Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The IFI in New York

It has been a busy year for the IFI as we have been working on a number of major projects in the US as part of Imagine Ireland, Culture Ireland’s year of Irish Arts in America 2011.

Guests of the Nation at NCH

We started in March with Hidden Ireland, a 13-week long programme of documentary films made in and about Ireland which was presented at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at the Lincoln Center. The programme opened with The Seasons, the extraordinary film from the IFI Irish Film Archive which documents daily life in a rural Mayo village in the 1930s. Harpist Cormac de Barra and musicians from Kila presented live musical accompaniment and the film was met with a very emotional reaction from the audience, which included Milo O’Shea and Angela Lansbury.

Hidden Ireland

We returned to New York in May for Revisiting the Quiet Man: Ireland on Film at MoMA. This two week programme, comprising 14 films, was curated by Gabriel Byrne.  Gabriel took John Ford’s iconic portrayal of rural Ireland in The Quiet Man as the starting point for an exploration of representations of Irish identity on film, with titles ranging from Darby O’Gill... to Hunger. 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 Quiet Man with Dr. Luke Gibbons on the opening night; Milo O’Shea made a surprise appearance to introduce his first film This Other Eden, and Jim Sheridan, Enda Walsh and Lance Daly all gave different generational perspectives on the extent to which Irish identity informs their work. Over 4,000 people attended the films over the two weeks and we were bowled-over by the level of interest shown by the MoMA audience in finding out more about Irish culture.

Revisiting the Quiet Man: Ireland on Film

Our final leg of our New York programme was a gala presentation and US premiere of Denis Johnston’s 1935 film Guests of the Nation at the Alice Tully Hall in the Lincoln Center on September 22nd. The IFI Irish Film Archive has restored this extraordinary film and given it new life with a newly commissioned score by Niall Byrne. Niall’s lyrical and emotive music was premiered at the National Concert Hall on September 11th with a live orchestral performance by RTE Concert Orchestra, and received a rapturous response from the 900-strong Dublin audience. The response in New York was no less ecstatic from an audience clearly moved by Denis Johnston’s stark but deeply emotional portrayal of Frank O’Connor’s short story, which is so enhanced by Niall’s music.

Guests of the Nation, NCH Dublin

The programme began with two short films by one of Ireland’s most exciting young filmmakers – Andrew Legge. Andrew uses silent film with a contemporary perspective, and The Unusual Inventions of Henry Cavendish and The Lactating Automaton provided a great sense of continuum from one of Ireland’s earliest example of indigenous filmmaking (Guests of the Nation), showing New York audiences the depth of talent there now is amongst Irish filmmakers.

The Lactating Automaton

Gabriel Byrne introduced Guests of the Nation, comparing the work of the IFI Irish Film Archive to those of archaeologists – uncovering and preserving Ireland’s cultural heritage and critically ensuring that treasure such as Guests of the Nation are not lost for future generations. This work is central to the IFI and we believe passionately that the IFI Irish Film Archive is one of Ireland’s most important cultural resources. Our year in the U.S. has demonstrated to us the power of the films we hold in the IFI Irish Film Archive to tell Ireland’s story to a global audiences, challenge perceptions of what it means to be Irish, and offer unique insights into our culture. Film is a powerful and accessible tool by which to communicate with both ourselves and a wider international audience and the preservation of our film culture in the IFI Irish Film Archive allows us to do this.

Gabriel Byrne introducing Guests of the Nation, NYC

Imagine Ireland has given the IFI, and many, many other Irish artists and organisations a fantastic opportunity to deliver programmes of real ambition in the States this year. Irish arts has had a very tangible presence across the States, raising awareness and developing invaluable contacts. Many good things will come out of this – the IFI is already developing a number of further collaborations building on the partnerships we made this year and we are extremely grateful to Culture Ireland for their support of a series of very exciting programmes for the IFI.

Sarah Glennie

For more information on Guests of the Nation with a new score by Niall Byrne, click [here]. 

Visit our Flickr account for more images from the film premiere at the National Concert Hall, Dublin [here] and at Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center in New York City [here]. 

Visit Imagine Ireland website for more information on other events featuring Irish arts in America. 


  1. Will the IFI be presenting any of these films in Dublin?

  2. Hi Renee. We presented this whole programme in the Dublin on September 11th before we brought it to New York.

  3. For Mark Blechman - I am seeking permission to use a Marcus Blechman photo of actress Abby Lewis 1934 in a book I have written. It has been accepted for publication. I understand a Mark Blechman is connected to IFI and hoped you were a relative of Marcus Blechman and might be able to grant use permission or guide me to whoever could. Thank you for your time.
    Paula Moore, Las Cruces, NM