This Wednesday June 25 film director Paul Larkin will accept the Best International Director of a Film award at the prestigious New York Film and Video Festival at the Times Square Arts Center. Walking up the red carpet he'll have time to reflect on the unlikely route his documentary film has taken to success. Hard experience has given him some strong career advice for all budding directors: "Go out and buy a hard hat and keep both chips on your shoulders for balance."
Larkin is being sardonic but he's recently learned at first hand how political views can affect artistic endeavors. On September 14 2007 - exactly 400 years to the very day that the legendary Gaelic leader Hugh O'Neill left Ireland forever - Larkin's documentary film about O'Neill's exile and journey across Europe was screened in Ireland. Filmed in Donegal and also in Belgium, France, Switzerland and Italy it starred Stephen Rea as the celebrated chieftain. But in Larkin's own words - since that day the film itself has been exiled from Irish screens and consigned to the outer darkness by the Irish film critics.
And what was the cause of this aggressive disinterest? Ireland's chattering classes, it seems, didn't thrill at the prospect of a tense national conversation on the roots of the conflict in Northern Ireland - especially at a time when a fragile peace in the north had finally been achieved.
In New York City, however, no such qualms are felt. This week Larkin has been invited to the city to pick up the Best International Director of a Film award for the documentary that, he claims, many in Ireland still balk at for its provocative subject matter. But what, frankly, could have been so difficult for the critics to address? As with so many controversies in Ireland, you have to start with the history.
The Flight of the Earls in 1607 was perhaps the most pivotal event in the nation's story. It marked the end of the old Gaelic Order and the beginning of the
successful Plantation of Ulster. It was also a key event in the establishment of the Irish Diaspora around the world.
It's virtually impossible to understate the importance of the event to Irish history. Ninety-nine of Ireland's most prominent citizens fled the country and not one ever returned. The Irish establishment - more often called the Gaelic order - was essentially evicted as heavily armed usurping hordes arrived to seize their lands and their livelihoods.
Given the prolonged sensitivity of that political and physical exchange, it's perhaps unsurprising that a certain discomfort was felt both sides of the border that this story about the nation was being told once again. In Dublin, cry the chattering classes, we've moved on - even if the audible brittleness of this assertion suggests otherwise. And in the north comes the stung rejoinder that this tale is still news, no matter how long ago, no matter who'd rather dismiss it.
Larkin's New York festival win is no small achievement either. More than 200 films from 50 countries are screened in the competition. And the film, titled Flight of the Earls/Imeacht na nlarlai is a part dramatization, part documentary that features a strong performance from Stephen Rea as of one of Ireland's most revered leaders.
Larkin, who grew up in a working class Irish family in Manchester, first cut his teeth as a director at the BBC in Manchester and then in Belfast until 1994, when he moved to Dublin and commenced working for RTE. A series of awards for his documentary films followed and he was an obvious choice for the film that has clinched the best director prize here in New York.
And as for the question of how a film could be received with acclaim in New York and still be met with such indifference by the media in Ireland? Larkin replies, "The film shows Hugh O'Neill as the great hero of the Gaelic revolution and it seriously questions Brian Friel's play Making History and his portrayal of O'Neill as a hopeless sangria sodden sot who abandoned all ideas of rebellion. It attack shibboleths of secular Ireland and expects a pat on the back? I don't think so."
The Times Square Arts Center is located at 669 Eight Avenue. The awards start at 8 p.m. sharp
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