By Michael Washburn
Movies from Northern Ireland have a growing following in the United States. Hot on the heels of the Made in Northern Ireland film festival, which hit New York in November, Paul Largan, the young producer who set up that event, has been holding meetings in Los Angeles. with people from foundations that seek to promote Irish culture.
Largan’s goal is to launch at least two more Northern Ireland film festivals in the next few months — one in L.A. in April and one in Toronto in September. The chances have been bolstered by the popular reception that movies from the North met with at the Sundance Film Festival in late January.
In the midst of the crowded Park City festival, where movie buffs from all over the world rubbed shoulders with Aidan Quinn and Jerry Stembridge (director of "About Adam," which stars Dublin actor Stuart Townsend), Largan offered another peculiarly Irish diversion. He treated fans to screenings of three short films: "Mortice," "The Rules of Golf," and "Elsewhere," which were among the highlights of the November event.
On viewing these movies — a dark comedy and two firsthand accounts of the perils of growing up in pre-cease-fire Belfast — fans were so thrilled that they demanded an encore screening at the Golden Trailer Awards ceremony.
The Park City screenings were no less of a sensation than was the New York event, whose success has prompted Tracey Ferguson of the Irish Arts Center to become an official associate of Largan’s. She will help in the search for celebrities willing to back the program, as Liam Neeson did when he appeared and gave a speech on the first night of the New York festival.
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So Largan has had plenty of leverage when meeting in L.A. with representatives of BAFTA, the Directors Guild of America, and Irish Screen (which has showcased Irish films like "The Boxer"). The first of those organizations lent support when Largan set up the November festival, the latter two have been newly won over to his campaign.
Largan won tentative support for a film festival in L.A., whose projected dates are April 26-28. He already has his eye on a couple of venues: The Raleigh Theater and the theater of the DGA. He also hopes to arrange a screening in Santa Monica, whose affluent Irish population will no doubt appreciate the authentic visions of "Elsewhere" and "The Rules of Golf" as well as of documentaries like "Baseball in Irish History," which examines the high sales of baseball bats in Northern Ireland despite there being just one team, and "A Million Bricks."
The Toronto film festival is less certain at this time, but Largan, who went there in September as part of an Irish delegation to the annual international film festival, said he thinks that the city’s strong cultural and demographic links with Ireland and with Belfast in particular make it the perfect place to screen the 20 films in the Made in Northern Ireland package.
With luck, there will soon be an addition to that cinematic package. After Largan leaves L.A. and heads home to Belfast, he will immediately get to work on production of "Redrum," a thriller to be directed by 29-year-old "The Rules of Golf" veteran Hugh McGrory. This film will star "The Devil’s Own" actor Paul Rowan, as well as young Belfast actress Eva Birthistle, who did a stellar job in McGrory’s other film Getting Close.
It has become a truism that anything having to do with Ireland has an eager following in the United States these days. As Paul Largan’s phenomenal success in generating support for his film festivals attests, Northern Ireland — and particularly its cinema — must now be included in that axiom as well.