More than a decade ago, after the World Trade Center attacks, Robert De Niro and some colleagues decided to set up the Tribeca Film Festival hoping to help revitalize lower Manhattan. They had their wish. The festival has become known as a venue for high caliber challenging movies from across the world.
And this year Irish talent is exceptionally well-represented at the two week film feast.
Youth culture, the Internet and the adolescent imagination are central themes in a rich offering of features and short films from Ireland. The range is expansive and diverse and so are the settings, which vary from ghost estates in the Irish midlands, to Belfast and the Bronx.
“Babygirl,” directed by Macdara Vallely, is a coming of age story about the relationship between a teenage girl and her single mother.
It portrays the experience of a Puerto Rican teenager in the Bronx, who watches as her man-crazed mother invites a series of inappropriate suitors to their home.
“Screenshot,” marks the directorial debut of Galway native Cathal Burke. It delves into modern concerns: a young woman makes a friend through Facebook, but the online world turns nasty.
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In “Death of a Superhero” a teenage boy of extraordinary artistic talent falls in love for the first time – as he comes to terms with a diagnosis of cancer.
“Foxes” is the eerie tale of a couple living in one of Ireland’s almost abandoned housing estates, where nature is reclaiming the land. Shrieking foxes run wild there at night. The woman, Ellen, becomes preoccupied with photographing the animals, and she allows the obsession to destroy her relationship.
Safinez Bousbia’s documentary “El Gusto” is the tale of a 73-year-old Algerian guitarist who, decades after religious and ethnic tensions have torn his community apart, performs at an emotional reunion concert. “All that way for Love” was written by an Irishman, Thomas Martin.
And of course there is Terrry George’s new feature, “Whole Lotta Sole,” which tells the story of a Belfast gangster whose attempts to elude trouble only draw him further into it.
Its cast is an accomplished bunch, including Brendan Fraser, David O’Hara and Colm Meaney. George’s long-time friend Pete Hamill, writing in the Irish Echo last week, said the movie was a reminder of more troubled times: “Whole Lotta Sole is a comedy, but like many fine comedies, its themes are serious,” Hamill wrote.
Jim Sheridan – who is also a juror at the festival – will appear in conversation with his daughter Naomi as part of the Tribeca Talks series. Naomi is an award-winning screenwriter in her own right.
The number of Irish films to appear at Tribeca this year is a testament to the abilities of their creators, according to the founder of the Irish Film New York screening series, Niall McKay.
“In the past, it was unusual for Irish films to make these big film festivals,” he told the Irish Echo.
“There would be very few that would make it over each year. Now it’s the norm and I think that speaks for their quality. Obviously Irish films are doing a lot better in these big festivals, not just in Tribeca but also in Sundance.”
The creative connections between Ireland and the U.S. are evolving, McKay said.
Terry George lives in New York, but set his film in Ireland; Macdara Vallely’s “Babygirl” occurs in the Bronx, but was made with Irish funding.
And on May 2, there is one last event for film buffs to keep an eye out for, organized by McKay. Ireland’s president, Michael D. Higgins, will join Marian Quinn and Macdara Vallely to talk about “Irish stories at home and abroad” at the Lincoln Center in Manhattan at 1 p.m.
More information about the Tribeca Film Festival at www.tribecafilm.com/festival.