“Destination… Ireland”: Exploring Irishness, through film, music and literature

Published 16/02/2024

After Greenland, “the future” and Ethiopia, this year’s special section is dedicated to Ireland, land of migration and breathtaking landscapes, with an unprecedented look at contemporary society. The film programme features several premieres.

“Destination…” is the section of Trento Film Festival that has presented events and screenings dedicated to the film and cultural characteristics of other countries and geographical areas since 2011. This year, the exploration and film programme will have an even more contemporary feel, if possible. There will thus be space for innovations and unseen work, highlighting a special link with the present day, in order to take a new and original look at both the past and the future. All this will take place in the context of a geographical area that while it is decidedly close to us, is not always well-known: Ireland.

“There were two main reasons for the choice,” explained Mauro Gervasini, responsible for film programming at Trento Film Festival. “The first is that, despite being a ‘small’ country in terms of size and number of inhabitants, Ireland has experienced important waves of migration starting even before the 19th century, leading to hundreds of thousands of people moving to other places around the world over the course of time, mainly, but not exclusively, to English-speaking countries.”

Ireland’s national holiday (St. Patrick’s Day, on 17 March) is now celebrated practically everywhere. Likewise, one of the most important and well-known American filmmakers, John Ford – born Seán Feeney – was born in Maine to parents from Galway County, and his films, not just the so-called Irish movies (including the 1952 masterpiece The Quiet Man), are imbued with Irishness. This is the magic word summarising the varied nature of the many facets of Irish culture, from sports to music, theatre and literary output. The authors James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, Jonathan Swift, George Bernard Shaw, W.B. Yeats, Bram Stoker and Samuel Beckett are indeed Irish, while successful contemporary writers also include the winner of the 2023 Booker Prize, Paul Lynch.

“Ireland has an important history of filmmaking” Gervasini continued, “but it is above all in the new millennium that Irish cinema has established itself at global level, thanks to institutions for the promotion, development and distribution of local film such as Screen Ireland and Northern Ireland Screen, with substantial development of animated film too. This has also taken place with the contribution of a new generation of authors (Lenny Abrahamson, Tomm Moore and Nora Twomey), and actors (Saoirse Ronan, Katie McGrath, Ruth Negga, Barry Keoghan, Cillian Murphy and Aidan Gillen).”

At the 2023 Oscars, The Banshees of Inisherin by Irish director Martin McDonagh received no less than 9 nominations, after having won three Golden Globes, Colm Bairéad’s The Quiet Girl was nominated in the Best International Film category (the first ever nomination for a film in Gaelic) and An Irish Goodbye by Tom Berkeley and Ross White won the Oscar for Best Live Action Short Film. An Irish Goodbye will indeed be part of the “Destination… Ireland” film programme at the 72nd Trento Film Festival.

The “Destination… Ireland” project has the backing of the Irish Embassy in Italy and Tourism Ireland.

The film selection

Of the dozen or so works making up the film selection for “Destination… Ireland”, the aforementioned An Irish Goodbye (Great Britain, 2022) by Tom Berkeley and Ross White, is a short film that succeeded in winning an Academy Award, as already mentioned, thanks to its enjoyable yet profound gallows humour. The film tells the story of Turlough, a young man settled in London, who goes back to Tyrone County after the death of his mother, in order to sell the family farm as quickly as possible and return to England. But his brother Lorcan, who suffers from Down syndrome, opposes his plans, insisting that their mother’s last wish – to have her children achieve a list of 100 things she prepared before her death – can come true.

There are no less than seven Italian premieres in this section.
These include first of all, the hard-boiled detective story Barber (Ireland, 2023), by Fintan Connolly, set in Dublin during the Covid-19 lockdown in Dublin, where a girl disappears in mysterious circumstances. Her grandmother, who does not believe that she has gone away of her own free will, decides to contact the private detective Barber – played by Aiden Gillen, better known as Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish in The Game of Thrones – who usually deals with infidelity and industrial espionage cases, but this time finds himself thrown into a murky intrigue linked to the highest echelons of political power.
Another premiere is Seán Mullan’s short film Once a Beige Day (Ireland, 2024), presented in cooperation with Irish Film Festa, featuring an empty room ready to be painted, full of memories but suddenly violated by the presence of somebody coming into the house. Considered one of the most talented directors of his generation, Seán Mullan directed Hyfin, a Netflix documentary about the Derry rapper of the same name who became famous in the United Kingdom despite his heavy northern Irish accent.

An Beál Bocht (Ireland, 2017) by Tom Collins and John McCloskey, is an adaptation, this time in animated form, of another novel: the only one Flann O’Brien wrote in Irish Gaelic under the pseudonym of Myles Na gCopaleen. It is a satire focusing on the life story of a young man in a remote area of western Ireland, who looks back on his past from prison, after having been wrongly accused of a crime. Teacups (Australia/Ireland, 2023) by Alec Green and Finbar Watson, is another animated short film, recounting the story of a man, by now mature, living close to a tall cliff, who intercepts the desperate men and women who have chosen the place to end it all, saving them.
Prasanna Puwanarajah’s Ballywalter (United Kingdom/Ireland, 2022) tells the story of Eileen, a young Irishwoman who returns to Belfast, her home city, after having interrupted her studies in London. Unemployed, she decides to work as a taxi driver, albeit without a licence, and this is how she meets Shane, an older man who has retired to Ballywalter after his divorce, who asks the girl to accompany him to the capital city once a week, to attend a stand-up comedy course. Robert Higgins’ Lakelands (Ireland, 2022) is instead the tale of Cian, a talented Irish footballer obliged to call into his question his dreams and life prospects as the result of a head injury.

Lastly, Julien Temple’s Crock of Gold (USA/Great Britain, 2020) is a documentary produced by Johnny Depp, celebrating the life and art of the founder of the Pogues, Shane MacGowan, who passed away last November and to whom Trento Film Festival also wishes to pay homage.

Here is the full list of the “Destination… Ireland” films:

  • Crock of Gold  by Julien Temple, produced by Johnny Depp
  • Lakelands by Robert Higgins and Patrick McGivney – Italian premiere
  • Ballywalter by Prasanna Puwanarajah
  • An Irish Goodbye by Tom Berkeley, 2023 Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film
  • Barber by Fintan Connolly – Italian premiere
  • An Beál Bocht by Tom Collins and John McCloskey
  • Once a Beige Day by Seán Mullan – short film, Italian premiere, in cooperation with Irish Film Festa
  • Teacups by Alec Green and Finbar Watson – short film
  • An Island by Rory Byrne – short animated film
  • Für Bettina by Adrian Duncan – short film, Italian premiere
  • Room Taken by Grady Peyton – short film, Italian premiere
  • North Circular by Luke McManus – Italian premiere
  • The Quiet Girl by Colm Bairéad, nominated for an Oscar as Best International Film in 2023

The events program

As happens every year, there will be many events and meetings taking place alongside the equally rich selection of films dedicated to the guest country.

During the ten days of the Festival the city of Trento will thus be animated by events linked to “Destination… Ireland”, with discussions, tasting sessions, tradition and folklore, to celebrate the unique spirit of a land capable not only of creating a unique bond between those who visit and those who live there, but also of generating genuine emotions, thanks to its breathtaking landscapes, hospitable culture and age-old history.

Ireland means above all rhythm, dance, ballads and folk song, with an awareness that it only takes a few instruments to create irresistible harmony. Irish music will thus be celebrated not only with screening of the aforementioned film Crock of Gold, but also with a special event featuring the Emilian musician Cisco, formerly singer with the Modena City Ramblers, unashamedly inspired by the Pogues. 30 years after March 1994, when their first album entitled Riportando tutto a casa came out, Cisco, accompanied by musicians from his historic band, has decided to celebrate the album with a mini-tour in spring that will conclude precisely at Trento Film Festival. On stage with him there will be the music critic and radio journalist John Vignola. Their conversation will also be an opportunity to explore the wealth of Irish music, from U2 to the Cranberries, and to retrace the influence of Irish folk on the band.

There will be a further opportunity to explore Irish music during a dual musical appointment and discussion in cooperation with the METS – Museo Etnografico Trentino San Michele, entitled Musical Narration. The guests of the METS-Museo Etnografico Trentino San Michele will be the ethnologist Renato Morelli, with the O’Carolan Trio, while a concert of traditional Irish music will take place with the Birkin Tree in Trento.

There will be space for Irish dance courses, organised by the Clover, while in the context of activities dedicated to children as part of T4Future, it will be possible to take part in the most famous and entertaining traditional Irish games: from fun activities typically animating evenings in Irish pubs, such as darts, to traditional tug-of-war contests.

There will be two encounters with Antonio Bibbò and Andrea Binelli, lecturers at the University of Trento to discuss 20th century Irish literature, reflecting on certain key issues, starting from the films present at the Festival, focusing on the entertaining and experimental writer Flann O’Brien and Irish folklore, and attempting to recount the relationship between Italy and Ireland in the last century.

Lastly, a photography exhibition entitled Ireland on the small and big screen will explore the incredible landscapes of this year’s guest country, known all over the world, to the extent that many directors have found the perfect settings for their stories: indeed, iconic films and successful TV series such as Braveheart, Game of Thrones, Vikings and Star Wars were indeed filmed in Ireland.

The Emerald Isle offers the opportunity to visit the places where these productions were made. This is enticing for film buffs and the general public, also thanks to easy access to the locations and numerous guided tours. However, “landscape” also means exploiting places and hence tourism: the scheduled exhibition, curated by Tourism Ireland, will focus on this theme.