The wide range of the 20 mostly short documentaries made in and about Ireland that will be screened at this year’s Cinegael Buffalo event Friday and Saturday at the Burchfield Penney Art Center evokes the fable of the blind people examining the elephant. While one holds the tail and reports that an elephant is like a rope and another touches the leg and reports that an elephant is like a pillar, none grasps the entire creature.
And so it is with the varied, sometimes secretive, nuanced and beguiling nature of Ireland and the Irish, which has undergone monumental social, political, cultural and economic shifts over the past century. Each of these 20 films chooses a topic, from the famous – “Will Rogers in Dublin” (1927, 3 minutes) or “The Columbans: President Kennedy in Ireland” (1963, 26 minutes) – to the life of a fearful sheepdog on a small family farm (“Useless Dog,” 2004, 5 minutes, Ken Wardrop).
The program includes several films made in the 1950s and 1960s by Americans, including “Ireland: The Tear and the Smile” (1959, 50 minutes), narrated by Walter Cronkite, and the amusing “O’Hara’s Holiday,” made in 1959 by the Irish Tourist Board to encourage Irish-Americans to come home to find their roots.”
“They weren’t exactly in-depth treatments of Ireland; they were sort of a stereotype,” said Patrick Martin of the local group Riverrun, who with Laurence Shine arranges each year’s Cinegael offerings. “But they were also products of Irish sentiments.”
Cinegael Buffalo was founded in 2004 to bring film from and about Ireland to Buffalo. While the offerings in previous years included films that had been widely shown elsewhere, Martin said this year’s program contains many rare and hidden gems.
Highlights of the free events, with films at 11 a.m. and 1 and 7 p.m. each day and at 3 p.m. Friday and 3:30 p.m. Saturday, include a 7 p.m. showing Friday of two well-received short films by acclaimed Irish filmmaker Tony Donoghue, who will give a talk after.
Donoghue made “A Film from My Parish – 6 Farms” (2008, 7 minutes) and “Irish Folk Furniture” (2012, 9 minutes) in and around his hometown in north Tipperary. “Irish Folk Furniture,” in which Donoghue recorded and stop-motion-animated the story of rustic Irish wooden dressers, cabinets and other furniture, then had them restored and returned to their rightful place in the centers of the family homes, won this year’s Short Film Jury Award for animation at the Sundance Film Festival.
Donoghue’s works capture the plain yet charming stories of the rural people in his area.
“I thought I was making a film about my village, but as it turns out, it could have been a village in Italy, it could have been a village in Korea,” he said in a phone interview from London. Because of the humble nature of his topics, he said, “They are very hard films to get funding – if you say to somebody, ‘I want to make a film about an old lady and her chair,’ it sounds like such an unsellable concept. You sort of have to go and half make it, before they get it.”
Donoghue is dedicated to preserving the history and culture experienced by the aged people in his films.
“I always say that if I’ve got five 80-year-old narrators, they have brought 400 years of history to the table,” he said.
Saturday’s 1 p.m. program begins with an introduction by Vincent O’Neill of the controversial 1968 film, Peter Lennnon’s “Rocky Road to Dublin” (69 minutes), which was banned in Ireland for decades. The film, according to its narration, illustrates “the plight of a community which survived nearly 700 years of English occupation and then nearly sank under the weight of its own heroes and clergy.”
For a complete list of films, go to www.riverrunbuffalo.org.