The Wee Craic is the name of New York City’s one-night only festival of the best of Irish short films and live music. Billed as the Irish fest that’s half way to St. Patrick’s Day, this year it’s scheduled for September 17 at the Tribeca Cinema and Lounge. CAHIR O’DOHERTY asks festival director Terence Mulligan what to expect.
Every year New York’s Wee Craic Festival serves up a night of cutting edge Irish films and world-class Irish music for the distinctly tempting price of just $20.
For less than your average yellow cab fare you can see 10 award winning short Irish films (featuring both animation and comedies) that’s tied in with an often celebrity filled live music after party. As deals go, it’s really one of the best the city has to offer.
In the past few years the Wee Craic (now in its 12th year) festival has been a home away from home for up and coming Irish performers like Mundy, Laura Izibor, Mark Geary and Brendan O’Shea. But A-list Irish movie stars often in check in too, so it’s not unlikely that you’ll find yourself rubbing shoulders with Colin Farrell or Cillian Murphy.
“It’s half way to St. Patrick’s Day and that’s why we chose it,” says Terence Mulligan, the festival’s Brooklyn-born Irish American director. “We don’t do the green beer and the shamrocks, we provide a contemporary progressive reflection of modern life in Ireland.”
Irish music fans will want to know that this year’s main headliner is Colin Devlin of the Devlins, who’s new CD entitled Democracy Of One is currently burning up the charts.
“Colin Devlin has a song called ‘The Heart Won’t Be Denied,’ and I have to tell you it’s a showstopper,” Mulligan tells the Irish Voice. “His music is brilliant and it’s featuring on One Tree Hill now.”
Each year the Wee Craic Festival committee handpicks each short film from a few international festivals such as the Galway Film Fleadh, and even as far afield as the Sundance and Toronto Film Festivals. The basic recipe has stayed the same all these years too -- the shorts films must have some Irish theme, or be shot by local Irish filmmakers or star some Irish actors (or if all else fails they just have to be shot in Ireland).
Happily there’s no shortage of them. And if you’re still not sold, how about a Jameson open bar from 8-10 p.m. on the night?
“We’re excited that Colin Devlin’s coming in. He’s had some really great songs out this year,” says Mulligan.
“I saw him at the Sundance Film Festival and he put on an amazing show. And I realized when I was watching him that we really should invite him over for the Wee Craic show. People really respond to his music in that kind of atmosphere, because it’s a fun, intimate event and he’s just perfect for it.”
Each year at the Wee Craic shorts night the music is focused on solo performances to make the event more intimate and bring the film and music lovers and filmmakers together under one roof.
Says Mulligan, “I believe you’re only as good as your last show, so I think you always have to have a very strong line up. This we have some particularly strong animation winners from the Galway Film Fleadh.
“One is called Laurie and the Litter Bugs by director Leo Crowley and it’s about a young boy who lives at home with an aloof and unaffectionate mother. Then one day, he discovers some magical friends in his back garden. It’s exactly the kind terrific of terrific short we hope to screen at every festival.”
Another highlight of this year’s shorts night is Mister Heaney -- A Wee Portrait, which was the winner of the best animated film at the Galway Fleadh this year. Written and directed by David Quin, it’s a revealing animated portrait of the beloved Nobel Prize winning poet Seamus Heaney, who’s little animated self speaks about brambles and hairdressing in a way that is never less than hypnotic and funny.
Along the way hilarious animated versions of Irish political and sports stars like Brian Cowen, Garrett Fitzgerald and Wayne Rooney add their bit.
At the Wee Craic Festival the dynamic is changing every year, and this year three out of the nine filmmakers whose works are being screened are local.
For example, Kieran O’Hare is an Irish American director and animator, and his film 80 Billion Guys is an animated short that takes place in the 1950s in New York.
The short follows a hard-bitten guy who meets a girl in a bar, where he instantly falls in love with her, but then he drives her away with his hang-ups about the 80 billion other guys she’s slept with.
“O’Hare’s a really talented videographer, illustrator and filmmaker and his work is brilliant,” says Mulligan. “And 80 Billion Guys is a hand drawn project, so it took him quite some time to complete.
“From the beginning of the writing process through creating the drawings, and then scanning the individual frames it probably took about three weeks in total. But the results are wonderful.”
O’Hare set the film it in the 1950s because he thought that era would suit the grainy, black and white style of the film, and also because he wanted the film to have an older narrator to emphasize the main character’s sense of regret. “It’s all about the stupid things people do to f*** up relationships because they get jealous, and really that’s what it’s about, so the time period is secondary,” Mulligan said.
As for the usual rostra of celebrity guests on the night, Mulligan is understandably reluctant to be drawn on them.
“If they’re in town they come down,” he says. “I believe HBO’s new show the Boardwalk Empire is having its launch around the same time as the Wee Craic night so it’s possible there’ll be some overlap between us.
“Plus the Wee Craic stars like Devlin will be staying at the upscale Hilton Garden Inn in Tribeca so it’s quite likely they’ll all meet and greet each other.”
Behind the scenes now the Wee Craic shorts night creative group have been finalizing the line up with the help of their selection committee and though festival programmers they have longstanding relationships with.
“With the shorts a lot of the process is about timing,” Mulligan adds. “You have to worry about releases and distributors and you have the most talented short film makers between New York and Ireland.
“Thankfully there’s dozens of them. The other thing that people don’t realize is that the Irish government actually has a scheme to fund short works that assists and promotes new Irish work. That’s great for us too because it means there’s a talented pool to choose from each September when we do this event.
“There’s also a two hour open bar sponsored by Stella Artois and Jameson,” Mulligan adds with a laugh. “If that’s not enough to get the Irish down I don’t know what is.
“For $20 bucks you’re going to see really award winning films, Colin Devlin, and from eight to 10 o’clock you’re getting complimentary whiskeys. Come on lads, buck up, what’s not to like about that!”
There are 150 tickets in total (many have already sold) to the Wee Craic shorts night. The after party and live music takes place from 8-11 p.m. at the Tribeca Cinema Lounge. For tickets visit www.ticketweb.com or call 646-549-1349.