Irish make their mark at festival

THERE was a particularly strong Irish presence in this year’s film festival programme.

Gerard Hurley wrote, directed, produced and starred in The Pier. The film is set in west Cork, and concerns a young man returning from America to spend time with his dying father after an absence of 20 years. That might well sound like the plot of a thousand other movies, but Hurley puts a new spin on it, largely by having the father, played by Karl Johnson, engage in the most curmudgeonly behaviour imaginable. As the story progresses, and the father succumbs to cancer, his vulnerability is slowly revealed. The Pier proved to be a highlight of the festival. It is expected to go on release early in the new year.

Patrick O’Shea’s new feature, Tree Keeper, was shot around Cork in 2010. Doire, the young man at its centre, inherits a parcel of woodland from his father, and moves into an old cottage to protect it. His peace is disturbed by the antics of an unscrupulous businessman who plans on developing the woodland as a landfill site. James Browne as Doire, Ciarán Ruby as Tom, and Pascal Scott as his father, Jim, all give fine performances in a film that was probably the most enthusiastically received at the festival.

Irish director Alexandra McGuinness set her film The Lotus Eaters in London. The plot revolves around a party of vacuous young things who shop, do drugs and fornicate. The central character is Alice, who just about elicits the audience’s sympathy, mostly because she actually has to work for a living while her peers plough through their trust funds. The danger with making a film about such unsavoury characters is that the audience will simply want to machine-gun the lot of them, but McGuinness makes the most of her material.

There were many excellent Irish documentaries in the festival. Among them was Leila Doolan’s Bernadette: Notes On A Political Journey, which took as its subject Bernadette Devlin McAliskey. Doolan’s film, made over nine years, offered a well-rounded portrait of its subject. Two Portraits twinned documentaries on the artist John Kingerlee and the writer Dermot Healy. Colm Hogan and Martian Levitina’s Kingerlee followed the artist and his wife Mo about their homes in west Cork and Morocco, and delved into the motivations behind his painting. Kingerlee is an engaging character, and the film gave an excellent account of the processes that go into his art-making. Healy was the subject of The Writing in the Sky, which focused on the author’s fascination with the barnacle geese that arrive from Greenland each October near his home in Sligo.

Jesse Jones is a Dublin artist whose films were screened at the Triskel Arts Centre and the National Sculpture Factory. The Triskel screening, The Trilogy of Dust, included Mahogany, The Predicament of Man and Against the Realm of the Absolute. All three were compellingly experimental films, and dust proved to be an apt metaphor as each engaged with the collapse of societies.

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