By Denise Taylor
Green beer isn’t exactly the most culturally enlightening way to honor St. Paddy’s Day. Boston College prefers to celebrate with its annual Irish Film Festival and this year’s flicks are culled from the cutting-edge of Ireland’s thriving film scene.
“For a small country, Ireland has a vibrant film industry that seems to baffle people by continually doing things very well,” said Irish Studies Program co-director and film series organizer Robert Savage. “It’s interesting to see smaller films like 'In Bruges'[with Colin Farrel(cq)] do well and get onto the radar on this side of the Atlantic.”
But Savage is always on the lookout for the hidden gems, the ones that have done well in Europe and Ireland but that he said, “don’t have the budget or support or powerful distributors that get you into the Sony megaplex in the U.S.”
“The whole notion of the film series is to bring other films to Boston that would never have a chance to be seen in the big cinemas here,” said Savage. “We want to bring them to an audience here so they can appreciate them.”
Now in its eighth year, the two-week series opens Thursday (March 12) at the college. Campus screenings are free, while satellite screenings a West Newton Cinema are ticketed.
Highlights include 2007 feature film “Garage,” which runs Sunday at 7 p.m. at West Newton Cinema. A multi-award winner that took the CICAE Art and Essai Cinema Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, the drama by Lenny Abrahamson is Savage's festival favorite. It’s a story about a misfit trying to find love and meaning.
“Abrahamson is writing about life in a very changed Ireland. He’s trying to look at life in contemporary Ireland and how all the success we hear about doesn’t always percolate down to everybody in the country,” said Savage. “He’s got real wit and humor. His writing is funny and sharp and his films are often poignant portraits of ordinary people.”
The festival presents both documentaries and feature films, as well as shorts and a few treats for Irish music fans. Like Irish film festivals being held in Chicago and San Francisco in March, Boston College’s series owes its ability to run such a mix partly to Reel Ireland, a program of the Irish Film Institute. In turn, Reel Ireland, which promotes Irish film worldwide, owes its existence in part to Irish film fans including Savage. The symbiosis goes back decades.
“The New Wave of Irish films in the ‘80s like ‘My Left Foot’ and ‘The Crying Game’ became popular internationally and really helped spur an interest in Irish film,” said Savage. “But oddly enough those big, popular films were made by filmmakers that had made smaller films in Ireland and then had success when they finally had access to big Hollywood budgets. Seeing that is what pushed the Irish government to help fund an indigenous film industry.”
Money flowed to emerging filmmakers as a result and the Irish Film Institute was formed to promote Irish cinema. Eventually, Irish film aficionados like Savage turned to the institute to help them locate films for U.S. festivals. Their interest and requests spurred the creation of Reel Ireland in 2005 to help them.
“Now they help fund about half our program and offer us films. We couldn’t do it without them,” said Savage. “There’s a lot of red tape and expense involved in screening a film and they clear a lot of that out.”
Other highlights this year include the small-budget success “32A,”a light-hearted coming of age story about 13-year-old Maeve’s summer holiday (screening Monday at West Newton Cinema at 7 p.m.). On Tuesday at 6 p.m. in Newton, the gripping documentary “Saviours” offers an intimate portrait of a youth boxing program in North Dublin.
“It takes a look at life in a part of the city that tourists don’t go to,” said Savage. “It’s a really well done documentary with a sense of humor.”
Irish music fans will not want to miss the Thursday March 19 free double-feature at Boston College (starting at 6:30 p.m.). The 1967 documentary “Fleá Ceoil” captures the resurgence of traditional Irish music in the 1960s at the mini-Woodstocks of the day. It’s followed by Irelands’ first musical film, the cult mock opera “O’Donoghue’s Opera.” A spoof based on a ballad, the 1965 film stars musical sensation The Dubliners.(cq)
Or arm-travel to wind-swept Tory Island with the documentary Oileán Thoraí(cq), which captures a vanishing way of life in Ireland’s notoriously unforgiving island landscapes (Sunday 6 p.m. at West Newton Cinema).
“Today, you see really interesting independent films in Ireland that are sometimes experimental and unconventional,” said Savage. “A lot reflect the changes in our society…. They ask provocative questions.”
Boston College’s Irish Film series Thursday through March 26 at Boston College (various locations on campus) and at West Newton Cinema, 1296 Washington St., Newton. Tickets: free for all Boston College screenings; prices $9.75 for West Newton Cinema. Full schedule at 617- 552-3938 or www.bc.edu/irishfilm.