Dee O’Donoghue reports from the Irish Film London, St. Patrick’s Film Festival, which took place 13– 23 March 2016.
2016 has proved to be a rewarding year so far for Irish film on the international stage, so the timing was just right for Irish Film London to showcase some of Ireland’s emerging talent at the recent St. Patrick’s Film Festival, part of the overall Mayor of London’s St. Patrick’s Day Festival. Bringing some of the best in new Irish filmmaking and animation to UK audiences, the festival held a host of events, including premiere screenings, Q&As, photographic exhibitions and a special Bafta event to mark the centenary of the 1916 Rising. Providing a platform to promote the rich, diverse talent currently proliferating Ireland’s film production, writing and acting scene, the festival has become an important cinematic event in the Irish film calendar and the standard at this year’s event proved that financial backing, marketable names and international exposure need not limit the creative possibilities available to low-budget Irish filmmakers.
Kelly O’Connor, Founder and Director of Irish Film London presents ‘1916 The Irish Rebellion’ at BAFTA
Opening this year’s festival, a three-hour screening of shorts was held on Sunday, 13th of March at the newly refurbished and uniquely historic Regent Street Cinema. Introduced by Irish Film London Director, Kelly O’Connor, curator Eibh Collins whittled down fifteen eclectic and engaging shorts, which ranged from animation and drama to observational documentaries and a musical, each uniquely engaging with diverse aspects of individualism, marginalisation, tolerance and acceptance through visually stimulating and thought-provoking narratives. Standout shorts that executed such themes to exhibit emerging Irish talent at its most impressive, included:
Love Is A Sting – IFTA-nominated for Best Short Film, Love Is A Sting, directed by Vincent Gallagher and starring Ciarán Hinds and Seán T. Ó Meallaigh, follows struggling children’s writer Harold Finch’s journey of discovery, as he receives an unexpected visitor who challenges him to reassess his life. Charming, original and hugely witty, the film simplistically but effectively analyses the meaning of life.
Drone Blender – Shot in super slow motion by Speed Motion Films and directed by Damien Gallagher, this drone blender creates carnage, blending food like no ordinary blender and showing no mercy to the humble tomato, sausage and egg, inexorably demolishing all in sight. Fascinating, fun and utterly transfixing, Drone Blender also invites serious reflection upon the lethality of drones in war and its effects on human life.
Céad Ghrá (First Love) – A little gem of a comedy following two prepubescent boys’ quest to win a popular local schoolgirl’s affections. Directed by Brian Deane and starring the impish Brandon Maher and Tadhg Moran, the Irish-language short underpins, not only the beauty of first childhood love but also the beauty of the Irish language, both narrative and language poetically complementing one another.
Father Murphy – Directed by Megan Devaney, this hilarious comedy follows the antics of a local priest, Father Murphy, who also happens to be the local drug dealer. When he accidently spikes his congregation at Mass with LSD, he must deal with the fallout of his drug peddling directly from the Vatican. Daring, frivolous and highly entertaining, Father Murphy is a welcome breath of fresh air from the usual sinister connotations associated with the church in Irish cinema.
The Teacup – A thought-provoking, traditional animation produced by the students of Ballyfermot College of Further Education, The Teacup tells the story of a man who fears going outside, until one day a knock on the door tempts him to change his mind. Poignant, childlike and atmospherically crafted, the film interweaves gentle childlike qualities with serious moral undertones.
Breathe – Starring John Connors and undoubtedly the most emotive film in the festival, director James Doherty explores a plethora of social issues including the travelling community, LGBT rights and social tolerance, as a rigid minded traveller father fears his son might be gay. A compelling, no-holds barred drama, which confronts marginalisation, oppression and violence and does not fail to jar.
Sing Street actors Ferdia Walsh-Peelo and Mark McKenna with Sing Street Producer, Paul Trijbits, centre, Film Wave at Regent Street Cinema
After a brief interlude, UK audiences were treated to a special screening of John Carney’s latest musical, Sing Street. Attended by the Minister for Justice and Equality, Frances Fitzgerald T.D., the film was received with a rip-roaring, toe-tapping reception. Starring Aidan Gillen and Jack Reynor and introducing Ferdia Walsh-Peelo and Mark McKenna, the film tells the story of a 1980s Dublin teenager, who attempts to win the girl of his dreams by forming a band. Tapping into 1980s Irish society and culture, the strength of Sing Street not only creates a fresh perspective on the highly nostalgic narrative of teenage love but also gives voice to tensions within the 1980s Irish family as it endured great interpersonal change amidst greater political, economic and cultural changes sweeping the Irish landscape, tensions that will resonate with disparate generations in recent decades.
After receiving such a rousing reception, the screening was followed by a highly-animated Q&A session with two of its leading stars, Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, who played Cosmo, and Mark McKenna, who played Eamon. Highlighting the painstaking process in bringing the film into production and onto the screen (the film was completed two years ago), the two actors commented that the film’s keen social and cultural observance, through its simplistic yet rich narrative, has ensured that, like The Commitments twenty-five years ago, Sing Street will now become enshrined in Irish cinematic history.
Irish Film at BAFTA
On 16th March, Irish film went to BAFTA. Streamed live from The National Concert Hall, a special screening of the world premiere of 1916 The Irish Rebellion, was shown to specially invited guests in the Princess Anne Theatre to coincide with the centenary of the Easter Rising. Introduced by Clare Byrne at the National Concert Hall, the specially commissioned documentary (narrated by Liam Neeson and with an original score by Frank and Patrick Cassidy, performed live by the RTÉ Concert Orchestra) revisits the 1916 Rising through unique scholarly analyses of key events during Easter Week. Providing a counter response to accepted discourses of the Rebellion, the film merges rarely seen archive footage with fresh footage and insightful, didactic perspectives from international experts on the dramatic events in Dublin one hundred years ago. The film additionally explores the unknown key role Irish Americans played in the run up to the rebellion and the effect the Irish rebellion itself had on other oppressed nations. Thus, the film not only succeeds in introducing an alternative viewpoint to popular opinion but also succeeds in internationalising Ireland’s crusade and situating it within wider historical, political, cultural and social struggles.
Prof. Briona Nic Dhiarmada during the ‘1916 The Irish Rebellion’ q&a at the Photographer’s Gallery
To conclude the festival, another screening of the 1916 The Rebellion was held at The Photographer’s Gallery on Ramillies Street, with a live Q&A discussion with writer and producer Prof. Bríona Nic Dhiarmada, who discussed at length the painstaking task in bringing the film to the screen, owing to the mass collection of archive footage that was in need of thorough examination and classification, in order to delineate a coherent and fresh Rebellion narrative for audiences.
The Irish Film Festival in London has become a highly significant event in the Irish film calendar. As part of the overall events throughout the year, the St. Patrick’s Festival not only succeeded in showcasing, celebrating and bringing the very best Ireland has to offer in emerging talent to UK audiences but also helped keep the wheels of Irish filmmaking in motion, by providing a distinctive platform on an international stage, encouraging the continuation and appreciation of Irish filmmaking. While the recent Oscar success in Irish cinema has garnered welcome attention both at home and abroad, festivals such as the Irish Film Festival in London, are hugely important in demonstrating that despite lesser funding opportunities or production resources, creativity need not be compromised. Indeed, as the St. Patrick’s festival showed its UK audience, much of the great Irish filmmaking that unfolded throughout the event, was created with minimal resources but has contributed enormously in keeping Irish cinema vibrant, diverse and robust.
Irish Film London will take place in November 2016.
Irish Film London is supported by the Irish Film Board, Culture Ireland, the IFI and the Emigrant Support Programme as part of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Ireland