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10 Picks for Belfast Film Festival


Kicking off this evening with Mark Cousins’ I Am Belfast, and running from April 16 to April 25, this year’s Belfast Film Festival boasts a programme traversing ever genre and sub-genre of modern and classic cinema. With screenings and one-off events taking place in venues large, small and altogether curious across the city, there is (as their full programme attests) quite literally something for everyone on offer.

In fact, so dense is the schedule that we’ve enlisted the immeasurably tasteful Conor Smyth to whittle it down to ten of their most unmissable screenings and events. Delve in.

I Am Belfast 

The question of what kind of city Belfast is, of the nature of its identity, is one usually conducted in deadening clichés: the bland ad speak of late night latte shopping, or across-the-barricades stories of war and peace. You need an artist with the vision to attempt a kind of conceptual audit of the place. Opening night duties of the Belfast Film Festival fall to local film-maker and critic Mark Cousins and as anyone familiar with his work knows, Cousins is a man of vision. In I Am Belfast an ancient female spirit (pictured) personifying the city takes us on a tour of the place’s sights, familiar and unknown, and deeper, into the dream life of its inhabitants, drawing on histories personal and collective. Thurs 17th 7:30, Moviehouse Dublin Road

A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence

There’s dead pan, and then there’s no more, ceased to be, expired and gone to meet his maker pan. Swedish absurdist Roy Andersson’s blackly comic A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Contemplating Existence completes the trilogy he began with 2000’s Songs From The Second Floor and continued with 2007’s You, The Living. Like Andersson’s other work, it’s basically a loosely connected series of sketches, with two shambling novelties salesman at its centre. Pigeon‘s mix of tedium and elaborately constructed, quasi silent-era set-pieces is sure to divide opinion. Don’t be surprised if there’s walkouts. Sat 16th 6:30, QFT


For the young, media-literate and politically engaged, there are fewer more trusted voices than that of The Daily Show‘s Jon Stewart. Rosewater marks Stewart’s debut as a film-maker, as he takes on the real life story of journalist Maziar Behari’s capture and four-month interrogation by Iranian authorities. Working off Bahari’s Then They Came Me: A Family’s Story Of Love, Captivity and Survival, the film follows the Newsweek’s time in Iran covering the unrest around the 2007 elections and his arrest and imprisonment. Attendees at the Dublin Festival screening reported a moving line of humour, and relief that despite the harrowing nature of the story, Stewart hasn’t lost himself to seriousness. Tues 21st 9:00, QFT

Tokyo Tribe

Registering bright red on the WTF-ometer is Tokyo Tribe, Japanese hell-raiser Sion Sono’s follow up to 2013’s Why Don’t You Play in Hell? It’s a wild genre and visual mash-up, a hip hop musical about warring street gangs duking it out in a future Japan. Promising ‘you won’t see anything else like this’ is such a critic cliché, but, still, I very much doubgirlt you’ll see anything else like this at the festival. Little White Lies editor David Ehrlich has said it’s like God-mode Sion Sono made ‘Jet Set Radio’ into a Warriors-inspired martial arts rap opera pink film’. I’m not sure what that description means, but I can’t wait to find out. Sun 19th 9:00, QFT


Spirit of ’58


In an age of diminished sporting expectations, it’s a real mind-melter to learn that the Northern Ireland football team made it to the quarter finals of the 1958 World Cup. Can you imagine how much the country would lose its shit if that happened now? Evan Marshall’s documentary tells the story behind the team who almost made it to a semi-final clash with Brazil, a squad led by Danny Blanchflower, with footage and interviews with the surviving players. Makes a nice companion to James Erskine’s soccer-themed Shooting for Socrates, showing at the Waterfront two days later. Wed 22nd 7:00, Moviehuse Dublin Road

Listen Up Philip

For his third feature, Alex Ross Perry takes aim at the self-satisfied New York tweed type in Listen Up Philip. Jason Schwartzman plays a narcissistic writer eagerly anticipating the launch of his second book, who abandons his girlfriend (Elizabeth Moss) to stay with a Philip Roth-like man of letters (Jonathan Pryce) in his country retreat. It’s a comedy of letters, with Schwartzman’s trademark erudite flourishes, but it’s got a dark, dark heart and is unsparing in its contempt. Yay.  Fri 17th 8:00, QFT

Eraserhead: Live Soundtrack

David Lynch’s 1977 debut, Eraserhead, is a strange, hypnotic and powerful piece of body horror surrealism. It deserves to be seen on a bit screen, and its haunted, dreamlike quality can only be intensified by the live score from French band Coffin at the Mac. Lynch’s wild imagery and Jack Nance’s unforgettable performance will be accompanied by Coffin’s electronic, hypnotic looping music. Wed 22nd 8:00, The MAC


The Canal

It’s a dangerous business, this film watching. Adam Brooks and Matthew Kennedy’s homage to 70’s Italian horror, The Editor, centres on a film editor caught up in the murder of actors. but waving the flag for homegrown horror is Ivan Kavanagh’s The Canal, a ghost story about a film archivist who starts to suspect dark forces at work in the shadows of the film theater. It’s stylish, nightmarish and brooding – a colleague who saw it in Dublin name-checked Tarantino – and apparently gets audaciously mad in the third act. Fri 17 9:00, QFT

A Girl Walks Home at Night


We’ve been hearing about this one for a while now. Ana Lily Amirpour’s feature debut has been billed as the first ‘Iranian vampire western’ by some in the trade, while other warn against getting over-excited about genre innovation. Expecting a hip vampire spin, with its lonely undead girl stalking the night of fictional Iranian town of Bad City, to a cool, synthy soundtrack and sorrowful, vintage black and white photography with inspirations from the Iranian New Wave. Mon 20th 6:30, QFT

The Monday Club

Followers of the local film scene will be familiar with the name of Brian Mulholland. For years now he’s been co-ordinating Film Devour, an annual showcase of Irish short films (sidenote: Devour will be running in the Black Box on Mon 20th, while the official Festival shorts run on Fri 24th and all day Sat at the QFT). The Monday Club is writer-director Mulholland’s first feature, coming in at just over an hour. In a Belfast city centre pub, Danny, the last surviving member of the ‘Monday club’, where seven dock workers would meet up and have the craic, sets out their stories. It’s one of a number of independent native medium and feature length films. Thurs 23rd 7:00, Moviehouse Dublin Road

The Clouds of Sil Maria

The Clouds of Sil Maria unites two giants of French cinema, Olivier Assayas and Juliette Binoche. The film takes on some of the same themes as Birdman or Maps to the Stars but with, I detect, a great deal more subtlety. Binoche plays a veteran actress who signs on for a revival of the play that gave her her big break, a two-hander about seductive intrigue, but this time in the older role, a young starlet usurping the spotlight. Expect existential disquiet about the fickleness of fame and some rich Alps photography. The increasingly credible Kristen Stewart plays her assistant. Sun 19th 9:15, QFT

Conor Smyth is the Film Editor at The Thin Air and regular Banterflix contributor. Follow him @csmythrun.