NOW in its third year, London’s Irish Film Festival has made its mark as one of the city’s premier celluloid events with particular credit to curator Kelly O’Connor for creating something fresh in these barren times.
“Once a festival lasts three successive years it’s given the thumbs up by the gods for a healthy life,” O’Connor says (perhaps with fingers crossed).
Documentaries make up the greater part of this year’s programme, an indication that budgets are tight.
The documentary is always the cheapest form of film storytelling.
Nevertheless, for the last two years the IFFL has given an early sight of significant Irish features — John Michael McDonagh’s The Guard (2011), Lenny Abrahamson’s What Richard Did (2012) — and screenings this year include Steph Green’s Run & Jump and Lance Daly’s Life’s a Breeze.
Both will have a memorable impact. Acclaimed names appearing in this year’s movies include Pat Shortt, Eva Birthistle, Maxine Peake, Will Forte, Ruth McCabe and Sharon Horgan.
There are promising performances from young newcomers Brendan Morris (Run & Jump) and from Kelly Thornton, who in Life’s a Breeze shares the screen with the inimitable Fionnula Flanagan, whose persona can be both icy cold and searingly hot.
Flanagan’s depiction of an ageing woman’s musings upon life is both honest and courageous.
Among the themes profiled elsewhere is the history of the London Irish Women’s Centre, retold in Michelle Deignan’s Breaking Ground: The Story of the London Irish Women’s Centre.
Formed in the 1980s, LIWC worked to assist and protect women who faced being trapped in brutal marriages or financial debt.
Deignan’s film is a lively, inventive recollection and stands as an oral history of those times.
History of a different kind comes up in Lon Sa Speir (Men at Lunch), made by Galway brothers Sean and Eamonn O’Cualain, which explains the story behind the iconic image of construction workers eating lunch while perched upon an iron girder high above Manhattan.
It’s a dizzying movie — terrifying and terrific. Lon Sa Speir makes up one half of an Irish-language double bill, the other film being John O’Donnell’s An Bhean A Shiuil Trasna Mheiricea (The Woman Who Walked Across America).
An Odysseyean tale, the film reveals how 19th-century emigrant Mary Devine successfully made the most arduous return trip from Kansas to Co. Kerry.
Another personal journey is shown in Pat Collins’ Silence, which follows writer Eoghan Mac Giolla Bhride on his homecoming to Co. Donegal.
Literally a quiet and contemplative film, it reveals one man’s exploration of the link between sound and consciousness.
Sound and eccentricity also combine in Niall McCann’s Art Will Save the World, a portrait of English singer-songwriter Luke Haines.
A suitably odd narrative, the film features Jarvis Cocker (among others) explaining why Haines is a wayward genius to rank with Viv Stanshall and Syd Barrett.
In determining the festival programme, O’Connor always includes exhibits off the mainstream.
This year an evening of shorts (entitled Wee Fillums) will screen efforts by Domhnall Gleeson, Rebecca Daly and Cathy Brady.
An installation at Riverside Studios by Fiona Whitty shows footage of cross-cultural societies while a family-style animation workshop is led by the excellent illustrator Manju Gregory.
It’s a complex feat for a festival to strike a balance between known figures (necessary to get attention) and new ideas (necessary for the future).
O’Connor says: “Aim high and deliver an excellent programme and you’re likely to impress funders who have to be selective with their grants.”
It’s impossible to cite here everything that merits mention, but see below for further information.
Suffice to say that the IFFL has earned its place in the cultural calendar and has become an affective mix of tradition and innovation.
The Irish Film Festival London runs from Wednesday until Sunday. Venues include the ICA, Riverside Studios and Tricycle Cinema. For full details visit www.irishfilmfestivallondon.com