Dublin fest adds int’l Irish scene

100 full-length features, two dozen shorts set to unspool

The Dublin Film Festival’s fourth edition (Feb. 17-26) mixed Irish and international themes in sometimes unexpected ways.

Fest screens some 100 full-length features and two dozen shorts in central Dublin’s four main cinema venues. This year it operated at near-capacity, with some 30,000 tickets sold.

Among the fest’s Europe-themed world preems was “What Means Motley,” the fictionalized telling of a notorious 1999 Irish diplomatic blunder, when 41 Romanians masquerading as a gypsy folk choir were granted visas to sing in an Irish music festival, then disappeared on arrival at Dublin Airport. Adding ironic interest, the force behind the film was producer-writer-star Barry Mulligan, the former honorary Irish consul in Bucharest who signed the visas in question.

Another combination of Irish and central European talent, “A Song for Rebecca” is the debut feature from Norah McGettigan, the first Irish student at the Lodz Film School in Poland.

Other films were conspicuous in their lack of a clear Irish setting or reference: Irish co-directors Patrick Jolley and Reynold Reynolds’ “Sugar” (first screened last year at Sundance) was a scary and experimental drama about a woman trapped in a room in an unnamed but clearly American location, while “No Sweat,” a black comedy about life in Germany in 2005, is the fourth feature by German-based Irish director Eoin Moore.

Bucking the internationalist trend, however, was the unapologetically Dublin-centric fest opener “Studs,” a screen adaptation by Paul Mercier of his 1986 hit play about a bedraggled amateur soccer club in suburban Dublin revitalized by a mysterious new manager. Funded by the Irish Film Board’s low-budget initiative, Buena Vista Intl. and TV3, film launches a 50-screen Irish release March 16.

The addition this year of its first industry-focused event, a one-day conference on international film finance sponsored by PriceWaterhouse Coopers, marks the beginning of a “new diversification” of the fest, says CEO Rory Concannon.

Having built up a strong audience base, organizers are considering adding a competitive element (starting with an audience award), as well as creating a slate of industry events and adding a young people’s film festival in the autumn.

Irish film insiders are mixed on the merits of the fest’s proposed innovations. “I don’t think another competition is something the Irish film industry is crying out for,” says director Lenny Abrahamson (“Adam and Paul”).

He says Dublin has successfully carved out a niche as a friendly celebration, differentiating itself from the Cork Film Festival (known for its support of new filmmaking via its shorts program) and the Galway Film Fleadh, Ireland’s leading film biz confab. Both of those regional fests give awards.

Mark Mulqueen, director of the Irish Film Institute, welcomes the Dublin fest’s moves toward change: “There should be another competitive festival in the country, and the Dublin festival is a prime candidate because it has been so successful in building an audience.”