Doc profiles petite hipster with bullhorn

Not even the last of the good weather could deter New York’s Irish film fans from heading indoors at NYU Cantor Center last Friday night to watch the opening feature of the IFNY 2012 festival. Stoked by the kickoff party held earlier at Glucksman Ireland House, the filmgoers settled in at the Cantor to watch the American premiere of Kieron J. Walsh’s frenetic feature “Jump.”

Adapted from Lisa McGee’s stage play, the film is set in Derry on New Year’s Eve, a night that natives of the City famously turn into a Halloween and champagne mashup, with all the revelers decked out in elaborate costumes in the buildup to the midnight celebrations. Walsh’s briskly-paced dramedy pitches a battered and bruised young man (Martin McCann) up against a suicidal young woman in angel wings (Nichola Burley) who is about to jump off the Derry Peace Bridge to end her life. Romance naturally ensues, and the pair share a hectic evening of angst, guilt and organized crime, while dodging homicidal henchmen of a local gangster (Lalor Roddy) - who just happens to be the girl’s father.

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Unlikely coincidences abound, as the film unfolds in a setting refreshingly free of the troubles that have dominated so much of the city’s recent history. Saturday night’s feature was Kirsten Sheridan’s “Dollhouse”, the third full-length film from the Dublin director. Shot in an ultra-modern house located right on the water at Colliemore Harbour, in Dalkey, Co. Dublin, Sheridan’s films opens with a home invasion by a group inner-city teenagers who gain entry to the glass and chrome palace with the help of a girl who has been casing the place, and knows where the spare key is hidden.

They quickly raid the booze and medicine cabinets for whiskey and pills and start a party. The festivities get out of hand and the teens start to trash the place, but are soon halted in their tracks when one of their group is revealed to be the daughter of the owners of the house they are destroying.

Further shocks soon follow, as the narrative balances on a serrated edge of barely-restrained violence.

Working with a cast of unknowns, and from an improvised script, with no flashbacks and no backstory, Sheridan keeps the audience, and at times, clearly, the cast, guessing right until the end as to what is really going on.

The closing night film took the audience back to Derry, but in darker times. Lelia Doolin’s fascinating documentary “Bernadette: Notes on A Political Journey” examines the life and work of Bernadette Devlin McAliskey, the republican socialist politician who emerged from the turmoil of the Civil Rights marches of the late ‘60s to become Mid-Ulster MP at the British Parliament at the age of 21.

A veteran and survivor of the Battle of the Bogside, Bloody Sunday, and Burntollet Bridge, Bernadette was a pivotal figure in the burgeoning republican movement in the early- to mid-1970s. Doolin’s doc explores the forces that shaped her, growing up in a uniquely matriarchal family in Cookstown, Co. Tyrone.

With a houseful of sisters, and a mother and two grandmothers who were widowed young, Bernadette was given to believe that to be an opinionated contrarian was a badge of honor for a young woman.

Bernadette took this ethos with her to college, and studied languages and psychology at Queens University in Belfast, where she would join the Civil Rights movement and enter history. When she was elected MP, she rejected the standard abstentionist position taken by some elected nationalists, believing that she could do more good for her constituents by showing up in Parliament to represent them, than refusing to attend.

Bernadette’s striking appearance as a petite hipster with a bullhorn made a strong impression amid the grey-suited ranks of middle-aged men in the UK Parliament, and she quickly became a media star. Dubbed “Castro in a miniskirt” (a misnomer - it was actually a micro-mini) by Alliance Party politician Stratton Mills during a U.S. fundraising tour in 1969, Bernadette made an indelible impression on both sides the Atlantic before retreating from the public gaze in the late seventies. Re-entering the political fray during the H-Block protests, she would survive an attempt on her life that left her with seven bullet wounds in 1981.

Undeterred by the assassination attempt, she continues to fight for justice at a grassroots level in her native Tyrone. Doolin’s unprecedented access to a politician who has become notoriously camera-shy in recent years gives us a rare insight into the mind of one of Ireland’s true radicals, an eloquent and blunt thinker who refused to conform, play the game or sell out.

The film would undoubtedly have benefited from some additional interviews with Devlin’s opponents, detractors, and the inevitable enemies she made along the way, but, when questioned on this matter in the Q & A afterwards, director Doolin was having none of it. Hardly in the ha’penny place herself when it comes to contrarian opinionation, the redoubtable Lelia advised that anyone who wants that sort of thing should go off and make their own film.