“Dublin has remarkable film attendance per capita, among the highest in Europe, certainly the highest in the EU,” Michael Dwyer, the chief film correspondent of The Irish Times, told Variety in 2003. “It seems absurd that the city didn’t have an international film festival.”
Dwyer, who founded the original Dublin Film Festival during the 1980s, came to the rescue when that festival wound down at the turn of the millennium. Some 20 years ago, the Dublin International Film Festival (DIFF) returned with a bang and a constellation of stars, including Javier Bardem, Claire Denis and Rebecca Miller.
On its 20th outing, what's now the Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival's programme will, accordingly, pay tribute to some of the festival’s greatest hits. An open-air series of screenings in Meeting House Square includes historical audience favourites Broken Song, The Raid, Anvil and Waveriders. Actor Andrew Scott, meanwhile, will sit down with festival programmer Gráinne Humphreys, to reminisce about such memorable DIFF premieres as Handsome Devil and The Stag.
Over the last two decades, the festival’s remit has expanded to make space for such entertainments as live stunts and special effects, a touring programme and a family strand. This year’s special events include a chat with Lenny Abrahamson about his incoming adaptation of Sally Rooney’s Conversations with Friends, a masterclass with Danish film director Susanne Bier, and a gala event during which composer Neil Brand will present an evening of musical accompaniment to the works of comedy duo Laurel and Hardy.
“From the beginning, I’ve been interested in certain aspects of the programme and tried to build on certain industry elements,” says Humphreys, who became festival director in 2008. “I was also interested in the way in which the festival sits within the city. Since my first year, I have been looking to create things like engagement across libraries and bringing a kind of non-cinema aspect to the festival. I think we’ve developed a really good network of international friends which makes for an international industry base to draw upon. It’s also been interesting to see the changes in Irish cinema. The way we’ve built up our short programme and our discovery programme is a direct response to the changes in the local industry.” That blossoming local industry will be represented by Kate Dolan’s spooky changeling horror You Are Not My Mother, which arrives with prizes from the French Gérardmer Fantasy Film Festival and the Toronto International Film Festival attached. Much further along the genre spectrum is Let the Wrong One In, a knockabout vampire comedy from Stitches director Conor McMahon. This newspaper’s Donald Clarke makes his big-screen debut in Donal Foreman’s experimental feature The Cry of Granuaile. Filmmakers Anna Rodgers and Shaun Dunne explore HIV disclosure in How to Tell a Secret. Featured Irish documentaries include Luke McManus’s geographically-themed North Circular, Dónal Ó Céilleachair’s chronicle of musical fusion, Continuing Traditions, Sasha King’s portrait of Vicky Phelan, Seamus Murphy’s The Peculiar Sensation of Being Pat Ingoldsby, and Myles O’Reilly’s account of balladeer Liam Weldon, Dark Horse on the Wind.
The festival opens with An Cailín Ciúin (The Quiet Girl). Writer-director Colm Bairéad’s assured adaptation of Claire Keegan’s short story, Foster, will premiere in Dublin following its worldwide bow at Berlin. Those patrons who enjoyed DIFF from their own armchairs last year will be pleased to discover this year’s hybrid strand. This year’s online boutique features Olga, a drama concerning a young Ukrainian gymnast hoping to secure a place in the Swiss national team; Bipolar, a Tibetan reworking of Orpheus; Evolution, Hungarian filmmakers Kornél Mundruczó and Kata Wéber‘s follow-up to Pieces of a Woman; Swan Song, starring Udo Kier as a retired hairdresser on a quest to style a dead woman’s hair; Happening, Audrey Diwan’s Venice-winning drama; the Martin Scorsese-produced Cannes prizewinner Murina; Lee Haven Jones’s much-admired Welsh horror The Feast; and the Cannes-lauded bully drama Playground.
Our favourite online pick is True Things, from the increasingly impressive Harry Wootliff, writer-director of Only You. This nervy, dark, romantic drama stars Ruth Wilson and the remarkable Tom Burke; the latter puts in a performance that makes his shifty romantic interest in The Souvenir look like a real catch.
There are new films from Justin Kurzel, Claire Denis, François Ozon, Mia Hansen-Love, Terence Davies, Zhang Yimou, Neasa Ní Chianáin, Alan Gilsenan and Stephen Fingleton.
There are new films from Singapore, Russia, Korea, Denmark, France, Qatar, Belgium, Iceland, Mexico, South Africa and Albania.
Nineteen-eighties nostalgia looms in a new documentary feature on A-ha and, in Cannon Arm and the Arcade Quest, a Danish gentleman attempts to be the first person in the world to play an arcade machine from the early 1980s for 100 consecutive hours.
Anca Damian follows up Marona’s Fantastic Tale with a new, wild animation inspired by Robinson Crusoe called The Island. Nathalie Biancheri follows up Nocturnal with the Irish-shot conceptual creature feature Wolf, starring George MacKay and Lily-Rose Depp. Arriving by way of Cannes, there’s the hip-hop crowdpleaser Casablanca Beats, Paul Verhoeven’s incredibly loud historical convent corset-ripper Benedetta, Gaspar Noé’s sensational Vortex, Sean Baker’s hilariously inappropriate Red Rocket, and Joachim Trier’s deservedly Oscar-nominated The Worst Person in the World.
Arriving by way of Venice, there’s Il Buco, a remarkable recreation of the 1961 discovery of the 700-metre deep Bifurto Abyss in Italy.
Fresh from Sundance, Alan Cumming lip-syncs the testimony of “Brandon Lee”, a supposed Scottish teen prodigy who blagged his way into a Glasgow academy in the festival closer, My Old School.
And straight from Gotham City, there’s a special screening of The Batman on Monday February 28th, starring Robert Pattinson as Bruce Wayne and Colin Farrell as The Penguin.
Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival runs from February 23rd to March 6th