Belfast Film Festival Event – Made in Belfast Premiere: Review by Matthew P. Collins

Made in Belfast   (***) 

Running Time: 77 Mins 

Director: Paul Kennedy 

Starring: Ciaran McMenamin, Shauna McDonald, Shaun Blaney 

(The Movie House, Dublin Road 11/04/13)

SHOT in in its namesake city over a two week period in August 2012, there seemed no better place for the world premiere of Made in Belfast than the opening night of the 13th Belfast Film Festival. The cast and crew gathered in the Movie house cinema on Dublin road for what Kevin Jackson, Festival Chairperson, referred to as the accumulation of their marathon film making effort.

It is clear from the outset why this movie was chosen as the opener for this year’s festival. After the massive and on-going success of Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn’s Good Vibrations, it is important that the international festival that is the Belfast Film Festival not only remembers, but actively promotes local production.

Part funded by Northern Ireland Screen and made with the new kids on the block, KGB Screen, Made in Belfast is set around the story of a successful local novelist Jack Kelly (Ciaran McMenamin) who sold out the lives of his close group of friends and fiancée (Shauna McDonald) for debut bestselling novel.

Eight years on, Kelly lives a reclusive but successful life as an author in Paris where he escapes facing his former friends that he betrayed, lover that he jilted and abusive father that he loathes. On hearing the news of his father’s imminent passing, Jack reluctantly returns home to face not only the music, but his past, his future and his own deep rooted regrets.

Made in Belfast is a truly local film, supported by local contributors and powered by local production. It is a testament to the growing and vibrant local movie scene in Northern Ireland but reminds us that not all films will smash onto the scene like Good Vibrations has.

It is important not to compare the two movies as Made in Belfast hosts a new and mostly unknown group of actors who show real skill, humour and acting talent in this surprisingly moving and life affirming Trojan horse of a production. The relationship between Jack and his brother Petesy (Shaun Blaney) is a pivotal and reflective narrative to the relationship Jack has with his on daemons throughout.

The pairs’ uncomfortable but immediately familiar brotherly attitude is eerily real and though over simplified at times, reflects what I know personally as to be, a true Northern Irish depiction of brotherly relationships. Low budget production does become noticeable at times, and the film often struggles with displaying the complexities of past angst and regrets in a series one on one meetings between Jack and his friends. However, as well as creating some well written moments of tenderness, Kennedy adds truly laugh out loud moments of humour through cameo’s from Lalor Roddy and Bronagh Gallagher who steals the scene as a darkly straight faced funeral director.

Northern Irish films can rarely escape the troubled backdrop about which so many (and often great) movies have been made over the last 40 years. Made in Belfast, while brushing past the topic, focuses on the change in Northern Ireland, and even how we as a people awkwardly deal with our new found gentrification.

This movie however, is not about fighting, or religion, or even a musical godfather in defiance of the troubles. In a reference to Paulo Coelho who once said, ‘There are only really two types of stories, ‘the voyage of discovery — and a stranger comes to town’, Paul Kennedy stated that his film is about a stranger who comes to town on a voyage of discovery.

While this story could be set anywhere, it is the tangible sense of rebirth, longing for forgiveness and real heart which the city mirrors, that gives this story its meaning. It is a movie that cannot be defined by plot or location alone, but a real marriage of the two. It is a great reminder that Northern Ireland can produce broadly appealing films, and a reassuring start to this year’s festival.

By Matthew P. Collins.

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