THE New York International Independent Film and Video Festival was founded in 1993 to give unknown directors, actors and producers a chance to have their work seen without all the red tape hoopla that other festivals such as Cannes, Tribeca and Sundance have become known for. Not surprisingly, the idea has caught on.
A strong annual venue for films and documentaries about important social issues, the festival operates independently so it usually delivers controversial and edgy work that larger film events balk at.
Attracting entries from over 60 countries including Australia, Brazil, Sweden, Kenya, Japan, the U.K. and Ireland, the reach of the festival is as global as the interest it generates. For Irish entries it means valuable international exposure and a chance to bring their work to a wider audience.
Briege McGarrity, the Belfast-born press representative for the festival told the Irish Voice, "The festival has been around for about 15 years and its goal is to give independent film makers a platform to show their work. It's very hard to get into most festivals - there's so much politics there alone - so this one gives the independent filmmaker a chance but also showcases more established directors as well."
The Irish entries this year include a feature film, a mix of short films and documentaries. Lunatic, a feature film directed by Bill Maloney is a low budget mobster flick with a crackling script and some standout performances by the London-based cast.
Bill and Perry are two south London brothers and small time entrepreneurs who get the bulk of their money from collecting rents on ex-council properties acquired through a scam. Mayhem follows as Bill takes us through two days of events that he persistently blames upon an impending full moon.
Irish short films include Photograph by Tyrone-born Stephen Benson, which has been nominated for Best International Short. Benson's fascinating film explores the explosion of closed circuit television cameras that now dot the Irish landscape, spying overhead on every move the citizens make.
In the film Tom is a security guard who spends the majority of his time watching the vast array of CCTV's within his workplace. Tom, however, also spends his time recording unsuspecting members of the public whom he believes are doing "immoral things," before he blackmails them.
But the tables are turned on him when he suddenly receives a mysterious videotape that shows him meeting with his last victim. With the camera now turned in the opposite direction, Tom must ask himself some questions, like who could be blackmailing him? Could it be the last victim who appears on the mystery tape? And how will he pay his blackmailer? It's fascinating stuff and this interesting new Irish director deftly handles it.
"I believe the Irish are the most competent and gifted at making short genre films in the industry," says McGarrity. "Probably because budgets have always been limited. But scripts have always been king in any film and the Irish are great at writing them. Our short films are hands down some of the best you'll ever see."
Also highly anticipated at this year's festival is The Flight of the Earls/Imeacht na n-Iarla, the celebrated drama documentary about the collapse of the old Gaelic Order starring Stephen Rea as Hugh O'Neill, Earl of Tyrone.
An emotional landmark and a crucial turning point in Irish history, the exile of so many Northern Gaelic families to Europe in 1607 enabled the Plantation of Ulster, whereby two million acres of the Northern Earls lands were confiscated and planted with foreign settlers. The consequences of the Flight were only recently resolved in Northern Ireland, with the establishment of the Assembly in 2007.
"It was very moving to be filming Stephen Rea as Hugh O'Neill in the church where he is buried in Rome 400 years after O'Neill arrived in Rome," director Paul Larkin said.
The film is in Irish, English and Spanish and has English language subtitles. It was first broadcast on the 400th anniversary of the Flight of the Earls in September 2007 and sold out in Dublin when it was first screened.
The New York International Independent Film and Video festival runs from February 28-March 6. For tickets call visit www.nyfilmvideo.com.
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