A Joe Comerford Retrospective at the IFI in May

One of Ireland’s most established directors will have a season devoted to his films at the Irish Film Institute next month. For decades Joe Comerford’s films have aimed to explore social conditions and commentaries in Ireland.

From May 13th – 20th, the IFI will be showcasing the career of Comerford, one of Ireland’s foundational independent directors. Alongside the likes of Bob Quinn, Cathal Black, Pat Murphy and Thaddeus O’Sullivan, Comerford was a founding member of the Association of Independent Producers (AIP), as the Dublin director and colleagues collaborated on films and lobbied the Irish government. Joe Comerford has worked as an independent director in Ireland for over 50 years producing work that is distinguished by its cinematic subversion and social commentary, with a trademark twinning of film narrative and visual-aural abstraction. 

This career retrospective will include 4 feature length films and 4 shorts, screened back to back throughout the next month. The season will also feature the premiere screening of a new digital restoration of the 2023 Director’s Cut of Reefer and the Model. A talk with the director about his work will take place at the IFI in Eustace Street on the final day of the series on 20th May. 

Eugene Finn writing about Joe’s work for the IFI’s programme says:

‘His films focus on socially marginalised characters –destitute men, drug users, aimless youths, Travellers, prisoners and women in the midst of crisis pregnancies. His two cinema features, Reefer and the Model (1988), a comedy-crime thriller, and High Boot Benny (1993), a drama set against the backdrop of the Troubles, are both shot through with his distinctive political and social analysis. Alternating between feature films with a narrative bias, and shorts which tend towards abstract painted imagery, Comerford has declared that his longer-term objective is to tell a story by combining the two strands into a ‘painted feature’.

Check out the programme below for the IFI’s Joe Comerford Retrospective.

PROGRAMME 1 – screening Sat 13 May at 6.40pm


60 mins, Ireland, 1977, Digital

Made with the Ballyfermot Community Arts Workshop, Down the Corner tells the story of a group of Ballyfermot boys who attempt to rob an orchard in a nearby, more affluent suburb. An amateur local cast, improvised camerawork, and naturalistic sound created a heightened realism not seen before on Irish screens.


26 mins, Ireland, 1973, Digital

Withdrawal is about Jimmy, a heroin user in a Dublin psychiatric hospital. His thoughts and observations dominate, his subjective voiceover speculating on the lives of his companions. Jimmy leaves the hospital, returning to the city to reconcile with his loved ones, but his withdrawal leads ultimately to a dead end. 

PROGRAMME 2 – screening Sun 14 May at 3.30pm


80 mins, Ireland-UK, 1982, Digital

A young Traveller couple, Angela (Judy Donovan) and Michael (Davy Spillane), are sent to smuggle goods across the Northern Irish Border encountering violence and hardship along the way.  Using non-professional actors from the Traveller community, adjusting the script to accommodate the demands of the participants’ lives, and filming in authentic wintry locations, the film was “a mixture of the planned and the spontaneous”. It is Comerford’s most poetic, yet demanding, work.


7.5 mins, Ireland, 1984, Digital

A precursor to Reefer and the Model, Waterbag involves the relationship between two fishermen and a pregnant woman, and ends with an apparently self-induced miscarriage. Haunting images accompany composer Roger Doyle’s score.

PROGRAMME 3 – screening Thurs 18 May at 6.30pm


80 mins, Ireland, 1993, Digital

How to maintain neutrality in the face of raging violence is explored in this powerful feature. Benny (Marc O’Shea) is a teenage outsider sent to a school in the Republic to escape the Troubles in Northern Ireland. The school’s matron (Frances Tomelty) is sympathetic towards Benny, but cannot protect him when the IRA suspects him of being an informer. 


12 mins, Ireland, 2003, Digital

RoadSide, Comerford’s first digital short, which evolved into an installation, is an audacious blur of ugliness and beauty. Drawing on found footage from personal archives it outlines an encounter between a man and a woman in a stolen car.

PROGRAMME 4 – screening Sat 20 May at 3.30pm


80 mins, Ireland, 1988/2023, Digital

Comerford’s signature sharp realism infuses this drama about Reefer (Ian McElhinney), an ex-IRA man who picks up hitch-hiker Teresa (Carol Scanlan), a pregnant woman trying to overcome a drug addiction. They head to the trawler where he lives with friends Spider (Sean Lawlor) and Badger (Ray McBride). The makeshift family are forced to turn to crime to make a living. 

Premiere screening of a new digital restoration of the 2023 Director’s Cut. 


11 mins, Ireland, 1971, Digital 

In this pitch-black vaudeville of impotence and aggression, Emtigon tragicomically details a homeless old man’s covert intrusion into the life of a young woman social worker. 

Special event on Sun 20 May at 5.40pm


IFI Head of Irish Film Programming Sunniva O’Flynn will host a conversation with Joe Comerford about his body of film work and the cultural, personal and political concerns which infuse it. Audience involvement will be welcomed. 

Tickets are on sale now from ifi.ie/joe-comerford, with a season pass is available, providing access to all 5 programmes for €50

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