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Gabriel Byrne. Photo by: thecraicfest.com

New York’s Craic Festival turns sweet 16 (VIDEOS)

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Gabriel Byrne. Photo by: thecraicfest.com

“Sweet 16 baby!” Craic Festival director Terence Mulligan is in ebullient form, and who could blame him?

Having successfully promoted the best of contemporary Irish film, rock and Irish culture (even for kids) for the last 16 years, there’s no one else in New York representing all three as well or as long as the Craic Fest has.

“We have an ambitious lineup because this year we’re exclusively screening documentaries,” Mulligan tells the Irish Voice. “It’s something that’s never been done before in the history of the festival.”

This year’s Craic Fest will start with the Kids Fleadh on March 1 at The Irish Arts Center. “We’ll start with the screening of tried and tested short Irish films, then we’ll move on to a story telling session led by the novelists John Liam Shay and Honor Molloy, and then the third part is a class with the Niall O’Leary stepdancers. It’s a comprehensive Irish day out for the kids,” Mulligan says.

The festival format, scheduled between the Irish Arts Center, the Tribeca Cinema and music venue the Mercury Lounge, has taken on a life of its own.

“We took chances and we modified it over the last two years and it’s been a sell out every time,” Mulligan explains. “One thing we tried was adding animated Irish language short films (with subtitles) and they went over really well. The films themselves are terrific. It’s a total immersion in Irish culture for kids here.”

On March 6, the opening night gala screening for the film part of the festival will see the U.S premiere of the documentary Danny Boy starring Gabriel Byrne and Malachy McCourt, both of whom are scheduled to attend, as is the film’s director James Maycock.

Danny Boy Trailer from craicfest on Vimeo.

An examination on the enduring appeal of the famous Irish ballad, the film debuted last year on the 100th anniversary of its original publication. Each generation owns its own version, it seems.

In World War I it became a sort of anthem for the troops, and then it found a new home in Hollywood musicals in the 1940s.  Later still it bewitched Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash, and in more recent times in the tense standoff between church and state in the Fifth Avenue St. Patrick’s Day parade in New York City it has become a kind of secular anthem.

Famous Irish contributors to the documentary also include Jim Sheridan, Malachy McCourt, Rosanne Cash, Brian Kennedy and Barry McGuigan, as they explain the enduring appeal of “Danny Boy” and suggest what it has come to symbolize for the Irish around the world now.

“It’s a comprehensive look at the song and the ways its been remade by each singer and each era, from its appearance in films in Hollywood to the wider sociopolitical and historical standpoint,” says Mulligan, who ardently loves the film.

In a double feature on March 7 the award winning documentary The Siege of 1922 (about the Irish Civil War, directed by Andrew Gallimore) will be screened on the same night as the U.S premiere of 14 Days (directed by Dermot Lavery).

A 52-minute documentary for Irish language station TG4, The Siege of 1922 tells the story of the siege of Dublin’s Four Courts that marked the beginning of the Irish Civil War.

“We try to build on filmmakers we’ve had success with and Andrew Gallimore is a really successful one,” says Mulligan. (Previously the festival screened Gallimore’s The Gentleman Prizefighter, his biography of famous Irish prizefighter James J. Corbett, narrated by Liam Neeson).

His follow up is 14 Days, a captivating chronicle of a remarkable political turning point in The Troubles that was led by the now famous Irish Redemptorist priest Father Alex Reid, who we follow as he makes his increasingly desperate attempts to find a path to peace following two weeks of violence that had tipped the North over into despair.

With the March 1988 shooting of three IRA members by the SAS in Gibraltar a seemingly unstoppable fortnight of violence and retaliation had erupted, with the now famous attack by Loyalist Michael Stone that killed three people at the IRA members’ funerals, followed by the killing of two British Army Corporals by the IRA at the funeral of one of Stone’s victims.

Mired in political stalemate and endless cycles of violence, Reid somehow found the courage within to find hope in the darkness, and his efforts helped bring about the beginnings of the peace process. Among the notables interviewed for the film are Mark Durkan of the SDLP and Gerry Adams of Sinn Fein.

“14 Days takes place over 14 days of the Troubles in Belfast in 1988,” Mulligan adds.

“It centers on the priest and how he became a focal point of the conflict during that time period. It’s a great document of the period and I think it will fascinate anyone who sees it.”

The closing night gala of the Craic film series on March 8 will see the New York premiere of Through Triumph and Tragedy: 50 Years of the FDNY Pipes and Drums documentary directed by local filmmaker Tim Geraghty, with a special appearance by the FDNY Emerald Society Pipes and Drums themselves.

“The film details the 50 years history of the bagpipe band of the New York City Fire Department,” says Mulligan. “What originally started out as an effort for Irish firefighters to celebrate their Irish heritage has become one of the most important institutions in the FDNY.”

After September 11, the band made it their mission to play every funeral and memorial service for the 343 members of the Fire Department that died on the day. Their courage and dedication turned the band into a globally recognized organization, and a dignified symbol of freedom and honor.

Meanwhile, Irish music fans can rejoice.  On March 7 the legendary Rubberbandits will return with new songs and a new album.

“They’re back and bigger than ever,” says Mulligan. “It’s close to being sold out already. They’ll be supported by the Narrowbacks on the night and I’d advise people to book their tickets as soon as they can.”

On Saturday, March 8 it’s all Northern Irish acts for a night they’re calling Belfast Rocks the Craic Festival. Scheduled to play are Duke Special, Rams Pocket Radio and Steafan Hanvey. Expect a raucous Northern night of music and moves.

“You can’t sit around,” says Mulligan. “You have to reinvent the festival every time to make it interesting to promote and attend. That’s our aim and that’s what has kept us fresh.”

The Craic Fest after-party is sponsored by Stella Artois and Tullamore Dew at the Tribeca Cinema, held each night after the film screenings. That means free booze and good conversation with your cultured new friends. The nearby Tribeca Blu Hotel is kindly putting up the filmmakers and celebrities so the after party could be a lively one.

Malachy McCourt and Gabriel Byrne are both scheduled to attend, as is film director Terry George. Director James Maycock will be there for the opening night of his film. For tickets visit www.thecraicfest.com.

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