When it comes to film making, Ireland, like Australia, punches above its weight. The 2022 Irish Film Festival is a great example of the breadth and complexity in contemporary Irish cinema. The Festival has been running in Australia since 2015 and the Festival Director Enda Murray, himself a filmmaker and educator, has done a superb job in bringing to Australia films that reflect the culture, history and diversity of Ireland as well as the politics and what he calls “the screening of films which are both revealing and risky”.
The 2022 Festival includes 12 films with some great dramas, quirky comedies, such as Bicycle Thieves: Pumped Up and a variety of fascinating documentaries. Included in the docos are two music ones depicting the stories of musicians Damien Dempsey (Love Yourself Today) and Fergus O’Farrell (Breaking Out). Some of the others have a gritty edge, such as Untold Secrets,about the atrocities in mother and baby homes, How to Tell a Secret, dealing with HIV/AIDS in Ireland, and Young Plato,the story of a primary school headmaster in a depressed and divided community who starts to change kids’ lives by introducing them to philosophy.
Ulysses, which explores James Joyce’s iconic novel, is probably just as experimental as the book itself. Another doco, which I probably shouldn’t be talking about, is Keep it a Secret, although I did already know that there are some great surfing spots in Ireland. Yes, the secret about surfing in Ireland is out and surfing was even a unifying factor when the Eurosurfing Championships were held there in 1972 during the Troubles.
My favourite doco this year is Steps of Freedom, which covers the history and ethos of Irish dance. As well as some great music and dance, this film has some stunning scenery and explains how Irish dancing is at the heart of Irish culture and has now become a worldwide phenomenon.
The director, Ruan Magan says, “Steps of Freedom is no normal documentary: it is a social history of Ireland told through dance, revealing crucial aspects of the Irish character; and it is an entertainment show featuring stunning performances by some of the very best dancers of the day”. One of the fascinating aspects that this film reveals is the connection between the music and dance of the Irish indentured labourers that Cromwell sent to the West Indies and that of the African slaves they worked with. That connection translates into the music and history of black America.
Among the dramas, there is the searching mixture of memory and history in The Cry of Granuaile and a coming of age and sexual awakening experience in Who We Love.This year there is even something for the horror and occult fans with You Are Not My Mother,which touches on the ancient Irish myth of Halloween.
For me, there is one absolute stand out in Irish film making, The Quiet Girl – An Cailín Ciúin, which screened at the Sydney Film Festival in June and is now being shown in various places around Australia.
The Quiet Girl is an Irish language film set in rural Ireland in the 1980s and tells the story of Cáit,a nine-year-old girl who is sent to stay on a farm with her mother’s cousin and her husband for the summer school holidays. Her mother is expecting another child and the family are struggling financially and can’t pay to get their hay in, a situation not helped by the father’s gambling and drinking. Unlike her sisters, Cáit is a sensitive and shy girl who is lost in the chaos of her large family and is a loner at school. She often secludes herself in the fields or under her bed and usually goes unnoticed in the family.
When she stays with Eibhlín and Seán Kinsella on their farm in Waterford she discovers a warm affection and acceptance that she has never known before. She becomes part of their family, initially not knowing of the tragic death of their only child some years before even though she is sleeping in his room and wearing his clothes. Her discovery of that ‘secret’ in a house where Eibhlín says “there are no secrets” seems to create an even stronger bond between Cáit and the Kinsellas.
There is a gentleness about this film that is rarely seen in cinema these days, enhanced even more by the visually evocative cinematography of Kate McCullough. Foster, by Irish writer Claire Keegan, is the story on which the film is based and is narrated by the girl herself. It may sound strange but, In the film version, both the camera and Cáit’s silences provide a subtlety and nuance that create the emotional impact of the film’s narrative.
The main character Cáit, is played by Catherine Clinch, herself a 12-year-old girl who has never acted before and was recruited partly because she attends an Irish language school in Dublin and can speak fluent Irish. However, she does have an entertainment connection. Her mother is Méav Ní Mhaolchatha, otherwise known as just Méav, one of the original singers in Celtic Woman.
The producer of the film, Cleona Ní Chrualaoi, said of Catherine Clinch that when “she says nothing, she says everything”. Considering that it’s her first performance, she captures the character magnificently. In the film Seán Kinsella defends Cáit’s quietness, something that indicates to her the acceptance and affection that he and his wife have for her, and in doing so he delivers one of the best lines in the movie – “Many’s the person missed the opportunity to say nothing and lost much because of it”.
The director and screenwriter is Colm Bairéad, an experienced filmmaker and TV director, although this is his first feature film and hopefully there’ll be many more. The film has won several awards in Ireland and had its premiere this year at the Berlin Film Festival.
In Australia, The Quiet Girl is having a run at cinemas around the country (we saw it at Palace Electric in Canberra) and in the Travelling Film Festival which is bringing highlights of the Sydney Film Festival to regional centres in Queensland, New South Wales and the Northern Territory.
Even though the Irish Film Festival had a relatively short run at cinemas around the country in the last couple of months, the movies are still available online at very reasonable prices and you can purchase ‘bundles’ of movies which are very good value. Go to irishfilmfestival.com.au