CAPSULE REVIEWS: The 2nd Annual Irish American Movie Hooley
The second annual Irish American Movie Hooley at the Gene Siskel Film Center of the School of the Arts Institute of Chicago. Presented by 2 Gingers Irish Whiskey and produced by Hibernian Transmedia, the spirited mini-festival has a slate of three films, two making their Chicago premieres between September 30 and October 2. Tickets are available through the Gene Siskel Film Center’s website or through the individual films’ weblinks. All screenings and events are at the Siskel Film Center located at 164 N. State St. downtown.
This very writer and website was privy to viewing and reviewing this year’s Irish American Movie Hooley selections in advance. Here are my capsule reviews and recommendations:
“BENEATH DISHEVELED STARS”
The Hooley opens on Friday night at 8:00pm with the Chicago premiere of Kevin Baggott’s darkly comedic film “Beneath Disheveled Stars.” A favorite of the Cork Indie Film Festival and Brooklyn Underground Film Festival, the screening will be followed by a talk-back with Baggott himself and a social reception at the nearby Emerald Loop Pub.
The fable-like film follows the slovenly Bobby Tierney (Baggott) working as a tenement superintendent in Brooklyn. He is depressed and distressed by the recent passing of his mother. One of her last requests was for part of her ashes to be spread on the beach at Coney Island. Her final wish for the other half of them is a secret, but it involves Bobby heading to his ancestral homeland of Ireland.
Arriving in the coastal hiking hills of Kilcrohane in County Cork along the country’s southwest Atlantic coast, Bobby is looking for the town cemetery and an old name from his mother’s past. Wild goose chases and flustering dead ends beset Bobby, many of which are perpetuating by a loopy local prankster (Colin Martin). Baggott’s film is a slow-rolling stone that picks up its fair share of moss. Withheld details reveal layers like current loves, lost loves, and unresolved family dynamics between both Bobby and his mother.
The camera work by Baggott himself keeps an observational distance, matching the invisible walls put up by its loner main character. The unexplored and isolated settings, manifested little mysteries, and the cycle of conundrums, bring levels of intimacy and intrigue that close that distance. Though not entirely approachable for all audiences to wrap its head around, “Beneath Disheveled Stars” is an offshoot road movie that draws your guessing to see how it turns out.
“A DOCTOR’S SWORD”
A masterfully powerful documentary, “A Doctor’s Sword,” chronicling the reflective and jarring tale of Irish World War II veteran Aidan MacCarthy, comprises the second of the three Hooley features. It plays at 8:00pm Saturday night at the Siskel Center with a discussion featuring one of its producers Bob Jackson.
Raised in Castletownbere on the Beara Peninsula in County Cork, Aidan MacCarthy is the only known WWII veteran to survive both the Battle of Dunkirk and the atomic bombing of Nagasaki. When he returned home after years as a POW, he brought with him a Japanese samurai sword given to him by one of his captors. He spoke little of his experiences or how he came by this heirloom that went on to be displayed at his family business until 1979 when he published his memoirs, “A Doctor’s War.”
The documentary, written and directed by Gary Lennon, follows his surviving daughters, Nicola and Adrienne, as they look to trace the Japanese history of their father’s plight and the origins of the sword 68 years later. The film deftly meshes the modern quest with Aidan’s own narrated testimonial of his incredible survival, culled from radio interviews. When the story goes beyond archival wartime footage, hand-drawn animations from artist Ronan Coyle fill in the visuals described by MacCarthy, completing a wondrous visual presentation.
Aidan’s own story is inspiring and remarkable all its own and, to the film’s great credit, the present-day journey of Nicola is equally moving. Well-woven in structure, nonjudgemental in its observation, and extremely respectful of peaceful goals, “A Doctor’s Sword” is a richly pristine and compelling chronicle and time capsule.
“THE LARK’S VIEW”
The third and final film is hosted on Sunday afternoon at 5pm. It is the Chicago premiere of the Gaelic-language/English-subtitled “Fis na Fuiseoige” or “The Lark’s View.” Director Aodh Ó Coileáin will attend the screening and discussion in person.
Ireland is a proud country where a pagan history has been blended with Christianity for two millennia. Mythology has merged with scripture and history has absorbed legend. “The Lark’s View” is a documentary reflecting the current and lost traditions on the century anniversary of the significant Easter Rising conflict of 1916.
Coileain’s film presents prominent national poets quoting and discussing the oral tradition that has been passed on for centuries. Many of them feel like important stewards for maintaining the old ways that have been slipping away and evolving to modern society the last hundred years. Much of it spoken in the native Gaelic tongue, the poems speak to the naturalistic and humanistic bond between the people of Ireland and their land. Their passages, which celebrate good times and bad, speak with an earthly affection supported by a strong and passionate resolve to weather the many conflicts over the years that have threatened their culture.
“The Lark’s Way” beautifies these readings with striking cinematography. High aerial shots capture the endless natural vistas of the rugged Emerald Isle. Those gigantic views are matched by close-up natural photography, adding further delicate detail to every fiber, leaf, and stone of natural beauty. As the film progresses, the forests and hills give way to cities and society, in both the main country and Northern Ireland, showing more of the human side that occupies this place.
The combination of the oral history and the sumptuous imagery successfully achieves the documentary’s goal of cementing a indomitable land with its unbreakable people. Part history lesson and part love letter, “The Lark’s View” will make you want to buy a plane ticket and tome of poetry.