‘She reminds me of Saoirse Ronan’: young actor Sade Malone lights up opening night of Dublin International Film Festival

Malone is the star of Marian Quinn’s Twig, the 2024 festival opening film

The buzz was buzzing a little earlier than usual at the Light House cinema for the first night of the 2024 Dublin International Film Festival. Fair enough. Sade Malone, star of Marian Quinn’s Twig, the opening film, has to be at the Gaiety Theatre later to perform the title role in John B Keane’s Sive. She bounces up the red carpet at tea time, excited and humble. “I don’t think it’s really sunk in yet,” she says. “I was at the Gaiety earlier on and I am at the Gaiety later on tonight. So, I’ve got this little window where I can do this. I think it’ll be tomorrow when it will really sink in.”

Quinn, a member of the filmic dynasty that includes actor Aidan, cinematographer Declan and the late director Paul, has reimagined Sophocles’s Antigone as a contemporary Dublin crime epic. Malone bosses it as a young woman caught up in her brothers’s deadly feud.

She was born in Greater Manchester then moved to Dublin as a baby before getting back across the Irish Sea. Malone spent a good while in Leeds. A bit in Liverpool. “Every Christmas I’d come back to Leeds and people would say: ‘you sound Irish’.” That’s useful as an actor. “When you’re a child you just want to fit in. So my ear just adjusts.” Sure enough, she sounds a bit Yorkshire on the red carpet, but entirely Dublin in the film.

Malone already has a groaning CV, but it must, as a young performer, have been daunting to take on Sive. “I don’t see it as a pressure; I see it as a challenge,” she says. And a Dublin Antigone? That is no small thing. “I actually did it in school,” she says. “So I knew it really well. It was so smart. I was blown away when I read the script.”


Quinn, also on the carpet for the premiere, made no effort to contain enthusiasm for her star. “She reminds of Saoirse Ronan,” she says. “She is an instinctual actor, and wears it lightly.”

How an Irish Times video led to the delightful Birdsong documentary

We must declare an interest. Kathleen Harris’s delightful Birdsong, study of ornithologist Seán Ronayne, began its life within The Irish Times. “Chris Maddaloni, head of video, spotted this tweet that Seán had posted,” Harris tells me. “We didn’t know anything about him. He was saying he wanted to record the song of every bird species in Ireland.”

Harris made a short video as part of a series profiling “people with interesting jobs”. Now comes an hour-long film. Premiering on Thursday, before a screening on RTÉ later in 2024, Birdsong introduces us to a singular personality. “The day that I met Seán, he told me about his autism diagnosis,” Harris explains. “He was curious if I had noticed that. And he was candid about it. So I guess that was part of what drew me to him. It was about spending a day with him in the woods, listening to birds, but it was also about listening to him talk about his autism.”

Born in the US, Harris has lived in Ireland for 18 years. She worked at this newspaper for eight of those years (joining this journalist on a few red carpets) before moving into documentaries. Her film allows Ronayne to talk us through his enthusiasm as he prowls the fields at dusk and at dawn. When we first join him, he needs only a handful of calls to complete the full domestic catalogue. What was the hardest part of the job? “The birds just not showing!” Harris says with a laugh. “I have seen all the David Attenborough programmes. I’m a big fan of all that. I’ve seen all the behind-the-scenes stuff of folks talking about how difficult it was to film wildlife. How they spent weeks in this one location for one thing. I guess I just didn’t take it in. You only learn by doing.”

  • Birdsong screens at The Light House on Thursday February 29th at 10:30pm.

Three DIFF films to catch: Oink, Blackbird Blackbird Blackberry and Humanist Vampire Seeking Consenting Suicidal Person

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Director: Mascha Halberstad
Cert: None
Starring: Henry van Loon, Hiba Ghafry, Jelka van Houten, Kees Prins, Loes Luca, Matsen Montsma
Running Time: 1 hr 13 mins

Now, you know the answer to an impossible trivia question. Mascha Halberstad’s enchanting family flick is the first stop-motion feature made in the Netherlands. And it’s a potential classic for the ages: knobbly in appearance, pure in emotions. The inevitable comparison will be with the UK’s Aardman Animation. Oink is similarly at home to whimsy, but the hints of menace are that bit more urgent. Young Babs, child to nervy parents, is cautious when her hitherto unfamiliar cowboy grandfather – speaking Dutch with an unmistakable American accent – turns up at the family home, but he soon wins her over with the gift of the eponymous piglet (apparently those animals say “Knor!” in the Netherlands). Or does he? The old man’s interest in an upcoming sausage competition arouses gloomy suspicions. Based on a book by Tosca Menten, Oink cunningly works believable family crises in with a rollicking adventure. Just enough jeopardy to keep adults alert. Not so much as to alarm the littlest ones.

  • Screens at the Pavilion Theatre, Dún Laoghaire on Sunday February 25th at 2:00pm.
Blackbird Blackbird Blackberry
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Director: Elene Naveriani
Cert: None
Starring: Eka Chavleishvili,Temiko Chinchinadze, Pikria Nikabadze, Anka Khurtsidze, Tamar Mdinaradze, Lia Abuladze
Running Time: 1 hr 50 mins

Here is a fine film from Georgia that begins with a sense of quiet desperation before offering its protagonist (and us) something a little like escape. It is stuffed with local habits and local foods – I take the white squishy dish everywhere about to be khachapuri – but tells a universal story that might have suited the late John McGahern. Near-menopausal Etero (Eka Chavleishvili) runs a small shop in an unprepossessing hamlet on the way to nowhere in particular. She natters with pals. A rare adventure comes when she falls down a hill while picking blackberries. Then a delivery man starts an affair. Etero is divided: upend her life or continue in a state of mid-tempo stability? The story meanders its way towards a surprising, and deeply moving, revelation, but the real journey is going on within the protagonist’s head. None of that would be apparent without a brilliant performance from Chavleishvili that allows complex emotions to leak through the thinnest fissures. She deserves all the awards.

  • Screens at The Light House on Monday, February 26th at 8:45pm
Humanist Vampire Seeking Consenting Suicidal Person
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Director: Ariane Louis-Seize
Cert: None
Starring: Sophie Caideux, Félix-Antoine Bénard, Noémie O’Farrell
Running Time: 1 hr 32 mins

We are not short of comedy vampires. We are certainly not short of vampirism as an allegory for the pains of growing up. But this Quebecois comedy-horror brings an impressively sour tinge to its investigation of a young bloodsucker’s life and her attempts at an unlikely connection. The inversion is familiar. A family of vampires is disappointed by young Sasha’s lack of interest in gnawing at quick throats (think The Munsters’s too-normal niece). Eventually, after some mollycoddling, they dispatch her to live with hip cousin Denise (Noémie O’Farrell), a night-hunter who allows no backsliding. Eventually, our humanist vampire (Sophie Caideux) meets, well ... a consenting person willing to take their own life. (Félix-Antoine Bénard). For reasons that should be apparent, the arrangement is not absolutely perfect, but the couple’s wan attempts to make something out of it profit from sincere comic performances steeped in genuine emotion. Decked out in inevitable shades of funereal black, Ariane Louis-Seize’s debut knows when to let trauma soak through the gothic facade. An impressive variation on well-worked themes.

  • Screens at the Light House on Wednesday February 28th at 8:30pm.
Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke

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