Ireland has been producing films with gay story lines for years, usually with emigration or tragedy usually striking the protagonists in the final reel.
But that’s no longer. A new generation of filmmakers is refusing to go gently either onscreen or off, and they’ve been producing increasingly sophisticated new films about it.
Terence Mulligan, the well-known founding producer of the annual Craic Festival in New York, noticed years ago that Irish films with LGBT themes deserved much wider audiences, and so this year he’s ensuring they get the attention they deserve by founding the first annual Irish Gay and Lesbian Film Festival in New York.
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Like the Craic Festival itself, the new Irish Gay and Lesbian Film Festival (which will begin on June 24 at 6:30 p.m. at the Irish Arts Center) will welcome audiences of all backgrounds and orientations.
Mulligan (who for the record is heterosexual, married and a father) hopes it will ultimately appeal to anyone who loves Irish culture.
“Our board members knew there were a number of really strong Irish short films out there that had gay themes or were made by Irish gay filmmakers that would do well in New York,” says Mulligan.
“We also realized that an Irish gay and lesbian film festival had not been done here before. So we thought now was the right time to try it. It was talked about over the years, and now seemed to be the time.”
There are, it must be said, some people who still don’t -- or won’t -- realize that many Irish families include a gay son or daughter. And that’s especially true in Irish America, which has kept faith with an earlier idea of Irish society that actual Irish society has long moved beyond.
“I think there’s a stigma in certain sections even now,” says Mulligan. “So when they hear there’s a new Irish gay and lesbian film festival they’ll assume it’s probably pornographic or featuring nothing but same sex kissing.
“We’re hoping to move the audience beyond those narrow perceptions. The truth is that these are just really powerful films, plain and simple.”
Mulligan says it will be a film festival, not a political demo. That means the emphasis is on the films and having a laugh. This is not about the ghettoization of Irish gay and lesbian culture -- it’s an introduction to any and all comers.
“I think there’s a lot of people in the music, film and art community in New York who will come out to see Irish films with gay themes. I think we’ll get a lively and diverse turnout,” Mulligan maintains.
The festival will screen Dream Kitchen, an award winning Irish short by Barry Dingham. In it, a young working class Irish lad tries to come out to his family, with totally unexpected results.
Winner of numerous awards including the Best Irish Short Film at the Galway Film Fleadh, Dream Kitchen is a well-crafted short by Kevin McCarthy and is a pure delight from start to finish.
Another eye catching short is about a familiar game of dares called Chicken. In it two lads hang out at a remote beach at dusk. Then a sudden game of dare tests the limits of their trust, and it quietly redefines the boundaries of their relationship.
It’s not exactly a gay short in that what happens is very open to interpretation, but it’s not exactly not a gay short film either. It’s Irish, in other words, so there’s always room for interpretation.
It’s about the way a lot of Irish adolescent males sometimes redirect their feelings of affection for each other into competitive games. Just ask a GAA player about it sometime.
Star spotters should know that the first annual Irish Gay and Lesbian Film Festival is sure to attract some major celebrity wattage, so you never know who you might meet on the night. Political stars also scheduled to appear include New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and City Council Members Jimmy Van Bremer and Daniel Drumm.
“We’ll also show a terrific documentary about the premiere Irish gay rugby team, the Emerald Warriors. These guys put a nail in the idea that gay guys aren’t tough. And I think any rugby player would enjoy this show,” Mulligan says.
Admission is free with donations welcome at the door. “There will be a Tullamore Dew sponsored reception, which is a great way to break the ice, and the Irish Arts Center is one of the most welcoming venues in the city so expect to have a great night,” Mulligan adds.