Kneecap: Irish rap group’s biopic to have world premiere at Sundance Film Festival 2024

Michael Fassbender and Simone Kirby feature with Mo Chara, Móglaí Bap and DJ Próvaí in Rich Peppiatt’s rollicking film loosely based on Belfast trio’s lives

Rich Peppiatt’s Kneecap, a big-screen outing for the eponymous Irish-language rap outfit, is to have its world premiere on the first night of Sundance Film Festival in Utah next month. Acting as an origin story for the Belfast posse, the picture casts Michael Fassbender and Simone Kirby in a rollicking adventure through Kneecap’s home streets. The group’s members, Mo Chara, Móglaí Bap and DJ Próvaí, make their acting debuts as themselves.

Peppiatt, a former journalist who directed the satirical feature One Rogue Reporter, declared himself knocked sideways. “When I first set out to make a film in a language I didn’t speak, set in a place I’m not from, little could I have imagined four years later we would be introducing Kneecap the movie to the world at the Mecca of independent cinema,” he said. “It’s an honour to be breaking new ground for Irish-language cinema with a film that surprises and provokes every bit as much as Kneecap’s music.”

Formed in 2017, Kneecap have generated some controversy with their sideways take on life in post-Troubles Northern Ireland. Speaking to this newspaper, Móglaí Bap has noted that their distance from the worst of the violence gave them a fresh aspect. “We didn’t experience it first hand in the way our parents did,” he said. “They had a traumatic experience. We can detach ourselves from it and look at it in a more whole context.”

The Sundance premiere will open up their ruthlessly funny music, which includes tracks such as Get Your Brits Out, to a considerably wider audience. All Hollywood will be there.

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“We are buzzing to be premiering at Sundance,” the group said in a collective statement. “Wherever we go we aim to smash preconceptions about cultural identity and language and to highlight the role of the working classes to overthrow oppressive power. To now bring this message from the streets of West Belfast to the big screen is f**king excellent.”

Jack Tarling and Trevor Birney, who is credited on such fine documentaries as No Stone Unturned and Bobby Sands: 66 Days, produce for Fine Point Films and Mother Tongues. Patrick O’Neill of the distributor Wildcard acts as coproducer. Funding for the film was provided by Northern Ireland Screen, Screen Ireland, the British Film Institute, Comisiún na Meán and TG4.

“This is the first Irish-language film to have been selected by Sundance, which is simply incredible not only for Rich Peppiatt and Kneecap but for Fine Point and the film industry in Ireland, north and south,” Birney said. “I was excited about this film from the moment Rich came to me with the idea and we began to work together with the band on making it happen.” Kneecap is also the first film from outside the United States to be selected for the Next strand at Sundance. Last year that section, dedicated to “innovative” film-making, launched the critical hits Fremont and Kokomo City.

First formed in 1978, and long associated with Robert Redford, Sundance Film Festival has maintained its status as the world’s most influential hub for independent cinema. The event has launched hits such as Reservoir Dogs, Little Miss Sunshine, Donnie Darko and Whiplash. Three years ago Coda began its run to a best-picture Oscar there. Previous Irish films to have burst out from the festival include John Crowley’s Brooklyn, Martin McDonagh’s In Bruges and John Carney’s Once. This year Carney’s film Flora and Son sold there to Apple for in the region of $20 million. Stories abound of bidding wars in the foyer, with contracts being waved around like weapons. There are few better places to set loose a quirky independent film.