Thursday, September 27, 2012

IFI20: We’ll take Manhattan

When I became Director of the IFI in 2008 I moved from being a regular visitor to its then two cinemas, to being involved in all of the IFI’s extensive activities – the cinemas, IFI Education, IFI Irish Film Archive, IFI National and IFI International. One of the great pleasures of my time as Director was discovering and working with the Archive – one of Ireland’s richest and most important cultural resources. Comprising over 27,000 rolls of film, the IFI Irish Film Archive tells Ireland’s social, cultural and political histories through a diverse and fascinating collection of feature films, newsreels, documentaries, home movies, travelogues and advertisements. Fragments of film that may not resonate for their filmic qualities present visceral and vivid portraits of Irish life, often revealing hidden truths and forgotten details and presenting a complex and often unexpected representation of Irish culture.

The full potential of this material to tell Ireland’s story to audiences nationally and internationally became fully evident to me in 2011 when the IFI had the opportunity to contribute to Culture Ireland’s year long programme of Irish arts in the US – Imagine Ireland. Throughout the year the IFI brought films from the Archive to the Lincoln Centre and MOMA in New York and the National Gallery in Washington.  Highlights included a standing ovation for The Seasons at the Lincoln Centre – a beautiful silent film made by a doctor in 1930’s Mayo, presented in New York with a specially commissioned traditional music score; two extraordinary screenings of Hunger and In the Name of the Father at MOMA each followed by irreverent and searingly honest discussions between Gabriel Byrne, Enda Walsh and Jim Sheridan (which to the confusion of the New York audience included Jim Sheridan’s impressions of the Queen and Enda Kenny);  and a rapturous reception to Guests of the Nation, a 1930’s Irish silent film restored by the IFI and presented with a new commissioned score by Niall Byrne at a gala screening to an audience of over 800 New Yorkers in the beautiful Alice Tully Hall.

Guests of The Nation Gala Reception

This last event will always sum up for me my overriding memory of working at the IFI – working with the incredible staff and Board, whose commitment and enthusiasm drives the IFI forward and makes great things happen. Presenting a gala screening of an unknown Irish film with in one of New York’s most prestigious venues; co-ordinating the RTE Concert Orchestra to travel over to perform the score with only one-day’s  rehearsal in New York was a daunting task which certainly had its challenging moments! It’s success was entirely the result of the energy, stamina and good humour of my colleagues who came to New York with me  – Ross Keane, Kaz O’Connell, Sunniva O’Flynn, and Eve-Anne Cullinan Chair of the IFI Board – and the great back-up provided by all of those that worked on the project back at base. It was a privilege to be part of the IFI for a couple of years and I know that with that team behind it the IFI can only go from strength to strength. Roll on the next 20 years!

Sarah Glennie
Director of Irish Museum of Modern Art
Former IFI Director (2008 - 2012)

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