Irish Film Festival sets its 17th run: March 23-26 at Somerville Theater

Modern Irish cinema will tackle weighty social conundrums while also prompting a few more belly laughs than usual at this month’s Irish Film Festival in Somerville, the annual movie-lovers’ celebration of a changing Ireland.

The four-day event, the 17th in a series, launches next week, beginning on Thurs., March 23, and running through Sun., March 26, at the Somerville Theater.

The team previewed the festival earlier in the month at the Aeronaut Brewing Company in Somerville, rolling out a schedule of more than 30 features, shorts, and documentaries for the March 23-March 26 run.

The showings start off with a bang with “The Young Offenders,” directed by Peter Foott and inspired by Ireland’s biggest cocaine seizure in 2007. In this riotous comedy, two teenagers steal two bikes and try to strike it rich by finding a missing $7 million cocaine barrel that fell from a drug trafficking boat capsized off West Cork.

Festival director Dawn Morrissey highlighted the US premiere of “A Date for Mad Mary.” Darren Thornton directs this dark comedy about a woman recently out of prison attempting to find a date for her best friend’s upcoming wedding. The film is paired with Morrissey’s short film pick, “Terminal,” about a girl and a woman who meet at an airport terminal gate on their way to an abortion clinic.

“Terminal” is a “subtle, nuanced film that brings a lot to what’s going on at the core of Ireland and the US,” Morrissey said, calling the 10-minute short one of her favorites at the fest.

Full afternoons and evenings are on hand for Saturday and Sunday, with slates of short programs, maudlin features, comedies, and incisive documentaries on tap.

Making its world premiere at the festival, the Global Vision Best Documentary winner “Rocky Ros Muc,” directed by Michael Fanning, follows boxer Sean Mannion’s 1970’s journey from Galway to Boston and the peaks and valleys of his hard-scrabble career in the ring. Some familiar Boston faces make appearances in the film, including Mayor Martin Walsh and Boston Globe columnist Kevin Cullen.

Also running during the festival are: The searing look at women’s rights in “Out of Innocence”; the documentary “66 days” about Irish Republican Bobby Sands’s 66-day hunger strike in 1981; and “Paddy Maloney: Chieftain” about the traditional Irish music icon,” closing out the festival. The full schedule and tickets are available online at irishfilmfestival.com.

This year’s festival offers a compelling portrait of modern Ireland, Morrissey told the Reporter. “We’re excited about the evolution of Irish film in general,” she said. “We’re a country of 4.5 million that punches way above its weight in film.” Irish writers, directors, and musicians walk away with Academy Award wins or nominations each year, Morrissey noted, with a record nine Irish nominees across six categories last month.

The volunteer-run festival is running an IndieGogo campaign to raise funds, shooting for $17,000 by March 17, as well as planning to create a festival board to solicit grants for future financing.

Morrissey said the current political climate has informed the festival’s approach to Emerald Isle filmmaking. Ireland is becoming more affluent, so the US is not seeing the “waves” of immigration of years past, she said, adding that festival leaders are still seeking to strengthen connections with the Irish diaspora, but “at this point, we are always looking to grow our audience, and I think that reaching out to non-Irish cinephiles is one of the things we really wanted to do.”

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