|Ciné Gael Montreal: Twenty-eight years of the best in Irish cinema
— Dana Hearne
How it All Began“As we celebrate our 28th (2020) Season, of bringing the best in Irish Cinema to our enthusiastic members and supporters in Montreal, it is a good time to look back and recall some of the great moments we have shared and remind you of how it all began.
In the Spring of 1992, Anthony Kirby, well-known film buff and member of Montreal’s vibrant Irish community, suggested to the St. Patrick’s Society’s cultural committee that it consider bringing Irish films to Montréal for the benefit of the community. Nothing happened right away, but Lynn Lonergan Doyle, a member of the cultural committee at the time, mulled it over, got a few interested people together and formed an executive committee. The members of that first committee were Lynn, Patrick Vallely and Peggy Mullally.
With the financial support of the St. Patrick’s Society, the first Ciné Gael Montréal film season was set to roll one year later in January 1993. Lynn had no clue then how complicated it would be to get a film season launched each year.
The first season’s program was a harbinger of what was to become one of the annual highlights of the Irish community’s rich calendar of events. That year we screened such classics as The Commitments, The Luck of Ginger Coffey, December Bride, The Quiet Man (preceded by a lecture presented by Professor James MacKillop entitled “Irish Cinema and the Quiet Man,)” and Hush-A-Bye-Baby. This first season set the tone for future seasons in a number of ways. Irish cinema was wide open to us then as anything we decided to show would be new to us. We could choose the best of the classics and we could keep our eye on the new releases. With the input of the more knowledgeable members of the committee, we all developed a considerable expertise in researching and tracking films.
We developed a pattern then, which we expanded in subsequent seasons. With a season that extended from late January to early May, we had a film evening approximately every two weeks. We developed a tradition of having a guest speaker for every film. These speakers are drawn from the Irish community, from the Universities and colleges (film studies and others disciplines), the media (especially John Griffin, Gazette film critic), the film directors themselves and high profile actors and sometimes members of our own committee. We became interested in mixing genres to include, not only full-length features, but also documentaries, short films, and animation.
From 1993 until 1998 we were lucky to have the support of Le Conservatoire d’art cinématographique de Montréal, which up to that time was housed at Concordia University. Its affiliation with Concordia ended that year and although we continued to show our films at Concordia’s Cinema de Sève, the loss of the Conservatoire’s support made our task of researching and tracking films very much harder. The last year of this alliance was a success for Ciné Gael Montréal. That year a major festival of Irish film was mounted called Le Cinéma Irlandais: La Voix d’une Nation/Celebration of Irish Film: Voices of the Nation. It ran from March 26th to April 19th. In total we had 19 days of screenings and 55 films. The films were mostly highlights in Irish film-making North and South from the 1980s and the 1990s – features, documentaries, short films, and animation, including films directed by Neil Jordan (a major focus), Jim Sheridan, John T. Davis, Paddy Breathnach, Margo Harkin, Trish McAdam, Tom Collins, John Huston, Joe Comerford, Brendan Byrne, Damien O’Donnell, Aine O’Connor, Padraig O’Neill and Edith Pierperoff (who turned up in person all the way from Galway).
In the years following this bonanza of Irish film we added two new features to our programme: The much loved evening of shorts programmed by Heather MacDougal and Kester Dyer; and one weekend in the course of the season devoted to highlighting a celebrated actor (Stephen Rea, Milo O’Shea, Gabriel Byrne et al), director (John Ford, Neil Jordan, Bob Quinn, Cathal Black, Robert Quinn and, most recently Paddy Breathnach), a significant figure in the Irish film world (Rod Stoneman) or emphasizing a different focus on Irish women directors (Pat Murphy, Orla Walsh, Mary McGuckian, Margo Harkin). Our future plans include a weekend devoted to Gay Irish Cinema.
In the last couple of years, as we have celebrated younger film-makers, there has been a notable change in the kind of subject matter they are choosing to engage with and often these films seem to be less “Irish” than the films of their parents’ generation. As Robert Quinn said of his debut feature, Dead Bodies “One of the things I like best about this film is that there is nothing particularly Irish about it. It could be anywhere.”
Paddy Breathnach expressed a similar point of view when he was asked how he saw his films fitting into an Irish tradition. He said he doesn’t see himself as fitting into any kind of Irish tradition but rather thinks of his films as reflecting the particular space he inhabits at the time he embarks on them. Changes in Irish culture – or particular issues in the Irish social/political landscape can always be expected to be reflected in some way in his films, but they are not his guiding inspiration. As Ireland has gone global so too, it seems, have many of Ireland’s younger generation of filmmakers.
We also try to make sure that Northern Ireland is represented each season. Most of the Northern Ireland films we have shown until recently have focused on the tragic political situation — Omagh (directed by Peter Travis) was the most recent in this genre and one of the most moving and powerful. Over the following years we screened a number of outstanding films focusing on Northern Ireland. The closing film for our 20th Season (2012) was Lelia Doolan’s award-winning feature documentary Bernadette: Notes on a Political Journey, which charts the story of Bernadette Devlin McAliskey’s political journey since her explosive entry into the public arena in the late sixties. Lelia (Chairperson of the Irish Film Board from 1993 to 1996, and founder of the Galway Film Fleadh) was our guest speaker for this screening.
In our 27th season (2019) we screened two remarkable films from Northern Ireland: No Stone Unturned, Written and Directed by Academy Award winning documentarian Alex Gibney, which explores the collusion between police and paramilitaries (specifically the UVF) in the cover-up of the 1994 Loughisland Massacre in which six Catholic men were shot in a bar as they watched Ireland play in the World Cup; and the documentary film In the Name of Peace: John Hume in America by Writer and Director Maurice Fitzpatrick, which tells the story of how, through the relationships he cultivated with The White House and US Congress, John Hume created the framework for peace in Northern Ireland.
The focus of Our Special Weekend of screenings in 2017 (our 25th anniversary) was Women in Irish Cinema. What was very special about this weekend – apart from the focus on gender – was our guest Dr. Annie Doona, Chair of the Irish Film Board. On the Friday, Doona gave an excellent presentation on the issue of gender equality and the Board’s work to date on redressing gender bias in the Irish film industry. And the Saturday session featured two episodes of the darkly comic drama Can’t Cope, Won’t Cope by Director Cathy Brady, as well as three short films by the same Director. Brady joined us on Skype following the screenings.
In our last two seasons (our 27th and 28th seasons) we screened films that focused on The Great Famine: our opening film in 2019 was Black ’47, Directed by Lance Daly. 1847, the worst year of the Great Famine – which beset Ireland from 1845 to 1852. And Lost Children of the Carricks our opening film in 2020 (directed by Concordia University professor Gearóid Ó hAllmhuráin) traces a family’s story of survival on an Irish coffin ship that crashed off the Gaspé coast. This documentary tells the story of exodus and reunion. During the famine years of 1845-1852, Canada received approximately 300,000 Irish refugees. In the summer of 1847, over 20,000 would die at sea, in quarantine stations, fever sheds, orphanages and shantytowns across Canada. While Grosse Île on the St. Lawrence is the largest famine graveyard outside of Ireland and well known, there are sites associated with the tragic été irlandaise (Irish summer) of 1847 scattered throughout Quebec.
Because of COVID our 2020 season was cut off half way through – just before a planned screening of a film The 34th: The Story of Marriage Equality in Ireland – a documentary film by Linda Cullen and Vanessa Gildea. The film tells the story of the people who formed Marriage Equality in Ireland, and explores the events that led to the Thirty-fourth Amendment of the Constitution (Marriage Equality) Act 2015 – a landmark event in Irish history – which amended the Constitution of Ireland to permit marriage to be contracted by two persons without distinction as to their sex.
For our 2021 film series – our 29th season – in collaboration with the Irish Film Festival of Ottawa (IFFO) we were able to provide a complete programme – streaming on the web (April 9th-13th) – a great gift for all of us. Let us hope we can get back to normal soon, and maybe even contemplate the possibility of planning a series for next year.
One of the innovations brought in by Tim Hine over the past few years has been the ability for the Cine Gael audience in Montreal to interact with the directors of several of the films in real time via Skype. This is very much appreciated by the audience, considering the time difference almost always means that it is well after 2:00 AM in Ireland.
Patrick Brodie: Programming and film tracking;
[Note: For past members go to our website cinegaelmontreal.com – click on the Ciné Gael button]
Lynn Lonergan Doyle: Committee chair, responsible for Finance and Sponsorship, plus Publicity and Programming;
Tim Hine: Programme Director
Paul Doyle: Ticketing …and crowd control;
Caoimhe Dyer: Committee Intern;
David Hanley: Program Manager; Programming and film tracking;
Dana Hearne: Programming and film tracking;
Heather MacDougall and Kester Dyer: Programming our Short Films Evening;
Ann Shaw: TV, Radio, and Print media PR; Programming and film tracking;
Ken Wilson: Twitter; TV, Radio, and Print media PR;
Antoine Maloney: Membership; Communications (web, email, social media, and mail and phone).