You have to hand it to Terence Mulligan, the visionary director who first thought of turning an Irish film festival into a rock concert -- he knows his audience. Founder and director of the Craic Festival, now celebrating its 13th year, next up on Mulligan’s agenda is the Wee Craic Fest. The leaner, meaner mini-fest version always pulls a lively crowd. Mulligan tells Cahir O'Doherty about what to expect in this year’s lineup.
There are 10,000 Irish stories in the naked city, but one man has done far more than most to bring the best of them to our attention year after year.
Meet Terence Mulligan, the Brooklyn-born Irish American director of the Craic Fest, the annual New York-based celebration of the best of Irish arts and music. For 13 years now Mulligan has been at the helm of the longest running and most successful Irish film and music celebration in the city.
On September 21 the Wee Craic Fest, the celebrated halfway to St. Patrick’s Day film screening event, rock concert and wild party, will start with screenings at Arlene’s Grocery and an after party sponsored by Tullamore Due whiskey and Heineken, with Dublin-born singer songwriter the Mighty Stef presiding at R Bar in the Bowery.
It’s the best way possible to say goodbye to the summer, taking in award winning films and enjoying a big Irish booze up with rock music just before the autumn leaves start falling.
“It’s a simple set-up this year,” Mulligan tells the Irish Voice. “We’ll screen the latest award winning short films out of Ireland at Arlene’s Grocery, and then to accommodate the after party and the performance by the Dublin band the Mighty Stef we’re moving to a bigger venue with live music at the R Bar in the Bowery.”
Expect a laugh filled, musical night with good company and good times. The Craic Fest is an Irish festival after all, so Mulligan likes to keep things informal and fun, even though he’s given a unique platform to some of the biggest names in film, making them accessible in a way that they simply are not at any other film or music festival in the city.
Colin Farrell, Liam Neeson, Cillian Murphy and Aidan Quinn have all participated, and filmmaker Jim Sheridan has served as an honorary board member. All banner names, all happy to stop by to support Irish film and filmmakers.
Founded by Mulligan in 1998, from the beginning the Craic Fest has had two guiding principals -- the work must be outstanding and the event itself must be fun.
With that recipe Mulligan has kept the Craic Fest relevant and fresh in a way that other Irish arts festivals can only envy. But there’s more to Mulligan’s vision than providing an opportunity to check out cool new films while downing a whiskey or two to the beat.
“We’re the only group that screens an annual Irish short film festival,” Mulligan notes. “It’s been going on 13 years and we’re screening the current best short films coming out of Ireland, which keeps it right up to the minute.
“At this time of the year, which we call half way to St. Patrick’s Day, there’s usually less of a focus on Irish film and music, so that’s why we have decided to throw a spotlight on the Irish filmmakers at this time of the year. It’s opportune and we get headlines.”
Since the beginning, the Craic Fest has had an impressively inclusive outreach that sets the standard for its imitators. In recent years the festival has set up a successful Irish gay and lesbian film performance series that has ensured that every aspect of the Irish experience is seen, screened and heard.
Throwing out the welcome mat to all of the Irish, and then throwing a huge rock and roll party to bring them together in friendship and mutual appreciation of their heritage, is a mighty vision never before attempted that has actually worked, year after year. So perhaps the time has come to pay Mulligan his due for over a decade of exemplary service to Irish culture and community, but he’d be the last person to think he deserved it.
“What I love about the Craic Fest is that we can show our films to audiences who get them better than any other,” he says, explaining why he does it.
“We have the luxury to screen them to the proper audience and make the most of it for the new Irish filmmakers coming to New York.”
So what can you expect to see this year? Well, each of the new films are award-winning shorts hand picked from this year’s Galway Film Festival.
One, titled Pet Hate, is an animated short that tells the tale of an exhausted pet shop owner doing battle with his very badly behaved merchandise. Another award winner is titled Thin Ice, which follows what happens when a baby penguin finds itself in trouble after curiously wandering away from the group.
And crowds will line up for tickets to Brown Bag Film’s new film Bird Food (whose hilarious and moving animated short Give Up Yer Aul Sins was one of the highlights of the last decade) about a man who plans to eat his lunch in the park, although the local pigeons have other ideas.
After the short films the music starts, which depending on your take is the wind down after party or the main event.
This year the Dublin-based the Mighty Stef, an experimental rock and roll band, do the honors. Currently working on material for a redefining fourth studio album, they’re hugely popular with the Irish community already and a guaranteed sell out.
“This time we’re going back to our roots to keep the feeling of the event more intimate,” Mulligan says. “In recent years we’ve held events at huge venues and they were well attended but we enjoy the intimacy of smaller settings.
“Mighty Stef has played for us twice before and each time it resulted in sell out crowds and a great night out. I would expect they’ll sell out in advance, but if late comers show up they should aim for a 9:30 start.”
Arlene’s Grocery, the site for the screenings, has been a hipster hangout since 1996. Once upon a time it was a Puerto Rican bodega, which you can tell from the original awning, but it has long since become a performance space for theater, film and rock.
Bar R down in the Bowery is an edgy venue that’s crafted for good times. An unusual choice for the Craic Fest, it’s a reminder that the emphasis this time around is on fun.
So bring along some friends, make some new ones, feast your eyes on some of Ireland’s best new short films and enjoy music and drinks afterwards. It’s all part of the Craic.
For more information and detailed shorts films and music lineup contact the Wee Craic Fest at 646-549-1349. Advance tickets can be bought on Ticketweb.com. The full lineup for the night can be viewed at www.thecraicfest.com