Dublin International Film Festival 2023: Paul Mescal and Emily Watson to star in opening movie

Watson, who is also to receive the festival’s Volta award, joins Jane Seymour among special guests flying in for the event

The programme for the 21st Dublin International Film Festival has been announced at the Light House Cinema in Dublin. Guests flying in for the event, which begins on February 23rd, include Jane Seymour and, receiving the festival’s Volta award, Emily Watson.

God’s Creatures, the festival’s opening film, casts Watson opposite Paul Mescal, current Oscar nominee, in a dark family drama set in Donegal. Sixteen new Irish features and documentaries will receive premieres.

Festival director Gráinne Humphreys takes the festival into its third decade. A lot has changed. We are now in an era when many festival premieres will make their way straight to streaming services without receiving commercial theatrical release.

“We have a big strand of Spanish films, and I think only one of them has distribution. And they’re really, really good,” she said. “Before we would have just been a premiere before release. Now that line, ‘Your only chance to see’, has become more and more true.”


Humphreys is aware that festivals have a duty to engage more with younger film enthusiasts.

“I think we have to try to get confidence back and curiosity back,” she said. “We’ve worked hard trying to make different audiences aware of us. We’re doing stuff with young programmers and young critics to give them, way in advance of the festival, an opportunity to start plotting. We have gone out to the colleges and the film courses.”

Premiered at Directors’ Fortnight in Cannes to some acclaim, Saela Davis and Anna Rose Holmer’s God’s Creatures kicks the event off in style. Other Irish features include Ciaran Creagh’s Ann, which bravely dramatises the story of Ann Lovett, the teenager who died giving birth beside a Longford grotto in 1984. The hugely talented Zara Devlin takes the title role in Creagh’s film.

Claire Dix, director of the excellent documentary Broken Song, makes her narrative debut with Sunlight, concerning the relationship between a recovering addict and an older, terminally ill sponsor.

Andrew Legge, whose weird and wild short films have been exciting cineastes since the start of the century, moves into features with the intriguing-sounding Lola, about a machine that can intercept broadcasts from the future.

John Connors, an experienced and admired actor, directs himself and Barry-John Kinsella in a crime thriller called The Black Guelph.

As ever, Dublin International Film Festival will be giving audiences the chance to catch up with premieres from the big European showcases.

Lukas Dhont’s masterful Belgian drama Close, nominated against An Cailín Ciúin for best international feature at the Oscars, had them weeping in the aisles at Cannes. Other competition titles from the French bash include Felix van Groeningen and Charlotte Vandermeersch’s epic Italian weepie The Eight Mountains, Cristian Mungiu’s brilliant Romanian provocation RMN and Tarik Saleh’s Egyptian thriller Cairo Conspiracy.

Jane Seymour, the busy actor remembered as Solitaire in Live and Let Die, will be in conversation with broadcaster Rick O’Shea at Dublin Castle. Neil Brand, one of the era’s great communicators on film music, will be at the Light House, in Smithfield, to accompany a screening of the Buster Keaton classic Steamboat Bill Jr. The festival will also be hosting events concerning older people on screen, aspects of Traveller culture and careers in screen.

The event, the successor to Dublin Film Festival, was revived by Michael Dwyer, this newspaper’s late film correspondent, in 2003 as the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival. Subsequent incarnations were sponsored by Audi and Virgin Media. This is the first time the festival will go ahead without a title sponsor.

“We’ve always had one. Since the very start,” Humphreys confirms. “From our perspective it was interesting to try and look and see what kinds of sponsors would come in and how we could align them. It has been great. The line-up that we have for particular strands is great.”

The Arts Council of Ireland remains the “principal funder”. Screen Ireland is the industry partner. “Gold sponsors” include RTÉ, the Merrion Hotel and Five Lamps Brewery.

“We can now push things like our community programme,” Humphreys says. “The other side of it is looking at it as an event and celebrating film and festivals. We are able to pull it towards ourselves and towards the programme rather than necessarily competing with another brand. We were able to ask: what are the values of the Dublin International Film Festival?”

Dublin International Film Festival runs from Thursday February 23rd until Saturday March 4th

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke, a contributor to The Irish Times, is Chief Film Correspondent and a regular columnist