You’ve got to give it to Mike Houlihan.
This native Southern Sider, whose most Irish men are from Ireland, was able to spend much of his life in pursuit of creativity.
As I list some of his past activities, from newspaper columnist to actor to film producer to political consultant to radio host, I recognize not only his inexhaustible energy but also his bright-eyed optimism.
In 2015, he walked into a downtown Irish bar and told me about his then-newest venture, the ambitious Irish American Film Hooley, and told me it was the only Irish American film festival in the world.
Three films were featured in the event, which was held at the Siskel Film Center over three days. (“Hooley” is a word describing “an Irish party, usually with music”, and “Houli”, not at all coincidentally, is the nickname by which Houlihan has long been known).
The first run was very successful, and afterward Houlihan said to me, “Maybe we’ll find something here. I think I’ve been lucky to have three really good movies. Maybe next year we’ll find a dozen.”
This never happened but it became a successful annual event, even though no more than three films were produced each year.
This year it’s at the Wilmette Theatre. Three films are premiering in the Chicago area.
“Out and About” The film, which premieres Friday night at 8 p.m., is smart, beautifully written and superbly acted by Peter Callahan. There isn’t much of a plot as Jeff Fisher, a seemingly happy, middle-aged man, goes for a long walk along the sunny roads, wide lawns, and adorable homes of a town where he’s lived for a long time.
He meets and talks with people, some of whom he knows, such as his high school coach, his ex-girlfriend, a former teammate from the high school football team. These interactions are peppered with audio commentary that deepens it all and provides some of Fisher’s background.
What about drama? There is a tense encounter with his ex-wife, who has now remarried. There’s the worrying issue of whether her daughter, who is away from college, will return to her grandmother’s 80th birthday party. But no one gets shot, no one blows up the car.
I have no idea whether Callahan saw Burt Lancaster in the 1968 movie “The Swimmer” or read the John Cheever story on which the movie was based. (He should and so should you). My guess is that it might be so, because this movie shares the themes of aging and the cost of life through its movie/story choices. It is about life’s many turns and twists. From a certain age onwards, it is not only thought-provoking but also unforgettable.
Regrets and problems aren’t just limited to the gray-haired, as you’ll likely discover when meeting Cian (Éanna Hardwicke), a young dairy farmer and talented football player. “Lake District” Screening on Saturday at 20.00.
The film gets off to a bad start, with Cian being badly beaten in an alley outside a bar after a night of drinking. He soon stops playing football and learns that he has suffered a concussion that will help define his masculinity. He internalizes this with bland denial and hides it from his football friends, his coach and his father. His pain remains silent until the return of his ex-girlfriend, who manages to get through him.
Grace (Danielle Galligan), now a nurse in London, has come home to care for her dying father. Her presence and kindness allow Cian to face the future. The acting of this duo is charming and mature. They are stars in the making.
Written and directed by Robert Higgins and Patrick McGivney, the film has a light pace and a palpable melancholy, but this eventually turns into something resembling hope.
The final festival presentation on Sunday at 17:00 is a fascinating documentary. “Young Plato” This takes us to Holy Cross Boys’ primary school in north Belfast, in a neighborhood that still bears the scars of the Troubles.
The school’s principal is an unforgettably colorful character. Kevin McArevey is a devoted Elvis fan, physical fitness enthusiast and dynamic personality. He is determined to teach his young students how to neutralize violence, deal with conflict, and think peacefully. For this purpose, he gives lessons from great thinkers such as Plato, Socrates and Aristotle. McArevey is trying to plant kinder seeds in little minds.
Seemingly oblivious, or at least uninhibited, in front of the cameras, the teens let their faces show emotion and uncertainty. This is a good movie, it may actually carry some lessons for Chicago schools.
You won’t waste any time watching all three movies. And there’s more. One of the best aspects of this festival has been the ability to get some of the filmmakers and actors to interact with the audience. This year it will feature Callahan from “Out and About,” McGivney from “Lakelands” and McArevey from “Young Plato.”
No one enjoys these matches more than Houlihan; “It has been an inspiring joy meeting actors and filmmakers over the years,” Houlihan tells me.
Irish American Film Hooley is Sept. 22-24 at the Wilmette Theatre, 1122 Central Ave., Wilmette. For more information: hiberniantransmedia.org/moviehooley