"Garage" rocks? SF Irish Film Festival opens with "Garage" at the Roxie, SF.

The San Francisco Irish Film Festival

Eve O'Neill March 4, 2008

The fifth annual San Francisco Irish Film Festival begins this Wednesday at the Roxie with a slate of narratives and documentaries imbued with Ireland’s particularly unique sense of time and place in the modern world; the people, the pubs, and that iconic, green pastoral landscape.

Irish actor and comedian Pat Shortt stars in the opening night film Garage (rhymes with ‘carriage’ when said with the appropriate accent) though the film utilizes his talents less for comedic value and more for his ability to believably portray the subtle mannerisms of Josie, the well-meaning, deeply lonely town simpleton. This is the second collaboration by director Leonard Abrahamson and writer Mark O’Halloran, whose first feature Adam & Paul, was a similar, heavily character-driven narrative marked by what seems to be emerging as a thematic trademark: sympathetic characters in inescapably tragic situations. Garage took home the C.I.C.A.E. Award at Cannes in 2007.

Irish film, though seemingly sparse in production, makes up for what it lacks in quantity through quality. You may have heard a tiny, independent film by the name of Once, now winner of Sundance’s 2007 Audience Award and an Academy Award for best Original Song. Other films previously presented or co-presented by the IFF include The Wind that Shakes the Barley, winner of the Palme D’or in 2006 at Cannes and Six Shooter, winner of an Academy Award for best live action short.

The second night of the festival is “Irish TV night,” which seems appropriate after some brief research into how Irish television and cinema are related; both seem to be funded and distributed in part by the same government entities, namely the Irish Film Board and the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland. The four-part drama Prosperity, (written and directed by the aforementioned O’Halloran and Abrahamson—another indication of the TV/film relation, perhaps) “follows the lives of four people living on the fringes of the Celtic Tiger,” say the IFF’s notes on the film.

The Celtic Tiger refers to a period of intense economic growth in the Republic of Ireland that began in the ’90’s. The term “Celtic Tiger” has been used to refer to the country itself as well as to an enviable economic situation, e.g. “…what we’re hoping to create with this new initiative is somewhat of a Celtic Tiger.”

Day three of the festival includes a short program complimented by free Magners Original Irish Cider, aptly titled “Magners N Shorts,” featuring over ten award winning pieces and most notably the film “Nuts,” novelist and screenwriter Irvine Welsh’s directorial debut. Emer Martin and Irish Film Festival director Niall McKay produced the film.

Day four culminates with a documentary program and closes with The Undertaking (Learning Gravity), a documentary about Irish American undertaker and poet Thomas Lynch, famed as the inspiration for the hit HBO series Six Feet Under. The Undertaking is a fitting end to a festival whose strongest attribute is showcasing Irish talent, the names of which on first listen may not sound familiar, but have deeply permeated the American cultural landscape.