Irish filmmakers light up Sundance screens, then set up in Somerville

A scene from In Loco Parentis; a documentary that turns its lens on the Headfirst preparatory school in Kells, Co Meath.A scene from In Loco Parentis; a documentary that turns its lens on the Headfirst preparatory school in Kells, Co Meath.On the heels of a small but strong showing for films with an Irish focus at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, a slew of Irish films will light up the screens in late March at the 17th annual Irish Film Festival based in Somerville.

From inspiring documentaries about a physically limited filmmaker and an idyllic prep school in County Meath to the visceral transformation of a soft-spoken farmer into a vengeance-driven vigilante, the Emerald Isle was well-represented at the Park City, Utah, film fest in January.

Three films with Irish connections were featured in the mountain town’s annual festival, which selected 113 films from 13,782 submissions from the United States and abroad.

• The rich and moving documentary “It’s Not Yet Dark” tracks the Irish filmmaker Simon Fitzmaurice’s triumph in the face of a crippling motor neuron disease. Directed by Frankie Fenton and narrated by Colin Farrell, who reads passages from Fitzmaurice’s memoir, the film leans into sentimentality as it chronicles the subject’s physical decline and creative resurgence.

In his early 30s, at the peak of his critical success and personal happiness, Fitzmaurice began to show signs of the disease that would ultimately leave him paralyzed. Unable to breathe, move, or speak on his own, he nonetheless was able to use technology attuned to his gaze to express himself through writing and directing.

• “In Loco Parentis” is a gentle documentary focused around the Headfirst preparatory school in Kells, Co. Meath. Director Neasa Ní Chianáin, the Irish documentarian behind “Fairytale of Kathmandu” and “The Stranger,” uses teachers Amanda and John Leyden as an entry point into the holistic teaching approach championed by the stately prep school.

With an eye on a small cluster of students, Chianáin watches them test the boundaries of a contemporary education while they are bolstered by a possessive and supportive atmosphere. Her directorial hand is light, for the most part avoiding dramatic expository moments in favor of a clear-eyed look at the cycle of arrivals, growth, and departures that have marked nearly half a century of the aging Leydens’ creative mentoring of their young charges.

• A fatalistic, violent, and sharply-directed revenge film, “Bad Day for the Cut,” is writer-director Chris Baugh’s offering set in Northern Ireland about a soft-spoken, middle-aged farmer who becomes a vigilante after the murder of his elderly mother.
Donal, played by Nigel O’Neill, lives with his frail mother Florence (Stella McCusker) on their small farm. Generally at ease with a life put on pause so he can care for his mother, Donal’s relatively peaceful existence is uprooted when he discovers his mother dead in the parlor, apparently the victim of a vicious home invasion.

Florence, it turns out, had secrets of her own, and the film unwinds a tale of older generations’ sins coming back to haunt their offspring. As the bodies pile up, O’Neill’s grounded humanity and inventive uses for household items blunt the edge of increasingly brutal displays of violence that which fully merit the film’s inclusion in Sundance’s edgier Midnight section.

Locally, the Irish Film Festival will host its media/VIP kickoff event on Thurs., March 2, at the Aeronaut Brewing Company in Somerville. None of the Sundance films will cross over into the Greater Boston festival, which will announce its slate at the kickoff.

The four-day festival will run from Thursday, March 23 to Sunday, March 26, featuring over 40 Irish films, shorts, and documentaries.