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    Irish gems of early cinema showcased in Boston

    By Noreen Bowden | November 17, 2009

    The Boston Irish Film Festival looks like it’s up to great stuff these days. The website is out of action at the festival rebrands, but this month moviegoers are being treated to a look back at the earliest days of Irish cinematic history.

    “Blazing the Trail: The Story of the Kalem Film Company in Ireland” is being billed as

    a unique multimedia event that takes you back to the early 1910s when pioneering screenwriter/actress Gene Gauntier and director Sidney Olcott of the Kalem Film Company blazed a trail from New York to Killarney-and into history!

    Affectionately known as the “O’Kalems,” Gauntier, Olcott, and their crew became the first American filmmakers to shoot overseas and the first to produce films that reflected the realities of the Irish experience. A sentimental mix of rebel dramas, folk romances, and tales of exile and emigration, their films proved tremendously popular with the Irish in America and helped ease the pangs of being so far from home.

    I love the idea that these films were made in part to assuage the pangs of homesickness in an immigrant audience. How thrilling – and heartbreaking – it must have been to be able to see Ireland on screen in the earliest days of cinema, thinking that the black-and-white images might be the  closest thing to home you might ever see again.

    The programme will consist of a number of these short films, all digitally restored. The original films – some of which haven’t been screened in a century – will be accompanied by a pianist and two vocalists; there will also be a series of recently produced short films recounting the adventures of the Kalem film-makers.

    Watch this quirky little preview:

    The Boston Film Festival celebrated its tenth anniversary a year ago. Organisations like this (and the New York-based Irish-American Writers and Artists, for example) are a great reminder of the appetite for intelligent contributions on Irish-American heritage, and how much vitality there is on the Irish-American cultural scene; this  vitality is far too  often underestimated here in Ireland, where many people cling to inaccurate and outdated stereotypes of our diaspora.

    The event is sponsored by Reel Ireland, the Arts Council, and Culture Ireland. In recent years, there has been an increase in funding available from Ireland for Irish cultural events taking place outside of Ireland – this will surely have a great impact in strengthening the relationship between arts communities abroad and in Ireland, and also with deepening the understanding between Ireland and its diaspora communities.

    The programme will be screened on Monday, November 23 at the Coolidge Corner Theatre, Harvard Street in Brookline; tickets cost $9.75.

    If you’re not near Boston, you can watch (most of) “The Lad from Old Ireland” on YouTube (I think it’s from a German print, so it’s complete with a little bit of German text). Directed by Sydney Olcott and released in 1910, it’s the first American film shot on location outside the US. Eleven highly entertaining minutes of melodrama!  Part 1 and Part 2.

    Related web pages:

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