audience on the edge of their seats, suspending us all in disbelief when the film came to its catastrophic ending.

In the documentary genre, A City Dreaming, Blood Fruit, and A Terrible Beauty stood out. A City Dreaming, through footage and home videos, shows what it was like for Gerry Anderson, the film’s writer and director, to grow up on the streets of Derry. For anyone who previously knew nothing about the county, this film serves as a wonderful and beautifully edited abridged history.

Blood Fruit seemed to be one of the two highpoints of the festival. A documentary on the Dunnes Store strikers, this film served as a powerful educational film. Eleven workers went on strike after refusing to sell South African fruit during apartheid, and eventually became largely recognized by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela for their struggle. For the whole world, particularly Americans given recent events in Missouri and New York, this film is necessary. Eleven people at Earth’s top went on strike because of the disgusting treatment of human lives in a country on the bottom of the world. We should all be so lucky as to have been born with that kind of spirit. Ireland should be extremely proud to be the home not only of this film, but also of the people who the story is about.

The closing show, A Terrible Beauty, was the other audience favorite of the festival. Part documentary/part drama, the movie shows what the Easter Rising was like not at the General Post Office, but in two other areas of Dublin; the Four Courts and Mount Street Bridge. Well-acted and directed, the film blends documentary with drama perfectly, making it clear to the audience how awful the week was, not only for the soldiers, but also for the civilians. After the film ended, one attendee called it “a necessary film to learn of the horrors of war.”

One of the more interesting parts of the festival was the Music and Multimedia Concert. A collection of fifteen shorts were shown, depicting various different forms of art on film. Many were animated shorts, others dance, and still others were pieces of music played while viewing a specific landscape. Most Americans tend to associate Irish music with the lively, upbeat flute, fiddle, and violin. This presentation, however, made it abundantly clear that Irish music can be so much more than that. Beautiful compositions played on piano, cello, and guitar accompanied scenes of waves crashing against the shore and the rolling, green mountains of Ireland. While not the most exciting event, it was certainly one of the more aesthetically pleasing ones.

This film festival on the whole was a great experience. Moreover, it serves as a great way to bridge the Irish film and arts industry into the American market. All of the films were produced with a quality that would be worthy of Oscar recognition, specifically Blood Fruit, An Bronntanas, Frank, and Gold. The musical compositions during the presentation were made with such intense skill, one might have thought them to be classical pieces from centuries ago. The festival certainly showed some of the bright lights Ireland has to offer not just the cinematic world, but the artistic world on the whole.

Of course, America has been paying attention to Irish cinema on another level for a few years already. In 2009, Ireland was given its first ever Oscar nomination in the Animated Film category. The Secret of Kells, unfortunately, lost to the Pixar production Up, but showed American filmgoers that Ireland is more than capable of producing beautiful works of art. Tomm Moore’s beautiful production and animation is something that, no matter how old you are, brings tears to your eyes at every viewing. It is one of the best animated films I have ever seen, and deserves to be known all around the world.

As if Moore’s first film being an Oscar nominated film wasn’t enough, he followed it up with another, even more beautiful film, Song of the Sea, and gained a second Oscar nomination. His career is so new, but given his artistic brilliance, I can see this man becoming Ireland’s Hayao Miyazaki, with the possibility of being even better than Miyazaki someday. Even if Moore never eclipses Miyazaki, Moore will still be the pinnacle of Irish animators, and one of the greatest animators of history.

The Capital Irish Film Festival is not only a success just because it sold out for every showing on every day.  It is a success because of what it offers Americans in DC: the chance to see movies worth watching that the ordinary citizen doesn’t get to see. It is a success because of the beauty it brings to our Capital. It is a success because it is inspiring other festivals devoted to Irish film around the country. Next year will be its tenth year, as well as the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising. You can bet that what happens next year will almost certainly be another giant step forward for Irish cinema and art in America, for the festival, and for Solas Nua.

America owes most of its own history to the Irish. There are forty million Irish-Americans, almost one-seventh of the entire population of the United States. All of us should be constantly looking for a way to go home again, even if we can’t fly there. Film festivals and arts festivals like these bring us home.  Watching the films produced by Irish filmmakers, listening to the music composed by Irish composers, and enjoying the animation crafted by Irish animators… these are the things that tell me, as it should tell everyone, that Ireland will change the face of cinema, not just in the eyes and ears of Americans, but for the heart and soul of the world.

On behalf of all Americans, go raibh maith agat, Éireann.

 

Adam McPartlan is a 22-year-old student at the Catholic University of America.  He is graduating in May with a history degree, and hopes to be a film critic.

 

Listen to Adam’s interviews from the festival:

Capital Irish Film Festival: Audio Interview with producer Dave Farrell & actor Colin Farrell of ‘A Terrible Beauty’

Capital Irish Film Festival: Audio Interview with Sinéad O’Brien, director of ‘Blood Fruit’

Capital Irish Film Festival: Audio Interview with Anne Anderson, the 17th Ambassador of Ireland to the United States

Capital Irish Film Festival: Audio Interview with Paddy Meskell, Chairman of the Board of Solas Nua

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Capital Irish Film Festival: Audio Interview with producer Dave Farrell & actor Colin Farrell of ‘A Terrible Beauty’

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A Terrible Beauty/Áille an Uafáis screened at the Capital Irish Film Festival (5 – 8 February).  The 93-minute feature docudrama set during the Irish Rebellion of 1916 tells the largely untold story of displaced young men, women and children caught up in a chain of events which would have tragic consequences leaving many innocent people dead.

Adam McPartlan talks to producer Dave Farrell and actor Colin Farrell, who plays Frank Shouldice, about the film.

Interviews from the festival:

Capital Irish Film Festival: Audio Interview with Sinéad O’Brien, director of ‘Blood Fruit’

Capital Irish Film Festival: Audio Interview with Anne Anderson, the 17th Ambassador of Ireland to the United States

Capital Irish Film Festival: Audio Interview with Paddy Meskell, Chairman of the Board of Solas Nua

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Capital Irish Film Festival: Audio Interview with Sinéad O’Brien, director of ‘Blood Fruit’

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Adam McPartlan spoke to Sinéad O’Brien, whose documentary Blood Fruit screened at the Capital Irish Film Festival (5 – 8 February). Blood Fruit tells the story of the Dunnes Stores strikers in 1980’s Dublin. Mary Manning, a 21-year-old Dunnes Stores checkout girl, refused to sell two Outspan grapefruits under direction from her union in support of the anti-apartheid struggle. She and ten other supporters were suspended and a strike ensued. The 11 knew little about apartheid and assumed they’d be back to work before long but the arrival on the picket line of activist Nimrod Sejake changed everything, setting the strikers on a path they could never have expected.

 

 

 

Capital Irish Film Festival: Audio Interview with Anne Anderson, the 17th Ambassador of Ireland to the United States

Capital Irish Film Festival: Audio Interview with Paddy Meskell, Chairman of the Board of Solas Nua

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Capital Irish Film Festival: Audio Interview with Paddy Meskell, Chairman of the Board of Solas Nua

The ninth Capital Irish Film Festival (5 – 8 February 2015)  brought some of the best of contemporary Irish film to Washington D.C. This year’s highlights included a screening of Frank, Niall Heery’s GoldSinéad O’Brien’s fascinating documentary Blood Fruit and Keith Farrell‘s A Terrible Beauty.

Adam McPartlan attended the festival and, in the first of a series of audio interviews, speaks to Paddy Meskell, Chairman of the Board of Solas Nua, a non-profit organization dedicated exclusively to contemporary Irish arts, who run the Capital Irish Film Festival.

 

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