If you asked me how Iris 2015 compares with Iris 2007, I’d say it’s bigger, it’s better, and the hangovers seem to last twice as long. Sadly, that last bit is more down to the fact that I’m 37 than anything else, but even with the fuzziest of heads, nothing could put a dampener on the first day of short films here at Iris.
Programme 1 contained two of my favourites from our pre-selection sessions back in May of this year, Charlie and Boxeadora. Charlie is a strange and funny little film about a young man who wanders off from his overbearing mother one Christmas Eve, and finds himself sharing the holiday with the perfect family. Shades of Frank Capra, and with hilarious turns from Mo Collins and Parks & Recreation’s Jim O’Heir.
Boxeadora is a vibrant documentary that follows Namibia, Cuba’s only female boxer. While Cuba has the honour of more Olympic medals for boxing than any other country, women’s boxing is outlawed, and Namibia’s attempts to leave Cuba and box in Chile are frustrating, moving and inspiring in equal measure.
In Programme 2, D. Asian gave us a funny, sweet, nostalgic take on cultural identity and first crushes, while No Strings introduced the fantastic Welsh word “cwtch” to an international audience. Dániel, a subtle and brilliantly acted drama about a Hungarian male prostitute in London, must surely be a strong contender for Best British Short, if not the Iris Prize itself.
Between Programme 2 and Programme 3 I had a chance to catch the Thai film How to Win at Checkers (Every Time), a very powerful coming-of-age story about two brothers, the older of whom is about to face Thailand’s lottery for compulsory military service.
The strongest contenders in Programme 3 were, I think, the two films we saw from Israel. Hora is animator Yoav Brill’s second short to be screened at Iris, after his delightful film Ishihara was shortlisted in 2010. Hora has just as much charm, with its Terry Gilliam-like use of vintage photos, in exploring what it means for gay men to hold hands in public. Guy Sahaf’s film Thirst, meanwhile, follows two friends as they hike across a stretch of barren countryside.
Sadly, I didn’t get a chance to watch any of the programmes from this year’s Irish Focus, which culminated in a late night screening of the 2005 film Breakfast on Pluto. Between movies, Cineworld’s Bafta Bar was kept entertained with live music on what we’re presently calling the “Jamie Stage”, after our events organiser Jamie Williams.
I’d made a promise, earlier in the day, that I’d pace myself and not stay out too late, but of course those kind of plans very rarely work out during Iris. By 10pm a few glasses of wine had washed away the last traces of my hangover, and so it was I found myself in The Kings, drinking tequila-laced beer until 2am. Still, it was a great opportunity to meet some of the filmmakers, and compliment them on their films, and in no way whatsoever drunkenly slur “Your actors were really hot” at them. No, sirree.
I think it’s fair to say that jury liaison (and star of the Iris-produced short, Burger) Mathew David Hill demolished all competition at The Kings’ karaoke night. Unfortunately, he may have given our guests an inflated expectation of what was to come, which included a statuesque blonde’s glacial rendition of Justify My Love, and an older gent who treated us to a positively barking Uptown Funk.
As I’m typing these words, the Iris Producers Forum is already well under way at the Park Inn Hotel, and this afternoon I’m hoping to catch the feature Naz and Maalik before the fourth programme of shorts. In Vessels and Martin Edralin’s Hole, this line-up has two of the most intense films we saw as a pre-selection jury, both guaranteed to get people talking, so watch this space…