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Terence Mulligan Talks "The Ghost of Richard Harris" & CraicFest

CraicFest 25
February 24 & March 2-4
Various Locations

While working as a doorman at Club Macanudo in 1999, native Irish New Yorker Terence Mulligan met famed director Jim Sheridan. As a result, Mulligan founded the CraicFest (then Film Fleadh), but it was Sheridan who helped shape the cultural identity of the festival over the past 25 years. And Sheridan still serves on the board along with Liam Neeson, Denis Leary and Aidan Quinn.

Mulligan commented, “The impetus of the festival was at the Galway Film Fleadh in 1999 over a pint with Jim. He was the one who suggested that we focus on the New Irish Cinema and Irish New Yorkers would embrace a festival like this every March. Jim also opened the door to our first sponsor, The Fitzpatrick Hotel, which has been with us since 1999. After 25 years, we're still pushing the envelope.”

In 2004, Film Fleadh expanded with a Music Series transforming it into the Craicfest. The scope of the festival changed and the audience doubled as well. With the new name, the festival encompassing the best of Irish Cinema and music, prompted the New York Daily News to proclaim it, “The Premier Irish film festival in North America.”

It has now screened hundreds of films and has had numerous stars in attendance. More importantly, it has served as a launching pad for many filmmakers from the Emerald Island such as Dubliner Robbie Walsh. In 2010 it expanded to include a Kids Fleadh. In 2011, it embraced the LGBTQ community to showcase Irish Gay and Lesbian filmmakers as well. Now, every spring in NYC — in conjunction with such community haunts as the Irish Arts Center & Scandanavia House — it includes screenings at several locations. 

On Friday Feb. 24th, kicking off this year’s fest, is a concert of an all-star lineup of Irish and Irish American performers who will appear at Rockwood Music Hall. Comedian Siobhan Fallon Hogan (SNL, Seinfeld, Men in Black), musician Brendan O’Shea and local comedians Craig Geraghty and Katie Boyle are scheduled with more special guests planned. 

terrenHOn March 2nd, the Craic Film Festival component will feature the NY premiere of “The Ghost of Richard Harris.” Sheridan and Oscar nominated director and acclaimed actor Jared Harris (son of Richard) will host the screening with a Q&A to follow. Director Adrian Sibley will also be in attendance. On Friday March 3rd the Craic Fest Gala will host the NY premiere of Shelter in Solitude — written by Siobhan Fallon Hogan and starring Robert Patrick (“Terminator 2,” “Yellowstone 123”), Peter Macon (“Orville”) and Fallon Hogan. Hogan and the cast will conduct a Q&A after the screening. 

For students and young children, the Kids Fleadh will feature the best of Irish Shorts and Irish step dancing on Saturday March 4th. We will have the NY premiere of “Lakelands,” directed and written by Robbie Higgins and Patrick McGivney. A Best of Shorts program by local Irish filmmakers from the last 25 years is scheduled at 5 pm March 4th. The Closing night movie, Saturday March 4th, is "Americonned" by local Irish filmmaker Sean Claffey who will be present for a Q&A. The After party is at BAR 13.,

In order to better appreciate the fest, Mulligan answered a few questions about its evolution and where it's at today.

Q: Describe the origins of the fest and how it evolved.

craicfestTM: Craicfest started as the Film Fleadh which was purely a film festival but the idea always was to do it with both Irish film and music. We knew we needed to start small and build it up over the first few years. We expanded after those initial years to include music so it was then repositioned as CraicFest. We had a few industry people help us out in 1999 such as Bingham Ray, TC Rice and Eamonn Bowles who helped us organize and shape a film festival program during those early years. There had never been an Irish music and film festival of this magnitude in NYC. In 1999 we were in the right place at the right time. Also, rebranding the logo and festival a few years ago was one of the best moves for us as it gives the festival a modern look. 

Q: As it evolved it expanded to include music and several venues. Explain how that happened?

TM: Now, it’s evolved beyond our expectations. The expansion to music was the best thing to happen to the film fest as it brought more awareness to the film part of CraicFest and expanded our audience as well. CraicFest has always changed with the times but the program of music and film will always be about the storytelling and the Craic (having a “good time” at the festival). Also, we’ve worked at building partnerships over the years with the Irish Arts Center, NY Irish Centre and NYU Glucksman Ireland house — to name a few. We now have a Kids Fleadh program which is always on the closing day of Saturday during CraicFest. It’s a fun program for kids and families that has grown over the years. Families from all over the city come to this program. This year we are reaching out to schools to get more kids to come to the Kids Fleadh program.

Q: What do you consider as the benchmarks you’ve established over its 25 years?

TM: Well, you never forget your first night. Our first night we jumped the shark with The McCourts of New York premier and HBO got behind it with a swanky pre-reception. The second night was just as important as I knew we needed back-to-back nights. We had the Aidan Quinn film; “This is My Father." Aidan is an honorary board member. He called Sony Pictures and he told me they wanted to meet with me. I sat with CEO Michael Barker and he said, “Why am I giving this film to you because this festival has never been done?” I basically told the CEO what he wanted to hear — "Aidan is an Irish star and we are going to get great word of mouth on this film with every Irish bartender in New York City.” I got them to take out an ad for the film too LOL. You should’ve seen the look on the CEO when I said, "You’re going to take an ad right?"

There are so many moments over 25 years that were memorable but the Damien Dempsey show years ago when he had the flu and almost didn’t go on was really unforgettable. After that show, CraicFest was on another level where agents were coming to us. Also Kneecap and Rubberbandits were epic shows that tapped into a younger audience in NYC. 

Running into Colin Farrell at a Sundance party we had a chat about him coming to In Bruges premiere at CraicFest. He gave me his word that if he was in town he would come by and do Q&A. And he did. He’s a gent, a class act. That elevated the stature of the film fest from that moment on. The rest is just the Craic!

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