The Wee Craic is back! New York City’s one-night only festival of the best of Irish short films and live music returns on September 9 to the Tribeca Cinema and Lounge in downtown Manhattan. CAHIR O’DOHERTY hears from festival director Terence Mulligan about this year’s lineup.
Since the late 1990s the Craic Festival, New York’s original Irish film showcase, has become the city’s biggest and best launch pad for some of the most exciting new films and music coming out of Ireland. It’s also become quite a barometer for the next big thing from the old sod -- and this year it’s back and better than ever.
That’s not an idle boast. The festival has introduced American audiences to emerging Irish talents like Mundy, Laura Izibor, Mark Geary and Brendan O’Shea. But this year the annual film and music bash, which is headed up by director Terence Mulligan, is taking it to the next level.
On Friday, September 9 for one day only, the Wee Craic (the smaller but perfectly formed version of the annual Craic Fest) steps off at the Tribeca Cinema and Lounge (doors open at 6:30 p.m.) on Varick Street. Since the event is sponsored by Tullamore Dew Whiskey and Stella Artois there’s an open bar from 8:30-11 p.m. Free booze, great films, great music and great company -- it’s a no-brainer, a guaranteed great night out for all.
“This year we’re going to start with an intimate performance by Mark Geary, which is a great way to start the event,” festival director Terence Mulligan tells the Irish Voice.
“We’ve flipped the usual format around and we’re beginning with the music and then moving to the movies. A lot of our core audience already knows Geary and his music very well and we thought he’d be a very strong opening for the festival.”
There’s no doubt about that. The Craic Festival has always been a home away from home for breakthrough Irish talents, but in musician and singer-songwriter Geary they have surpassed themselves.
Here’s a talent that can hold a stage so well that Glen Hansard has invited him on board his European tour this autumn. For one night only you’ll get to see him weave his magic in the intimate, live performance setting of the Tribeca Cinema and Lounge before he becomes the household name he’s threatening to be.
Fans will hope to hear hits from Geary’s albums Opium, Ghosts and 33 1/3 Grand Street, but you should expect to hear some new tracks from his highly anticipated new album Songs About Love, Songs About Leaving (Hansard accompanied Geary on stage in Massachusetts recently to debut a few new songs from the album).
“I think we’re going to get a really special gig from Geary before he starts touring with Glen Hansard,” Mulligan adds. “After he wraps up his set we’re going to start screening award winning short films, and the night will go on from there.”
First up for this year screenings will be a series of award winning short films selected from the Galway Film Fleadh, Tribeca Film Festival and Sundance, including the Oscar short-listed Shoe, and the Cork Film Festival’s winner of the Best Irish Short Film, Pentecost.
“I like to show new films that shake things up a bit, and sometimes I pursue shorts that haven’t made it in front of mainstream audiences but that I hear great word about in terms of reactions and audience enthusiasm. And I like to throw in one or two surprises too,” says Mulligan.
“So this year we’re screening Shoe starring Peter Cunanan. It’s the story of a young man who’s planning to throw himself off a bridge who finds his suicide attempt is interrupted by a pushy beggar.”
Another classically Irish film is Pentecost, the story of a reluctant young alter boy whose heart isn’t exactly in the job. Preferring football matches to Sunday Mass, it’s the kind of story line that will be familiar to the festival’s core audience.
“I can relate to that film myself,” says Mulligan, who grew up in the Irish stronghold of Brooklyn.
“When I was a kid my mother wanted me to be an alter boy and I told her flatly, ‘But mass is at 6:45 a.m. and I have a paper route -- that doesn’t work for me.’
“My mother said I was too much. The priest told me maybe being an alter boy was not for me. I said I don’t think it is. I said my route was more important to me. I was like 10.”
It’s that kind of decisiveness that makes for a great festival programmer, and Mulligan has been offering ever more ambitious lineups since he formed the event back in the late 1990s.
But his criteria for choosing the films has stayed the same. Each short must have an Irish theme, or have been shot by local Irish filmmakers or star some Irish actors (or failing all that, they just have to be made in Ireland).
Taking shelter from Hurricane Irene last weekend, Mulligan had the time to reflect on the highlights of the last decade’s worth of Irish film and music.
“Like a lot of people this weekend I had no power in my home on Long Beach due to the hurricane, and my iPod had a little charge left so I listened to some of the music we’ve staged at the Craic Festival since we started,” said Mulligan.
“That lineup includes Mark Geary, Glen Hansard, Mundy and Damien Dempsey. It’s amazing how many first class acts we’ve actually staged year after year. This is really good music. I listened to them until the battery ran out, and it was a powerful reminder of the really good acts we’ve debuted in the U.S.”
Along with the short films, this year the Wee Craic festival is screening a handful of award winning animated shorts from the Galway Film Fleadh.
“It’s a good eclectic lineup this year reflecting the diversity of the country itself, and remember that we have a really cool after party from 8:30 p.m. until 11 p.m. with Tullamore Dew and Stella Artois and all of this can be had for the laughable sum of just $20.
“It’s a great night out and it’s recession proof. It’s also one of the best nights of the year. That’s why we do it.”
Called the Craic Festival because no one understood what the Irish meant when they talked about “fillums,” the annual festival has become a signature event in the city’s calendar.
So bring your friends or make new ones on the night, but be sure you’ll be surrounded by Irish talent and an audience that deeply appreciates it.
For more information on this year’s Wee Craic festival visit www. thecraicfest.com. For tickets to the show visit www.ticketweb.com or call 646-549-1349.