JDIFF 2011: HIGHS AND LOWS

It’s been running for nine years, but 2011 marked the first time I’ve actually gotten around to attending some screenings at JDIFF. Apologies if the title of this post is misleading, since I only got around to four screenings – but it’s a start, right?

The Irish Film Board Shorts at the IFI was pretty enjoyable. There was a good mix of live action and animation, good, bad and terrible, and long, short and medium-length films that have been funded via the IFB’s various schemes. The pick of the bunch? Matthew Darragh’s ‘The Monk and the Fly’ (pictured), Peter McDonald’s ‘Pentecost’, Nick Kelly’s ‘Shoe’ (which was longlisted for an Oscar this year), and Matt Leigh’s brilliant fly-on-the-wall documentary about a day in the life of a hair salon, ‘Blue Rinse‘. There were also a couple of absolutely woeful ones, but my mam taught me to keep my mouth shut if I don’t have anything nice to say (a maxim I only occasionally live by).

I wanted to see Wake Wood because a) I love horror films b) I love Aidan Gillen and c) Aidan Gillen was supposedly going to be in attendance for a Q&A. Well, he was in attendance, but he buggered off afterwards, leaving his castmate Timothy Spall to do the dirty work. My companion suggested that this was because he knew the film was terrible. I don’t think it was terrible, but it was terribly cheesy in parts. The first new Hammer Horror film to be shot in over thirty years, it’s an amazing premise for a movie; a young couple who lose their daughter tragically are given the opportunity to raise her from the dead for three days, and three days only, using some pagan ceremony offered by the odd little community they’ve moved to. Admittedly, it could have been better. Parts of the script were just awful, and some shots – such as the very final one – were just silly. But it’s worth seeing.

What isn’t worth seeing – please don’t waste your time if, like me, you love vampire/zombie movies and are intrigued by a film that’s been described as ‘The Road meets The Walking Dead’ – is Stake Land. A succession of cliches and elements ripped from other films – right down to an evangelical Bible-bashing preacher – there’s nothing original about this film, which will probably (and should) go straight-to-DVD.

The week was topped off by a screening of Treacle Jr., another Aidan Gillen-starrer, at Cineworld. This was a very different proposition to Wake Wood. A low budget, independent film directed by Jamie Thraves (who directed music videos such as Radiohead’s ‘Just’, Blur’s ‘Charmless Man’ and Coldplay’s ‘The Scientist’), it’s a simple story of two very different men and their unlikely friendship. I’ve already said I’m a fan, but Aidan Gillen is absolutely superb in this film. His character is based on eccentric Dublin musician/promoter/entertainer Aidan Walsh, and he nails the performance. Well, well worth seeing. Thraves and Gillen have worked together before on ‘The Low Down’ (also worth seeing), but once again, the promise of a Q&A with them was broken, as they both claimed to be “too shy” to participate. Oh well.

It’s also worth noting that there are lots of smaller workshops/talks on during JDIFF that aren’t very well publicised. The festival closed last Sunday, and there was an excellent (free) event on at the Dublin Writers Museum that saw five scriptwriters publicly pitch their ideas to a panel of experts, who then decided which of the five deserved a €12,000 development grant for their project.

It was the first year that JDIFF/IFB have run the competition. The five shortlisted writers were announced on February 17th, and they then had until February 27th to write the first 25 pages of their script. It’s a great idea, really interesting to see each writer’s process, and D.A.D.D.Y. deservedly won for their brilliant pitch. But why wasn’t it publicised? Was space intended to be limited to the film equivalent of musos (filmos?), rather than The Great Unwashed in general? Otherwise, the whole JDIFF experience was pretty enjoyable, and I’ll definitely be back next year.

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