Sundance 2016 started yesterday and I’m back in snowy Park City, Utah for the sixth year in a row reporting on what the Irish are bringing to North America’s most prestigious film festival.
There are a record seven Irish Film Board funded entries this year ranging from musical comedy to short animation. They include:
Sing Street – With 1980s Dublin mired in recession, Conor’s parents move him from a comfortable private school to a rough inner-city public school where the scrappy 14-year-old forms a band. Mentored by his older brother, a dropout who’s hip to cool tunes, Conor starts to compose lyrics and the glam-ish band finds its “no covers” groove. Renaming himself Cosmo, he convinces the mysterious, über-cool Raphina to star in their music videos (and tries to win her heart in the process).
John Carney, whose musical passion and DIY vibe refreshed a genre with Once and Begin Again, spins a loosely autobiographical story in which music again offers a refuge–from school and family strife. He spent over a year collaborating on original music (a throwback to ‘80s vibrancy) that’s catchy but plausible for a youth band, and his talented cast plays it like they mean it. Carney’s nostalgia isn’t only for a bygone Dublin and its soundtrack, but for that moment when you pour your heart into something, and it can mean everything to you. When songs can save your life.
Starring Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Lucy Boynton, Jack Reynor, Aidan Gillen and Mark McKenna. The film will screen in the Premieres section at Sundance. It was directed by John Carney and produced by Anthony Bregman, John Carney, and Martina Niland. It was filmed in Ireland. It will be released in the UK and Ireland on March 18th.
Viva – Jesus has spent most of his young adult life styling wigs at a drag club in Havana, longing for a purpose other than the pennies he scrapes together in the shadows of his surroundings. When Jesus is offered the chance to perform amongst the other queens, the cruel winds of fate bring his estranged, abusive father back into his life after 15 years. What unfolds is a bittersweet story of pain, regret, and reconciliation. As the two men’s lives violently collide, they are forced to grapple with their conflicting views.
Laced with the raw passion and drama of drag, director Paddy Breathnach and writer Mark O’Halloran bring Viva to life with exquisite tenderness. Actors Jorge Perugoría and Héctor Medina fill this wrenching love story with a raw humanity that runs beyond the confines of the screen. With a resounding case for compassion, Viva illuminates the oft-devastating path of family, neglect, and resolution.
Starring Héctor Medina, Jorge Perugorría, and Luis Alberto García. The film will screen in the Spotlight section at Sundance. It was directed by Paddy Breathnach and produced by Rob Walpole, Rebecca O’Flanagan, Nelson Navarro Navarro, and Cathleen Dore. It was filmed in Cuba and Ireland. It is the Irish entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at this year’s Oscars.
The Lobster – Recently dumped by his wife, David (Colin Farrell) goes to a countryside hotel where guests (John C. Reilly and Ben Whishaw amongst them) must find a suitable mate within 45 days or be turned into the animal of their choice. They attend group meetings and mixers designed by staff (a wryly Nurse Ratched-esque Olivia Colman) to foster compatible pairings. But David’s search ultimately leads to the “loners,” militant outcasts (led by Léa Seydoux) who live in the woods and are routinely hunted by hotel guests. Although the loners forbid intimacy, he befriends a short-sighted woman (Rachel Weisz).
With deadpan conviction and perfect comedic alchemy, The Lobster thrusts us into a darkly satirical world that posits love as a social construct, skewering ritualized coupledom and our base impulses toward romance (loneliness, insecurity, desperation, cruelty) before adopting a more emotional complexion. The Lobster’s debatably ironic conclusion is one of many engaging ambiguities that give it a philosophical allure.
Starring Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Ben Whishaw, Léa Seydoux, John C. Reilly, and Olivia Colman. The film will screen in the Spotlight section at Sundance. It was directed by Yorgos Lanthimos and produced by Ed Guiney, Lee Magiday, Ceci Dempsey and Yorgos Lanthimos. It was filmed in Ireland/United Kingdom/Greece/France. It won the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival last year.
Mammal – After Margaret learns that her 18-year-old son, who she abandoned as a baby, has been found dead, her simple, solitary routine is tragically disrupted. But when Joe, a homeless teen from her neighborhood, enters her life, Margaret offers him a room, and she soon embodies the mother she never was. As Margaret copes with the volatile grief of her ex-husband, her own lonely trauma seeps into her relationship with Joe and begins to blur the line between motherly affection and a far more carnal nature of intimacy.
With a firm grasp on the devastating layers of grief, Rebecca Daly’s Mammalexpertly guides us through the isolating depth into which Margaret is thrust. Rachel Griffiths, Barry Keoghan, and Michael McElhatton infuse the film with raw vulnerability that pulsates with the animalistic nature of trauma. This quiet portrait of anguish further establishes Daly’s position as a director with astonishing command.
Starring Rachel Griffiths, Barry Keoghan, and Michael McElhatton. The film will screen in the World Cinema Drama section at Sundance. It was directed by Rebecca Daly and produced by Macdara Kelleher and Conor Barry. It was filmed in Ireland/Luxembourg/Netherlands.
The Land of the Enlightened – In this seamless blend of fictional and documentary form, we experience a stunning cinematic journey into the beauty of war-tormented Afghanistan. Shot over five years on evocative 16mm footage, first-time director Pieter-Jan De Pue paints a whimsical yet haunting look at the condition of Afghanistan left for the next generation. As American soldiers prepare to leave, we follow De Pue deep into this hidden land where young boys form wild gangs to control trade routes, sell explosives from mines left over from war, and climb rusting tanks as playgrounds—making the new rules of war based on the harsh landscape left to them.
De Pue’s transportative and wonderfully crafted film confronts the visceral beauty and roughness of survival, serving as a testament to the spirited innovation of childhood and the extreme resilience of a people and country.
The film will screen in the World Cinema Documentary section at Sundance. It was directed by Pieter-Jan De Pue and produced by Bart Van Langendonck. It was co-produced by Fastnet Films, Submarine, Eyeworks and gebrueder beet film produktion. It was filmed in Belgium.
Love & Friendship – Set in the opulent drawing rooms of eighteenth-century English society, Love & Friendship focuses on the machinations of a beautiful widow, Lady Susan Vernon (Kate Beckinsale), who, while waiting for social chatter about a personal indiscretion to pass, takes up temporary residence at her in-laws’ estate. While there, the intelligent, flirtatious, and amusingly egotistical Lady Vernon is determined to be a matchmaker for her daughter Frederica—and herself too, naturally. She enlists the assistance of her old friend Alicia (Chloë Sevigny), but two particularly handsome suitors (Xavier Samuel and Tom Bennett) complicate her orchestrations.
Adapting Jane Austen’s unpublished early novella Lady Susan, Whit Stillman returns to the Sundance Film Festival (where his Metropolitan premiered in 1990) in top form with his latest comedy of manners. Kate Beckinsale excels in her role as the deliciously devious Lady Vernon and delivers each line with relish. With exquisite period detail and a script teeming with bon mots and witty dialogue, Love & Friendship is a rare—and rarified—treat.
Starring Kate Beckinsale, Chloë Sevigny, Xavier Samuel, Emma Greenwell, Tom Bennett, and Stephen Fry. The film will screen in the Premieres section at Sundance. It was directed by Whit Stillman and produced by Katie Holly, Whit Stillman, and Lauranne Bourrachot. It was filmed in Ireland/France/Netherlands.
A Coat Made Dark – Two burglars strike it rich after stealing a mysterious coat. So begins this darkly comic tale, in which Midnight, an anthropomorphized dog, and his human servant Peter struggle for power, courtesy of the coat. The film will screen in the Shorts Program 3 at Sundance. It was directed by Jack O’Shea produced by Damien Byrne and the music was composed by Neil O’Connor. The short features the voices of Hugh O’Conor, Declan Conlon, and Antonia Campbell-Hughes.
Additional Notes, Related Articles & Credits:
* Viva nominated for an Oscar in 2016.
** The complete Sundance 2016 Film Guide may be seen here.
*** Love & Friendship secures distribution deals ahead of Sundance 2016. More here.