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  • Irish gems of early cinema showcased in Boston

    Tuesday, November 17th, 2009

    The Boston Irish Film Festival looks like it’s up to great stuff these days. The website is out of action at the festival rebrands, but this month moviegoers are being treated to a look back at the earliest days of Irish cinematic history.

    “Blazing the Trail: The Story of the Kalem Film Company in Ireland” is being billed as

    a unique multimedia event that takes you back to the early 1910s when pioneering screenwriter/actress Gene Gauntier and director Sidney Olcott of the Kalem Film Company blazed a trail from New York to Killarney-and into history!

    Affectionately known as the “O’Kalems,” Gauntier, Olcott, and their crew became the first American filmmakers to shoot overseas and the first to produce films that reflected the realities of the Irish experience. A sentimental mix of rebel dramas, folk romances, and tales of exile and emigration, their films proved tremendously popular with the Irish in America and helped ease the pangs of being so far from home.

    I love the idea that these films were made in part to assuage the pangs of homesickness in an immigrant audience. How thrilling – and heartbreaking – it must have been to be able to see Ireland on screen in the earliest days of cinema, thinking that the black-and-white images might be the  closest thing to home you might ever see again.

    The programme will consist of a number of these short films, all digitally restored. The original films – some of which haven’t been screened in a century – will be accompanied by a pianist and two vocalists; there will also be a series of recently produced short films recounting the adventures of the Kalem film-makers.

    Watch this quirky little preview:

    The Boston Film Festival celebrated its tenth anniversary a year ago. Organisations like this (and the New York-based Irish-American Writers and Artists, for example) are a great reminder of the appetite for intelligent contributions on Irish-American heritage, and how much vitality there is on the Irish-American cultural scene; this  vitality is far too  often underestimated here in Ireland, where many people cling to inaccurate and outdated stereotypes of our diaspora.

    The event is sponsored by Reel Ireland, the Arts Council, and Culture Ireland. In recent years, there has been an increase in funding available from Ireland for Irish cultural events taking place outside of Ireland – this will surely have a great impact in strengthening the relationship between arts communities abroad and in Ireland, and also with deepening the understanding between Ireland and its diaspora communities.

    The programme will be screened on Monday, November 23 at the Coolidge Corner Theatre, Harvard Street in Brookline; tickets cost $9.75.

    If you’re not near Boston, you can watch (most of) “The Lad from Old Ireland” on YouTube (I think it’s from a German print, so it’s complete with a little bit of German text). Directed by Sydney Olcott and released in 1910, it’s the first American film shot on location outside the US. Eleven highly entertaining minutes of melodrama!  Part 1 and Part 2.

    Related web pages:

    Surfing film highlights Irish role in origins of sport

    Wednesday, April 8th, 2009

    The role of Irish-American George Freeth in establishing the modern sport of surf-boarding is explored in a film now playing in movie theatres. Waveriders tells the story of Freeth, who had a Hawaiian mother and an Irish father. He brought the sport of surfing from Hawaii, where it had nearly been eliminated by missionaries, to California, where he initiated a revival of the sport. Freeth also set up the first lifeguard unit in California and introduced the sport of water polo to the state.

    The film, which won the audience award at the Dublin International Film Festival, also highlights the role of Irish-Americans in establishing the sport in Ireland.

    Related sites:

    Film highlights Irish immigration to English town

    Monday, March 30th, 2009

    Two filmmakers in South Tyneside, England, have made a documentary about the impact of immigration into the town of Jarrow.

    Director Gary Wilkinson and playwright Tom Kelly created “Little Ireland” using archive material, photographs and interviews with descendants of Irish immigrants.

    The 40-minute film has been an instant success at home, selling out two screenings in South Shields earlier this month.

    The pair are now trying to interest Irish film festivals, and have sent out copies to film festivals in Dublin, Belfast, Waterford and Cork.
    The film is available from the South Shields Central Library for £10.

    See related web pages:

    Emigrant film dominates Irish awards

    Friday, January 11th, 2008

    The emigrant-themed film Kings has dominated the nomination for the Irish Film and Television Awards. The film, which tells its story mostly through Irish, depicts the troubled lives of a group of Irish emigrants who left Galway for London in the 1970s. It received 14 nominations, including the categories of best Irish film, best actor (Colm Meaney), best supporting actor (Donal O’Kelly and Brendan Conroy) and best screenplay (Tom Collins). The awards ceremony will be held on 17 February.

    The film, based on Jimmy Murphy’s play “Kings of the Kilburn High Road”, has also been put forward by Ireland to the Oscars for consideration for the best foreign language-film. The film is getting mixed reviews in the US, however. Several commentators have noted their opinion that the film is too confined by its theatrical roots.

    Visit the IFTA website.
    Read the reviews on the Reuters and Boston Globe websites.