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Unleashing the power of Irish documentaries: the Pull Focus Competition at Docs Ireland

Docs Ireland, now in its 5th year, is currently showcasing the best of Irish documentary cinema through its highly anticipated Pull Focus Irish Documentary Competition. This esteemed event includes three world premieres, one European premiere, and seven Northern Irish premieres. The competition serves as a testament to the remarkable talent within the Irish documentary industry and offers a platform for emerging voices to shine. As Gary Lennon (director of I Dream in Photos) describes of the country’s documentary narrative potential, Ireland’s geography, together with its dramatic history and the resulting political systems, saw us being an anomaly compared to our European neighbours. The conservatism and dysfunction are to modern eyes, mind-blowing. As such contemporary Irish documentary makers have a rich volume of material which to work with. One particular part of Irish (both north and south) culture is that of secrecy.

One of the standout films in the competition is Afghanistan. Directed by Martin Stalker and James Glancy, this poignant documentary follows a filmmaker and former British Royal Marine commando who returns to Afghanistan, grappling with the haunting question of whether his sacrifices were worthwhile.

The Artist and The Wall of Death is another captivating entry. Directed by Maurice O’Brien, it tells the story of Stephen Skrynka, a Glaswegian visual artist who becomes consumed by his dangerous obsession with riding the ‘Wall of Death,’ a traditional fairground motorbike attraction.

Atomic Hope, directed by Frankie Fenton, delves into the pressing issue of nuclear energy as a potential solution to the climate crisis.

In the Shadow of Beirut Stephen Gerard Kelly, Garry Keane
In the Shadow of Beirut, a film by Stephen Gerard Kelly, Garry Keane

Another noteworthy documentary is In the Shadow of Beirut by directors Garry Keane and Stephen Gerard Kelly. This intimate portrait of Beirut, a city on the brink of financial crisis, weaves together the stories of its inhabitants, capturing their resilience and the challenges they face in an uncertain socio-economic climate. The documentary premiered in New Zealand at Doc Edge Festival, winning its prestigious international competition, and now debuts in Europe at Docs Ireland. Stephen Gerard Kelly says of its European premiere, «I’m looking forward to having the film have its European premiere at Docs Ireland in front of an Irish audience. Bringing the film, the people and their stories home is going to be special. After that, getting everyone in the film together in Beirut for screening is a priority. Having seen the trailer and knowing their own narratives, people are excited to see the complete film. This is also going to be emotional. Everyone in the film is a superhero given the daily struggles they endure, a fight that has only become more difficult given the acute economic crisis engulfing Lebanon.»

Notes From Sheepland, directed by Cara Holmes, offers a unique perspective on artist Orla Barry, who returns to Ireland after working in Brussels and unexpectedly falls in love with sheep farming. On this most interesting dynamic, Barry describes, «The Sheep have slowed my art career, but at the same, caring for them has hugely inspired it. I escape the studio by going to the sheep, escape the sheep by hiding in my studio, escaping one world to be free in another.»

I Dream in Photos, directed by Ollie Aslin and Gary Lennon, explores the life and work of Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Cahal McNaughton, unveiling the power of his iconic photographs and their impact on our understanding of the human experience.

Oh Bheál Ciara Nic Chormaic
Oh Bheál, a film by Ciara Nic Chormaic

Oh Bheál, directed by Ciara Nic Chormaic, then takes viewers on a cinematic journey into the rising hip-hop and electronic music scene in Ireland, blending ancient poetry and folklore with contemporary sounds to create a groundbreaking fusion.

I Must Away, directed by Dennis Harvey, is a compelling documentary following the journeys of four migrants who, over seven years, navigate life between Ireland, Spain, Chile, Sweden, France, and Bangladesh as they strive to rebuild their lives in foreign lands.

Stolen, directed by Margo Harkin, sheds light on the harrowing discovery of 796 mothers and babies in Tuam, Ireland, unravelling the truth behind this tragic event. Additionally, The Future Tense, directed by Joe Lawlor and Christine Molloy, provides a profound meditation on the experience of being Irish in England, delving into themes of identity and belonging.

These films, along with others featured in the Pull Focus Irish Documentary Competition, showcase the diversity of narratives and the powerful storytelling within the Irish documentary industry. As Ciara Nic Chormaic says, «There is such a rich and varied selection of films this year and, in particular, the Pull Focus Irish Documentary programme, which is reflecting how exciting the documentary landscape is at the moment across Ireland. These are our stories, unique, diverse and gripping.» Audiences can expect to be engaged, challenged, and inspired as they embark on a cinematic journey that explores important social issues, personal journeys, and untold stories.

The fifth Docs Ireland runs through 25 June in Belfast. Find more information on the entire Pull Focus Irish Documentary CompetitionHERE

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Steve Rickinson
Steve Rickinson
Steve lives in Bucharest, Romania. He writes for some platforms and does some other things as well.

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