By David Hennessy
Irish Film Festival London returned recently with a programme of feature films- including many London and UK premieres, Q and As, short films, award-winning documentaries, animation, panel discussions, industry workshops and all concluding with the annual Irish Film Festival Awards at the Irish Embassy.
The festival is the flagship festival of Irish Film and TV UK (formerly Irish Film London) and took place at venues such as VUE West End, VUE Piccadilly, Century Club on Shaftesbury Avenue and The London Irish Centre in Camden.
Opening night on Wednesday 15 November at VUE West End packed a punch as the festival opened with One Night in Millstreet, a documentary about the night in 1995 when Dublin boxer Steve Collins beat Chris Eubank to win the WBO Super- Middleweight belt and become world champion.
Both Steve Collins and Chris Eubank attended the screening and took part in a Q and A after the screening along with director Andrew Gallimore.
Steve Collins told The Irish World: “I retired a little over 25 years ago, and walked away from all the publicity and attention with the boxing.
“Life has moved on, I’ve done many other things and to come back and have this and obviously the chat with Chris and be in his company, it’s just kind of brought me back 25 years.
“It’s nice. It’s strange. It is exciting.
“It’s great that my daughter, my son and my wife is here.
“My son or daughter weren’t born and I wasn’t married to my wife when this all happened so they’re party to something that happened a generation ago and we are reliving it again.”
Is it nice to relive it again? “You’ve seen the result, haven’t you? Of course it’s nice.
“I could relive this forever and ever.
“It’s easy for me, I came out on top.
“It’s a great moment that was in my life.
“I was there but I didn’t see it so now I’m gonna get the view from the outside and see what really went on.
“When you’re in the ring boxing or preparing for the fight, you’re switched off to what’s going on around you but now I can experience what everybody who came along- family, friends and supporters- I can now experience what they experienced by looking at it from the outside.
“I watched it last week in Cork. I kind of sat back and went, ‘Wow, I’ve never seen this side of it’.
“I now understand why my family enjoyed it so much.”
Do you still miss boxing? “I don’t miss it.
“I loved the game.
“It was my life.
“It was an obsession.
“I boxed for 25 years non-stop.
“When I walked away from it, I reached the point where I didn’t want to do it anymore and when I walked away, it was a great weight off my shoulders. And thank God I was in the right place and lucky and blessed to have achieved what I achieved because great athletes great fighters did not achieve what I achieved.
“Better fighters than me did not achieve what I achieved.
“I was lucky to be in the position to be a substitute to fight Chris Eubank, to get the opportunity to spring board onto the world scene.
“There was a lot of luck involved and I’m glad I was in the right place at the right time.
“I also worked very hard.
“I grew up in a loving, loving home.
“The greatest dad in the world and a wonderful loving mother who gave me security and confidence.
“And if you give a young child security and confidence and let them believe their dreams, they can achieve greatness.
“My achievement is great but what brought me there is my upbringing, my love for my parents, my support from my brothers and sisters, and country and friends, and also a lot of good luck.
“And on top of all that dedication and hard work.”
On the relationship between the two fighters, Steve said: “I have a great admiration for him as a fighter. He was a very tough guy.
“Thankfully, he was around the era I was around and he brought so much attention, publicity and money to the game.
“Chris Eubank was the best thing that happened super middleweight boxing during our time, so I can’t thank him enough for that.
“We’re both healthy and both were lucky in life.
“Chris has had a major setback with the loss of his son.
“The most important thing for me was to just let him know I’m sad what happened to him.
“No man should go through what he went through and that is something that no punch and no loss and no defeat can hurt them as much as what he’s gone through.
“He has my support there as a father.”
Chris Eubank told The Irish World: “It felt wonderful to have such a huge audience at the launch of the film festival.
“I’m delighted, and the movie did not let anyone down.
“I mean, an extraordinary movie because effectively what you’re looking at is a man do something which is seemingly impossible.
“But with mind and focus and believing in who lives within you, which is yourself, you can achieve anything.
“And he did just that.”
The film detailed Steve’s use of hypnosis in preparation for the fight and Eubank’s unease with his opponent’s methods.
“The question I was asked was, ‘Would you consider it cheating?’
“And all you hear me say is, ‘No’, I would never take that credit away from him.
Steve Collins would go on to win his rematch with Eubank and also defeat Nigel Been to prove himself the best boxer in that weight class of the era.
“By whatever means necessary within the rules, he had every right to use whatever method he could to get into my mind.
“Because without that, there is no way he could have beat me, none.
“But then that may not actually be true because the second fight, as I pointed out, I’d done the training, I was on my game and he came and he bulldozed me.
“He just rushed me and that is possibly one of the most brazen performances I’ve ever witnessed. It was beautiful and I congratulate him because it gives me experience and that experience gives me wisdom.
“Steve is an anomaly because what he did was impossible, seemingly impossible.”
On their relationship, Chris says: “When you go to war, that’s when you really get to meet a man.
“You don’t meet a man because he says, ‘I’m a nice guy and I’ll buy you a cup of tea and a coffee’.
“You don’t meet someone like that, you meet them in adversity.
“Who has the courage to get into the ring with me back at that time? Who would have the courage to do what he did? That’s showing himself to be an honest man, because you can’t get in there being a cheat.
“You can’t get into that type of environment to where you can inspire a nation as he did for Ireland, you can’t get into that position if you are a liar, if you are a cheater, if you are backhanded.
“You gotta be honest. Honesty is strength and Steve epitomized that in the lead up which the people can see.
“He believed in himself which is why this movie is an absolutely fantastic example of how to get what you want in your life.”
Director Andrew Gallimore said: “It’s great (to be here).
“I’m happier now than I was 20 minutes ago before Chris and Steve had their reunion. I was just wondering how that was gonna go. It seemed to go pretty well. There was no incident in the lobby anyway.
“Morgan Bushe, the producer, and myself, discussed this idea that there might be a trilogy of documentary films that could almost tell the history of Ireland in the 20th century through three fights.
“The first one we made was called A Bloody Canvas and that was about a fight that took place in the middle of the Civil War in Ireland in 1922.
“Then we made a film with Barry McGuigan called In Sunshine or In Shadow which is really our film about the troubles in the north.
“This really is our Celtic Tiger movie where in 1995 Ireland anything seemed possible and a fight in a cow shed in the middle of Co Cork just seemed like a good idea at the time.
“I was at the fight.
“I was living in Wales, and I took the Swansea to Cork ferry and arrived in Cork on the morning of the fight.
“My main recollection is not realising that Millstreet is the best part of 50 kilometres outside of Cork.
“I went into this bar and I asked for directions, ‘How do I get to the Green Glens Arena in Millstreet?
“And he said, ‘Well, the good news is you’re in the right county but the bad news is, if you’re here to watch anybody on the undercard, you’re just not going to make it’.
“Little did I know then that 28 years later I would be standing here right now.
“It did feel like there was something happening in Ireland.
“I don’t think anybody understood at that time that the country was on the precipice of an economic boom that was completely unprecedented in European history.
“This fight seemed to encapsulate that sense of optimism that was in Ireland at that time.
“And on the evening, there was never any doubt who was gonna win that fight.
“I’m just hoping the third part of the trilogy isn’t tonight to be honest with you.”
The films continued on Thursday with a screening of Face Down: The Disappearance of Thomas Niedermayer, directed by Gerry Greg at VUE Piccadilly.
The documentary tells the story of an industrialist and devoted family man who was the Managing Director of the Grundig Factory in Belfast.
Over Christmas 1973, intruders broke into his home and kidnapped him. The film illustrates how acts of violence linger far beyond the moments they are committed.
The British premiere was followed by a Q and A with director Gerry Gregg and one of the film’s contributors Tanya Williams-Powel who is Thomas’ granddaughter.
Tanya told The Irish World: “The response has been absolutely amazing. I really appreciate everyone who came out to see it.
“A really important message both to me and my sister, Rachel, is that it’s not only those who are directly affected by terrorism who are victims of it, but those friends and family surrounding them, and also down through the generations.
“But as my sister said, we aren’t special.
“People have had far worse things happen to them but what we hope is that by telling our story, it gives people the courage and the motivation to change their own narrative, and move on through education and communication, rather than through violence.
“The only reason that we wanted to do this was to give us a chance to either help others or enable others to get help or to recognise something within them, that they can change if they wish to do so.”
Gerry added: “I think this is an important film, an important story, whereby the heroines are people who grew up in England who grew up with that long shadow over our lives and yet, who in the course of us telling the story emerge as inspirations, as people who have overcome a tremendous trauma, and now are looking at the next generation, the children coming up and saying, How can we deal with this so that we don’t all plunge into the darkness? And what lessons have we got to learn so that these things don’t happen anymore?’”
Tanya concludes: “We are lucky. We know what has happened and we know who committed the acts.
“There’s so many people out there who don’t have that knowledge. They’ve not had the truth and they’ve not had the justice and my heart goes out to them and I hope that they will find what they’re looking for.”
This was followed by Lie of the Land, a thriller/ horror set on an Irish farm featuring a couple in financial hardship.
The screening was followed by a Q and A with seven members of the cast and crew in attendance.
Director John Carlin told The Irish World when asked how it felt to be there: “The only thing I can say to that is look at the cast and crew that turned up.
“That’s how much it means to us. Everybody’s here.
“This is a huge deal to be in Piccadilly Vue screening our film that we made just a matter of months ago with a low budget on cold wet nights in February and here we are showing it in front of a really receptive audience. It’s fantastic.”
Actor Barry John Kinsella said: “As an actor, you’re generally told, ‘Don’t ever be desperate for a part’.
“I was desperate.
“Every year since I started acting, I’ve seen what films have been shown in the Irish Film Festival in London.
“I’ve always looked for it like, ‘I’m gonna go there one day’.
“When we found out we got in here I was like, ‘I’m definitely going’.”
The festival continued on Friday with a screening of the Irish language film Tarrac which was followed by a Q and A with director Declan Recks, writer Eugene O’Brien and actors Lorcan Cranitch and Cillan O’Gairbhi.
Director Declan Recks told The Irish World: “It’s always good to see the film with a different audience.
“It seems to go down well wherever we show it, which is always good.
“And the audience were great.
They really seemed to enjoy it and ask some really lovely questions. So yeah, really enjoyed it.
“You don’t have to be from the west coast of Ireland to understand it.
“At its heart, it’s a story of family and a father/ daughter story, and a story about grief as well.”
Lorcan Cranitch added: “It’s an honour really to be at the festival. I’m absolutely delighted.
“I suppose it’s a sports film but it’s got a serious human interest quality and the way they deal with the tragedy and the history of their lives, and the history of their own relationship is such a human story for all of us really.
“The energy of the sport runs sort of counter to the heartbeat of themselves really.”
On the advancement of Irish language cinema Lorcan said: “It is just is great for Irish cinema.
“And I think we’ve proven that with An Cailín Ciúin.
“It’s an amazing, it’s great.”
RMT leader Mick Lynch was in the audience for 406 Days, the award-winning documentary about the Debenhams strike in Ireland.
The screening was followed by a Q and A with director Joe Lee and protestors Jane Crowe, Carol Anne Bridgeman and Janet Ainsworth.
Janet Ainsworth told The Irish World: “It just brought back some memories, funny ones but also sad.
“I don’t regret one bit of it anyway.
“I’m glad I did what I did and I’d say that goes for a lot of the girls that did it with us.”
Carol Anne Bridgeman added: “I just think we’re so privileged to have the documentary still being shown.
“Coming over to another country to watch it is actually even more important to us, because it’s getting our story out to a wider audience.
“Hopefully, the more people that see it, the more likelihood that there is to change the practice towards workers and make sure legislation changes in the favour of the workers.
“From the outset, the respect that was shown to the workers was lacking, and it wasn’t there.
“If nobody else had respect for us, we had respect for ourselves as a group.”
“A true union leader,” Jane Crowe said of Mick Lynch who joined them on stage.
“A lot of the leaders in the Irish unions could take a note out of his book and learn from him because he stands with his members and stands beside them no matter what.
“That didn’t happen for us.”
The festival continued on Saturday with a panel discussion with the cast and crew of Verdigris, a programme of short films with two screenings at VUE Piccadilly while London Irish Centre hosted two Irish language documentaries.
Verdigris, a story of an unlikely friendship between a middle aged woman and a young sex worker, was followed by a Q and A.
Director Patricia Kelly told The Irish World: “It was fantastic. We got such a wonderful response from the audience, they were really very engaged, and it was lovely to kind of hear all the gasps and laughter and comments and things like that.
“It was very special.
“We’re absolutely delighted to be here and have our UK premiere tonight. And it really it just couldn’t have gone better.
“It’s a film that seems to be very much resonating with people.
“This is really just kind of the beginning of the film festival journey. So I’m really looking forward to more screenings and hopefully they’ll all be as really terrific as this one has been.”
Maya O’Shea who stars in the film added: “The response has been so incredible, I’m lost for words to be honest.”
Maya’s co- star Geraldine McAlinden added: “It’s just a joy from start to finish.
“It’s brilliant to be able to bring the film that we fell in love with on paper and that we had so much fun in making.”
Verdigris was followed by Lies We Tell.
Emerging director Lisa Mucahy adapts Sheridan Le Fanu’s novel Uncle Silas in the striking feature Lies We Tell. This spiky, distinctive period piece with a pointed feminist edge depicts an orphaned heiress (Agnes O’Casey) forced into the guardianship of her menacing Uncle Silas (David Wilmot).
Agnes O’Casey, the film’s star, told The Irish World: “I’m so proud of this film so it’s just so great to have a really responsive audience getting to see it.
“It’s wonderful to be here. We’re so proud of this film. And it’s just such a pleasure to have an audience here and to hear the reactions live.”
Although it is a period film, Agnes pointed out it is a modern story.
“It’s incredible, her world is our world.
“I feel like it’s very recognizable.
“She is allowed to be modern because I think her father has given her the freedom.
“At this time, when the film is set, women weren’t allowed to read in their head just in case they might have a private thought.
“It was a very different landscape.
“It’s cathartic and actually very empowering.
“Maybe if I read the blurb I’d be like, ‘Oh, my God, that sounds like a lot’, but I hope that audiences come out of it feeling empowered and thrilled.”
Agnes’ great-grandfather was the great Irish playwright Sean O’Casey.
Does that mean you grew up with theatre in your bones or does it even bring pressure going into the industry?
“I guess a bit of both.
“I was taken to the theatre since I was really young.
“I was taken to see O’Casey plays and they can be quite harrowing for a young child. But I love them.
“That’s when I like fell in love with theatre and when I knew I wanted to be an actor which has been a lovely blessing for my life, to always know, even if it’s hard or even if it took me a few years to get into drama school, things like that- It’s just lovely to just have that, you know that’s all you want to do.
“And sometimes it does feel like pressure.”
The festival came to a close on Sunday with the animation A Greyhound of a Girl being followed by the restoration of Joe Comerford’s film Reefer and the Model.
Joe Comerford said: “I did suggest at the start it felt like another premiere after a 35 year gap.
“I sort of intended that for the audience but it actually felt like that for me as well.
“It was like a re emergence, it’s come back into existence.
“I was very pleased to come here to the festival and I’m really pleased that they asked me.
“I’m glad to be here.
“The sad aspect is that quite a lot of the people in the film have died, have passed on so that is part of the experience now as well.
“They put their hearts into the making of the film and in some cases I’ve already had relatives come forward and say they enjoy seeing them on the screen.
“It has a nostalgic element to it strongly.”
The festival would close with the film Five and a Half Love Stories in an Apartment in Vilnius, Lithuania.
The festival was followed by the London Irish Film Awards at the Irish Embassy on Monday.