Only six more sleeps until the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival (or JDiff to friends). Will it have the Irish horror film that marks the return of Hammer? It will. Romanian new wave? Oh yes. Blockbusters? Uh huh. DONALD CLARKEjumps up and down
THIS YEAR’S Jameson Dublin International Film Festival accommodates a general election within its programme. You don’t get that at Cannes or Berlin. Is there a dubious analogy to be made here? Probably not, but let’s give it a go anyway. Just about every observer expects the poll on February 25th to leave the country changed, but essentially the same. This is seen as a bad thing. As the Dublin event enters its ninth session, we again encounter familiar traditions – the surprise film goes back to the 14th century – but also run up against enough innovation to keep things fresh.
This is surely a good thing. Sprawling over 10 busy days, utilising five cinemas and a handful of supplementary venues, the festival is now an immovable part of the cultural furniture. Yet Gráinne Humphreys, the festival director, has tweaked and poked with some imagination. Here’s a cursory sketch of what awaits.
SUBMARINE KICKS THINGS OFF
The opening film, Richard Ayoade’s Submarine, was one of the hits at the recent London Film Festival. Based on Joe Dunthorne’s well-received novel, the film is a coming-of-age drama set in a corner of Wales peopled by eccentrics. Having played Moss in The IT Crowd, Ayoade, who will be at the screening, presumably knows a thing or two about eccentricity.
THE BIG MOVIES
Much as we enjoy watching My Camel Is No Longer at the Yam Yam Tree, punters do expect the odd marquee release to show up. There is to be a gala screening of Universal’s The Adjustment Bureau, a Philip K Dick adaptation starring Matt Damon and Emily Blunt. The faces will also be out for an unveiling of Emilio Estevez’s The Way, starring the director’s dad, Martin Sheen. Also keep an eye on the slot – the last Sunday morning – which has perennially been set aside for the latest Woody Allen. This time, Anthony Hopkins and Josh Brolin star in You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger. Other mainstream features include Doug Liman’s Fair Game, a take on a real-life intrigue starring Sean Penn and Naomi Watts.
THERE’S HOPE FOR 3D
No really. One of the odder films on display this year is Werner Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams. A study of prehistoric paintings in the Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc Cave, the picture finds the German master getting out the silly glasses and making with the immersive effects. Trust the great eccentric to use 3D for an examination of a two-dimensional art form. It can’t fail to be interesting.
One of the joys of international cinema is its unpredictability. Only the wisest sages predicted the rise of Iranian cinema during the 1990s. The recent renaissance in Romanian film was almost as surprising. The centrepiece of JDiff’s Romanian season is, surely, the jarring documentary The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu. Relying solely on state-approved footage, the film offers a cannily ironic portrait of a colourful monster. Also seek out Constantin Popescu’s Portrait of the Fighter as a Young Manand Calin Peter Netzer’s Medal of Honour(no, it’s not based on the video game).
THE FIRST LOOK ALLOWS A FIRST LOOK
The First Look strand highlights those releases that, after building up good word-of-mouth around the world, are receiving Irish premieres at the festival. Fans of Jerzy Skolimowski’s Deep Endand The Shoutwill be eager to see his award-winning Irish co-production Essential Killing. Also receiving an outing is Ken Loach’s Route Irishand – making it a family affair – Jim Loach’s Oranges and Sunshine. Jim, Ken’s son, makes his feature debut with a picture about children illegally deported from the UK to Australia in the 1940s and 1950s.
As a service to budding film professionals – and as entertainment for interested fans – the festival convenes a panel of writers whose films feature at this year’s event. Brendan McCarthy, the distinguished producer, now co-writer of horror flick Wake Wood, will be there to chew the fat alongside Thomas Heffernan, writer of The Pool; Brian O’Malley, creator of Crossing Salween; and Carmel Winters, brains behind the disturbing Snap.
Other scribes are sure to join the fun.
MORE IRISH CINEMA
Keep an eye on fascinating films such as Carmel Winters’s Snap, a creepily brilliant study of remorse; Paul Fraser’s My Brothers, a touching family saga; and Pat Collins’s eye-wateringly beautiful Connemara/An Ear to the Earth, a treatment of cartographer Tim Robinson’s work. David O’Reilly’s animated The External World, a recent winner at Sundance, will play alongside Joanna Rubin Dranger’s equally original Miss Remarkable and Her Career. If you want to investigate up-and-coming talent then be aware that the Irish Film Board is to present another array of promising shorts. Given the nation’s recent success in securing short-film Oscar nominations, there should be much to savour.
AS IF I AM NOT THERE
Juanita Wilson’s debut feature is already one of the most celebrated Irish films of recent years. Recently singled out as one of Varietymagazine’s directors to watch, and Oscar-nominated for her short The Door, Wilson examines one woman’s awful experiences in the early days of the Bosnian war in As If I Am Not There. The film, a co-production with Macedonia and Sweden, will be screened in the presence of the talented director.
WAKE WOOD WELCOMES BACK HAMMER
The first film shot under the reconstituted banner of Hammer Films, the great British horror studio, Wake Wood, a story of mud and paganism, has been doing the rounds for a while. A bad sign? Not at all. Directed by David Keating, the Irish veteran behind The Last of the High Kings, the picture turns out to be a folk horror of some note. Timothy Spall and Aidan Gillen are among those troubled by events in the woods of Donegal.
THE REST OF THE DOCUMENTARIES
Occupying an agreeably huge swathe of the programme, documentaries have long broken away from the niche market. Where to start with the delights on offer? Fans of Ride, Primal Scream, My Bloody Valentine and (yes, all right) Oasis will not want to miss Danny O’Connor’s Upside Down,a study of Alan McGee’s Creation Records.
Fans of junk, aliens and cut-up should seek out William S Burroughs – A Man Within. Shane O’Sullivan’s baldly titled Children of the Revolutionfeatures conversations with the children of Ulrike Meinhof, leading force in Germany’s Red Army Faction and Fusako Shigenobu of the notorious Japanese Red Army. Spinal Tap alumnus Harry Shearer will be on hand to introduce The Big Uneasy, a documentary on New Orleans’s recent traumas. Also seek out Paul Duane’s harrowing Barbaric Genius, following the fall and rise and fall of John Healy, chess genius, sometime alcoholic and author.
EVERYTHING YOU EVER WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT FILM FESTIVALS*
Fans of Woody Allen – and sex manuals – will know that the asterisk leads one to the phrase “but were too afraid to ask”. Unearth those shameful questions and put them to such luminaries as Thom Powers of the Toronto International Film Festival, Dominique Green from the Berlin event and Ania Trzebiatowska from Off Plus Camera, Cracow. Culture Irelandco-hosts the discussion.
THE JAMESON CULT FILM CLUB
The cult film event launches a year of screenings in unusual places. At the time of writing it was still unclear where Bryan Singer’s The Usual Suspects, the opening film in the strand, is to play, but it has been confirmed that Kevin Spacey, star of the 1995 picture, will be turning up to wave sinisterly at the lucky crowd.
A variety of vintage films will be unearthed at this year’s festival.
William Castle’s The Tingler, possibly the best exploitation picture credited to the 1950s showman, is to receive a welcome screening at the Irish Film Institute. The original exhibition featured seats wired to administer small electric shocks. One imagines “heath and safety” issues now prohibit such innovations. Also seek out a screening, with full orchestral score, of Rex Ingram’s The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, a 1921 silent classic, at the National Concert Hall. Ingram was from Dublin, you know. The timeless West Side Storyalso gets an outing.
Following in the footsteps of other former (how they must dread the phrase) Young British Artists such as Steve McQueen and Sam Taylor Wood, Gillian Wearing, winner of the Turner Prize in 1997, embarks on her first feature film. “If you were to play a part in a film, would you play yourself or would you play a fictional character?” Wearing asked residents of London and Newcastle in a series of advertisements. We will find out in a film that attempts to turn ordinary citizens into method actors.
FRANÇOIS OZON’S POTICHE CLOSES THE EVENT
Since he emerged with Sitcom in 1998, it has proved increasingly difficult to categorise François Ozon. The French director has directed a deliberately odd melodrama ( Water Drops on Burning Rocks), a wildly camp musical ( 8 Women) and a sexy quasi-thriller ( Swimming Pool). This year, he offers us an all-out comedy starring French cinematic royalty: Catherine Deneuve and Gérard Depardieu. It sounds like a classy way to end the festival.
The Jameson Dublin International Film Festival runs from February 17 until February 27. jdiff.com
Judgmental types The inner circle
This is the third year the Dublin Film Critics’ Circle will sit in judgment over the Dublin International Film Festival; we’ve always sat in judgment, truth be told, but now they hand us microphones and a Jameson banner for our troubles.
Right now, all over the capital, critics are beavering away in video dungeons and screening rooms working their way through the hundred or so titles in contention. Hosts Mike Sheridan (2TV) and Gavin Burke (Phantom FM) are off perfecting their washboard abs for the big night.
Meanwhile, keener judges are applying linseed to their bats to ensure that early frontrunners such as Snap, The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescuand Medal of Honourwill see their way to victory. Or else.
This will be a strange year for our gang. It will be the second time we hand over the Michael Dwyer Discovery Award, named for our late colleague. It may also be the last time we see Paul Lynch and Ciaran Carty – two of this country’s finest film writers – in their Sunday Tribunehats.
Still, we battle on against the raging tides. Those nominees for Best Film, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, Best Documentary and Best Irish Film aren’t going to pick themselves, you know.
Tara Brady is president of the Dublin Film Critics’ Circle