Festival marked by diversity of films and large crowds
The final day of the IrishFilmFesta took place on Sunday 30 March, ending the highly successful seventh edition of the festival. Entitled Belfast Day, all films screened over the course of the day were dedicated to Northern Ireland and its capital in particular.
The day began with Volkswagen Joe, the powerful 30-minute movie directed by Brian Deane and based on a play by Brendan McCann. Set in Northern Ireland in the dark days of 1981, a conflicted border-town mechanic is faced with an impossible decision and is forced to make a choice with dire consequences.
Volkswagen Joe was one of the highlights of the entire festival and later that evening it was declared the winner, deservedly, in the Live Action category in the short film competition.
The film's cental actor Stuart Graham, who attended the screening, said that the film evoked “enormous childhood memories” of growing up in Northern Ireland in the late 1970s/1980s, at a time when “two societies were living poles apart.” Speaking of his role in the film, Graham said: “The chance to play a character who found himself trapped in the middle of that conflict was very appealing to me.” However Graham qualified his remarks about the past by hailing the present “post-conflict generation which no longer lives in fear” and that it is now a “fantastically exciting time in Northern Ireland.”
Then followed Reading Suggestions: Eureka Street, a lecture by Simona Pellis examining the 1996 novel by Northern Irish author Robert McLiam Wilson. The book focuses on the lives of two working-class Belfast friends, one Catholic and one Protestant, in the time before and after the IRA ceasefires in 1994.
The evening continued with Paul Kennedy's debut film Made in Belfast, at 18.00. The film was screened in the presence of its principal actor Ciarán McMenamin, its producer Stuart Graham (who also played the taxi driver at the start and end of the movie), and the Irish ambassador to Italy, Bobby McDonagh.
Jack Kelly (McMenamin) is a successful writer who returns to Belfast to bury his father, after eight years of isolation from the community he estranged with his best-selling memoir. The reception he receives is not what he is expecting and neither is the newly-cosmopolitan city he finds.
Speaking after the film, which was warmly received by a full house, Graham said that they “set out to make a film with very little money, with little time, but with a very good script and a bunch of very good actors.” McMenanim agreed that the 13-day shoot was “insane” but said he “fell in love” with the script because it was “about things that Belfast is not normally associated with; Belfast is a modern city and a brilliant place to live. We have come a long way.”
Graham said that for too long the film industry has viewed Northern Ireland “as having only one story to tell” and that it is “why it is really important that films like Made in Belfast get made because we have many stories to tell.” Both actors praised their director Paul Kennedy, who was unable to attend the festival, and singled out Belfast's Lalor Roddy and Scotland's Shauna McDonald as representative of the high calibre of actors in the film.
The evening ended with the screening of the lively Good Vibrations which featured a gutsy lead performance by Richard Dormer. Directed by Lisa Barros D'Sa and Glenn Leyburn, the film chronicles the rebellious and unconventional life of Terri Hooley, Belfast's "Godfather of Punk", an instrumental figure in developing a number of the city's punk-rock bands, most notably The Undertones. The film also featured supporting roles by Jodie Whittaker and Killian Scott who starred in Black Ice, screened two nights earlier.
As the annual festival drew to a close, its artistic director and founder Susanna Pellis thanked the audience for being “so numerous for the entire four days.”
The IrishFilmFesta took place from 27-30 March at the Casa del Cinema, in Villa Borghese.