Volunteering to run a film festival is a bit like signing up for holy orders -- you better be prepared for all the panicked calls in the middle of the night, and everyone is going to think their problems are more important than the next guy’s.
Anyone can attend a film festival after all, but only the few, the proud create them. Just ask Terence Mulligan, festival director of the two annual Irish film and music festivals held in New York -- it’s a labor of love, but it requires his total dedication.
Now in its 10th year, the Wee Craic Fest is the younger, leaner September 17 sibling of the three-day long Film Fleadh held in March. “We call it the half way to St. Patrick’s Day festival, to remind people here that the Irish are around all year long and not just when it comes time to parade down Fifth Avenue,” Mulligan tells the Irish Voice.
“That’s why we positioned the festival where we have. We should write about the Irish in the arts every month, not just March, and that’s why it’s happening when it does.”
Historically, an all too high proportion of Irish American affairs involve cheap beer and even cheaper sentiment, but Mulligan was determined to head off that kind of thing from the very start.
“We have never been about green beer and all that silliness. The mindset going in for us was to promote Irish music and filmmakers and to introduce them to a much broader American audience,” Mulligan says.
“So it’s a rising tide for everybody, and it’s a way of promoting the best of Ireland that doesn’t involve paddywhackery. This is much more cool stuff going on.”
One of the cool things going on that Mulligan can boast of this year is that he has successfully secured Irish rock headliner Mundy again. Promoting a new album, Strawberry Blood, that sees him branch out in a brand new musical direction, it’s a dramatic departure from Mundy’s previous work, and it’s why Mulligan wants to bring him over here again; to showcase the developments in Mundy’s new work before the most appreciative and clued-in American audience the singer could ask for.
This being an Irish American event, the singers are known and loved this side of the pond too. Michael Brunnock, who performs solo, previously fronted Dublin bands like Little Palace and the Van Winkles, each becoming the darlings of the Irish music press before his move to the East Village, where he regularly plays gigs as a solo artist and with a group of musicians called Fairplay Collective.
“Michael’s got a new live album in New York that I think people will be excited about. And then we have Mikey Powell, who’s got a major fan base here and a new album to promote,” says Mulligan.
From Carthage, New York, Powell is a former Syracuse University professional lacrosse star who has captured attention with a sound that combines storytelling with the tones of a vintage soul singer.
This year, in a dramatic departure for the organizers, the festival will be held at the Studio Space in New York’s famous Webster Hall. It’s a venue that’s familiar to just about every Irish music fan, since most every Irish rock act of note has played there at least once.
“We chose Webster Hall because we like to take creative risks and because the festival is outgrowing its roots in smaller venues,” says Mulligan. “What I like about the Studio at Webster Hall is that it holds 300 people and it’s a nice intimate night.”
Things have been going so well between the festival and the venue promoters that the Irish Voice can reveal that Webster Hall may well host the rock portion of 2010’s Film Fleadh next March, a coup for both the organizers and the attendees.
“I can let that leak out now,” says Mulligan. “First we’ll get the Wee Craic fest up and running and then we’ll follow up. It’s a good venue, I like it and it’s well known to the Irish community here in New York.”
The short films in this year’s festival have been handpicked from the prestigious Galway Fleadh in Ireland and are seeing the light in New York for the first time. Mulligan knows his audience, and so he’s eager to make sure these are films with broad appeal.
Blip, an animation short, features two aliens trying to take over the same planet. Then Rat Race deals with a very relevant new Irish experience: corporate downsizing.
But don’t worry if that strikes you as too close to the bone right now. There’s also Granny O’Grimm’s Irish Fairytales fairy tales to delight and unsettle you in equal measure.
“It’s a 45 to 50 minute short film program, and what we like to do is keep it confined to two to seven minute long short films,” says Mulligan.
“You gotta come right at people with something that’s fun and lively and often animated or visually powerful in some way. The reason is that you’re going to be following the screenings with live music.”
In preparation for next year’s three-day festival Mulligan will also attend the Toronto Film Festival next month, where no less than eight new feature films from Ireland will screen at the annual Canadian bash.
“We’ll be throwing a little beer and wings pool party for the cast and crew of films like Ondine (directed by Neil Jordan and starring Colin Farrell) and Perrier’s Bounty (written by Mark O’Rowe and starring Cillian Murphy, Brendan Gleeson and Conleth Hill). The plan is to score some Irish premieres for the Film Fleadh,” says Mulligan.
“We have good relationships with the industry people and the cast. I believe that Neil, Colin and Cillian will be in town, as will some of the producers, and our relationships are a bit like family now -- it’s more like getting old friends together rather than business deals.
Toronto will give Mulligan an opportunity to run into Farrell and talk business.
“Last year I asked him to come down to the festival to launch In Bruges and he nodded and he showed up.” (Farrell’s appearance gave the Martin McDonagh written and directed film, which had languished a bit after its American release, a new lease of life that ultimately revitalized its success at the box office and led to a from left field Best Actor award for Farrell at the Golden Globes).
“He came down, he did the right thing, and I won’t forget that. Same thing applies with Ondine, his new film. He knows we would love to see him, he knows it’s a good film and he knows that he will have a good time at the festival,” says Mulligan.
“It’s the same with Cillian Murphy too. Irish actors are different to the Hollywood set. It’s not like other festivals. It’s very Irish, we don’t pick them up from the airport, we don’t send them around in limos, and we don’t kiss up to anybody. We just say, ‘Okay lads, we’ll see you at the theatre at 11 o’clock,’ and they turn up. It’s part of their charm. They know that, they show up.”
Tickets go on sale August 17 through www.thecraicfest.com. The Studio at Webster Hall is located at 125 East 11th Street, Manhattan. For more information, contact Trish Lyndon at 646-549-1349 or [email protected].