Grainne Humphreys: On My Culture Radar

The Dublin International Film Festival director on photographer Fan Ho, Mark Cousins’s new documentary and actorTrine Dyrholm


MFK Fisher is an American best known for her food and travel writing, but she also wrote fiction, and her first novel is called The Theoretical Foot, which I recently reread. It’s set in the mountains of Switzerland at the start of World War II. Two couples come together and it’s about the interlocking of their relationships, broken up with passages about a man who develops a strange ache in his leg. Apparently it has a strong biographical element, so there’s a dark back story to it. The writing is so sublime that if I was in school, I’d be highlighting large parts of the book.


Etto on Merrion Row, Dublin. It’s one of the few places to graze over food and drink, so it feels like an experience rather than a meal. Usually when I go out to eat, I check the menu online to see what I might have, but in Etto I prefer being surprised by the specials – with a side of chips for the table.


I enjoy oneliner comics, like Lee Mack who appears in Would I Lie to You?. His speedy, pithy ripostes are impressive.


The last time I felt a standing ovation was completely deserved was at Giselle in the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre in Dublin. It was a superb, thrilling combination of sound and spectacle. I don’t know a huge amount about dance or ballet, but I remember watching it and not being able to breathe, I loved it so much.



I was in Shanghai last year to take some Irish filmmakers to the film festival, and I came across the incredible Chinese photographer Fan Ho. He was born in Shanghai, then moved to Hong Kong, and he took ordinary street scenes and turned them into these elaborate, nuanced images. His work is sweeping, romantic and also wonderful to look at.


I'm waiting for DIFF to kick off so it's all about comfort for me, and Harry Nilsson is one of my go-tos, especially A Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night. It contains songs like It Had to Be You and As Time Goes By. I love that nostalgic warmth of songs I feel I've known forever, and the lushness swallows me up and makes me forget about the deadlines and the emails.


I've been thinking a lot about the Danish actor Trine Dyrholm as she's coming to Dublin. She's a luminous presence on screen. The first time I saw her was in Love is All You Need with Pierce Brosnan, and she's also been in A Royal Affair, A Soap, In a Better World and The Legacy. She can be incredibly strong but also sophisticated and sexy, and one doesn't cancel out the other. The festival is showing the Queen of Hearts, in which she plays a woman who has a possibly ill-advised relationship with her stepson, but she commits to the part in such a way that you're curious about her. Along with Marion Cotillard, we're lucky enough to see her two or three times a year because they work really hard and have an incredible range. Watching the recent award ceremonies, I'm aware of how many American actors play variations of similar characters, but these actors play completely different characters with such commitment.


Here's the Thing with Alec Baldwin, although I'm getting a little annoyed with it. It can be fascinating when he's in tune with a person, but particularly in the last couple of months, it feels like it's on a single track. With some of the interviews around #MeToo and Weinstein, what used to be an opportunity to find out about the person behind the story is now nearly all about the story.


There's a new film coming out called Women Make Film: A New Road Movie Through Cinema. It's a 14-hour documentary by Mark Cousins, comprised of about 280 clips and people like Jane Fonda, Debra Winger and Tilda Swinton narrating. It tries to forge an alternate version of cinema history through the female directors in it. I watched it across four mornings, in three-hour chunks. It's like listening to the best podcast or the best lecture. It takes you from the start of cinema to the present day, covering international film too, so we look at film in India and Peru and Europe. It's one of the best immersive experiences I've had, and I'm already planning to watch it again.

Gráinne Humphreys is festival director of the 2020 Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival, running February 26th to March 8th. See