The two week programme brought MoMA audiences on a journey through a rich and diverse selection of representations of Ireland on film; from Disney’s technicolour extravaganza, Darby O’Gill... to Steve McQueen and Enda Walsh’s stark and uncompromising Hunger. Each film in the series added a very different dimension to the overall question asked by Gabriel Byrne as curator of how Irish identity is represented on film.
John Ford’s iconic portrayal of rural Ireland The Quiet Man was the starting point for the series, with key themes in the film - an emigré’s sense of ‘home’, politics, religion, the role of women in society and Irish identity - informing the selection of the 14 other films. The programme began on May 20th with a special screening of The Quiet Man to a packed audience of over 400 in MoMA’s impressive Roy and Niuta Titus Theatre 1. The beautifully restored print from UCLA meant that we were seeing The Quiet Man at its absolute best – on film and with an audience – very different from most peoples' Paddy’s day memories of the film on TV. The universal response after the screening was one of rediscovering an old favourite, of fully appreciating the film’s greatness for the first time.
Over the next two weeks over 4000 people both discovered and rediscovered great films including In the Name of the Father, This Other Eden, The Wind that Shakes the Barley, The Magdalene Sisters, Kisses and The Dead. Many of the films are not widely known in the US, with some such as This Other Eden receiving their Stateside premiere at MoMA.
The programme was animated by some great discussions with special guests who joined us over the two weeks. Starting with Gabriel himself who discussed his love of the film The Quiet Man with Dr. Luke Gibbons on the opening night, and explained how he saw it as central to any discussion of Irish identity. Two great Irish actors made surprise appearances – Maureen O’Hara via video message to launch the programme at MoMA, and Milo O’Shea to poignantly introduce This Other Eden – his first film role as an actor. No discussion about Irish film would be complete without Jim Sheridan who joined us to introduce Darby O’Gill..., proclaiming this as his favourite film and Disney as a genius, and for an interview with Gabriel Byrne after In the Name of the Father. This frank and revealing discussion, between two people who have done so much to establish Irish film on a global stage, gave a fascinating insight into their motivation to address Ireland’s past in their work. In contrast Enda Walsh (Hunger) and Lance Daly (Kisses) both provided very interesting perspectives on how a younger generation of filmmakers see their work in relation to the legacy left by the first generation of international Irish directors, and the extent to which an Irish identity informs their work.
It was evident from the audience that, collectively, the films offered a unique insight into Irish culture, both historical and contemporary, and challenged previously held perceptions of what it means to be Irish. This is the power of film and the value of preserving our film heritage as it offers a uniquely powerful and accessible tool by which to communicate with both ourselves and a wider international audience.
Many of the films came from the IFI Irish Film Archive and our preservation of these titles creates a rich resource from which Ireland’s story can be told. One aspect of the project that will have lasting legacy for the IFI Irish Film Archive was the discovery in the MoMA archives of the last ‘O’Kalem’ film, Come Back To Erin, an extraordinary film made in Ireland in 1914 and which was believed lost. Thanks to a joint preservation project by MoMA and IFI, it has now been fully restored and returned to Ireland and the IFI Irish Film Archive for the benefit of future generations.