Monday, January 31, 2011

Family screenings at IFI

If you want to guarantee a full family house on a grey, recession-conscious day in Dublin, just mention the word Disney. For our Family programme this month we were lucky enough to get two free previews of the studio’s latest, Tangled, a post-modern take on that favourite Grimm’s fairytale, Rapunzel. Every month we run a family programme here at IFI and choose a selection of films that families might not usually get to see such as The Fox and the Child, Ponyo or the classic Le Ballon rouge. But we also like to add something extra to screenings, which in this case meant giving our audiences a free advance viewing of a big film such as Tangled.

Tangled (Copyright: Disney)

This animation takes the familiar fairytale, gives it a post-modern twist, and combines it with fine animation and a memorable soundtrack that recalls the great earlier films such as Aladdin or even The Lion King. We had full appreciative houses here and in Vue, Liffey Valley, where we ran the preview in conjunction with Clondalkin Partnership.

The Magic Aster

Our family film in February, The Magic Aster, is part of the Chinese Film Festival, celebrating Chinese New Year, The Year of the Rabbit. Based on the classic children’s drama of the same name, this animation is about a magic flower that helps people who are brave. As a play it’s been a huge sensation in China and the film adaptation has also been a box office hit. Recalling Chinese stories where hard work leads to happiness, it features hardworking Xiao Lan who is happily married to the god of flowers, Ma Lang.  Then, greedy Old Cat tries to get the jealous sister Da Lan to kill Xiao Lan, in order to get the magic Malan Flower. Fortunately, the magic takes over and the flower comes into bloom to protect Xiao Lan.

The Magic Aster

The film will be introduced at the IFI on Sunday February 6th by the director. Celebrate Chinese New Year with your family and see one of China’s most popular children’s stories. Tickets €5, family of 4 €15. An experienced reader will narrate the subtitles.

For more details on our monthly family screenings, check our website.

Alicia McGivern
Head of Education

For more information or to book tickets for The Magic Aster, click here.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Film screenings for the Over 55s

Wild Strawberries: Our bi-monthly film club for over 55s

2011 Wild Strawberries started with a bang – a huge turnout for two screenings of Mike Leigh’s 1996 hit film, Secrets and Lies. Programmed to tie in with the release of Another Year (inexplicably ignored by the Academy except for Screenplay – but then, Mr Leigh couldn’t compete with the dead cert. popularity of a Royal in trouble…), several members of Wild Strawberries had requested the film. The audience loved it, applauding at the end as the lights went up and the memory of troubled Cynthia (Brenda Blethyn), peace-loving Maurice (Timothy Spall), and the rest of the familys’ secrets and lies drew to a close.

Brenda Blethyn in Secrets and Lies

Before the feature we also showed Conor Horgan’s short film, Deep End Dance, starring and choreographed by David Bolger of Coiscéim and his mother, Madge Bolger. As a regular attendee of Wild Strawberries, Madge introduced the film and spoke of teaching her son swimming at a young age when she little thought the experience would be brought to the making of this exquisite piece many years later.

Pete Postlethwaite in Brassed Off

The recent death of actor Pete Postlethwaite reminds us of all the films on which he made his very distinct and memorable mark and none more so than in February's choice for Wild Strawberries; the endearing, sometimes angry film, Brassed Off,  about a colliery brass band fighting for survival while the mines are being shut down. Set in the small, northern English town of Grimley, where the mine’s closure will mean the loss of thousands of jobs, Postlethwaite is bandleader Danny, full of fighting spirit, demanding complete commitment from the band members, no matter what is going on around them. For him, keeping the band going is a way of keeping the town going, and he sets about getting them ready for a 14-town competition. It may be their last chance if the pit closes. There’s drama a-plenty along with romance and humour in this terrific film, with a truly convincing performance from the late, great actor.

A great start to what we hope will be a good year ahead for our film club.

Alicia McGivern
Head of Education

The next screening of Secrets & Lies will take place on Friday, January 28th at 11am.

Brassed Off will be screened at 11am on February 23rd & 25th.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Black Swan interviews and reviews

Black Swan opens today at the IFI and is already being called the film of the year by many critics.

We've gathered some interviews and reviews that you may want to check out before (or after) you see the film that everyone seems to be talking about.

First up is an interview with Vincent Cassel who plays Thomas Leroy, an obsessive and demanding ballet director, in Darren Aronofsky’s probable Oscar contender.

Following that, Golden Globe nominee Mila Kunis talks about the film and working with Natalie Portman.

And in the final interview, director Darren Aronofsky talks about his approach to the Golden Globe nominated film.

The rave reviews have been flooding in. You can read Donald Clarke's five star review in The Irish Times and Paul Whittington's (also five star) review in The Irish Independent, or the four star review in The Guardian.

Watch the trailer here or book your tickets online.

Ross Keane
Head of Marketing & Communications

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Train, The Cinema - James Benning’s RR and the death of a medium

Our Experimental Film Club will be a screening of Benning's RR on Wednesday, January 19th.
 “As a machine of vision and in instrument for conquering space and time, the train is a mechanical double for the cinema” Lynne Kirby
‘Marx says that revolutions are ‘the locomotives of world history’ Things are entirely different. Perhaps revolutions are the reaching of humanity traveling in this train for the emergency brake.’Walter Benjamin
It is difficult to divest ourselves of the feeling, while watch James Benning’s 2007 film RR, that we are bearing witness to the death of a medium. The film, the author’s last shot to be shot on 16mm stock, makes a fitting swansong to the medium’s history and should this history ever need a full stop this would probably suffice. The train was the first reflexive tool for the cinema, providing a means by which it could marvel at the miracle of its own processes and stare aghast at a spectacle of mechanised movement. Wolfgang Schivelbsuch describes how, for early travellers, the world came to be seen “through the apparatus” of the train (1986: 57), the train representing a dramatic shift in spatial and temporal understanding. Lynne Kirby expands further - “the phenomenon of railway travel made deception easier…in part through high-speed, physical displacement” (1997 : 25), a disorientation that would later be extended within the processes of the cinema “where it translates into a visual questioning of what is true and false”. The perceptual correlations between train and film are contained most obviously in their twin ability to mechanically combine movement and stillness, yet their histories are more deeply connected than we might first imagine. Benning’s film acknowledges the scope of this shared history by returning us to the cinema’s starting point, its ‘primal scene’, inviting us to fill in the gaps of the history that has existed between this scene and our current vantage point.


The dramatic impact of the shift in perceptual understanding that occurred with the introduction of film is typically contained in shorthand within the unreliable image of the cinema’s first spectators. These earliest audiences, when met with the image of an approaching train in the Lumieres’ L’Arrivée d’un Train en Gare de La Ciotat (1895), allegedly found themselves unable to distinguish clearly between the reality of what was appearing on screen and their own everyday perceptual reality. Audiences became so struck by this perceptual disruption that they allegedly ran screaming from the room or cowered under their seats in terror. While Tom Gunning and others have rightly questioned the accuracy of these early accounts, the image remains as a powerful and persuasive myth of the cinema’s becoming. In spite of early accounts of panic and fear such as these, the reality illusions of the cinema would quickly become accepted and normalised, so much so that by as early 1901 the naiveté of early audiences was being self-reflexively mocked through the cinema’s own texts. RW Paul’s The Countryman and the Cinematograph (1901) re-enacts this early scene just a few short years later and in this film the earlier Lumiere film becomes a film within the film. Here a ‘rube’ replays the reactions of those initial spectators, becoming visibly panicked when faced with the cinematic image of an oncoming train, much to the amusement of the now far more sophisticated audiences, demonstrating a rapidly widening gap in audience expectations and demands.

Benning’s film which is essentially a series of static shots of trains passing a camera invites us to also examine our own spectatorial experience as it differs from those first cinemagoers, and to contemplate the gap that has developed over the interceding century. Contained also within the film however are hidden truths about the domestication of a medium. Through it we can begin to understand how the train was transformed through the cinema, from a powerful signifier of the revolutionary potential of the medium to the nostalgic signifier of a disappearing past. Looking back we also realise that the cinema had historicised its own processes in a similar fashion, long before it was necessary to do so. In a truly film appropriate temporal reconfiguration the medium had prefigured its own demise.

Lynne Kirby describes the train as a ‘protocinematic phenomenon’, a precursor to the cinema, rehearsing an ‘annihilation of time and space’ that would only be made complete with the arrival of film. With the cinema anything seemed possible, where the transport revolution of the 19th century had brought distant locations ever closer, the cinema could, it seemed, be anywhere at the blink of an eye, or within 1/24 of a second. For the train’s first passengers, it was impossible to divest themselves entirely of the potential for unfathomable catastrophe which the train journey seemed to contain. We see in initial reactions to the train, a set of fears and anxieties played out no less dramatic than those experienced by the cinema’s first spectators. In spite of this the train would be rapidly assimilated and incorporated within the fabric of modern everyday existence. An essential aspect of this process was the train’s domestication and Wolfgang Schivelbusch notes how as the bumps and bangs of train travel were ‘upholstered’ and cushioned, the private space of the Victorian home was recreated within the public space of the train, creating an illusion of safety. With the train all “outward perceptions of danger” were reduced, creating an “artificial environment which people become used to as second nature” (1986: 162). The correlation then between train and film in this regard is obvious as the modern film industry quickly settles on a form of realism which prioritises invisibility of form and largely rejects the revolutionary potential of the medium suggested so strongly in the period of its initial becoming. 

When we look closely at the development of the train on film this becomes clearer still as we witness the train being transformed from a powerful reflection of the revolutionary potential of the medium to the nostalgic signifier of a disappearing and idealised past. The domestication of the filmic medium and its settling, in commercial terms as least, upon a narrative tradition which favours invisibility of form will by as early as the 1920s necessitate the rise of an alternative avant garde tradition, a tradition from which Benning springs. The train would retain its interest for filmmakers working within this tradition and would be a constantly recurring motif throughout its history, particularly for those filmmakers like Benning with an overt interest in the medium specificity of film.

Benning’s films, particularly his more recent ones, have often been referred to as ‘landscape films’, he also trained as a mathematician and is often described as a structuralist and in RR we get a little of both. Where in previous films, like 13 Lakes and 10 Skies, the structures were defined by the medium itself, essentially static shots of landscapes and skies, the duration of each shot was defined by the length of a single reel of 16mm film.

10 Skies

In RR however, the title of which is an abbreviation of railroad, the power of the filmic machine is ceded to the power of the on-screen machine. Here each shot begins when a train enters the frame, or a beat before, and only ends when the train has finally left the frame, or a beat after. As in earlier films like Landscape Suicide Benning continues to be preoccupied with the changing shape of the American landscape and here he examines the ways in which it has been shaped by the train and framed through the cinema. Benning uses songs, recorded speeches and other non-diegetic sounds sparingly throughout the film, adding some context here and there and deepening the film’s rhetorical intent. For the most part however these interventions are largely irrelevant as they generally reiterate meanings already present within the image, images that are at their best when simply accompanied by the location sound recorded by Benning. As Mark Peranson notes in his review in Cinema scope “RR is filmmaking at its most elemental, and most accomplished. And, typical of Benning’s work, it’s nowhere near as simple as it initially seems.”

Daniel Fitzpatrick
Kilruddery Film Festival Dircetor

An interview with Benning

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

January at the IFI

Happy New Year and welcome to the IFI’s January programme. We are starting 2011 with a bang with the release of some of the most anticipated films of the year.

The King's Speech

Colin Firth captivated audiences last year in A Single Man, and his performance in The King’s Speech, portraying a shy and stutturing future King George VI preparing himself for monarchy, is already tipped to win him the Oscar he missed out on last year. Natalie Portman also delivers a stand-out performance in Black Swan, a film that is being talked about in Oscar-winning terms. Directed by The Wrestler’s Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan brings us into the world of ballet and a production of Swan Lake, focusing on the dichotomy demanded from the prima ballerina to portray both innocence and evil in the combined role of the white and black swan.

Black Swan

January also sees the release of one of the hits of our 2009 IFI French Film Festival, The Thorn in the Heart, an intimate family portrait from dynamic French director Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), and Scottish director Peter Mullan follows up the brave and harrowing The Magdalene Sisters with Neds, a powerful and equally unflinching portrayal of growing up in ‘70s Glasgow.

Brighton Rock

Our season this month takes a literary slant with a focus on the writer Graham Greene, whose work inspired some of the greatest films of the 20th century and, with a new adaptation of Brighton Rock due out, continues to be relevant to this generation of filmmakers. Greene on the Screen is a chance for us to bring you some simply great films during January.

Talking of great films, when asked to choose the film he would most like to show as part of the IFI Open Day last February, Peter Walsh, IFI Cinemas Manager, chose Make Way for Tomorrow. We could only fit 60 people into that single screening last February – all of whom were in agreement with Peter having seen the film – so we are delighted that its recent re-release means that more of you can enjoy it during January. It is, by all accounts, not to be missed!

Make Way for Tomorrow

And, finally, don’t forget that the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival launch their programme on January 25th. So if you don’t want to miss out on tickets for the big films keep in touch via their website. Following the great success of our Kenneth Anger retrospective last year, and a memorable visit from the great man, the IFI is delighted to be working with JDIFF again on a special programme. So watch this space for further details!

We hope you enjoy this month’s programme (you can view it all here) and that you find plenty here to distract you from the January blues!

Sarah Glennie