Where the 2007 win for Once’s “Falling Slowly” offers perhaps the only high-profile Irish Oscar win since My Left Foot took two awards in 1990, the 2011 Live Action Short win for The Shore marked the culmination of the country’s consistent nomination success in the short film fields over the past several years, a trend started with Michael McDonagh’s 2006 win for Six Shooter. Indeed, it’s telling that one of the choices The Shore beat out was Pentecost, another Irish production. And the consistency of quality looks set to continue: the Toronto Irish Film Festival’s selection of state-supported shorts—whether via the Irish Film Board or Northern Ireland Screen—is a strong reminder of the fine little films the island is outputting.
…what’s nice about this selection is the uncertainty it voices about the state of the nation.
Distinct in style and story, each of the five choices might offer its own angle on the Ireland of today, but the curatorial crescendo contributes to a sum of strengths far beyond its constituent parts. Governmental subsidy shouldn’t have viewers expecting trailers for tourism, though; what’s nice about this selection is the uncertainty it voices about the state of the nation. That the two documentaries among the bunch, Two Wheels Good and The End of the Counter [note: not provided for review purposes], both glance nostalgically backward is an apt accompaniment to the emigrating modern youth of Boys from County Hell and the immobile alcoholism at the heart of Breakfast Wine.
“My arse is hanging out to an extraordinary degree,” says Pat Shortt in the latter, starring as a struggling publican in what’s certainly the selection’s most prestigious movie. Directed by Ian Fitzgibbon, whose features A Film With Me in It, Perrier’s Bounty, and Death of a Superhero have marked him one of Ireland’s more interesting filmmakers, it’s similarly split between dark humour and a dismal scenario. Dylan Moran does drunk as wittily and well as ever alongside Ruth Bradley and David Pearse of Grabbers fame. Together they make a movie whose quiet character moments, enigmatic emotional undercurrents, and feckless funniness almost cry out for feature length. It can be difficult to decide whether that’s more facet or failing.
So it is with this programme at large, which patches over the few weak patches across its selection with the collective charm of its unique little takes on the world.
A little more gamely goofy, if no less dark, is Boys from County Hell, a well-paced genre piece that plays preconceptions perfectly. Scene-setting from director Chris Baugh is as simple in approach as it is superb in effect; the end’s never in sight here until you get there, which makes all the more fun the ride. If shorts can act as trailers for a filmmaker’s future, this ought to drum up a considerable queue. Likewise Fear of Flying, Conor Finnegan’s brilliantly conceived blend of animation styles that’s as engaging as a story as a how-did-they-do-that wonder. There’s more going on in this tiny tale of migrating birds than the kid-friendly brightness might at first suggest; adults, too, ought to adore it.
Animation’s key too to Two Wheels Good, a short-and-sweet expressionistic take on the reminiscences of elderly cyclists. “You were independent when you had a bicycle,” one fondly recalls, the scene shooting off to explore the feeling of freedom in a colourful collage of odd yet object-based visuals. If the material’s a little on the slight side, the imagery is sure to never let us take note. So it is with this programme at large, which patches over the few weak spots across its selection with the collective charm of its unique little takes on the world. It ought to go down well: each of these shorts might wear its Irishness on its sleeve, but maybe that’s why they’ve all been doing so well.