Gems shine light on history at Dublin Film Fest

The Inquiry is one of the gems from this year’s documentary strand at the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival; although, technically, it’s a drama written from documentary evidence, as its screenplay is threaded with newspaper cuttings and British parliamentary reports.

Gems shine light on history at Dublin Film Fest

It hinges on the moment that Jim Larkin and William Martin Murphy met for the first time in Sept 1913 at a commission held in Dublin Castle to try and resolve the Dublin Lockout.

It’s a compelling piece of courtroom theatre, with an exhilarating cross-examination exchange between Larkin and Martin Murphy, and it brings to life some pivotal figures of early 20th century Ireland, including James Connolly, who was executed, of course, following the Easter Rising in 1916, and Tim Healy, the Corkman who helped to nobble Charles Stewart Parnell.

“We wanted to ask questions of the audience about the ideologies being expounded — the rationale of capitalism and the moral aspirations of socialism — before the country became strait-jacketed by nationalism. There could have been an alternative country. It was a unique moment, and a unique encounter — and one that still echoes today,” says director Brian Gray.

Stephen Murray in the lead role is the embodiment of Larkin. He has all the key traits of the iconic trade union leader — the big, lumbering gait, the Scouse accent, the cornerboy charm, although it’s his bristling indignation that does for his adversaries in the tribunal. “It’s like waltzing with a hurricane,” says the biscuit baron Jacobs, in despair, after a caning in the witness stand from Larkin.

Larkin might wonder has anything changed in a century after watching Inequality for All, which arrives at the festival garnering a Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. Renowned filmmaker Jacob Kornbluth examines the widening gulf between rich and poor in the United States. His investigation is fronted by Robert Reich, a former secretary of labour in the Clinton administration, and gathers testimony from Costco clerks to a billionaire who reckons he ought to pay higher taxes.

Freda Kelly could have been a millionaire, but decided against cashing in on the 11 years she spent as secretary to The Beatles, and head of the band’s fan club, which involved sorting through 2,000 to 3,000 letters a day. She gave away all but a fraction of her priceless memorabilia to fellow fans in 1974, and kept a lid on her story — even to family members — until now. Her beguiling tales — of a Beatles fan who stowed away on a ship from the United States to Liverpool, of a pillowcase she brought to Ringo Starr’s house to be slept on and signed — are told in Good Ol’ Freda.

She got the job “millions of girls dreamed about” by serendipity. She took her lunch-break from her typing job at the Cavern club, just as The Beatles were about to take off. She used to go every day, sitting in the same seat and warmed to the band’s banter — and good looks. She asks to “pass” (with a grin) when asked if she ever went out with any of the group. The band’s manager Brian Epstein, or “Eppy”, as Freda calls him, asked her to take on the job of secretary. She was only 17 years old, but had an innate integrity that served her well.

Other girls’ dreams in the world of music are explored in Twenty Feet From Stardom, an entertaining look at backup singers, which draws on interviews with Stevie Wonder, Mick Jagger and Bruce Springsteen. It’s said that you better smile when you approach and call them backup singers, as some can out-sing any solo act, and won’t back up from telling you.

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