HFA Gets Lucky with Irish Film

Perhaps feeling left out of Boston’s Irish-steeped culture, Harvard has brought a taste of it home to its conspicuously un-Irish campus with a little help from Magners Irish Cider.

Though the tasty beverage itself is not appearing, Magners is the main sponsor of this week’s seventh annual Irish Film Festival at the Harvard Film Archive (HFA) and Brattle Theater. The festival may not have quite the thrill of a Dublin pub crawl, but it promises its fair share of exciting events—notably an appearance by Irish director Terry George (“Hotel Rwanda”)­. With more than 30 features and short documentaries, Magners celebrates the impressive and wide-ranging talent of Irish filmmakers.

Jim Lane and Peter Flynn started the festival, which began as an academic event featuring Irish films produced since the 1920s, while at Amherst College. It included panels and guest speakers, but at the end of the day, most of the people who attended were Irish-Americans interested in seeing movies from their own cultural background. The special program was so successful that despite what Flynn refers to as “the whole nightmare that it was” they decided to make it an annual event.

Now under Flynn’s direction, the festival has gained financial stability due to sponsorship from Magners. Magners has also allowed the festival to widen its demographic appeal to Bostonians in general as well as its traditional audience of Irish and Irish-American moviegoers, hoping that viewers will be drawn to the festival’s unique cultural spin on cinema. Flynn credits Boston as particularly open to cultural festivals, citing local events like the French Film Festival and the Armenian Film Festival.

Despite having widened his target demographic, Flynn insists that the festival is still “first and foremost catered to Irish and Irish-American consumers” as a way to celebrate Irish culture and accomplishments. He also lists more discerning viewers with a taste for non-mainstream, art-house movies as a secondary audience.

The selection process for the festival begins by submitting a call for entries, which is how Flynn and his team find 90 percent of the movies shown. There are then three independent judges who spend hours watching and deliberating over the movies to decide which films will appear at the festival. The festival also offers four awards: Best Feature, Best Documentary, Best Short Fiction/Animation, and the Director’s Choice Award.

Some of Flynn’s favorite films from this season include “Song for a Wagging Boy,” which he describes as an “emotional wringer,” as well as “Adam and Paul,” which he calls “very funny but, in the end, tragic.”

According to Flynn, a festival like this should be of great interest to the Harvard community. He points out that “as our culture becomes increasingly closed off to outside influences it becomes increasingly important to learn how other people create art.”

Flynn asserts that, “they work very hard over there in [Ireland] to make films,” with little money and resources, yet the films they produce are exceptional and emotionally complex.

Regardless of the cultural context, such a lesson about creating great art from very little is a unique gift for which Harvard should thank the Flynn, the festival, and, indeed, Magners. That Irish cider ain’t bad either.

The Magners Irish Film Festival will run at the HFA and Brattle Theater from Nov. 17 through Nov. 21.