Discover Irish docs at DIFF 2024

Ireland excels at documentary filmmaking. The last decade in particular has seen a Golden Age in Irish Documentary, with filmmakers like Paul Duane, Sinéad O’Shea and more doing innovative, immersive and interesting work in capturing real stories from Ireland and abroad.

Programming good homegrown docs has always been one of the strengths of the Dublin International Film Festival and the 2024 edition is no exception. This year’s festival has now begun, and we’ve picked out documentaries you must check out this year – stories that tug at the heartstrings, get your feet moving, cheer in triumph and feel a call to action.

Eat / Sleep / Cheer / Repeat – Dir. Tanya Doyle

Between pastoral fields and council housing, in an industrial estate on the edge of Europe’s most westery city, the best cheerleaders from across Ireland come together to form the national cheerleading team. This ensemble film centres on the young female and male athletes of Team Ireland, a gang of young misfits and oddballs who, through cheerleading, are finding their place in the world. This coming-of-age doc promises to explore themes of gender, strength, performance, sexuality and what it’s like growing up in the world today.

Niche interests and lower profile sports are a great entry way into delightful human interest docs – Revolutions by Laura McGann is a great example from Ireland itself in years gone by. Cheerleading is an intensely competitive environment, and applying that to an Irish context has us interested to hear more – how do cheerleaders across Ireland find each other? How far does an athlete push themselves in a sport where the eyes aren’t on them? How much of an outlet is Irish cheerleading for artistic expression? Tanya Doyle, an experienced documentarian at Marmalade Films, should provide illuminating answers.

Eat / Sleep / Cheer / Repeat screens on 23rd February 2024 at 6.30pm at the Light House Cinema. 

Don’t Forget to Remember – Dir. Ross Killeen

Motherland are exploring mourning elsewhere at DIFF 2024, via the short film Lost & Found. Founder Ross Killeen’s feature offers a fascinating multimedia expression of love, memory and family, in keeping with the collective’s values to be real, poetic and empathetic.

In 2023, Irish artist Asbestos staged the exceptional instillation Don’t Forget to Remember, photographs taken during and artwork likewise inspired from his mother’s life. At the end of the exhibit’s run, the work was placed out into the elements to fade away in their own time.

With this doc collaborating with Asbestos, Killeen continues an unconventional look at Alzheimer’s, aiming to honour the ties of family. Considering the simultaneous fragility and fortitude of memory, it concludes that we can never truly lose our loved ones as long as we remember them. Every audience member will surely be able to connect to this artistic and emotional ode to our experiences.

Don’t Forget to Remember screens on 26th February 2024 at 6.30pm at the Irish Film Institute. 

Breakin’ Brothers – Dir. David Bolger

There can be something of a perception of Ireland as dance-averse, outside of the traditional jigs and reels, but this certainly isn’t the case. In David Bolger’s Breakin’ Brothers, we see dancing in Ireland through a fresh pair of eyes, and feet.

The doc will follow Cristian and Cosmo, two brothers who arrived from the Dominican Republic to the Irish seaside town of Tramore in the mid 2010s. The pair found their break dancing skills vital to acceptance ina new homeland, and Bolger will show off their moves and their story, as part of a double bill with another dance flick.

DreamCatchr is an unconventional mix of opera and dance, moving through a liminal space between reality and fantasy. Helene Montague and John Comiskey track the production of an all-female cast from RIAM Dublin, shot by IADT during the pandemic, in an alternately comical, bizarre and disturbing movement. A fun and thought provoking pairing that sounds too good to miss.

Breakin’ Brothers / DreamCatchr screen together at the Light House Cinema on 29th February 2024 at 6.30pm. 

Birdsong – Dir. Kathleen Harris

Video journalist Kathleen Harris was compelled by the work of orthinologist Seán Ronayne and his work, crafting a documentary with an immersive sound and a sound premise.

Ronayne set out to record audio of every bird species in Ireland, with Harris on board to record Ronayne’s recording. With around 200 species across Ireland to track down, watching the endeavour should bring us all closer to nature on our island. Cautionary and conservationist, but with a sincere effort to be celebratory and inspiring, Birdsong sounds perfect to be heard on the big screen, with a message that needs hearing too, revealing the beauty and importance of sound and what listening can tell us about the state of our natural world.

Expanding into feature length work, Harris finds herself among this year’s DIFF Discovery Award nominees, and an unconventional but interesting subject for a documentary is sweet music to our ears.

Birdsong screens on 29th February 2024 at 8.30pm at the Light House Cinema. 

Brendan Gleeson’s Farewell to Hughes’s – Dir. Ciarán Ó Maonaigh

Frankly we could watch Brendan Gleeson bid farewell to the phonebook (what artist is reading them to delight the easily pleased these days?), but a immersive cultural dive into a Dublin local is right up our alley, especially relevant in the ongoing conversation over what institutions make up the city, who they serve and what (besides pints).

To musicians, dancers, singers and listeners, Hughes’s was a mecca of traditional Irish music for more than 35 years. Legendary actor Gleeson visits another legendary institution in Ó Maonaigh’s hourlong doc. Returning after the pub closed its doors for the last time inn 2021, Gleeson, himself a dab hand on the fiddle, commemorates Hughes’s legacy, in a pensive, passionate celebration of a ground zero of Irish culture. This film is produced by the Irish Traditional Music Archive and Keynote Productions, with contributions from the Brooks Academy Set Dancers, musicians from the Fanny Power Sessions, the Sunday Night Sessions and others. The post-film chats in the IFI restaurant are sure to be interesting for this one.

Brendan Gleeson’s Farewell to Hughes’s screens on 1st March 2024 at 6.30pm at the Irish Film Institute. 

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