Now celebrating its 20 year, the Craic Fest, overseen by its longtime festival director Terence Mulligan, has been the go-to Irish film and music festival in the lead up to St. Patrick's Day for decades.
The reason for its enduring appeal is simple. Each year the festival presents three unforgettable nights out with Irish film stars, legendary directors, brand new films, beer and whiskey drinks specials and this year its offering its strongest ever lineup ever.
Beginning on March 8 this year's festival begins with the world premiere of Rivalry City, a fast moving new documentary about the epic annual hockey game held between the NYPD and the FDNY, so the opening night of the Craic Fest flicks kicks things into high gear with this intense battle for supremacy on ice.
“The footage is just amazing. The film gets its authenticity and insight from the fact that the director is a fireman too, but he's not from the city. He came in here specially to cover this. That outsider insider perspective really helps.”
On Friday night the gala screening is the George Best, All By Himself documentary. “I think that cool thing about that is that there are a lot of people in New York with Irish connections who still remember how unique and gifted George Best was, across all the generations.
Irish actor on the rise John Connors, 28, famously comes from a Traveller background in Dublin and is happy to break all your stereotypes for you. In real life he is softly spoken and unfailingly kind. Onscreen though he can play tough guys with an unerring eye for detail that you'll never forget.
On Saturday March 10 Connors will appear in Cardboard Gangsters at the festival, the New York premiere of the most popular new Irish crime film of the past year. “He called me up recently to say you should also really think of including the companion film Stalkers in the Saturday lineup because it's another brilliant movie by the same director. When an actor that talented makes a claim like that you should listen to it,” says Mulligan
“Connors sent me the screener and I was blown away. It's one of the best independent films I have ever seen come out of Ireland in the last 20 years. The two central performances (Connors and Keoghan) are flawless.
Although the film's title suggests that Connors is not going to be the kind of guy you would want to meet in the daylight the actual developments aren't what you might expect. “He plays a homeless guy and he stalks Barry Keoghan but in a mentoring way. It's really a story about Connors character and it's witty and irreverent. He's charming, bright, affable and Irish. Keoghan is trying to find his way in the world and they develop this kinship. It's a simple story, but it's not what you might think. It's well written and directed by Mark O'Connor, who also wrote Cardboard Gangsters."
“I saw Cardboard Gangsters for the first time at the Galway Film Fleadh and the acting and writing were just top notch. Connors and director O'Connor work incredibly well together and the film is just so hard hitting. John pretty much carries the movie, he has legitimate star power.”
As well as being a celebrated actor Connors now has a growing public profile as a trenchant critic of Irish government policy in areas like travelers rights, social welfare and in housing for the homeless, the latter being a particular hot topic as the numbers sleeping rough in Ireland have exploded since the banking crisis and the crack down on mortgages given by predatory lenders and the so-called vulture funds property swoop.
The director Zahara Moufid and Jim Sheridan will both attend the question and answers session after the screening.
Based on the extraordinary decision by some Irish social activists to commander an abandoned social welfare office and turn it into a shelter for the homeless, the film charts the activists decision to act on the crisis and the counter measures taken by the Irish authorities.
Apollo House became a lightning rod for the ongoing debate about what sort of society Ireland is and will be and it galvanized the Irish left, including filmmakers, singers, poets, writers and journalists to take a stand for the least fortunate in Irish society.
“Oscar winner Glen Hansard took it on as a personal mission to help these people and you see another side to him in this film. He really cares about the people of Dublin and he really believes there has to be a change.
Director Anthony White will be in attendance for a talk back after the film screening, Mulligan says. “This is a market that we have hardly tapped into before, all the folk and trad people here in the city, they are definitely going to love the great live footage. If you love Irish music this is the movie for you.”
The Craic Fest after parties each night are sponsored by Stella Artois and Bushmills whiskey, so expect a fun night. The Craic Film Fest is sponsored by Tourism Ireland. For tickets, visit thecraicfest.com or call 917-373-6735.