Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival has announced a busy programme for its upcoming edition. Beginning on February 20th, this is the first festival to have the media company as its title sponsor.
Grainne Humphreys, the festival's director, acknowledges what the new partner brings to the experience. "In simple terms it's just visibility," she says. "One of the things we've found in the past is that it's difficult to get the word out. We have a great dedicated audience. They are dedicated Irish film fans. They are world-cinema fans. But trying to bring in new audiences, whether it's students or whatever, is becoming harder and harder. The media landscape is so noisy. We are excited by the plan Virgin have to promote across platforms and to engage with a more general audience."
The event kicks off with a gala screening of John Butler's serious comedy Papi Chulo. The follow-up to the director's much-admired The Stag and Handsome Devil, the film – a hit at the recent Toronto International Film Festival – follows a Los Angeles weatherman as he copes indifferently with single life.
Other domestic releases to look forward to include Alexandra McGuinness's She's Missing, a thriller starring Lucy Fry and Josh Hartnett. The cast should be in the city for the premiere.
Neil Jordan's delightfully ripe Greta, in which Isabelle Huppert goes bonkers over Chloë Grace Moretz, will also receive a first Irish outing at. Though set in New York, Greta has backing from Screen Ireland.
Ian Fitzgibbon, the veteran director of Death of a Superhero and A Film with Me in It, directs Pat Shortt, Charlie Murphy, Tommy Tiernan and Moe Dunford in Dark Lies the Island, a black comedy written by Kevin Barry. (That's some roster of Irish talent.)
There will be much excitement at the arrival of What Time Is Death?, Paul Duane's long-gestated documentary about Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty, once the KLF, now iconoclastic artists.
Stephen Merchant, cocreator of The Office, brings one of the most intriguing releases of the year. Fighting with My Family stars the rising Florence Pugh as a professional wrestler, Saraya "Paige" Bevis. Who could argue with a cast that also includes Nick Frost, Vince Vaughn and, as himself, Dwayne "the Rock" Johnson?
The festival will close with Tom Harper's Wild Rose. Already raved about at Toronto and the BFI London Film Festival, the picture stars Jessie Buckley, the increasingly unavoidable Co Kerry actor, as a Glaswegian country singer trying to beat the odds and make it to Nashville. Buckley's performance has already helped her to a nomination for the upcoming Bafta Rising Star Award.
The shorts programme includes Brendan Gleeson's Psychic, a film about the relationship between a canny psychic and the two sons who seek to take advantage. You won't need to be told that Domhnall Gleeson and Brian Gleeson are there to help their father with his much-anticipated directorial debut.
There will be an "Inspirations" strand, in which leading authors will select favourite films. Liz Nugent has chosen Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, and Sinéad Gleeson has gone for Stanley Kubrick's The Shining.
Regular features of the Dublin International Film Festival have survived the shift in sponsorship from Jameson to Audi to Virgin Media. The legendary surprise film, always among the first to sell out, will be back to stir speculation. But that event no longer closes the festival.
“The surprise film always brought in new audiences,” Humphreys says. “But we’ve moved it to the first Sunday, on the basis that, if they come for the surprise, maybe they’ll stay for a few more films. We want to build outwards to people who haven’t heard about the festival or, even worse, are maybe intimidated by the idea of a film festival.”
A panel from Dublin Film Critics Circle will select its favourite films and performances of the event. Recent winners of the circle's prize have included Xavier Legrand's Custody and Kleber Mendonça Filho's Aquarius.