Irish Film Festival: it’s grand and on demand

Ericka Rowe, Lauren Larkin and Shauna Higgins (left to right) – cast members of Irish comedy film Deadly Cuts, one of twelve films included in the 2021 Irish Film Festival Australia. Photo: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland.

The 2021 Irish Film Festival Australia launches online on 3 September with an impressive array of feature films and documentaries. As a fully digital festival, it will be accessible to anyone in the country with an internet connection and a taste for quality filmmaking.

Since its inception in 2015, the Irish Film Festival Australia has consistently championed high calibre Irish directors, writers and artists, showcasing diversity and unique styles. In previous years, many of the films were powerfully political, addressing sensitive subject matter, especially around ‘The Troubles’, but also including LGBTQI rights, abortion and women’s rights, among other social issues. 

This year’s program is not quite as politically charged but the films certainly do not shy away from provocative material. There is also plenty of wry, dark comedy, high-adrenalin action, mystic horror and poetically beautiful storytelling. 

One film already creating a wee buzz among reviewers is the comedy, Deadly Cuts. Written and directed by Rachel Carey, it’s about four female hair-stylists who run a salon, Deadly Cuts, in an economically challenged part of Dublin. When the salon is threatened by thugs and greedy developers, the four women drop their combs and take up arms in defence of their shop and their community. The film ticket includes a bonus Q&A with lead actor, Angeline Ball.  

From award-winning Irish animation studio, Cartoon Saloon, comes the beautiful animation feature, Wolfwalkers. The film is written and directed by Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart, and is the final instalment in a trilogy that includes The Secret of Kells (2009) and Song of the Sea (2014). It has glorious storybook-style animation and a charming tale of enchantment, bravery and triumph. 

Wolfwalkers film still. Image: irishfilmfestival.com.au.

There are three terrific musician based documentaries including one written and directed by Irish Film Festival’s own Dr Enda Murray, Áine Tyrrell: Irish Troubadour. Áine Tyrrell is an Irish-born musician living in Australia. This film follows her tour to the Woodford Folk Festival in an old bus with her three children, after having fled a violent relationship. 

Enigmatic punk hero and lead singer of The Pogues, Shane MacGowan, is the subject of exhaustive documentary, Crock of Gold: A Few Rounds with Shane MacGowan, which explores his life, art, mind, and music. It includes commentary from Nick Cave, Johnny Depp and Bono as well as lots of archival footage. The Q&A that accompanies the film features its director, Julien Temple, whose other films include The Great Rock’n’ Roll Swindle, Absolute Beginners, Earth Girls Are Easy and The Filth and the Fury.

If you’ve seen the trailer for this year’s Irish Film Festival, you’ll recognise the background song as ‘The Boys are Back in Town’ by Irish rock band, Thin Lizzy. Lead singer Phil Lynott is spotlighted in the third music themed documentary, Phil Lynott: Songs for While I’m Away. Told using Lynott’s own words, the film explores this charismatic, multi-talented legend of the rock world and includes commentary by a number of notable musicians. 

The other documentary in the program is based on the World Cup Football icon, Jack Charlton. Finding Jack Charlton is an unfiltered look behind the scenes of professional football in all its larrikin, wild, angry, ecstatic glory. As an Englishman, Jack Charlton was an unlikely hero of Irish football, especially during the tumultuous political period during which his career spanned. 

Rounding out the program is an assortment of inventive and varied gems. 

A Bump Along The Way inverts the classic unwanted pregnancy scenario when a 44-year-old mum falls pregnant after a boozy one-night stand and then has to face the censure of her conservative teenage daughter. The Bright Side treats the story of a fatally nihilistic woman who gets cancer with the kind of bleak, edgy humour only the Irish can get away with. Broken Law is a fast-paced thriller with emotional bite, pitting a dedicated member of the Garda Síochána (Irish police) against his own recently parolled felonious brother. 

Wildfire is an eerie mystery drama set on the combustible border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. Two sisters are re-united after one of them had inexplicably vanished for a period of time. Dark secrets slowly begin to emerge. 

A horror in the more traditional vein (excuse the soon to be apparent pun) is the vampire thriller, Boys from County Hell, which serves blood, gore and jump-scares with a side of quirky humour. 

Death of a Ladies’ Man is an unexpectedly heart-warming tale of an ageing philanderer who retreats away to finally write his novel. His hallucinatory reveries are played out to the songs of Leonard Cohen and imbued with weird fantasy. 

Each film comes packaged with a behind-the-scenes bonus feature that includes Q&A sessions with Festival Director Dr Enda Murray and a selection of directors and cast members from the films.

Tickets can be purchased online for single films, as part of a package of three, or as a festival pass.    

The 2021 Irish Film Festival Australia runs online from Friday, 3 September to Sunday, 12 September. For more information, including the full program and tickets, visit irishfilmfestival.com.au.

Rita Bratovich is the arts and entertainment editor of the Sydney Sentinel.