It’s been an incredibly hard year for the film industry, but we feel it is important to celebrate and support these films. Again, in the last few weeks, we’ve been forced to change our plans again, this time moving all of our films online, like many festivals before us.

Our opening night film is The 8th, an incredibly moving film which traces Ireland’s campaign to remove the 8th Amendment – a constitutional ban on abortion. The film itself is inspiring in its study of the people involved, many for decades, in the fight for women’s rights. The movement is also an amazing model for success in the political arena, and shows what can be done if a small, dedicated group of people organise themselves in such a way. After the screening you will have an opportunity to join journalist Susan McKay, filmmaker Aideen Kane, and activists Ailbhe Smyth, Kellie O’Dowd and Jill McManus, discussing the film and the campaign for reproductive justice in Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, and beyond.

We have Grace Sweeney’s first feature film, The Sheriff,which explores several local sheriff elections in small US towns, during the midterms in 2018.  The documentary is a forensic study of the electoral process within the US, and the individual personalities involved, and provides much needed insight during this critical time in US (and world) politics.

The characters followed by first time director Grace Sweeney are colourful enough to make this (documentary) an entertaining proposition, even for those well versed in the mysteries of US politics. Handsome photography will add to the film’s appeal, both on the festival circuit and possibly to specialist documentary distributors.

Screen Daily Review by Wendy Ide (July 2020)

We are also screening a number of Ireland’s most established and talented documentary makers’ new films, Pat Collins’ Henry Glassie: Field Workand Trevor Birney’s The Dakota Entrapment Tapes. Pat is a renowned filmmaker most known for his remarkable hybrid film, Song of Granite.

His latest film follows the anthropologist Henry Glassie, who has spent his life out of studying folk artists, and the work that they create.  This calm and endlessly fascinating film manages to do something incredibly rare for a film in 2020, removes the watcher from their current surroundings for 90 minutes, and is a pleasure to behold because of that. Watch the Henry Glassie: Field Work Trailer and book tickets here.

Prolific Northern Ireland producer and director Trevor Birney is back with his first feature film, a true crime documentary that looks into illegal police coercion and coverups in a sleepy US town, in The Dakota Entrapment Tapes. Also,in partnership with TG4, we will present a brand new film on Martin McGuinness, which will have its world premiere. Trevor has been directly involved with many of the most successful documentaries to come from this island over the past few years, including No Stone Unturned and Bobby Sands: 66 Days, and we are delighted to be showcasing his new film.

We delve into the chaotic world of renowned Irish collage artist, Sean Hillen, in Gillian Marsh’sTomorrow is Saturday.  Diagnosed late in life with Aspergers, Hillen has reached a point in his career where he finds it almost impossible to work. Trapped in a tiny terraced house, full to the brim with junk, unfinished art and boxes of memories, Sean embarks on a journey to declutter and make sense of his life. Hillen was born in Newry and grew up during some of the most troubled times that city has faced – the film very skillfully traces Hillen’s childhood and and how it has influenced his contemporary work and situation. Watch Tomorrow Is Saturday trailer and book tickets here.

Due to the limited nature of our festival, 2020 will be the first year in 15 that we will not be able to hold our annual Maysles Competition for observational documentary. However we will screen one film in that tradition, a fitting one for 2020, with 76 Days – a look into the first few months of life in Wuhan, China when COVID-19 was first discovered. Watch 76 Days trailer and book tickets here.

As part of our original plans for Docs Ireland 2020, scheduled for June, we were going to highlight the work of Stuart Hall, including live screenings of a selection of interviews and TV programmes he had made.  Since those plans were unfortunately cancelled, we are showcasing this inspiring documentary, which skillfully and poetically uses Hall’s own words to tell his life story. The film, and Hall’s edifying words, deal with Race, Culture, Identity, Politics, Sexuality and Gender, Immigration and War. All of his speeches include things that are as relevant to British culture as when he spoke them. Simply, everyone in our society can learn from him, one of the clearest and most insightful thinkers to talk of the UK, as someone who is firmly from there.  Here is one of the countless Youtube clips available where Hall provides insight into our culture. Watch The Stuart Hall Project trailer and book tickets here.

We have organised a partnership with WATCH Docs, a documentary festival in Minsk, Belaurus highlighting the best documentaries to come from that area of the world over the past few years. This is part of a new venture at Docs Ireland, and we hope to highlight some of the world’s best documentaries from other parts of the world in years to come. As part of this focus, we screen some incredibly new documentaries, made In August 2020, when mass protests erupted across Belarus following the widely disputed election that put President Alexander Lukashenko in office for a sixth term. Three Belarusian filmmakers have documented personal stories of those caught up in the political turmoil.

The always interesting AEMI start a long-running relationship with Docs Ireland, programming a screening of documentary shorts made by artists and experimental filmmakers – pushing at the boundaries of what documentary can mean. Get your free tickets here.

We will also be hosting a number of events and talks during the week of our festival, including our usual Documentary Shorts Competition, and several industry events in collaboration with our friends at Cork Film Festival.

Finally, and perhaps most stimulating of all, Director Alison Millar will host an online work-in-progress screening of her brand new film, Ceasefire Baby, chronicling the influential life of journalist Lyra McKee (in partnership with BBC Digital Cities).

In Alison’s own words:

“Making a feature-length documentary set in Belfast and Derry that includes emotive issues such as suicide, LGBTQ+ rights and the unsolved disappearance of children, as well as following a family and a partner’s ongoing quest for justice for the murder of their loved one, wouldn’t ever be easy. But imagine if the murder victim – the person to whom these issues meant everything, and who in turn meant the world to her family and partner – was someone you, the documentary maker, also knew and loved. Lyra Mckee.

I’ve spent most of my career working on difficult stories, but this one is personal.”

We can’t wait to share the warm, welcoming embrace of shared cinema experience, when we can again in 2021. For now, we can replicate it somewhat over the interwebs – I really hope you enjoy these films as much as I did.

Stuart Sloan, Docs Ireland Programmer.

For further information on each of Stuart’s highlights see below: