Thursday, June 30, 2011

The IFI at MOMA May 20 – June 2nd

The IFI has now returned to Dublin from New York after a great two weeks at MoMA presenting the film series Revisiting the Quiet Man: Ireland on Film which we curated with Gabriel Byrne.

The two week programme brought MoMA audiences on a journey through a rich and diverse selection of representations of Ireland on film; from Disney’s technicolour extravaganza, Darby O’Gill... to Steve McQueen and Enda Walsh’s stark and uncompromising Hunger. Each film in the series added a very different dimension to the overall question asked by Gabriel Byrne as curator of how Irish identity is represented on film.

John Ford’s iconic portrayal of rural Ireland The Quiet Man was the starting point for the series, with key themes in the film - an emigré’s sense of ‘home’, politics, religion, the role of women in society and Irish identity - informing the selection of the 14 other films. The programme began on May 20th with a special screening of The Quiet Man to a packed audience of over 400 in MoMA’s impressive Roy and Niuta Titus Theatre 1. The beautifully restored print from UCLA meant that we were seeing The Quiet Man at its absolute best – on film and with an audience – very different from most peoples' Paddy’s day memories of the film on TV. The universal response after the screening was one of rediscovering an old favourite, of fully appreciating the film’s greatness for the first time.

Over the next two weeks over 4000 people both discovered and rediscovered great films including In the Name of the Father, This Other Eden, The Wind that Shakes the Barley, The Magdalene Sisters, Kisses and The Dead. Many of the films are not widely known in the US, with some such as This Other Eden receiving their Stateside premiere at MoMA.

The programme was animated by some great discussions with special guests who joined us over the two weeks. Starting with Gabriel himself who discussed his love of the film The Quiet Man with Dr. Luke Gibbons on the opening night, and explained how he saw it as central to any discussion of Irish identity. Two great Irish actors made surprise appearances – Maureen O’Hara via video message to launch the programme at MoMA, and Milo O’Shea to poignantly introduce This Other Eden – his first film role as an actor. No discussion about Irish film would be complete without Jim Sheridan who joined us to introduce Darby O’Gill..., proclaiming this as his favourite film and Disney as a genius, and for an interview with Gabriel Byrne after In the Name of the Father. This frank and revealing discussion, between two people who have done so much to establish Irish film on a global stage, gave a fascinating insight into their motivation to address Ireland’s past in their work. In contrast Enda Walsh (Hunger) and Lance Daly (Kisses) both provided very interesting perspectives on how a younger generation of filmmakers see their work in relation to the legacy left by the first generation of international Irish directors, and the extent to which an Irish identity informs their work.

Milo O'Shea introducing This Other Eden

It was evident from the audience that, collectively, the films offered a unique insight into Irish culture, both historical and contemporary, and challenged previously held perceptions of what it means to be Irish. This is the power of film and the value of preserving our film heritage as it offers a uniquely powerful and accessible tool by which to communicate with both ourselves and a wider international audience.

Many of the films came from the IFI Irish Film Archive and our preservation of these titles creates a rich resource from which Ireland’s story can be told. One aspect of the project that will have lasting legacy for the IFI Irish Film Archive was the discovery in the MoMA archives of the last ‘O’Kalem’ film, Come Back To Erin, an extraordinary film made in Ireland in 1914 and which was believed lost. Thanks to a joint preservation project by MoMA and IFI, it has now been fully restored and returned to Ireland and the IFI Irish Film Archive for the benefit of future generations.

Sarah Glennie

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

IFI Open Day 2011

We survived the IFI Open Day 2011! With 15 free films on offer and queues running up Dame Street, this year's Open Day was another huge success.

Last year we decided to throw open the doors of the IFI with an Open Day of free screenings as our way of saying thanks for sticking with us during the major redevelopment we had undertaken the previous summer. When Cinema 3 was officially opened, we thought that an Open Day would be the perfect way to celebrate. The response to it was immense. Audiences came in their thousands and all tickets were snapped up within 60 minutes. The staff also really enjoyed the day, giving office personnel a rare chance to meet the audience and be on the front line. So when we debriefed after the event last year, everyone was in agreement that we'd have to bring it back again in 2011.

Shifting the month from February to June, and offering even more films than last year, the Open Day's lead programmer Kevin Coyne pulled together a varied selection of films that really showed the breadth of the ongoing programming at the IFI, incorporating strands such as IFI Family, IFI Stranger than Fiction and IFI Irish Film Archive. Audiences clearly responded to it as we had people queuing outside from a little after 7am to ensure that they would get their chosen tickets. First in line was avid cinemagoer John Egan, who was presented with an IFI Gift Voucher for this dedication!

Sarah Glennie with first-in-line John Egan

Such was the demand for tickets that the queue stretched from the door to Cinema 1, out of the IFI, up Eustace Street and down Dame Street, even passing the Olympia Theatre! Once 11am struck, the tickets began to be given away with Cave of Forgotten Dreams being the first film to 'sell out'. 

Queue up Eustace Street

The day went by in a whirlwind with the foyer constantly busy with comings and goings as people attended the packed-out screenings. We also operated last-minute queues for people who weren't lucky (early!) enough to get the tickets they wanted. If there were any unclaimed seats a few minutes before  a screening started, we made sure to fill them with our patient hopefuls! People were also taking advantage of the special offer on IFI Membership with reduced rates for IFI Open Day.

Queues on Dame Street

IFI Open Day offered audiences the opportunity to be the first to view many films that have not yet been released. We had special previews of Jack Goes Boating, the directorial debut of Philip Seymour Hoffman; Life, Above All, the South African film about a girl struggling to keep her family together; Cell 211, the gritty prison drama and winner of eight Goya Awards; the documentary Armadillo about Danish soldiers in Afghanistan; and the Irish film Sensation which was introduced by its stars Domhnall Gleeson and Kelly Campbell.

Aislinn Ni Uallachain and Mark Byrne get their free tickets

We also had some great classics on offer. IFI Education's Dee Quinlan introduced the IFI Family film Labyrinth featuring David Bowie's Goblin King; Cinemas Manager Peter Walsh introduced two of his favourites - cult film The Honeymoon Killers and Godard's Pierrot le fou; comedian John Colleary, a big Marx Brothers' fan, spoke about A Night at the Opera; Head of Education Alicia McGivern told audiences why she considered Donnie Darko to be the best film on offer at the Open Day; Director of the Kilruddery Film Festival, Daniel Fitzpatrick, discussed F.W. Murnau's silent classic Sunrise; while IFI Curator and author Lee Dunne introduced the IFI Irish Film Archive's slot, the controversial-at-the-time and rarely seen  I Can't . . . I Can't.

The day closed out with two popular films. Cave of Forgotten Dreams, a recent hit at the IFI, was brought back for one more outing and introduced by Professor of Archaeology at UCD Muiris O Suilleabhain who is an expert on prehistoric art.


Our other popular film was very divisive amongst IFI staff! The Audience Choice screening... In the weeks leading up to the Open Day, IFI staff all selected their favourite three films of the past twelve months. This list was then compiled into a shortlist for the public to vote for their favourite in an online poll. Different staff members championed their favourite films in short online entries to try to garner support for their own choices, which resulted in a closely fought battle! We're all back on speaking terms now, but Head of IFI Irish Film Archive Kasandra O'Connell emerged victorious (after an exhaustive Twitter campaign!) with her choice Submarine. She happily gloated about her victory in her introduction to the film on Saturday night in Cinema 1!

All in all the day was a great success. Huge numbers poured through our doors and we were delighted to be able to throw open the IFI for free to the public once again.

All the staff put in trojan work to make the day run as smoothly as possible, from the programmers to the café bar staff dealing with the hungry (and thirsty!) masses, to the box office staff who had some considerable crowd management to oversee! And not forgetting the huge numbers of office staff who offered up their sacred Saturdays to come in and help out.

We hope you all enjoyed it as much as we did!

Ross Keane
Public Affairs & Marketing Director

Friday, June 10, 2011

A Cut Above - The Virtues of 'Cutter's Way'

Peter Walsh extols the virtues of Ivan Passer’s early 1980s masterpiece Cutter’s Way, which is showing in a restored digital version to celebrate the 30th anniversary of its first release.

People who suspect the Academy Awards are little more than a sham in terms of rewarding real artistic achievement need look no further than the case of Cutter’s Way, one of the most remarkable American movies of the 1980s, which didn’t receive a single Oscar nomination on its release in 1981. The neglect is all the more telling in that the film is no self-indulgent, auteur-driven piece but represents one of those rare and lucky occasions when all the elements fell into place to create a great movie. Indeed, such is the quality of work on display in every department that the lack of recognition in any single category seems perverse in the extreme.

John Heard

The film begins with the advantage of being adapted from an outstanding 1976 novel, Cutter and Bone, by Newton Thornberg, himself an underrated figure in modern American literature whose work is only now receiving wider acclaim. Thornberg’s crime story provides a penetrating portrait of what George P. Pelecanos has described as “America’s festering wound in the wake of Vietnam.” Remarkably, it was written at the time of the war and thus without the benefit of hindsight. More remarkable still is that the film actually improves on the novel in many respects, and credit must go to screenwriter Jeffrey Alan Fiskin and director Ivan Passer, neither of whose other work even approaches the brilliance on display here.

It opens in the style of a film noir, as Richard Bone (an excellent Jeff Bridges) discovers the body of a teenage girl in a dark, rain-soaked alleyway during the middle of the night. Although barely glimpsing the figure that dumped the corpse, Bone tentatively fingers the culprit as J. J. Cord, an oil tycoon whom he spots the following day in a Santa Barbara parade. Despite Bone’s uncertainty about the identification, his friend Alex Cutter (John Heard in a career-best performance) is immediately convinced of Cord’s guilt and becomes obsessed with exposing him as the killer. A veteran of Vietnam who emerged horribly mutilated with the loss of an arm, a leg and an eye, the embittered, paranoid Cutter seizes on the crime as a means of hounding the fat cats who got rich while others fought their dirty war.

John Heard & Jeff Bridges

There are shades of the conspiracy thriller in the film’s depiction of Cutter and his reluctant crew taking on the faceless might of the Cord Corporation. Just as significant, though, are the references to Hamlet and Moby Dick, since we can never be sure if Cutter’s pursuit of his prey is anything more than a personal obsession driven by delusion. Unlike the novel, the film remains ambivalent on this point, just as it refuses to fill in the background to the complex relationship between Cutter, Bone and Mo (an outstanding Lisa Eichhorn), the woman who loves Cutter and is loved by Bone. But this sense of ambiguity proves to be the film’s trump card and is played to devastating effect in the treatment of Mo’s sad fate. The long-suffering, alcoholic Mo succumbs to Bone’s charms, only to feel betrayed and despondent when he breaks his promise by leaving her alone after a night of lovemaking. We never know if Mo’s subsequent death is an accident, a suicide or a murder perpetuated by Cord. Yet the emotional impact of her demise is extraordinary and prepares the way for Cutter’s final assault on Cord’s mansion.

Jeff Bridges, Lisa Eichhorn & John Heard

The trio of characters at the centre of Cutter’s Way are amongst the finest portraits of disillusioned American outcasts ever captured on screen. An extraordinary creation, Cutter unleashes his rage in every direction before focusing on Cord as the embodiment of evil. Bone is an ageing beach bum who fears commitment, even where his close friends are concerned. And tragically caught between the two men is Mo, a refugee from the counter-culture of the 1960s who still harbours a few dreams as she drinks herself into oblivion. Beautifully played by the three leads, these all too human misfits are viewed sympathetically in Passer’s haunting movie, which also boasts superb cinematography by Jordon Cronenweth and a very fine score by Jack Nitzsche. To paraphrase Cutter, great art deserves a great audience, and this is brilliant, goddamn brilliant.

Watch the trailer here.

Peter Walsh
IFI Cinemas Manager

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

June at the IFI

Following the success of last year’s Open Day at which 2,054 free tickets were given out to films ranging from Make Way for Tomorrow to Ponyo, we have decided to do it again! Put June 11th in your diary for a day packed full of great free films spanning the breadth of the IFI programme. Last year we asked you to select your all-time favourite film and the clear winner was The Lives of Others. This year the IFI staff have selected their favourites from the last 12 months for you to vote on (the list may surprise you!) and the film with the most votes will be screened during the Open Day. You can find the full programme online and also vote in our poll.

Later in the month, IFI National is staging a really remarkable project from the IFI Irish Film Archive at the Town Hall Theatre in Galway. Journey to Aran is a programme of films made on the Aran Islands from the 1920s to 1970s which presents a fascinating alternative to Flaherty's Man of Aran. The highlight of the programme is Aran of the Saints, an extraordinary silent film documenting life on the Aran Islands in 1932. As far as we know, this film has never been seen on Aran until this summer when IFI National will present it on Inis Oirr and Inis Mór at the beginning of July with a new score devised by musicians from Aran. The film has been digitally restored by the IFI Irish Film Archive from the 16mm original which is preserved in our vaults in Temple Bar, and the programme will be shown at the IFI in early July.

This project is just one illustration of the incredible work that the IFI Irish Film Archive does in preserving Ireland’s film history and finding ways to bring this extraordinary material to audiences in Ireland and internationally. Martin Scorsese said “Film is history, with every foot of film that is lost we lose a link to our culture, to the world around us and to ourselves.’’ This is something we passionately believe and the IFI has been working for the last 25 years to ensure Ireland’s rich and varied film legacy is meticulously preserved. The collection includes over 25,000 cans of  film stretching from the oldest film in the collection (made by the Lumière Brothers in 1897) to the present day. The films represent an extraordinarily powerful resource that tells the social, political and artistic story of modern Ireland.

However, our storage facility has now reached capacity and we are reluctantly having to turn material away. This summer we are launching a fundraising campaign to enable us to build a new preservation centre at NUI Maynooth. It is of critical importance that this resource is protected and the IFI needs your help to ensure this happens in the face of shrinking public resources. Please give us your support.

Sarah Glennie

Thursday, June 2, 2011

MoMA Mia - IFI in New York !

While President Obama was charming the Irish in Dublin and Moneygall last week, we were reciprocating in the US as we charmed New York audiences with an exciting programme of new and old Irish feature films presented at the prestigious Museum of Modern Art in bustling mid-town Manhattan.

The programme was the second in a series of IFI-curated film programmes appearing in New York this year, all part of Culture Ireland’s Imagine Ireland programme of Irish Arts in the America throughout 2011. The first strand was the documentary series Hidden Ireland which was hosted by the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts earlier this Spring.

Gabriel Byrne

The invitation to present an Irish feature film programme was issued to us by Rajendra Roy, Chief Curator of the Film Department at MoMA. We were keen to select a programme that would surprise and intrigue US audiences, and would present new perspectives on old and new, Irish and American films. We were delighted then to welcome on board Ireland’s Cultural Ambassador, Gabriel Byrne, as curator of the programme. Gabriel brought a passion and a broad-ranging knowledge of Irish and American cinema to the project and, over a series of lengthy and involved discussions with MoMA Curator Charles Silver, IFI Director Sarah Glennie and I, a programme framework was devised which allowed us to whittle a programme of 15 or so titles from a starting list of hundreds. Revisiting The Quiet Man: Ireland on Film is a programme which is neither exhaustive nor chronological. It takes Ford’s iconic masterpiece as a starting point from which to explore other films which echo his preoccupations with exile and identity, women and the Catholic Church, history and politics. It asks “Who are we? How do we perceive ourselves? Who has created these film versions of ourselves?” Gabriel points out that, until a national film studio was established, we had to be content with other people’s versions of us: “we had no blank page to write our own stories on”.

Gabriel Byrne, Sarah Glennie, Dr. Luke Gibbons

The programme launched on May 20th at MoMA to a full house of Irish cultural enthusiasts and general cineastes. We opened with a warm and funny video greeting from the ever-beautiful Maureen O'Hara from her home in Glengariff, Co. Cork. This was followed by a sparkling 35mm print of The Quiet Man which jumped off the screen with its vibrancy and super-saturated colours, beautifully restored by the UCLA film archive. The audience's active enjoyment of every scene was audible throughout and their laughter not tinged with a hint of condescension or irony – just sheer enjoyment at Ford’s craft and capacity to entertain. The screening was followed by a relaxed and insightful conversation with Gabriel and Dr. Luke Gibbons (NUIM) about Ford and his yearning for an imagined home.

The following evening Loopline producer Vanessa Gildea introduced the international premiere of Dreaming The Quiet Man. This affectionate, insightful and illuminating documentary directed by Sé Merry Doyle considers Ford’s familial attachments in Ireland, his involvement in the struggle for independence, and presents a colourful cast of Cong locals who service the constant stream of cultural tourists and Quiet Man-iacs who visit the film's original locations.

Other early programme highlights included Milo O’Shea’s surprise appearance and introduction (with Luke Gibbons) to the rarely-seen, early Ardmore classic, This Other Eden, in which he features alongside Annette Dalton and Lesley Philips; a screening of Lance Daly’s Kisses, a stark counterpoint to Ford’s rural idyll, followed by Q&A with Lance and David Kwok ( Director of Programming at Tribeca Film Festival where Lance’s new film The Good Doctor recently screened); Jim Sheridan’s introduction to one of his favourite films, Disney’s Darby O'Gill and the Little People, and his marathon conversation with Gabriel after In the Name of the Father (directed by one, executive produced by the other); and the lively interview with Gabriel with Enda Walsh after the screening of Hunger.

In the Name of the Father

Still to come on June 1st is a programme of silent films: Lad From Old Ireland (1910), Come On Over (1928), and Come Back to Erin (1912), the last being a lively emigrant drama from the Kalem canon, filmed in Killarney and Queenstown in 1912, believed lost until we identified an over-looked negative at MoMA in the course of researching this season. The programme will be presented with traditional piano accompaniment from Ben Model and, probably for the first time ever, with live uileann piping from New York-based Irish player Ivan Goff. I’m particularly sorry to miss this one – it will be a magical experience – both for the music and for the unveiling of the lost Kalem classic now restored by MoMA with support from IFI and Culture Ireland’s Imagine Ireland programme which has made all of our New York endeavours possible. Do tell all your Irish and film-loving friends in New York to go along for this, possibly once-in-a- lifetime experience – Uileann Pipes in the Museum of Modern Art!!!

Sunniva O’Flynn
Irish Film Institute