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.

NYPD versus the FDNY on ice

NYPD versus the FDNY on ice

“Given its blue collar roots and the number of Irish and Irish American players who play on the two teams, Rivalry City is going to be a sell out far in advance of the screening,” Terence Mulligan, festival director, tells the Voice.

“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.

“This film is really poignant, it includes some riveting footage and it has some deeply personal interviews with Best himself. A lot of people don't know how he squandered all his money, as he says himself, on birds, booze and fast cars. His famous line was that he just p—ed it all away. He was a legend in the truest sense. I'm expecting to have a lot of fans there on the night. There will be a lot of energy in the theatre on Friday March 9.”

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

John Connors (right) stars in Cardboard Gangsters

John Connors (right) stars in Cardboard Gangsters

Stalkers co-stars Barry Keoghan, 25 (most recently seen giving a star turn opposite Colin Farrell in the remarkably powerful The Killing Of A Sacred Deer) who's own star is on the rise after his breakout performance wowed critics at Sundance last year.

“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."

Keoghan also recently appeared in director Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk and is quickly becoming one of the most sought after young actors in Hollywood. He is also scheduled to appear at the Craic Fest screening alongside Connors on the night. “I'm really looking forward to having him and Connors take some questions on Saturday for the New York premieres of the two films,” Mulligan says.

“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.

That theme of the little people pushing back against the powerful dovetails into the closing night screening of legendary director Jim Sheridan is due to come in for the documentary film Apollo House. Produced and starring Jim Sheridan, singers Damien Dempsey, Glen Hansard and Hozier. 

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.

Meanwhile the Kila documentary, also screening on Saturday, will appeal to fans of Irish traditional music. The film follows the legendary Irish folk band of the same name, who played their first concert in Dublin upstairs at the Baggott Inn for an audience of three people in 1987. They may have had humble origins once but they have gone on to play many of the most important music festivals in the world and they have provide the soundtrack for classic Irish features like Song Of The Sea and The Secret Of Kells.

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.

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