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Irish Film Festival in Artvoice

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Ireland, As Seen M. Faust in Artvoice

10th Annual Cinegael film festival

Cinegael, the annual festival of Irish cinema, celebrates its 10th anniversary this weekend by expanding to two days for “Hidden Ireland,” a program of documentaries.

The program was originally presented in 2011 at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. Curator Sunniva O’Flynn described it as “juxtapos[ing] films which are contemporary and archival, Irish and ‘foreign’, professional and amateur to create a fascinating lens through which Ireland, the Irish and Irish-America can be explored. It includes work by US ethnographers, television reporters and documentarians; tourist films made by Irish agencies for US audiences; local films made by Irish amateurs to document their own lives; and films made by returned emigrants exploring changes to their homeland.”

The 17 short and feature-length films will be presented in eight blocks on Friday and Saturday at the Burchfield Penney Art Center. See one or see them all—admission is free and open to the public.

The series begins Friday at 11am with “Ireland: The Tear and the Smile” (1959), two half-hour CBS news reports on the state of modern Ireland hosted by Walter Cronkite and including interviews with Sean O’Faolain, Brendan Behan, Siobhan McKenna, and Eamon de Valera.

At 1 pm is The Village (1967), a cinema verite look at the inhabitants of Dunquin, the westernmost village in Ireland. Isolated from much of the rest of the country, the few people remaining embody a way of life whose end is only being hastened by the tourists who have begun to flock there.

Hard Road to Klondike (1999, Friday at 3pm) was adapted from the memoir of Micheal MacGowan, who escaped poverty in Ireland and Scotland to come to America at the time of the Gold Rush. Stephen Rea’s narration is illustrated with a blend of archival footage, photographs, silent Hollywood recreations and interviews.

Friday evening brings an appearance by zoologist and filmmaker Tony Donoghue, who will introduce two of his short animated films inspired by farm and rural traditions (including “Irish Folk Furniture,” winner of the Short Film Jury Award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.) This 7pm block also includes the feature What We Leave in Our Wake (2010), an essay film investigating what is and will remain universal about Irish culture.

Saturday’s schedule opens with a dose of sunshine and whimsy with three short films, “Will Rogers in Dublin” (1927), the tourist-enticing “The Irish Riviera” (1936), and “President Kennedy in Ireland” (1963), a half-hour film following JFK’s visit to his ancestral homeland, the first to that country by a sitting American president.

Vincent O’Neill of the Irish Classical Theater arrives at 1pm to introduce Rocky Road to Dublin (1968), which despite being lauded at the Cannes Film Festival was effectively banned from distribution in Ireland because of filmmaker Peter Lennon’s thesis that his country was suffering as much under the thumb of the Church as it ever did under that of John Bull.

Where’s the music, you’re probably asking? That would be Saturday at 3:30pm, with “Flea Ceoil” (1967), a look at Irish and visiting folk musicians meeting in County Clare at a time when traditional Irish music was at a peak of international popularity. The block also includes From Shore to Shore (1993) a broader look at the diaspora of traditional musicians centered in New York City.

If you can only find room for one visit to Cinegael, you might wait until the closing program (Saturday 7pm) featuring four films by Ken Wardrop, who grew up in a midlands farm community and has return there after studying at London’s National Film School. Three charming shorts lead up to His and Hers, his 2009 feature debut which combines chronological interviews with 70 women from infancy to the age of 90. Deftly interwoven and composed with unexpected but rewarding attention to detail, the film compiles a single life from many: You’re likely to want to purchase the DVD to give to friends after seeing it.