Four Ways Irish Film New York Is Breaking Through the Crowded Festival Scene

When Ali Came to Ireland Still- H 2013
Irish Film New York

When Ali Came to Ireland Still- H 2013

As more and more indie filmmakers emerge in Ireland and the Emerald Isle becomes a go-to destination for American directors, producer Niall McKay is strategically building a platform where the scene can thrive.

Since 2011, Emmy Award-winning producer and director Niall McKay has worked with New York University's Glucksman Ireland House to program a “niche” festival. In this case, scope doesn't undermine quality. Each year, Irish Film New York showcases critically acclaimed contemporary Irish films. This year's slate includes the Tribeca Film Festival premiere Run & Jump, When Ali Came to Ireland, Silence, Made in Belfast, King of the Travellers, and The Hardy Bucks Movie, an adaptation of the popular web and TV series.

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As McKay adds notches to his programmer's belt, the ideology of Irish Film New York evolves. Considering his constant reexamination of the festival experience, here are the four ways McKay's 2013 Irish Film New York fest, running Oct. 3-6, is defining itself:

1. A Slate That Goes Beyond the Niche

“This year, and what's different to the past two years of the event, I've gone for a spread of films to reach different audiences, to attract an audience wider than just the Irish and Irish-American community here,” says McKay. 2013 has a little bit of everything. He jumped on Run & Jump, which marks Saturday Night Live alum Will Forte's dramatic debut. The Hardy Bucks Movie is a cult property that appeals to the core Irish/Irish-American audience. At the other end of the spectrum is Silence, an art film McKay sought after it was considered for Film Society of Lincoln Center's New Directors/New Films. And the programmer believes When Ali Came to Ireland, a documentary about Muhammad Ali's visit to Ireland in 1972, should play well with older audiences. “Many Irish and Irish-Americans would remember that period of time, when Ali was at the peak of his career, and want to see it for that reason."

2. Making IFNY an Event That Nurtures as Well as Displays

“As co-founder of the L.A. and San Francisco Irish film festivals, I know there's a great demand for Irish content,” McKay says. “Look at the success of Once. But what's different for us in New York is that we're really helping bridge the gap and becoming more involved in helping Irish filmmakers raise money and meet contacts here."

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Along with screenings, IFNY will host a panel on the financing of Irish films in the U.S. McKay says that while historically Americans have gone to Ireland to shoot, the Irish are now coming here to tell their Irish and Irish-American stories in the U.S. He cited such directors as Marian Quinn, Naomi Sheridan and Pat Collins.

3. Working Under the Wings of Partners

McKay says that Irish Film New York's model is to team up with bigger and better partners. At this year's Tribeca, McKay's organization helped get the word out on the Irish films playing the festival. Last year, IFNY and Lincoln Center presented Oscar-nominated Irish shorts with the president of Ireland attending. “Our aim isn't to build a huge festival but rather to have a small nimble model that is of use to filmmakers. We want to leverage our usefulness through these key partnerships."

4. Acting as Beacon for the Ever-Growing Film Industry

“Ireland is world-renowned for its playwrights and poets but we've lagged behind in terms of visual storytelling, though there have been some great individual movies over the years, of course,” McKay says. Thanks to inexpensive technology, the programmer believes Irish independent filmmakers are finally telling the stories they have always wanted to tell. They're adding to the talent pool in a way that only someone of Irish heritage could. McKay wants IFNY to be the champion of these new artists, handing them the metaphorical megaphone to make their voices heard.

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Says McKay, "I see the Irish film industry becoming more sophisticated and I've already seen evidence of that when screening submissions for New York -- people are getting better at making films even on very low budgets."

For more information on the festival, visit Irish Film New York's website.