The pulling forward of the Oscars has caused confusion for Irish folk who structure their calendars around the world of film. Doesn't the event usually coincide with the last day of the Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival (as it now is)? Not this year. Festival programmer Grainne Humphreys and her team have the end of February and the start of March to themselves. As ever, though, we hardly know where to begin in summarising the various treats on offer.
It would be only polite to point readers towards the domestic treasures first. Fresh from a successful unveiling at the Toronto International Film Festival, Neasa Hardiman’s Sea Fever, a maritime science fiction thriller, will be spreading damp unease about the city.
Premiered to hoots of approval at Cannes Critics Week, Lorcan Finnegan's Vivarium stars Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots as a couple trapped in a vast nightmare of suburban conformity. Eanna Hardwicke fleshes out Finnegan's film as the blank entity who demands to be raised as their child. Properly spooky.
Do not let Tom Sullivan’s Arracht escape your attention. Filmed in Irish, the picture, concerning grisly omens on the eve of the Famine, has generated furiously positive word in advance screening. Sullivan’s film will be moving on to a nationwide tour, but that festival screening is sure to be a special event.
The most buzzed-about Irish release at the fest is, however, probably Phyllida Lloyd's Herself. Concerning an abused Dublin woman who, frustrated by the city's housing crisis, elects to build her own home in a friend's garden, the picture premiered to rave reviews at Sundance (Variety went so far as to mention potential Oscar nominations). Co-written by Clare Dunne, who also stars, the picture subsequently sold to Amazon in North America and closes the festival on waves of expectation.
This year's Diff will be celebrating the centenary of cinema's greatest showman, Federico Fellini
As ever, guests will be in abundance. Charlie Kaufman, the legendary screenwriter of Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, will be in Dublin to discuss his work with the indomitable Mark O'Halloran and to receive the event's Volta award. No doubt Mark will be politely suggesting Charlie check out Peter Mackie Burns's searing Rialto. A recent Venice premiere, the picture stars Tom Vaughan-Lawlor as a Dubliner facing up to a spectrum of traumas after his father dies. O'Halloran adapted the script from his own play Trade.
The always charming Mark Cousins – Belfast's busiest cinema boffin – will be here to introduce his massive sequence on women filmmakers. The starkly titled Women Make Film takes in narration from Tilda Swinton, Jane Fonda and Thandie Newton as it swings across a century of female creativity. As ever, Humphreys has stuffed the programme with films from women. Watch out for Marjane Satrapi's Radioactive (the story of Marie Curie) and for Alice Winocour's Proxima (Eva Green is an astronaut). Humphreys will also be presenting a curated selection of rare female-directed features – including two silent films made 98 years ago.
This year's Diff will be celebrating the centenary of cinema's greatest showman. The nod to Federico Fellini takes in a series of musical tributes across the city. If that doesn't grab you, then there will be panels and workshops on every topic imaginable. International releases to be recommended include Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles's extraordinary Bacurau and Ladj Ly's thrilling Les Misérables. Set in rural Brazil, Bacurau is a weird western – look out for the great Udo Kier – that gets at current colonial concerns. Nominated for an Oscar at last week's Academy Awards, Les Misérables (no relation to M Hugo) spreads a crime drama across contemporary Paris.
When all that is done, join this critic and others for the awards from the Dublin Film Critics’ Circle. There will be plenty to chew over.
The Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival runs from February 26th until March 8th