In any given year, the graph of Irish culture in the U.S. is skewed disproportionately towards the month of March, offering us more options around St Patrick's Day than any of us could possibly attend, followed by swift decline in excitement when that month is over.
This year is different: Imagine Ireland, a celebration of Irish culture across the full spectrum of the arts, spoils us for choice for the full twelve months of the year, offering music, dance, film and theatre, not just in major coastal cities, but across the country. And now, as the autumn schedule unfolds in these parts, fans of Irish film are treated to a new festival that aspires to become an annual event in NYC.
At the end of the month, Irish Film New York offers a broad range of contemporary Irish features, from drama and documentary to comedy, starring household names and actors who soon will be.
The festival is the brainchild of Niall McKay, a Wicklow native who comes to town from the West Coast with a reputation for getting things done. McKay is the founder and director of San Francisco Irish Film Festival, an event that has been a highlight of the Cali-Irish calendar for more than a decade. McKay recently relocated to NYC, and in an impressively short space of time has put together a three-day salute to the best of current Irish cinema.
The series opens on Friday, Sept. 30, with "Knuckle", Ian Palmer's documentary about the brutal sport of bare-knuckle boxing in the Irish Traveller community. Palmer's cameras followed rival clans for more than a decade to capture the bruises and the glory of their illegal backstreet bouts, and the big money changing hands on the bloody outcome. This underground sport was showcased, in fictional form, by Brad Pitt in Guy Ritchie's "Snatch," but Palmer's "Knuckle" is the real deal.
In lighter vein, Marion Quinn's "32A" is a coming-of-age dramedy set in Dublin in the 1970s. The title refers to both the lead character's burgeoning womanhood and her bus route into town in search of devilment. Marion, sibling of a formidable family of filmmakers that includes actor Aidan, director Paul, and cinematographer Declan Quinn, captures the look and feel of Dublin at that time. Her film will appeal tremendously to nostalgists of pre-boom, pre-bust Ireland (and these days, that's everybody).
The laborious process of raising money to finance a film often results in a director's theme passing its sell-by date before the film is finished, but Darragh Byrnes' droll comedy "Parked" is right up-to-the-minute on Ireland's current economic plight.
The film centers on the travails of returning emigrant, Fred Daly, who lands back in Ireland friendless, broke, and reduced to living in his car. Despondent about the turn things have taken, Fred is cajoled by a fellow car park dweller into giving life and love another try. Colm Meaney, one of a handful of Irish actors always worth the price of admission, plays the hapless lead character, and Finnish actress Milka Ahlroth his love interest. An Irish-Finnish co-production, 'Parked" was well received at the Helsinki Film Festival.
Ian Power's "The Runway", another Irish film with an international flavor, premieres on Saturday night. Power's oddball comedy dramatizes true events that happened in Ireland in the early 1980s: Mexican pilot Ruben Ocaña, en route from Newark to Shannon in a Gulfstream jet, made an emergency landing at Mallow racecourse in County Cork with his fuel gauge dangerously in the red. Power's tale morphs him into Colombian Francisco (Bruno Bichir), stranded in Cork after he crash-lands. But Captain Francisco is soon back in the air, thanks to an unlikely friendship with a fatherless local lad, and the resourceful villages who come up with tarmac and aviation fuel to send him on his way.
The Festival closes Sunday night with Tom Hall's "Sensation," starring Domhnall Gleason of "Harry Potter" fame. Hall's film finds Gleason's character, a loveless farmer, resorting to recompensed romance with an escort who's been round the block a few times. A routine one-night stand quickly escalates into a tantalizing business proposition. Soon the unlikely pair decides to open a bordello in a quiet country town, much to the chagrin of the locals who want to put a stop to that sort of thing.
Funded by Culture Ireland and NYU Glucksman Ireland House, indefatigable supporters of Irish arts in New York, the IFNY series will be presented at NYU Cantor Film Centre, from Sept. 30 to October 2, on West 8th Street in Manhattan. The screenings will have the filmmakers present for Q and A afterwards. Tickets can be purchased at the box office at that location, or at the IFNY website, www.IrishFilmNYC.com.