The eighth edition of the IrishFilmFesta began on Thursday 26 March at its usual base, the Casa del Cinema in Villa Borghese. The festival kicked off with Adam & Paul – produced 11 years ago and already described as an "Irish classic." Set in inner-city Dublin, the film follows 24 hours in the hapless existence of two childhood friends whose day-to-day lives have degenerated into a relentless quest to scrounge or steal enough money to feed their drug habits. The movie is stylised and features much physical, almost slapstick comedy, counteracted by moments of poignancy, desperation and ultimately great sadness.
Introducing the film, the festival's artistic director Susanna Pellis recalled seeing it for the first time a decade ago and knowing, instantly, that it was a "work of genius." Pellis described it as a turning point in Irish cinema, when directors could move on from portraying The Troubles in Northern Ireland, and hailed its director Lenny Abrahamson as the "most interesting film director of new Irish cinema." Indeed Abrahamson is something of the blue-eyed boy at the IrishFilmFesta, and will appear at the festival on 29 March, following the screening of his film Frank.
After Adam & Paul came A City Dreaming, a nostalgic and beautifully put-together tribute to Derry, documenting half a century of city life from the poverty of the early 20th-century to a later, darker era when Derry made international headlines for terrible reasons.
The documentary is narrated by the well-known radio and television broadcaster Gerry Anderson, who died not long after seeing its premiere in 2014. Anderson is credited with popularising the name "Stroke City" as a way of neutralising the contentious Derry/Londonderry name dispute.
After its screening in Rome, the film's director Mark McCauley described the work as Anderson's "love letter to his city." McCauley, a camerman who spent much time filming in war zones such as Baghdad and Sarajevo, drew on his experience to create this seamlessly-sequenced portrait of "ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances", in a city "that always dreams of better times."
The festival was then launched officially by Sarah Cooney, cultural attaché at the Irish embassy to Italy, followed by the short film The Good Word by Northern Irish actor and director Stuart Graham, who starred in Volkswagen Joe, one of the highlights of last year's festival in Rome, and winner of its Live Action category in the short film competition.
Introducing Graham's 21-minute film, Pellis acknowledged that she shouldn't lay her cards on the table but declared The Good Word as her personal favourite in the shorts competition, quickly pointing out that she was not on the jury tasked with selecting a winner.
It was easy to see why she was so enthusiastic. Set in 1950s Ireland, the film follows a preacher, Ivan Cutler, who calls on the Taggart household to spread the gospel. From the beginning, the atmosphere is tense, the cinematography rich, the script taut and surprising.
The evening was polished off with the romantic comedy Poison Pen, which is centred around a Booker Prize-winning author, PC Molloy, who is coerced into writing for a tabloid gossip magazine. Things take a complicated turn for Molloy, played by Lochlann Ó Mearáin, when he falls for his boss April Deveraux, played by Aoibhinn McGinnity.
The film was the work of five young Irish directors and producers, four of whom were present at the screening in Rome. Filmed on location in Dublin and London, Poison Pen was the end result of a Masters in film production at Filmbase, a non-profit institution dedicated to devoloping the art of filmmaking in Ireland, particularly among new and emerging Irish filmmakers.
The film's two producers Aine Coady, Sharon Cronin, and two of its three directors Lorna Fitzsimons and Jennifer Shortall (missing from Rome was Steven Benedict), described production between February and June 2014 as “intense.” The fact that there were multiple directors and multiple sets as well as a scramble to raise funds, meant there was pressure on the team up until the last minute. However they heaped praise on the film's actors, several of whom are big names, for working for free.
The IrishFilmFesta continues on 27 March, with Day Two beginning at 17.00 with Ballymurphy by Sean Murray. For full details see website.