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Posts Tagged ‘Sundance Film Festival’

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Today I’m trying something new here at In An Irish Home.  I am going to participate in the #weekendcoffeeshare on WordPress. These are going to be special posts going along with the theme shared by the Daily Post prompt– “Each weekend, bloggers publish posts about what they’d say to their readers if they were sitting down together over a cup of coffee. Some bloggers do it every weekend, while others dip in and out.” I’m not sure if I’ll do it more than this one time, but if feels like a good way to bring authenticity to my writing today. So…here goes…

If we were having coffee we would probably be sitting at your kitchen table or mine, as one does in Ireland {unless, of course, we’re in Avoca Handweavers looking out over a gray or possibly changing soft day!}. We’d be having tea…because that’s what most people do in Ireland. Our tea would be served from a tea pot, not in a plastic cup like you get at Starbucks. And we’d be having something wickedly sweet like a slice of lemon cake or a Mars Bar biscuit…ok, maybe I’d be having something sweet and you’d be having a healthy scone!

We’d probably talk about the simple things first and get them over quickly…just so we could delve into the nitty gritty details of our lives. You’d tell me about your kids, your job, your husband/your ex or how your dating life is going, your stresses. I’d tell you the same. I’d tell you how, just two days ago, I felt like packing it all in and running away to some beautiful beach {maybe Hawaii}…only to settle down after a good night sleep and realise how very much I love my beautiful, sometimes-make-me-crazy family, and how very much I miss my mother, grandmother, mother-in-law and home (America when I’m in Ireland and Ireland when I’m in America). We’d laugh until we talked about your divorce or your ailing parent and then we’d get serious for a little while. We’d talk about our kids and how they’re coping in this crazy world…and making us crazy too. And we’d talk about how short life is and how much we’d like to slow down and spend it with the ones who really matter.

Politics would only come up if we were talking about the ridiculous American presidential candidates. Faith would only come up because we’d talk about how I saw your parents in church last week or how things are going with the plans for your son’s upcoming Confirmation. We don’t really talk politics or religion in Ireland otherwise.

We’d start talking about other friends…but in a way that is supportive…not gossipy. We’d fill each other in on what we don’t already know and we’d encourage each other to get in touch with someone we’ve let slip out of our hands. And, then, before we call it a “cuppa” we’d talk about and make plans for our next girls night out or girls weekend away. We’d whip out our mobile phones and send our other gal-pals a quick text to say, “Let’s meet up!”

And, with the world’s problems solved for another day, we’d hug each other and say our goodbyes. I’d close my hall door or walk out to my car…incredibly thankful for your friendship.

That’s what I imagine would happen if we were having coffee, what do you imagine?

Additional Notes, Related Articles & Credits:

* Here’s where If We Were Having Coffee… all started: Part-Time Monster

** Here’s where I learned about it.

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of Sundance Institute

 

“The secret magic of (Sundance) film festivals is that they offer audiences direct communication with the artist,” so says Sundance Film Festival Director of Programming Trevor Groth. And, oh how right he is.

I have been going to Sundance Film Festivals for 15 years. Some years are good, some years are even better, but what are always great are the Q & A sessions with people directly involved in a film immediately following a screening.

Unfortunately these Q & A sessions are rarely made public. So, if you can’t make it to Park City for ten days in January, you probably won’t get the inside scoop or see “the secret magic”.

And that got me to thinking…what if I could publish the Q & A’s? I’ve got an iPhone. I’ve been recording the Q & A’s for years. What if I published them at In an Irish Home? And so, for two weeks that’s what I’ve been trying to do! At first, I tried to upload them directly to my WordPress blog but, for whatever reason, it just wouldn’t work. Then, I set up a YouTube channel and gave that a go. It took several tries…but at long last…it’s done.

 

For the record, Q & A’s are sometimes serious, sometimes funny…above all, they are always informative. Their format is as follows: after the credits, a Sundance Programmer comes to the stage and introduces the director, producer, actors, cinematographer, etc. of the film just viewed. The Programmer asks one or two questions and then turns the questioning over to the audience.

In all, a Q & A last about 15-20 minutes. It seems a really short time, but, those 15-20 minutes can make the difference between an audience leaving a screening with a good feeling (which can elevate a film’s impact in the wider public) or a bad one (which will have the exact opposite effect).

I was fortunate to attend five or six films this year that were followed by Q & A’s, including one for the Irish-Cuban film Viva. Director Paddy Breathnach and Irish producer Rob Walpole answered questions candidly. It was fascinating to learn things like 1) how many years it took to make Viva; 2) what it was like to direct actors who spoke a different language; 3) how hard it was to find financial backers to support the project; and 4) how the wonderful music in the film almost did not make it into the movie.

So, for the first time ever, I’m delighted to bring you behind the scenes at Sundance 2016 with the Q & A from Viva!

Additional Notes, Related Articles & Credits:

* Viva nominated for an Oscar in 2016.

** How to do a film festival Q & A.

*** Watch the Viva trailer here.

**** Viva is the closing gala event at this year’s Dublin Film Festival (Feb 28th). To buy tickets visit here.

 

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The last of the credits have rolled at Sundance 2016, the awards have been handed out, and I am shattered. In ten days I saw 13 films, which is nothing compared to some of my friends and colleagues (who saw upwards of 20+). But somewhere along the way, between Morris from America and The Birth of a Nation, emotional exhaustion crept in. I believe it started with Mammal.

Mammal is the second film from Irish writer-director Rebecca Daly and her screenwriting partner Glenn Montgomery. Set in Dublin, it stars Australian actress Rachel Griffiths (‘Six Feet Under’, Muriel’s Wedding’), rising Irish star Barry Keoghan (‘Love/Hate, ’71’), and Irish actor Michael McElhatton (‘Game of Thrones’). Vaguely reminiscent of Gerard Barrett’s Glassland, which premiered at Sundance last year, Mammal is a dark tale: not at all for the faint of heart. It is also a thoughtful exploration of separation, grief, and love.

Rachel Griffiths plays the role of Margaret, a 40+ woman, living alone, except for the occasional lodger she takes in to supplement her income. When the husband she’s separated from (Michael McElhatton) calls to say that their son, whom she abandoned years before, has gone missing, something in Margaret cracks open.

As she unconsciously attempts to process her deep buried emotions, Margaret takes in a troubled young man (Barry Keoghan). At first, their relationship is akin to mother and son, but then it shifts to that of lovers and we (the audience) get sucked down the emotional rabbit hole Margaret is trying to climb out of.

Daly and Montgomery navigate the story of ‘mother abandoning child’ incredibly well. From beginning to end, Margaret never has more emotions then she needs and, for me, this character-casting works well. It would have been too cliché to pellet Griffith’s character with misplaced motherly love and grief.

Every character, Margaret’s ex, the son she never mothered, the lad she takes in, even Margaret herself, is broken, vulnerable, and looking for something/someone to help them move forward. And, just as you would expect from a Greek-tragedy-type-tale, grief morphs into some pretty risqué territory…which is why Mammal is a difficult film to see.

I’m glad I saw it, however. I can’t say I loved watching Mammal but, all in all, it is a very good film.

Additional Notes, Related Articles & Credits:

* Sundance Channel Global secured broadcast rights for Mammal in multiple territories while at the festival.

** Mammal was produced by Macdara Kelleher and Conor Barry for Fastnet Films (‘Strangerland’, ‘Kisses’, ‘What If’) and was co- funded by the Irish Film Board, Luxembourg Film Fund, BAI, TV3 and the Netherlands Film Fund.

*** You can read an interview with Rachel Griffiths and Barry Keoghan over at Seventh Row.

**** To read another interesting article about Mammal’s subject matter, visit here.

 

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Sundance can be hard on the heart. With film topics covering things like war and cancer and physical assault, it’s not uncommon to leave a screening feeling exhausted and shell shocked.

So, when a movie comes to Sundance that has you tapping your toes and dancing in your seat, it’s wonderfully refreshing. And that is exactly what John Carney’s Sing Street is…wonderfully refreshing!

Oh sure, begrudgers have said that Carney “borrowed heavily from his own film Once to make Sing Street” but so what?…who cares!? If something ain’t broke…don’t mess with it!

At the Monday morning showing in The Eccles Theatre, audience members (myself included) were laughing out loud and thoroughly enjoying themselves for a change.

Sing Street is uplifting, funny, and infectious.

While the credits were rolling at the end of the film, people were clapping to the music and dancing in the aisles. When Carney and his cast walked up on stage, they received a standing ovation. Which says it all…doesn’t it?

Sundance audiences love Sing Street.

I don’t want to give anything away in this review, but I will say this…Irish newcomers Ferdia Walsh-Peelo (who plays Conor) and Mark McKenna (playing Eamon) are rising stars. Remember that you heard it first here!

Go see Sing Street. Take the kids. This is a film that’s good for the heart.

 

 

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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. 

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of Sundance Institute

 

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.

 

 

 

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Sundance 2015The Sundance 2015 Film Festival ends this weekend and it has been another strong year for Irish filmmakers and Irish co-productions. Brooklyn, The Hallow, and Glasslands, in particular, have been very well received in Park City, Utah.

The period drama Brooklyn has received the highest praise: not surprising given the power houses (both Irish and not) involved. Based on the novel written by Colm Tóibín, Brooklyn was adapted for the screen by novelist-turned-script writer Nick Hornby. John Crowley, whose earlier work included Intermission, Boy A, Is Anybody There? and Closed Circuit, was the director. Irish actress, Saoirse Ronan, plays the lead character beautifully and is supported superbly by Emory Cohen, Domhnall Gleeson, Julie Waters and Jim Broadbent…to name but a few.

Set between Ireland and New York in the early 1950’s, the story line follows a young Irish woman’s coming of age while being pulled between the home she loves and the life she leads. Brooklyn received a standing ovation at the Eccles Theatre at Sundance when it premiered. Twenty-four hours later it started a distribution bidding war, which Fox Searchlight won, shortly thereafter.

As someone who’s left home (America) and started anew someplace else (Ireland), I felt the heartbreak and joy of Saoirse Ronan’s character deeply…so too, it seems, did my fellow audience members. Together we laughed, cried, gasped and enjoyed the film. Here’s what the press had to say about Brooklyn at Sundance:

“Brooklyn premiered at the Sundance Film Festival without much advance buzz. But when the lights at the Eccles Theatre in Park City came up two hours later to a rapturous standing ovation, it was clear that Sundance had just screened one of the best films of the year. Within 24 hours, Fox Searchlight defeated its rivals (including the Weinstein Co. and Focus Features) in a heated bidding war and landed “Brooklyn” for $9 million. That deal, the biggest at this year’s festival, also kicked off the Oscars 2016 race.” – Entertainment Weekly

“A robust romantic drama, rich in history and full of emotion, “Brooklyn” fills a niche in which the studios once specialized, using a well-read and respected novel as the grounds for a tenderly observed tear-jerker. With a classical, literate script from Nick Hornby unfussily interpreted by Crowley, the film satisfies the reason audiences of a certain age go to the movies in the first place: namely, to feel something”. – Variety 

“…this movie is magical…In an increasingly cynical age of cinema—especially at a Sundance where it feels like every film is about people dying—it’s remarkable to see that romance can still connect with an audience. On the shuttle after the standing O at the screening, I’ve never heard so many people proclaim a movie their favorite of the fest.” – RoberEbert.com

“Classily and classically crafted in the best sense by director John Crowley and screenwriter Nick Hornby, this superbly acted romantic drama is set in the early 1950s and provides the feeling of being lifted into a different world altogether, so transporting is the film’s sense of time and place and social mores…this British-Canadian-Irish co production is splendidly decked out in every department, notably including Yves Belanger’s cinematography, Francois Seguin’s spot-on period production design, Odil Dicks-Mireaux’s lively costume design and Michael Brook’s evocative scoring”.The Hollywood Reporter

“Brooklyn captures that bittersweet mix of excitement and longing really well, Crowley directing with patience and understatement. He’s helped immensely by his lead, Saoirse Ronan, who does wonderful work here—her Eilis isn’t always likable, she’s sometimes prickly and aloof, but she’s fully human, intelligent and determined and decent…the movie belongs wholly to Ronan, who at just 20 years old is such a remarkably poised and confident performer.”Vanity Fair

There were many video interviews with the cast and crew of Brooklyn this past week. These are amongst the most interesting:

 

And, finally Anya Jaremko-Greenwold of Indiewire did a short but interesting interview with John Crowley. You can read it here.

 

Notes:

The photos at the top of this blog post are courtesy of Sundance.org. In the collage: the photo from The Hallow was taken by Martin Maguire, the photo from Brooklyn was taken by Kerry Brown, and the photo from Glassland was taken by Pat Redmond. The photo single photo from Brooklyn was also taken by Kerry Brown.

 

 

 

 

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It’s that time of year again. Yes, the Sundance Film Festival ~ the largest independent film celebration ~ is in full swing in Park City, Utah and I am here with nearly 50,000 other attendees. The air is crisp, the days are bright and we could care less. One doesn’t come to Sundance for a holiday: you’re either here because you support independent films or you’re in the business surrounding them.

For more than 30 years, Robert Redford has introduced some of cinema’s best filmmakers to the world, including Quentin Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs), Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (Little Miss Sunshine), Steven Soderbergh (Sex, Lies, and Videotape), the Coen brothers (Blood Simple), Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez (The Blair Witch Project), to name but a few.

Superb Irish films or Irish-backed films have been here too! In the last few years, award-winning Irish/Irish-backed films have included: The Summit, Calvary, Irish Folk Furniture, Frank, and The Last Days of Peter Bergmann.

For the past two years, I have tried to see all the Irish films and report back the news. This year, I am in Park City to do it again. There are five films to see. They include:

Brooklyn – Set on opposite sides of the Atlantic, Brooklyn tells the story of Eilis Lacey, a young Irish immigrant navigating her way through 1950s Brooklyn. Lured by the promise of America, she departs Ireland for the shores of New York. Her initial bouts of homesickness quickly diminish as a fresh romance sweeps Eilis into the intoxicating charm of love. Soon, though, her new vivacity is disrupted by her past, and Eilis must choose between two countries and the lives that exist within. Directed by John Crowley. Starring Saoirse Ronan (Atonement) and Domhnall Gleeson (Frank). The official trailer has not yet been released. This film will screen in the Premieres section at Sundance. It was produced by Wildgaze Films, Finola Dwyer Productions, Parallel Films and Item 7, was filmed in Wexford, Dublin and Wicklow, and was co-financed by the Irish Film Board.

Glassland – Young Dublin cabdriver, John barely makes ends meet. He shares social housing with his mother, Jean, an alcoholic who is systematically drinking herself to death. Desperate to save his mother, John takes a shady job from the ambiguous criminal element he’s loosely connected to and is forced to make a life changing moral decision. Directed by Gerard Barrett. Starring Toni Collette (Sixth SenseLittle Miss Sunshine), Jack Reynor (What Richard Did and Transformers: Age of Extinction), Will Poulter (Son of RambowWe’re the Millers), and Michael Smiley (A Field in EnglandKill List). This film will screen in the World Cinema Dramatic Competition section at Sundance, which only selects 12 films from thousands of entries. It was produced by Element Pictures, was filmed in Dublin, and was produced with support from the Irish Film Board.

 

Strangerland – New to the remote Australian desert town of Nathgari, Catherine and Matthew Parker’s lives are pushed to the brink when their two teenage children, Tommy and Lily, disappear just before a massive dust storm hits the town. With temperatures rising, and the chances of survival plummeting with each passing day, Catherine and Matthew find themselves pushed to the brink as they struggle to survive the uncertainty of their children’s fate. Directed by Kim Farrant. Starring Nicole Kidman and Joseph Fiennes. The official trailer has not yet been released. This film will also screen in the World Cinema Dramatic Competition section at Sundance, which only selects 12 films from thousands of entries. It was produced by Fastnet films and Dragonfly Pictures and was funded by the Irish Film Board, Worldview Entertainment, Screen Australia and Screen NSW.

The Hallow – Deep within the darkness of a secluded forest in rural Ireland dwells an ancient evil. When a conservationist from London moves in with his wife and infant child in order to survey the land for future construction, his actions unwittingly disturb the horde of demonic forces. Alone in a remote wilderness, he must now ensure his family’s survival from their relentless attacks. Directed by Corin Hardy. Starring Joseph Mawle (The Awakening, Game of Thrones) and Bojana Novakovic (Devil, Burning Man). The official trailer has not been released yet, but you can see the unofficial version here (unfortunately, you are forced to watch an advertisement first). This film will screen as part of the Park City at Midnight section at Sundance. It was produced by Occupant Entertainment and Fantastic Films, was filmed on location in Galway, and was funded by Prescience, Altus Media, Hyperion and the Irish Film Board.

The Visit – Imagine an event that has never taken place: mankind’s first encounter with an intelligent life from outer space. Through tantalizing interviews with experts from NASA, United Nations, and the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute, among many others, this film constructs a chillingly believable scenario of first contact on Earth, beginning with the simplest of questions: Why are you here? How do you think? What do you see in humans that we don’t see in ourselves? Directed by Michael Madsen (Into Eternity). This will screen in the World Documentary Competition section at Sundance. It is co-produced by Venom Films, with support from the Irish Film Board.

 

 

 

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One of the things you notice when you’re an expat living in Ireland is how the Irish media love to take a story from abroad and find a way to connect it back home. Athletes, artists, musicians, politicians…everyone and everything is fair game. So today, in the spirit of Irish journalism, I’m going to do my own “connecting of the dots” and show you how the film The Case Against 8, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and won the U.S. Documentary Directing prize, is connected to Ireland.

For starters, you need to know a little bit about the film. The Case Against 8 is a documentary that takes viewers behind the scenes of the high-profile trial that overturned California’s Proposition 8, a controversial constitutional amendment that made marriage between same-sex couples illegal.

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On the steps of the US Supreme Court.
Photo Credit: The Sundance Institute

The case first made headlines when lead attorneys, Ted Olson and David Boies, joined forces to assist the American Foundation for Equal Rights in trying the case. Olson and Boies were once political foes, squaring off against each other in Bush v. Gore back in 2000.

The plaintiffs were two couples, Kris Perry and Sandy Stier, and Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo, who found themselves and their families at the centre of the same-sex marriage controversy. Paul Katami, whose sister is married to an Irishman from Dublin, is a charming and well-spoken fitness expert and small business owner who never imagined himself an activist.

Photo Credit: Diana Walker

Kris Perry, Sandy Stier, Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo. Photo Credit: Diana Walker

“Jeff and I are ‘accidental activists'”, Katami says. “We really had no idea what we were getting ourselves into when we agreed to get involved.” One can believe it too. From start to finish the case lasted 5 years and during that time the plaintiffs’ lives were open to public scrutiny and, sometimes, outrage.

Katami and Zarrillo were in a committed relationship for 8+ years when Prop 8 appeared on the political landscape in California. Hurt by the negative campaign in support of the amendment, which included a television advertisement created by the National Organization for Marriage called Gathering Storm, the couple took action and made a counter-video called Weathering the Storm. Their video went viral nearly overnight and brought them to the attention of Chad Griffin, then head of the newly formed American Foundation for Equal Rights, and Hollywood activists Rob Reiner, Bruce Cohen and Milk screenwriter Dustin Lance Black.

Griffin liked what he saw and reached out to Paul and Jeff with an offer to get involved. After saying yes and being fully vetted, the two joined Kris Perry and Sandy Stier, mothers to four boys who were also well vetted, as plaintiffs.

Paul Katami, Jeff Zarillo and Ryan White at Sundance after party.

Paul Katami, Jeff Zarrillo and Ryan White at a Sundance after-party.

Filmmakers Ryan White, whose grandfather was Irish by way of Mallow, and Ben Cotner had unparalleled access to key players in the historic case and provided in-depth coverage of a trial the public never saw. “We were not trying to make a film about whether gay marriage was right or wrong, ” says White. “We were making a character film following this team of people and really delving into their lives and using that journey to let people decide for themselves in the end”.

Standing ovation for The Case Against 8 at the world premiere.

Standing ovation for The Case Against 8 at the world premiere.

With over 600 hours of footage, edited down to 112 minutes, The Case Against 8 is a cinematic journey through one of America’s most significant civil rights battles in recent times. It isn’t a boring talking heads movie full of legalese. Nor is it a slanted propaganda piece for the pro-gay-marriage camp. It is an even-handed, deeply personal, account of the events as they occurred.

A quick photo pop with Jeff Zarillo, Paul Katami, Sandy Stier and Kris Perry.

A quick photo opp – thanks Jeff, Paul, Sandy and Kris.

Unfortunately, The Case Against 8 won’t be shown at the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival in February…maybe next year! You can, however, see another of one Ryan White’s films, Good Ol’ Freda, instead. It’s the story of Freda Kelly, the Dublin-born woman who was personal secretary to The Beatles and their manager, Brian Epstein, for eleven years. Kelly had many opportunities to open up and share her tale with the world {and cash in on it too} but she waited until the right person, someone she knew she could trust, came along. Ryan knew Freda his whole life but it was his aunt Sandra who put them together in a way that sparked a film. Good Ol’ Freda is the first independent movie to have successfully licensed original Beatles recordings, and it won an audience choice award for best film at the Cleveland International Film Festival. {I have a copy, given to me by Ryan’s aunt while we were both at Sundance, and I’m looking forward to watching it this weekend.}

So there you have it, Dear Readers…an unexpected Irish connection to an America story.  I am very happy to be sending this post into the world today because, after seeing The Case Against 8, I totally understand why it’s time for marriage equality for all. I’m only ashamed I didn’t consider the importance of it sooner. I’ll be sure to let you know when this terrific film comes to Ireland. And, when it does, I hope you will see it.

Additional Information:

For regular updates on The Case Against 8 follow them on Facebook here.

For regular updates on Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo follow them on Facebook here.

Follow Ireland’s campaigners moving towards marriage equality on Facebook here.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has pledged that he will campaign strongly in favour of the referendum on same-sex marriage. Read more here.

One of the best background articles on the campaign against Prop 8 at http://www.callawyer.com/Clstory.cfm?eid=906575

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Last night, the Sundance Institute announced the Jury, Audience and other special awards of the 2014 Sundance Film Festival at the feature film Awards Ceremony, hosted by Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally.

The U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Documentary was presented by Tracy Chapman to:
Rich Hill / U.S.A. (Directors: Andrew Droz Palermo, Tracy Droz Tragos) — In a rural, American town, kids face heartbreaking choices, find comfort in the most fragile of family bonds, and dream of a future of possibility.

The U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic was presented by Leonard Maltin to:
Whiplash / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Damien Chazelle) — Under the direction of a ruthless instructor, a talented young drummer begins to pursue perfection at any cost, even his humanity. Cast: Miles Teller, JK Simmons.

The World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Documentary was presented by Andrea Nix Fine to:
Return to Homs / Syria, Germany (Director: Talal Derki) — Basset Sarout, the 19-year-old national football team goalkeeper, becomes a demonstration leader and singer, and then a fighter. Ossama, a 24-year-old renowned citizen cameraman, is critical, a pacifist, and ironic until he is detained by the regime’s security forces.

The World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic was presented by Nansun Shi to: To Kill a Man / Chile, France (Director and screenwriter: Alejandro Fernández Almendras) — When Jorge, a hardworking family man who’s barely making ends meet, gets mugged by Kalule, a neighborhood delinquent, Jorge’s son decides to confront the attacker, only to get himself shot. Even though Jorge’s son nearly dies, Kalule’s sentence is minimal, heightening the friction. Cast: Daniel Candia, Daniel Antivilo, Alejandra Yañez, Ariel Mateluna.

The Audience Award: U.S. Documentary Presented by Acura, was presented by William H. Macy to: Alive Inside: A Story of Music & Memory / U.S.A. (Director: Michael Rossato-Bennett) — Five million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s disease and dementia—many of them alone in nursing homes. A man with a simple idea discovers that songs embedded deep in memory can ease pain and awaken these fading minds. Joy and life are resuscitated, and our cultural fears over aging are confronted.

The Audience Award: U.S. Dramatic Presented by Acura, was presented by William H. Macy to: Whiplash / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Damien Chazelle) — Under the direction of a ruthless instructor, a talented young drummer begins to pursue perfection at any cost, even his humanity. Cast: Miles Teller, JK Simmons.

The Audience Award: World Cinema Documentary was presented by Felicity Huffman to: The Green Prince / Germany, Israel, United Kingdom (Director: Nadav Schirman ) — This real-life thriller tells the story of one of Israel’s prized intelligence sources, recruited to spy on his own people for more than a decade. Focusing on the complex relationship with his handler, The Green Prince is a gripping account of terror, betrayal, and unthinkable choices, along with a friendship that defies all boundaries. 

The Audience Award: World Cinema Dramatic was presented by Felicity Huffman to: Difret / Ethiopia (Director and screenwriter: Zeresenay Berhane Mehari) — Meaza Ashenafi is a young lawyer who operates under the government’s radar helping women and children until one young girl’s legal case exposes everything, threatening not only her career but her survival. Cast: Meron Getnet, Tizita Hagere.

The Audience Award: Best of NEXT <=> was presented by Nick Offerman to:
Imperial Dreams / U.S.A. (Director: Malik Vitthal, Screenwriters: Malik Vitthal, Ismet Prcic) — A 21-year-old, reformed gangster’s devotion to his family and his future are put to the test when he is released from prison and returns to his old stomping grounds in Watts, Los Angeles.Cast: John Boyega, Rotimi Akinosho, Glenn Plummer, Keke Palmer, De’aundre Bonds.

The Directing Award: U.S. Documentary was presented by Morgan Neville to:
Ben Cotner & Ryan White for The Case Against 8 / U.S.A. (Directors: Ben Cotner, Ryan White) — A behind-the-scenes look inside the case to overturn California’s ban on same-sex marriage. Shot over five years, the film follows the unlikely team that took the first federal marriage equality lawsuit to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Directing Award: U.S. Dramatic was presented by Lone Scherfig to:
Cutter Hodierne for Fishing Without Nets / U.S.A., Somalia, Kenya (Director: Cutter Hodierne, Screenwriters: Cutter Hodierne, John Hibey, David Burkman) — A story of pirates in Somalia told from the perspective of a struggling, young Somali fisherman. Cast: Abdikani Muktar, Abdi Siad, Abduwhali Faarah, Abdikhadir Hassan, Reda Kateb, Idil Ibrahim.

The Directing Award: World Cinema Documentary was presented by Sally Riley to: Iain Forsyth & Jane Pollard for 20,000 Days On Earth / United Kingdom (Directors: Iain Forsyth & Jane Pollard) — Drama and reality combine in a fictitious 24 hours in the life of musician and international culture icon Nick Cave. With startlingly frank insights and an intimate portrayal of the artistic process, this film examines what makes us who we are and celebrates the transformative power of the creative spirit.

The Directing Award: World Cinema Dramatic was presented by Sebastián Lelio to: Sophie Hyde for 52 Tuesdays / Australia (Director: Sophie Hyde, Screenplay and story by: Matthew Cormack, Story by: Sophie Hyde) — Sixteen-year-old Billie’s reluctant path to independence is accelerated when her mother reveals plans for gender transition, and their time together becomes limited to Tuesdays. This emotionally charged story of desire, responsibility, and transformation was filmed over the course of a year—once a week, every week, only on Tuesdays. Cast: Tilda Cobham-Hervey, Del Herbert-Jane, Imogen Archer, Mario Späte, Beau Williams, Sam Althuizen.

The Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award: U.S. Dramatic was presented by Peter Saraf to: Craig Johnson & Mark Heyman for The Skeleton Twins / U.S.A. (Director: Craig Johnson, Screenwriters: Craig Johnson, Mark Heyman) — When estranged twins Maggie and Milo feel that they’re at the end of their ropes, an unexpected reunion forces them to confront why their lives went so wrong. As the twins reconnect, they realize the key to fixing their lives may just lie in repairing their relationship. Cast: Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig, Luke Wilson, Ty Burrell, Boyd Holbrook, Joanna Gleason.

The Screenwriting Award: World Cinema Dramatic was presented by Sebastián Lelio to: Eskil Vogt for Blind / Norway, Netherlands (Director and screenwriter: Eskil Vogt) — Having recently lost her sight, Ingrid retreats to the safety of her home—a place she can feel in control, alone with her husband and her thoughts. But Ingrid’s real problems lie within, not beyond the walls of her apartment, and her deepest fears and repressed fantasies soon take over. Cast: Ellen Dorrit Petersen, Henrik Rafaelsen, Vera Vitali, Marius Kolbenstvedt.

The Editing Award: U.S. Documentary was presented by Jonathan Oppenheim to: Jenny Golden, Karen Sim for Watchers of the Sky / U.S.A. (Director: Edet Belzberg) — Five interwoven stories of remarkable courage from Nuremberg to Rwanda, from Darfur to Syria, and from apathy to action.

The Editing Award: World Cinema Documentary was presented by Sally Riley to: Jonathan Amos for 20,000 Days On Earth / United Kingdom (Directors: Iain Forsyth & Jane Pollard) — Drama and reality combine in a fictitious 24 hours in the life of musician and international culture icon Nick Cave. With startlingly frank insights and an intimate portrayal of the artistic process, this film examines what makes us who we are and celebrates the transformative power of the creative spirit.

The Cinematography Award: U.S. Documentary was presented by Kahane Cooperman to: Rachel Beth Anderson, Ross Kauffman for E-TEAM / U.S.A. (Directors: Katy Chevigny, Ross Kauffman) — E-TEAM is driven by the high-stakes investigative work of four intrepid human rights workers, offering a rare look at their lives at home and their dramatic work in the field.

The Cinematography Award: U.S. Dramatic was presented by Peter Saraf to:
Christopher Blauvelt for Low Down / U.S.A. (Director: Jeff Preiss, Screenwriters: Amy-Jo Albany, Topper Lilien) — Based on Amy-Jo Albany’s memoir, Low Down explores her heart-wrenching journey to adulthood while being raised by her father, bebop pianist Joe Albany, as he teeters between incarceration and addiction in the urban decay and waning bohemia of Hollywood in the 1970s. Cast: John Hawkes, Elle Fanning, Glenn Close, Lena Headey, Peter Dinklage, Flea.

The Cinematography Award: World Cinema Documentary was presented by Caspar Sonnen to: Thomas Balmès & Nina Bernfeld for Happiness / France, Finland (Director: Thomas Balmès) — Peyangki is a dreamy and solitary eight-year-old monk living in Laya, a Bhutanese village perched high in the Himalayas. Soon the world will come to him: the village is about to be connected to electricity, and the first television will flicker on before Peyangki’s eyes.

The Cinematography Award: World Cinema Dramatic was presented by Carlo Chatrian to: Ula Pontikos for Lilting / United Kingdom (Director and screenwriter: Hong Khaou) — The world of a Chinese mother mourning the untimely death of her son is suddenly disrupted by the presence of a stranger who doesn’t speak her language. Lilting is a touching and intimate film about finding the things that bring us together. Cast: Ben Whishaw, Pei-Pei Cheng, Andrew Leung, Peter Bowles, Naomi Christie, Morven Christie.

U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Use of Animation was presented by Charlotte Cook to: Watchers of the Sky / U.S.A. (Director: Edet Belzberg) — Five interwoven stories of remarkable courage from Nuremberg to Rwanda, from Darfur to Syria, and from apathy to action.

U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Intuitive Filmmaking was presented by Charlotte Cook to: The Overnighters / U.S.A. (Director: Jesse Moss) — Desperate, broken men chase their dreams and run from their demons in the North Dakota oil fields. A local Pastor’s decision to help them has extraordinary and unexpected consequences.

U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Musical Score was presented by Dana Stevens to: The Octopus Project for Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter/ U.S.A. (Director: David Zellner, Screenwriters: David Zellner, Nathan Zellner) — A lonely Japanese woman becomes convinced that a satchel of money buried in a fictional film is, in fact, real. Abandoning her structured life in Tokyo for the frozen Minnesota wilderness, she embarks on an impulsive quest to search for her lost mythical fortune. Cast: Rinko Kikuchi.

U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Talent was presented by Dana Stevens to: Justin Simien for Dear White People/ U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Justin Simien) — Four black students attend an Ivy League college where a riot breaks out over an “African American” themed party thrown by white students. With tongue planted firmly in cheek, the film explores racial identity in postracial America while weaving a story about forging one’s unique path in the world. Cast: Tyler Williams, Tessa Thompson, Teyonah Parris, Brandon Bell.

World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award for the Delightful Ensemble Performance, and How the Director Brought His Own Unique Universe into Cinema was presented by Carlo Chatrian to: God Help the Girl / United Kingdom (Director and screenwriter: Stuart Murdoch) — This musical from Stuart Murdoch of Belle & Sebastian is about some messed up boys and girls and the music they made. Cast: Emily Browning, Olly Alexander, Hannah Murray, Pierre Boulanger, Cora Bissett.

World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award for Cinematic Bravery was presented by Caspar Sonnen to: We Come as Friends / France, Austria (Director: Hubert Sauper) — We Come as Friends is a modern odyssey, a science fiction–like journey in a tiny homemade flying machine into the heart of Africa. At the moment when the Sudan, Africa’s biggest country, is being divided into two nations, a “civilizing” pathology transcends the headlines—colonialism, imperialism, and yet-another holy war over resources.

The Short Film Audience Award, Presented by YouTube, based on web traffic for 15 short films that screened at the Festival and were concurrently featured on www.youtube.com/sff, was presented to: Chapel Perilous / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Matthew Lessner) — Levi Gold is paid an unexpected visit by Robin, a door-to-door salesman with nothing to sell. The ensuing encounter forces Levi to confront his true mystical calling, and the nature of reality itself. A metaphysical comedy trip-out with Sun Araw.

The following awards were presented at separate ceremonies at the Festival:

Jury prizes and honorable mentions in short filmmaking were presented at a ceremony in Park City, Utah on January 21. The Short Film Grand Jury Prize was awarded to Of God and Dogs / Syrian Arab Republic (Director: Abounaddara Collective). The Short Film Jury Award: U.S. Fiction was presented to Gregory Go Boom / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Janicza Bravo). The Short Film Jury Award: International Fiction was presented to The Cut / Canada (Director and screenwriter: Geneviève Dulude-Decelles). The Short Film Jury Award: Non-fiction was presented to I Think This Is the Closest to How the Footage Looked / Israel (Directors: Yuval Hameiri, Michal Vaknin). The Short Film Jury Award: Animation was presented to Yearbook / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Bernardo Britto). A Short Film Special Jury Award for Unique Vision was presented to Rat Pack Rat / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Todd Rohal). A Short Film Special Jury Award for Non-fiction was presented to Love. Love. Love. / Russia (Director: Sandhya Daisy Sundaram). A Short Film Special Jury Award for Direction and Ensemble Acting was presented to Burger / United Kingdom, Norway (Director and screenwriter: Magnus Mork).

The winning directors and projects of the Sundance Institute | Mahindra Global Filmmaking Awards, in recognition and support of emerging independent filmmakers from around the world, are: Hong Khaou, Monsoon (Vietnam/UK); Tobias Lindholm, A War (Denmark); Ashlee Page, Archive (Australia); and Neeraj Ghaywan, Fly Away Solo (India).

The Sundance Institute/NHK Award, honoring and supporting emerging filmmakers, was presented to Mark Rosenberg, director of the upcoming film Ad Inexplorata.

The 2014 Red Crown Producer’s Award and $10,000 grant was presented to Elisabeth Holm, producer of Obvious Child.

The 2014 Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize, presented to outstanding feature films focusing on science or technology as a theme, or depicting a scientist, engineer or mathematician as a major character, was presented to I Origins, directed and written by Mike Cahill. The film received a $20,000 cash award from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

 

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