How it’s New York: It takes place in the triangle below Canal street in NYC!
How it’s Irish: There is one Irish short covered in this roundup, but a tonne of great non-Irish stuff worth reading about.

The festival is getting more and more diverse every year. My closet tech nerd side came out to play at the wide array of virtual reality storytelling media on offer this year, and I didn’t even get to see the many talks and live music events that were interspersed throughout. The aptly named Hub was indeed the focal point of the festival at Spring Studios and is where all the fun tech entertainment took place. And of course, there were some movies too … 🙂

Felix & Paul Studios proprietary VR technology which creates original live action content captured a Cirque du Soleil performance and by slipping on a headset, I was transported to a front row seat. It took a moment to realize if I turned my head to the right or left, I got to see another part of the stage. I foresee a future where people can sit in their living rooms far from Broadway and watch shows in all their glory from every angle.

Still from MY MOTHER'S WING. (Photographer: Barry Pousman)

Still from MY MOTHER’S WING. (Photographer: Barry Pousman)

Other VR pieces I saw were SENS and My Mother’s Wing. SENS by French team, Ayats, Lemarchand and Mathieu, showcased a new way of interactive storytelling.  I was able to direct my eyes and focus on an element on the screen, and then unlock, for example, a door, that would enable me to move to the next part of the story. Amazing stuff. My Mother’s Wing centered on a refugee camp in Gaza, and the life of a 37 year old mother dealing with the loss of two of her children in the 2014 war. The filmmakers Gabo Arora and Ari Palitz said that to create the piece, they used multiple cameras to cover all the angles, and did a lot of work in the editing room to piece it all together seamlessly. The future of storytelling is very exciting!

Jodie Whittaker as Anna in the film ADULT LIFE SKILLS. Photographer: Jo Irvine

Jodie Whittaker as Anna in the film ADULT LIFE SKILLS.
Photographer: Jo Irvine

On the movie front, I saw two films from the UK that couldn’t be more different from each other if they tried: Adult Life Skills from relative newcomer (though BAFTA ‘Brit-To-Watch’) writer and director, Rachel Tunnard, and High Rise from the seasoned, Ben Wheatley (Kill List). Adult Life rightfully won the Nora Ephron New Female Director’s prize at the festival. It is a lovely film, slightly too long, but has a fabulous soundtrack and coming of age theme, which is very engaging, as well as a great cast.  High Rise based on J. G. Ballard’s dystopian novel of the same name is a very stylized and beautiful to watch disintegration of a segment of society boxed into an apartment building. Sadly, it gets lost somewhere along the way, or maybe I just don’t have the taste for the annihilation of society that Ballard imagined.

Rita Carmichael (Katie Holmes) and her daughter Ruthie (Stefania Owen) in ALL WE HAD. Cinematographer: Brett Pawlak

Rita Carmichael (Katie Holmes) and her daughter Ruthie (Stefania Owen) in ALL WE HAD.

Using the US subprime lending crisis as the backdrop, Katie Holme’s directorial debut, All we had, and Ido Fluk’s, The Ticket, (starring an American accented Dan Stevens, Downton Abbey’s beloved, Matthew), were two of the more disappointing contributions that I saw. All we had, based on the book of the same title by Annie Weatherwax depicted the relationship between a down on her luck young mother with her smart daughter, and though the publicity notes say that they learn from each other – this was not parlayed in the film. It just felt like a long, clichéd downward spiral form where I was sitting. The Ticket, though very well acted by Stevens and costars Oliver Blatt and Malin Akerman, and had a nice dream-like quality to portray the fascinating premise of a blind Stevens regaining his sight, unfortunately, slides too deeply into moralizing, and the good performances and interesting premise don’t make up for being beaten over the head with its theme of the immorality of livng a superficial, vacuous life.

Character: Violet and the unforgiving rectangle that hangs on the wall. Cinematographer: Maurice Joyce

Character: Violet and the unforgiving rectangle that hangs on the wall.
Cinematographer: Maurice Joyce

Ireland’s contribution to the new animated program, Whoopi’s Shorts, was Violet. Created, and beautifully designed by Maurice Joyce, the didactic moral tale of a young girl’s self hatred is narrated by Aiden Gillen (Game of Thrones and Love Hate) like a fairytale. Maurice spoke with Whoopie at the Q & A after the screening and said that Violet was a labor of love that took six years, and good news for us, the labor will continue as there is a feature of Violet in the pipeline.

Big names such as Susan Sarandon and Tom Hanks also had films at the festival. The Meddler costars J.K. Simmons and Rose Byrne, with Sarandon playing the wonderful meddling Italian mamma in director Lorene Scafaria, autobiographical first feature. An entertaining piece of cinema, with like able characters – not to be missed.

Tom Hanks as Alan Clay in Tom Tykwer’s A HOLOGRAM FOR THE KING. Photo Courtesy of Roadside Attractions

Tom Hanks as Alan Clay in Tom Tykwer’s A HOLOGRAM FOR THE KING.
Photo Courtesy of Roadside Attractions

Hanks plays an American salesman in the adaptation of Dave Eggers’ novel, A Hologram for the King. Set in Saudi Arabia, it looks at the declining role of US business overseas, as well as showing a broad representation of life in Saudi, from public executions in the city square and women’s lack of freedoms, to their deep spiritual life. Nice acting, interesting themes, but many storylines and characters are undeveloped, and seem to be randomly thrown in. Directed by Tom Tykwer, it suffers a similar fate of his last book to screen project – Cloud Atlas – of being over stuffed with characters and vignettes.

During the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy experiment, Stefan follows his doctor’s advice to “seek discomfort” by attempting to pick up a woman on the street. Image Credit: Ben Wolf

Stefan Sagmeister
Image Credit: Ben Wolf

Exploring the bigger themes of how to live a happy life and how to end it gracefully, were The Happy Film and Youth in Oregon. Both were excellent films that I would highly recommend them. Stefan Sagmeister, a renowned graphic artist, from Austria, but based in NYC, set about to use the documentary form to figure out how he could live a happier life. The method? Meditation, therapy and drugs of course ~ three months of each. Interspersed with some beautiful graphics, lots of color, Sagmeister’s openness, heartache and self discovery, his journey is both fun and emotionally educational to watch.

Frank Langella as Ray Engersol. Photographer: Paul Sarkis

Frank Langella as Ray Engersol. Photographer: Paul Sarkis

In the wonderful ensemble piece, Youth in Oregon, Frank Langella portrays a man nearing the end of a successful life, less than gracefully. His plan is to take matters into his own hands, and drive to Oregon to be euthanized. His problematic, yet loving family are not supportive of his decision, but when he insists, they join in the roadtrip, convinced he will have gotten it out of his system before they reach the west coast. Director Joel David Moore respectfully and tenderly shows end of life options from many angles and treats this sensitive subject with finesse and fearlessness.

A big favorite of mine both this year and last was the joint venture between DJ and producer, DJ Z-Trip and the silent movies of Harold Lloyd . This year, it was Safety First – the one with the iconic image of Lloyd hanging from a flag pole several stories from the ground. The gig drew an even bigger audience than last year the Spring Street Studio Hub. An amazing soundtrack provided by Z-Trip for the 1923 silent feature fused old New York streetscapes with contemporary New York house music and provided the perfect opportunity to experience being at a club, but sitting down … oh and watching a movie.

Just like the city itself, the festival’s levels of diversity are wildly impressive. Looking forward to next year already!


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