By Michael Gray
The field of Irish film studies gets a kick-start in the New Year with the arrival of the latest Cinema Guild catalogue.
An impressive 80-page volume, the 2002 edition covers a broad range of themes, from documentaries, narrative features, and children’s entertainment to social and cultural studies from around the world.
The expanding Irish section now includes more than two dozen titles, from shorts to full-length features. Many of the Irish films will be of particular interest to educators, and to parents who want their children to have a better understanding of Ireland’s history. The Famine, emigration, and the Troubles all feature prominently, in drama as well as documentary format.
“Under The Hawthorn Tree,” a feature set in Famine times, tells the fictional story of three starving orphans who leave their devastated village on foot to search for their only living relatives hundreds of miles away.
Made by a team of schoolchildren ranging in age from 7 to late teens, under the tutelage of co-directors Siobhan Lyons and Bronagh Murphy, this film has received the seal of approval of the Department of Education in Ireland and is currently included in the nation’s secondary school history curriculum.
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Desmond Bell’s “The Hard Road To Klondike” utilizes archive footage and old Westerns to blur the line between fact and fiction in a riveting account of Donegal native Micf MacGowan’s exploits on the western frontiers of late-19th Century America. MacGowan trekked across the country from the steel mills of Pennsylvania to the frozen northwest in search of wealth, eventually striking it rich in the Klondike gold rush. He returned to his native county a wealthy man, bought the local Big House, and, with the help of folklorist Se_n O hEochaidh, set his story down in Irish in a remarkable biography, “Rotha M=r an tSaoil.” Director Bell seamlessly edits scenes from the early years of silent cinema to give MacGowan’s story the visual scale it deserves, and narrator Stephen Rea delivers a colorful account of the emigrant’s life, translated from the original book.
As we approach the 30th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, the city of Derry features prominently in the news. U.S. filmmaker Marcia Rock’s documentary “Sons Of Derry” illustrates the history of the city from pre-Christian Celtic times to the modern era, and focuses on the work of two Derry natives from opposite camps as they try to revitalize their communities. Protestant Glen Barr, a former adviser to the UDA, and Catholic Paddy Doherty, ex-spokesman of the Derry Defense Association, strive to transcend ancient enmities for the greater good of Northern Ireland’s second-largest city. These new titles, along with a selection of documentaries from previous years, are all available on VHS videocassette from the Cinema Guild.
For more detailed information, call (212) 685 6242 or visit their website, www.cinemaguild.com.
The focus of attention reverts to Belfast for Nancy du Plessis’s “If These Walls Could Talk,” a documentary about the murals that adorn the gable ends of houses at the interface of Catholic and Protestant Housing estates in the city. Artists from loyalist and nationalist backgrounds paint defiant, antagonistic and occasionally conciliatory works two and three stories high, often without the homeowners’ permission, to demark their territory. DuPlessis examines the iconography of the artists’ work, and the struggle for ownership of St Patrick and Cuchulainn, heroic figures claimed by both sides. This film is not yet distributed in the U.S. but is likely to feature in Irish festivals later this year. Further information is available from NancyduPlessis@attglobal.net.
On the big screen
Among the new Cinema Guild releases, Mary Sue Connolly’s “Glenafooka: The Glen Of The Ghost” has been selected for screening as part of the ‘New Filmmakers’ series in Anthology Film Archive, at Second Avenue and Second Street in Manhattan. A lively account of the persistence of pagan beliefs, cures and curses in Irish culture, the film will be shown Wednesday, Jan. 23, at 6 p.m. The director will be there to discuss her work.