MONTREAL - Ciné Gael confirms the wisdom of the old saying “stick to your knitting.”
The Montreal society dedicated to celebrating Irish film culture celebrates its 20th anniversary Friday with more of what it has been quietly doing every winter and early spring since 1993: showing new features, short films, overlooked gems and classics from the old country in the de Sève Cinema of Concordia University to its faithful fellowship of friends.
Because it has never aspired to more than the fulfilment of its simple mandate, and because it has never been spoiled by a shower of free trust fund cash, Ciné Gael has persisted and succeeded where others have fallen short.
Over the years, the little seasonal festival has welcomed the presence of directors, producers and actors like Milo O’Shea, Stephen Rea, Gabriel Byrne and Kevin Tierney, Irish industry insider Rod Stoneman, and acclaimed writer Roddy Doyle, who introduced a screening of his classic, The Commitments, at Concordia last October to launch the landmark birthday. As it transpires, The Commitments was the first film ever screened by the society.
“Did we think we’d make it to 20?” straight-shooting Ciné Gael president Lynn Doyle wondered recently. “I never thought we’d even get started, to be honest. I knew nothing about getting films. Hadn’t got a clue. I had to drag in people who did.”
The indefatigable Doyle attributes the event’s durability to “enough people with enough interest in Irish film and Irish things to keep it going. They’re a congenial group, so there’s the social aspect of it as well.”
Doyle does the pre-introductions to each night’s film, which is then formally introduced by people either associated with it, or generally knowledgeable, or able to spin a line.
She’ll talk about Ciné Gael news, upcoming collaborations and events in the Montreal Irish community calendar. It’s very small town in a big city and is part of the society’s considerable charm.
“Picking films turns out to be hard work,” she said, and she’s still learning how.
“I just received an email from the distributor of a film I’d been trying to get for this year. I’d sent an earlier note and heard back from them saying no, they wanted the film to be part of the festival circuit this year, maybe next year. So I pretended I’d never been in contact and asked again. Now they say that getting it in this year’s lineup is very ‘do-able.’ I’ve just learned not to take no for an answer.”
This is who’s said ‘yes’ so far. Season 20 begins Friday with the local premiere of Death of a Superhero, directed by up-and-coming young Ian Fitzgibbon and starring Andy Serkis (Gollum and Tintin’s Captain Haddock) and Donald Delpe (Love Actually, as Liam Neeson’s son). The love story of a sick teen with an active comic book imagination is told through a mix of live action and animation and first hit these shores at the last Toronto International Film Festival.
The lineup Feb. 3 continues with Ian Power’s crowd-pleasing 2010 hit, The Runway, very loosely based on the true story of a Colombian pilot who crash lands in a small Irish town.
Rebecca Daly’s The Other Side of Sleep (Feb. 17) is a horror-tinged story of sleepwalking that was championed at Cannes by The Piano’s great Jane Campion. Eugene Brady’s The Nephew, a comic blast from 1998 featuring Pierce Brosnan, screens March 2, and there’s the annual evening of short film March 30.
Typically, for an event pulled together by volunteers, the content of one night during the season remains up in the air. This year it’s April 13, though maybe Doyle’s latest email changes that.
The birthday year ends with a bang, May 2, with Leila Doolan’s Bernadette: Notes on a Political Journey, a documentary about the 1960s-’70s Northern Irish political firebrand Bernadette Devlin, consisting of archival material and contemporary interviews. The director will be present and adult refreshments will be served to conclude another unassuming and satisfying season of Ciné Gael.
Ciné Gael 2012 begins Friday at 7:15 p.m. at the de Sève Cinema, 1400 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W. For all information, go to cinegaelmontreal.com
For more Gazette coverage of Montreal-area festivals, go to montrealgazette.com/festivalcentral
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