Punching above its weight

Dublin’s film festival mixes star power with an impressive roster of movies, says Pádraic Killeen

Punching above its weight

Every time you open up a paper there’s some new insanity, and it always seems to happen by chance

THE Jameson Dublin International Film Festival (JDIFF) kicks off an 11-day bill this evening with a screening of Broken, a new British film written by Mark O’Rowe (Intermission) and starring Tim Roth and Cillian Murphy. It’s an adaptation of Daniel Clay’s 2008 novel, which transplanted certain characters from Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird to the contemporary English suburbs.

“I don’t think Daniel was trying to copy the narrative structure of To Kill a Mockingbird,” says O’Rowe, who will attend tonight’s screening with Roth and Murphy. “It was more the idea that if that story were to be told in modern times, in a particular setting, and with modern sensibilities, how would that work? One might think that we live in a more selfish, more violent, and more unpredictable world now than we did then. I don’t know if we do. But the world of Broken is definitely all those things.”

Rufus Norris’s film boasts perfectly judged performances by Roth, Murphy and others, but it belongs to newcomer Eloise Laurence, who plays Skunk, a girl on the cusp of adolescence who must come to terms with a world capable of darkness. The film also has a quirky spirit. In a running gag reminiscent of 2003 hit Intermission, a pair of scooter-riding twins pop up now and then to chuck bags of faeces at bystanders.

“The idea was to use them, in the same way as in Intermission, as a metaphor for chance and life’s unpredictability,” says O’Rowe.

The impact of chance — as well as the fact that, beneath the veneer of everyday life, we are only ever a hair’s breadth away from violence and aggression — is a recurrent theme in O’Rowe’s work, whether for theatre or film.

“Maybe I feel it a little bit more than other people and that’s why I slightly obsess over it,” admits O’Rowe. “And it’s not necessarily a conscious thing either. You write something and then you go, ‘Oh my God. That stuff is there again’. But I do know that I can feel terrified. And I’m not the only one who’s a hair’s breadth away. My wife is. My kids are. My loved ones are. Every time you open up a newspaper there’s some new insanity, and, once again, it always seems to be something that just kind of happened by chance.”

O’Rowe – who came to prominence in the late 1990s with theatre hit Howie the Rookie – is currently completing a new play, his first since 2007’s Terminus. He has also just directed a short film, Debris, which will be shown as part of JDIFF’s shorts programme.

“It’s a calling card. I know the next step is to write something very personal and direct it myself. Debris is the first step toward doing a film of my own. As a screenwriter the lack of control that you have over a film gets very frustrating after a while and I need to take a little more control of it like I have done with theatre.”

Broken is just one of 130 films on offer at JDIFF this year. Other highlights include new films by masters of cinema such as Abbas Kiarostami, the Taviani brothers and Cristian Mungiu. But there’s also more popular fare, not least The Hardy Bucks Movie. The latter is one of a range of new Irish films making their premiere.

Oscar winner Alex Gibney, will introduce his new documentary Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God, tackling the abuse scandals in the Catholic Church in the US.

Another documentary worth looking out for is the Oscar-nominated Israeli film The Gatekeepers, which features interviews with former heads of the secret service organisation, Shin Bet. Irish documentary makers are much to the fore, with Mark McLoughlin’s Blood Rising — the story of murdered women in the Mexican city of Juarez — bringing the festival to a close.

Of course, every year JDIFF brings in a few big-wig guests to add some sparkle. Among the marquee names this year are Danny DeVito, who is to be honoured with a Volta (the festival’s award of distinction), as well as Gabriel Byrne and iconic filmmaker Costa-Gavras who will present their new film together, Capital. Joss Whedon, director of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Avengers Assemble, is also in town, presenting his modern adaptation of Shakespeare’s Much Ado about Nothing.

While it may lack some of the mystique of other international festivals, JDIFF has an openness and a breadth that works in its favour. There’s no sense of elitism, and it caters both to the cinema devout and lovers of pop corn and thrills.

*The Jameson Dublin International Film Festival runs until Feb 24

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