Irish Screen America Festival – NY Friday September 30th through Sunday October 2nd. – NYU Cantor Film Center

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How it’s New York: At the Cantor Film Center at New York University
How it’s Irish: Presenting the best of current Irish Film and Media

Print   I had a blast covering the 2016 Irish Screen America Festival in New York at the NYU Cantor Film Center. 

The Festival is the brainchild of Irish film-maker/producer Niall McKay and his Deputy Director Clodagh Bowyer.  There was an entertaining collection of films, shorts, television and an insight-filled panel discussion to boot.  Have a look at their trailer to get a taste of what they are about.

Irish Screen America Trailer

The opening night of the Festival kicked off with the New York Premiere of  The Queen of Ireland;

Director Conor Horgan’s documentary on Irish phenom Ms. Panti Bliss (aka Rory O’Neill).  This lovingly filmed romp gives us a peek inside the creation of this larger than life drag queen turned LGBT icon.  Horgan takes us through the struggles that brought  Panti into the headlines  and ultimately brought Irish Marriage Reform to its most glorious conclusion with the approval of same-sex marriage in May of 2015.   The sellout crowd were whopping, hollering, laughing and cheering for the film.  There was a lively discussion with Conor Horgan, producer Katie Holly, and Panti’s alter ego Rory (in male drag nursing a foot injury which wouldn’t allow for Panti’s normal stilettos), moderated by festival producer Niall McKay.  They are still in search of a major distribution deal for the film in the US, but judging by the reception for it around the globe, I’m sure it won’t be too long before we all can see it in major cities across the country

 

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Conor Horgan, Niall McKay and Rory O’Neill at the New York Premiere of The Queen of Ireland

Saturday started with a panel discussion from Women in Film and Television Ireland, the voluntary organization of audiovisual professionals, titled Stories from the Field, a free panel discussion focusing on directors, producers and distributors working in the U.S. and Ireland.  Panelists include Claire McGirr (Smuggler), Edel Malone (Manager of Operations at Filmbuff),  Jeanie Igoe (Acquisitions at A24 Films), Producer Ailish McElmeel (Deadpan Pictures) and Director Cathy Brady (Can’t Cope,Won’t Cope), and moderated by NY based comedian and writer Maeve Higgins.  The discussion ranged from their starts in Ireland to the experiences they have had working in the US.  From episodic comedies to features and the influence of slam poetry and musicality in approaching the design of a piece.

One of the topics that featured prominently was the inequality when it comes to funding productions driven by or penned by women.  Cathy Brady and Ailish McElmeel were very proud to be the first popular episodic RTẾ comedy totally created by and starring Irish women, with a female driven storyline.  They spoke about the fights along the way to get the show made and how much easier it was for their male colleagues to get the necessary cash to complete their artistic vision.  So Ailish went out and found funding herself for the other elements of the piece that she didn’t want Cathy to surrender.  This included a $25K music budget which leant a great deal to the show as many of the scenes are nearly choreographed to the music running through them.

Jeanie Igoe spoke about the experience coming to the US on a year-long  J1 visa, and getting an invite to an industry event, which lead to an internship that eventually turned into the job where she is now.  She stressed the importance of forming strong relationships and being able to keep the connections going in order to keep herself current.  They all agreed that the situation for woman is definitely improving, with the likes of women winning directing Oscars, Emmys and Tonys and that they all intend to be a part of the rise of the strong Irish Women in Film.

Can’t Cope, Won’t Cope

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Nika McGuigan as Danielle and Séana Kerslake as Aisling in Can’t Cope, Won’t Cope

Saturday evening brought a treat with 2 episodes of one of RTẾs hottest commodities at the moment, the raucous comedy Can’t Cope, Won’t CopeSeána Kerslake as Aisling, Nika McGuigan as Danielle, star in this series written by Stephanie Preisser, directed by Cathy Brady and produced by Ailish McElmeel.  The show follows Aisling and Danielle, two childhood friends from Cork as they navigate their lives of work, partying and mischief, which they seem to find plenty of.   Shot in a realistic style, with a gritty underbelly, we see the pitfalls and pratfalls of young girls out on the pull and wading through seeming seas of vodka on the way.  The amount these girls can drink and live to tell the tale is truly something!  Both the lead actresses are hilarious and together you can see the collective addiction to exploration and excitement that regularly gets them into trouble.  A particular delight is Steve Blount as the magically ever-present taxi driver who arrives to rescue the girls from their folly.

Hopefully the show will continue to garner rave reviews and be optioned by one of the online providers that snapped up the likes of Love/Hate so that we can see the whole series over here in the U.S.  Until then here’s the trailer:

Niall McKay, Cathy Brady, Séana Kerslake, Nika McGuigan and Ailish McElmeel at the screening of Can't Cope, Won't Cope

Niall McKay, Cathy Brady, Séana Kerslake, Nika McGuigan and Ailish McElmeel at the screening of Can’t Cope, Won’t Cope

Sunday brought the feature film Mammal starring Rachel Griffiths and the hot young actor Barry Keoghan who many will remember as the baby-faced hit man from Love/Hate.  This film tells the troubling story of Margaret who loses her own son, and fixates on a young thug who happens by her shop, pouring all the love she couldn’t give to her son into this young man.  It’s a dark tale, which left me underwater, an element that figures strongly in the film, as she can only find true release when holding her breath under water.  While it had strong performances by Griffith and Keoghan, I felt the whole premise disturbing and the impression it made on me was not overly positive.

Rachel Griffiths in Mammal

Rachel Griffiths in Mammal

Sunday evening proved most delightful with the offerings of 5 short films, the loony self-penned Finding Colin Farrell from actress/comedienne Gina Costigan, Eggs and Soldiers, a touching Christmas tale from Imelda O’Reilly, Narcan from Peter McNamara telling the story of a New York paramedic trying to keep his patients alive and his family together, We Have Each Other from Naomi Sheridan about a couple trapped in isolation following an unknown cataclysmic event, and Ducks of 1916 an animated tale of the 1916 rising told from the point of ducks that were saved by a gardener who stopped the fighting in Stephen’s Green to feed them.

Jomil Elijah Robinson as Marco in Eggs and Soldiers

Jomil Elijah Robinson as Marco in Eggs and Soldiers

The standouts for me were Eggs and Soldiers and NarcanEggs and Soldiers shows the struggles of an Irish immigrant father dealing with his two sons and his own demons, as he tries to provide for them at Christmas time.  Beautifully written and directed by Imelda O’Reilly it gives us a glimpse into the psyche’s of all three main characters as they grapple with their own expectations, needs and guilt over the holiday.  Particularly brilliant is young Jomil Elijah Robinson as the young Marco who in many ways is oblivious to what is happening around him and Deema Aitken as the older brother Ned who puts himself on the line to ensure his younger brother’s happiness. The cinematography of Joe Foley captures the feel of their surroundings and the smell of Christmas in the air, down to the breath of the tree vendor that Ned encounters on the street at a pivotal moment.  I have great hopes that it will have great success at future festivals and that there will be a feature on the way from Imelda soon!

 

 

Deema Aitken as Ned in Eggs and Soldiers

Deema Aitken as Ned in Eggs and Soldiers

The second film to impress me in this group was Narcan.

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The electric Peter Halpin stars as Sean Ryan, an Irish immigrant Paramedic, wrestling with the demands of his job and trying to keep his family intact.  Featuring spirited performances by Shiek Mahmud-Bey as his partner Eddie, Laura O’Shea as Sean’s feisty ex-wife Sinead Ryan and Louis Martinez as the frequent flyer drug addict that provides a major plot twist.  There’s a delightful cameo by Malachy McCourt, the very character that Peter Halpin played so many years ago in the film of Angela’s Ashes, as Sean’s father-in-law and newcomer Harris McNamarra who plays Sean’s son.

 

There will be an upcoming podcast for my in-depth interview with Actor/Producer Peter Halpin.  This film and this lad are going places!

You’ll also hear my interview with Festival Producer Niall McKay giving great insight in what it takes to put one of these festivals together and keep it going.  The staff and venue for the festival were all first rate, and I hope that there will be many more festivals to come.  This is a great showcase for all the wonderful talent and product coming out of the film/television/animation industries both in Ireland and America.  See you there next year!

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