John Spillane reports from The Royal Picture Show (1416 February 2014 Limerick City)

On Valentines weekend this year 69 O’Connell Street in Limerick City played host to the first of its four Royal Picture Shows. These are mini-film festivals which are going to take place as part of the Limerick National City of Culture 2014. Each weekend is to be themed and the inaugural event was themed appropriately on romance and silent film. Limerick has big plans in regard to film over the coming year and it was always going to be telling of the year to come how well this first instalment of the Royal Picture Show went. I am ecstatic to report the weekend was certainly a success.

The weekend began with a schools’ screening of Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet.  A story we are all familiar with, this may be the most famous incarnation of the tragic tale to take place on screen; at least amongst the current generation. A screening solely for schools, the poetic visual element Luhrmann brought to the story probably helped give the story new context and layers to those young students, which may prove invaluable to them come exam time. There is likely no more an appropriate film that could open a weekend devoted to romance in film.

The first public screening of the weekend came that night in David Lean’s Brief Encounter. This may not be Lean’s most famous work, directing such masterpieces as Lawrence of Arabia and The Bridge on the River Kwai, however, Brief Encounter certainly is another noble effort in his filmography. It is the story of a married woman who, through several acts of chance, ends up meeting and falling in love with a married man. Their passion and guilt are both convincingly portrayed as, even though the outcome is known from the outset, we still cant help but be invested all the way through. Many of today’s filmmakers could take a lesson from this less-is-more approach to on-screen romance.

In the clearest example of juxtaposition I can recall, following Brief Encounter was a screening of last year’s highly acclaimed documentary The Act of Killing. I can’t see how this film fits into either the Romantic or Silent film genres, unless of course if you watch it on mute and have a romantic love of genocide. However, don’t confuse that as a complaint, as you need no reasons for screening cinema as powerful as this. A juggernaut of a documentary which focuses on Anwar Congo, a death squad leader from Indonesia who is encouraged to recreate some of his most heinous crimes through the medium of film. What he creates are a series of bizarre and surreal retellings of the darkest acts a person can be a part of.

Now many great examples of film as an art form played over the weekend, however, my favourite film of the festival has to be Frozen, Disney’s critical and financial hit, which screened on Saturday.  I just cant escape this movie. The songs are stuck in my head, the characters are unforgettable and the plot strays from the typical Disney mould as much as can ever be expected (which is still not very far). It is an improvement in every way on Tangled and is better than any animated film since Toy Story 3. It’s not great for a children’s movie, it’s just great.

Later that afternoon was a very interesting event on the weekend timetable. At 3 O’clock on the Saturday there was a scheduled surprise screening. There were no hints as to what the film was bar that it would be between 90 and 100 minutes. There was definitely an extra air of excitement as the picture began, each member of the audience looking desperately for the first frame that they may recognise. It was finally revealed that the day’s viewing pleasure would be Noah Baumbach’s 2013 movie Frances Ha, a film which embodies the passion and enthusiasm you expect from indie filmmaking. Greta Gerwig is so genuine in her performance of the lead it’s not surprising at all she shares screenwriting credits with her director for this film.

Saturday evening played host to the only talk of the weekend, which was hosted by honorary Academy Award winner Kevin Brownlow. Kevin is a film preservationist, historian and collector. Kevin is clearly a man who strives for perfection in his cinema experience, devoting his life to patiently saving films of the silent era.  Going into the talk I figured we were either getting a history of cinema or the career highlights of Kevin. It is a testament to Kevin’s ability as a storyteller that he was able to tell the history of cinema through his own story.  The talk was incredibly insightful and I was fascinated by his story from start to finish.

In the break between Kevin’s talk and the feature he presented those lucky enough to be in attendance with a photo opportunity with a piece of history; Kevin had brought with him the first ever Academy Award to be awarded (for the film Sunrise). It was embarrassingly thrilling to get the chance to hold such an iconic statue and pose with it as I have seen many of my idols do before me. Of course they earned their opportunities through talent not luck, but that’s just splitting hairs.

Kevin then went on to introduce the night’s feature presentation, Sunrise. Sunrise was one of the last greats of the silent era and was awarded the very Academy Award we had seen earlier that evening. The film was a perfect example of silent film as art and why the absence of sound was often an opportunity and not an obstacle. Directed by FW Murnau, it’s not difficult to see why this picture was the big winner of the first Academy Awards.

On Sunday afternoon, we were treated to an idiosyncratic experience as Limerick Avant-Garde had a screening of experimental short films , both from Limerick and international artists. Very much in contrast to the films that had previously been shown, focussing mainly on harsh sounds and abstract images,  it was great to see Limerick filmmakers get the opportunity to showcase their work in a cinema setting. There was an intermission after the 90-minute screening of these shorts and when we returned we were presented with Leviathan, a documentary following fishermen through the harsh and daunting conditions of their work. The film was powerful as it used intimidating audio and crude visuals to give the film a tremendously gritty and aggressive feel. Not for everyone, however, if you like documentarys that pack a punch, well this is your Mike Tyson.

The weekend came to a close with Alexandre Castagnetti’s Love Is in the Air. The film focussed on two former lovers who get stuck next to each other on a flight between Paris and New York. The two inevitably clash as they recall the good and the bad of their time together. Despite its French origin, the film had very much a Hollywood feel in both its premise and its execution. It was fun throughout and never fell into the realms of boring, as rom-coms often do; however, it was very much just playful fluff with no real substance.

As a Limerick man I found the weekend to be a breath of fresh air in a city where until recently film as art was not accessible to the public. 69’ O’Connell street helped solidify its reputation as a much needed alternative to the mainstream cinema the city has in spades. The weekend proved to be entertaining and insightful in equal measure. They will return for the weekend of 9th May with their featured speaker Julian Doyle, editor of Brazil and The Life of Brian. I cannot recommend it enough for fans of film from near and far.


John Spillane is a Limerick based comedian and aspiring screenwriter. He has built a strong reputation for his alternative observational style and dramatic enthusiasm on stage. He is one of the co-founders of Filibusters comedy, a troupe of comedians who run comedy clubs in Dublin, Limerick and Galway cities to name a few. This April he will be starring as the lead in an Anchorman stage play in the University of Limerick. John is a co-operative placement student and is currently working for the Limerick City of Culture. You can follow him on Twitter @spillanejohn or find out when the nearest Filibuster show is on near you @TheFilibusters