Killruddery Film Festival Kicks Off This Weekend

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Andrew Legge talks to Film Ireland about the magical experience of the Killruddery Film Festival (19-21 September)

The Killruddery Film Festival returns this weekend with a programme that celebrates silent cinema, with live musical accompaniments, plus a selection of classic films, talks and workshops. This year’s programme gives Irish audiences a great chance to experience lost, overlooked and forgotten films in the beautiful surroundings of one of Ireland’s Great Historic Houses.

Festival Director and filmmaker Andrew Legge explains how the festival works beyond the screenings – emphasising the importance of performance and environment. “We have Stephen Horne here, who plays a lot with the BFI and is one of the best silent pianists in the world, and that live musical performance is central to the weekend. The weekend is quite magical. It’s in Killruddery House and the movies are all shown in the library and we’ve got the fire lighting and this lovely grand piano with the projector whirring away, so it’s very atmospheric and an amazing experience. And with the musical performance you’re experiencing it the way people would have in the 1920s.

“The other thing we have is the tea rooms, which are amazing; so we’ve got food going throughout the day and in the evening we’ve got a dinner followed by a screening programme. You can have a big 3-course meal and then go into the library and watch a movie. So it’s a great weekend.”

This year’s workshops include a Foley Workshop with Caoimhe Doyle and Jean Mc Grath, who’ll be doing two masterclasses over the festival weekend – one for kids and one for adults. Andrew explains how they work. “They take a 30-second scene from a movie and they take the sound off it and get the participants to build up the whole soundtrack using Foley props and they do a mix. There’s the full immersion in the process of what Foley artists do and how they work. It’s brilliant, especially for the kids, who get to be a part of the movie-making process.”

The festival has a special relationship with film historian Kevin Brownlow who programmes the silent films and attends the festival to present the films. “He’s brilliant. He’s been with the festival since we started,” says Kevin. “He’s got an amazing knowledge of the silent film era.” Amongst the screening highlights this year is Buster Keating’s Sherlock, Jr., which Kevin will introduce and Stephen Horne will accompany. For those interested in film history there’s a great chance to see Too Much Johnson, by Orson Welles. Andrew explains how Too Much Johnson was Welles’ first professional film, made when he was working for the Mercury Theatre in the late ’30s. “It was a short Welles was meant to put on with the play, projected onto the stage in between the acts – but he never finished it because of the technical problems. The project was abandoned and the film was presumed lost. A working print was found about 3 years ago in Italy, which was restored last year and will be presented at the festival. That’s pretty exciting.”

Merion C Cooper, the director behind King Kong, features at this year’s festival with a screening of Chang, Cooper’s “natural drama” that follows a family and their struggles against the jungle in Indo-China. Plus Kevin Brownlow examines Cooper’s extraordinary life as explorer, war hero, filmmaker, and cinema pioneer in his documentary I‘m King Kong! The Exploits of Merian C. Cooper.

The weekend also features 2 short films from the IFI Irish Film Archive, which Sunniva O’Flynn, Head of Irish Film Programming at the IFI, will present – two ghost stories produced by Gate Theatre founders Micheál MacLiamóir and Hilton Edwards. Battleship Potemkin is this year’s Special Guest Selection by Simon Fitzmaurice, whose own short Sound of People will screen accompanied by Stephen Horne. Ernest Lubistch’s early talkie Broken Lullaby also screens and will be preceded by Irish director Ciaran Cassidy’s short documentary Collaboration Horizontale. Plus there’s a D.A. Pennebaker retrospective – described as “arguably the preeminent chronicler of 1960s counter culture”. Pennebaker’s Daybreak Express, Chiefs and Monterey Pop will all screen.

For the full programme, visit www.killruddery.com/kff/

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Review of ‘Guests Of The Nation’ at the NCH 11th September 2011

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(Guests of The Nation)

 

Rory Cashin spends an evening at the National Concert Hall for a special screening of the silent classic ‘Guests of The Nation’ accompanied by a new orchestral score by the RTÉ Concert Orchestra. The programme also featured Andrew Legge’s experimental silent film ‘The Lactating Automaton’ starring Dominic West, with a live orchestral score by Liam Bates and live Foley performance.

Set within the grand opulence of the National Concert Hall, and on the eve of Hurricane Katia’s arrival, those in attendance of the night’s festivities arrived in their glad rags and settled themselves in for a unique evening.

Starting off with a double bill of Andrew Legge ‘silent’ shorts, first up was The Unusual Inventions of Henry Cavendish. Combining footage of Dublin shot in 1897 with new scenes filmed on a clockwork 16mm Russian camera, the story of a young inventor vying for the affections of a well-to-do lady was very sweet, quite simple and expertly told. Accompanied by pianist Isabelle O’Connell, the first screening certainly set the mood for the experimental manner of the evening.

Next up was the premiere of Legge’s latest short, The Lactating Automaton. Starring The Wire’s Dominic West as an inventor unable to cope with a new baby and a wife that died during childbirth, he constructs a mechanical wet-nurse to look after his child.

Brilliantly unique, the funny and bittersweet short features fantastic cinematography, editing and art direction, and altogether more darker in tone that Cavendish, Legge’s new short channels influences such as Frankenstein, Spielberg’s A.I. and Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands. This latter influence extends further, as the score for the short is provided live by Liam Bates, and is quite reminiscent of Burton’s regular soundtrack composer Danny Elfman. The short is also presented with live Foley artists, scored by Caoimhe Doyle, and watching the three artists perform and create the sound effects right before your eyes was quite a sight to behold.

Finally, the world premiere of the new restoration of Guests of The Nation. The 1935 movie was introduced by Irish cinema icon Stephen Rea, whose speech made it evident that he is just as passionate about being a part of the audience as he is being part of what audiences come to see. The first big-screen viewing of the movie in over 75 years, the restoration of the project was beautifully handled, and the film itself has lost none of its power.

The story of a budding friendship between two British military prisoners and the two IRA members assigned to watch over them, the first and only feature by Denis Johnston is a testament to the enduring nature of cinema. The film was presented with a newly commissioned score by the Irish Film Institute under the Arts Council Commissions Award Scheme, composer Niall Byrne’s dramatic soundtrack perfectly accompanies the movie throughout, supplementing the ever-changing tones on screen.

The programme is part of Culture Ireland’s ‘Imagine Ireland: A Year Of Irish Arts In America 2011’, and will have its US premiere on 22nd September at the Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Centre in New York. To any of our readers in America, I highly recommend this evening’s unique spectacle of sight and sound.

Rory Cashin

 

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Issue 132 – Film Critics and the Feel-good Genre

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Andrew Legge tells us how the critics are failing us.

The Choirboy opens in Luton with Khalid Hashemi, a taxi driver and strict Muslim, beating his sensitive twelve-year-old son Ahmed with a vacuum cleaner handle. His wife jumps in front of the boy in protest as their older son Mohammed slinks out to the local Islamic youth club.

Ahmed’s life changes forever when he meets Mr Wilkinson, master of the Christian Choral Society. Wilkinson shows Ahmed’s class a video of his choir. Ahmed, transfixed by the haunting voices, auditions with Wilkinson, moving the old man to tears. He joins the choir, concealing it from his father Khalid. His voice blossoms and Wilkinson selects him to sing a duet alongside Ahmed’s new friend Rob Griffith in St Paul’s cathedral.

Skinheads
Rob’s father, a BNP candidate, finds out about Ahmed. He confronts Khalid with a mob of skinheads. Khalid, more enraged by his son’s disobedience than the yobs, storms into the rehearsal room, wrenches Ahmed from his seat and beats the child across the head with a crucifix. Meanwhile, his brother Mohammed joins a radical Islamic group and plans a bomb attack on London, coincidentally to take place on the day the boys are to sing.

Later, as they are leaving for London, Ahmed escapes back to the choir. Khalid chases after in his taxi. The climax of the film takes place in St Paul’s. As Mohammed straps semtex around his torso and chants verses from the Koran, Ahmed prepares for his biggest moment ever. The film ends with the police shooting Mohammed while Ahmed and Rob sing before a packed audience including Griffith and Khalid, both men moved to tears.

The Choirboy took me ten minutes to make up with its stock characters and clichéd themes. Wheel out the usual suspects: Pete Postlethwaite as Wilkinson, Dame Judi Dench as a grumpy but warm-hearted patron of the choir, Ben Kingsley as Griffith and Anthony Hopkins as a police chief with Bill Nighy thrown in as his incompetent assistant for comic relief. ‘Discover’ a genuine Muslim kid in some ghastly Bradford estate. Add a mishmash Eastern-meets-Baroque score and we have a bafta wetdream. It’s so simple it directs itself. Show the Dame the above synopsis and the director can skip the shoot and meet the cast at the BAFTAs.

The full article is printed in Film Ireland 132.

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