Thursday, June 2, 2011

MoMA Mia - IFI in New York !

While President Obama was charming the Irish in Dublin and Moneygall last week, we were reciprocating in the US as we charmed New York audiences with an exciting programme of new and old Irish feature films presented at the prestigious Museum of Modern Art in bustling mid-town Manhattan.

The programme was the second in a series of IFI-curated film programmes appearing in New York this year, all part of Culture Ireland’s Imagine Ireland programme of Irish Arts in the America throughout 2011. The first strand was the documentary series Hidden Ireland which was hosted by the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts earlier this Spring.

Gabriel Byrne

The invitation to present an Irish feature film programme was issued to us by Rajendra Roy, Chief Curator of the Film Department at MoMA. We were keen to select a programme that would surprise and intrigue US audiences, and would present new perspectives on old and new, Irish and American films. We were delighted then to welcome on board Ireland’s Cultural Ambassador, Gabriel Byrne, as curator of the programme. Gabriel brought a passion and a broad-ranging knowledge of Irish and American cinema to the project and, over a series of lengthy and involved discussions with MoMA Curator Charles Silver, IFI Director Sarah Glennie and I, a programme framework was devised which allowed us to whittle a programme of 15 or so titles from a starting list of hundreds. Revisiting The Quiet Man: Ireland on Film is a programme which is neither exhaustive nor chronological. It takes Ford’s iconic masterpiece as a starting point from which to explore other films which echo his preoccupations with exile and identity, women and the Catholic Church, history and politics. It asks “Who are we? How do we perceive ourselves? Who has created these film versions of ourselves?” Gabriel points out that, until a national film studio was established, we had to be content with other people’s versions of us: “we had no blank page to write our own stories on”.

Gabriel Byrne, Sarah Glennie, Dr. Luke Gibbons

The programme launched on May 20th at MoMA to a full house of Irish cultural enthusiasts and general cineastes. We opened with a warm and funny video greeting from the ever-beautiful Maureen O'Hara from her home in Glengariff, Co. Cork. This was followed by a sparkling 35mm print of The Quiet Man which jumped off the screen with its vibrancy and super-saturated colours, beautifully restored by the UCLA film archive. The audience's active enjoyment of every scene was audible throughout and their laughter not tinged with a hint of condescension or irony – just sheer enjoyment at Ford’s craft and capacity to entertain. The screening was followed by a relaxed and insightful conversation with Gabriel and Dr. Luke Gibbons (NUIM) about Ford and his yearning for an imagined home.

The following evening Loopline producer Vanessa Gildea introduced the international premiere of Dreaming The Quiet Man. This affectionate, insightful and illuminating documentary directed by Sé Merry Doyle considers Ford’s familial attachments in Ireland, his involvement in the struggle for independence, and presents a colourful cast of Cong locals who service the constant stream of cultural tourists and Quiet Man-iacs who visit the film's original locations.

Other early programme highlights included Milo O’Shea’s surprise appearance and introduction (with Luke Gibbons) to the rarely-seen, early Ardmore classic, This Other Eden, in which he features alongside Annette Dalton and Lesley Philips; a screening of Lance Daly’s Kisses, a stark counterpoint to Ford’s rural idyll, followed by Q&A with Lance and David Kwok ( Director of Programming at Tribeca Film Festival where Lance’s new film The Good Doctor recently screened); Jim Sheridan’s introduction to one of his favourite films, Disney’s Darby O'Gill and the Little People, and his marathon conversation with Gabriel after In the Name of the Father (directed by one, executive produced by the other); and the lively interview with Gabriel with Enda Walsh after the screening of Hunger.

In the Name of the Father

Still to come on June 1st is a programme of silent films: Lad From Old Ireland (1910), Come On Over (1928), and Come Back to Erin (1912), the last being a lively emigrant drama from the Kalem canon, filmed in Killarney and Queenstown in 1912, believed lost until we identified an over-looked negative at MoMA in the course of researching this season. The programme will be presented with traditional piano accompaniment from Ben Model and, probably for the first time ever, with live uileann piping from New York-based Irish player Ivan Goff. I’m particularly sorry to miss this one – it will be a magical experience – both for the music and for the unveiling of the lost Kalem classic now restored by MoMA with support from IFI and Culture Ireland’s Imagine Ireland programme which has made all of our New York endeavours possible. Do tell all your Irish and film-loving friends in New York to go along for this, possibly once-in-a- lifetime experience – Uileann Pipes in the Museum of Modern Art!!!

Sunniva O’Flynn
Irish Film Institute


  1. not Queenstown Sunniva.....COBH!
    (Though in retrospect, we do think that éilisadó was more The Perfect Guest than Mr O!)

  2. In my opinion,after knowing Mr Byrne and his work concerning to Imagine Ireland events and his efforts to promove Irish culture, I think he's more than a good sample that an Irish man would be, he's a perfect Irish Cultural Ambassador.
    I'm not Irish woman, but I follow his work in different directions and he always surprise me. Actually, he inspires me to know Ireland and learn more about Irish habits and culture, for example, writers, movies, music, plastic artists and so on.
    So, I think Mr Byrne is doing a great job indeed. Congrats for all who are involved in this beautiful project.