By Michael Washburn
Movies may not be what Northern Ireland is famous for. But a vast amount of talent is at work in the cinema of today’s Northern Ireland, according to independent film producer Paul Largan. To give American viewers a taste of this talent, and to provide an authentic portrait of life in the province (where relatively few films were made before the 1994 cease-fire), this young man from Belfast has organized a film festival that will showcase the work of more than 20 of the rising stars of Northern Ireland cinema from Nov. 17-19.
Thanks to the sponsorship of BBC Northern Ireland, one of many organizations behind the event, the 22 filmmakers are coming to New York for several days to promote and talk about their work. They are expected to be present on each of the three nights of of the "Made in Northern Ireland" film festival.
After a small, private showing of short films at the Tribeca Film Center on Wednesday night, the festival will continue with another screening of short movies, this one free and open to the public, beginning Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Anthology Film Archives at 32 Second Ave. in Manhattan. The sponsor for Thursday’s event is the Northern Ireland Film Commission. Among the films to be screened on Thursday night are "Flying Saucer Rock ‘n’ Roll" and "Comm-Raid on the Potemkin," two comedies by Enda Hughes; "Mortice," James Donnelly’s new (and very black) comedy, and Sean McGuire’s drama "The Good Son," which was chosen for the International Critics Week at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.
On Friday night, New York University’s Cantor Film Center at 36 East 8th St. will screen six documentaries and then hold a panel discussion, all thanks to the support of NYU’s Glucksman Ireland House and Tisch School of the Arts. These events are also free and open to the public. The documentaries include Paula Crickard’s "Splitting" and Mike Hewitt’s "Too Late for Names," which deal with domestic, personal problems, and Carlo Gebler’s "Baseball Bats in Ireland," which deals with life in Northern Ireland after the cease-fire.
The directors represented in the festival include Catholics and Protestants, men and women, and a whole panorama of perspectives will come across in the films shown. While some of the films unfold in Belfast, others, like Alastair McIlwain’s "The Freesia of Eden," feature what Largan calls "some pretty scenic stuff" in rural parts of the North.
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Just as impressive as the vast array of talent assembled by Largan is his skill at getting big foundations to lend financial support. The executive producer of 10 short films over the last 18 months that had a combined budget of $400,000, Largan says that when he arrived in New York on Sept. 12, his project was nothing but an idea.
But the next day, he had lunch with representatives of the Film Fleadh Foundation and NYU’s Glucksman Ireland House and Tisch School of the Arts, a meeting that resulted in the endorsement of all three organizations. Largan then contacted BBC Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, and other foundations on his own (with a strong reference from the Northern Ireland Film Commission), and won their backing. Now his list of sponsors can barely fit on the back of the program.