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: