Ciné Gael’s team includes Lynn Doyle and Tim Hine, pictured at Concordia in January. Ciné Gael’s special weekend screenings and discussions have taken on a cultural role that goes beyond what we might think of as local purview, writes Kevin Tierney.

MONTREAL - This year Ciné Gael, Montreal’s annual celebration of Irish cinema, marks its 25th anniversary. As it has for many years, it will host a special weekend of screenings and discussions on a particular theme, this time on women in Irish cinema on Friday and Saturday.

I have been involved in some small way or another with Ciné Gael almost since its inception. In 1993, I got a phone call from a wonderful and much-missed friend, Patrick Vallely, inviting me to introduce a film, The Luck of Ginger Coffey, as part of a new event that was showing a few Irish films.

Interesting idea, it seemed to me, since Irish cinema was coming into its own back then and screenings like those were virtually the only way to see many of the films in question.

By chance, I had already seen Ginger Coffey. It remains a film I like very much, partly because the Brian Moore novel on which it is based is set in Montreal and the film was shot here, in winter, with a strong cast led by Mary Ure and Robert Shaw.

At Concordia’s J.A. de Sève Cinema, there was a room full of people all there to see what I would have thought of as a fairly obscure art film. The highlight of that evening, apart from the film itself, was not my introduction, but a real celebrity who had a cameo in the film: Don McGowan, the beloved weatherman from CFCF.

Later, I would get more involved as a full-fledged committee member. Although I no longer play an official role, I treasure the fact that I am an honorary lifetime member of an organization started by a few dedicated souls like Lynn Doyle and Antoine Maloney.

Its community also includes supporters such as the St. Patrick’s Society and sponsors like Bill Hurley, and it continues to attract loyal audiences that expressly want to be part of the Irish community.

And to be part of the Irish community through a love of cinema, to say nothing of the odd glass afterward in a nearby pub — well, it’s cheaper than a ticket to Dublin.

As Ciné Gael has evolved, these special weekends have taken on a cultural role that goes beyond what we might think of as local purview. This year’s is a case in point.

Just as we in Canada and Quebec find ourselves addressing the lack of gender equality in production financing, this year’s theme of women in film and especially the special guest make this weekend a must for anyone interested in the issue.

Dr. Annie Doona, chair of the Irish Film Board — the equivalent of Telefilm or SODEC — will give a presentation on Friday about gender equality and their work to date on redressing gender bias in film. She will also show clips of the work of promising young female filmmakers from the Republic.

“The next step is to actively discuss the best way … to redress the imbalance including the issue of access to Irish Film Board funding.” The bulk of that statement by Doona could easily have come from our own institutions.

In fact, last year the National Film Board of Canada stated unequivocally that by 2019 at least half of its productions will be directed by women and half of all production spending will be allocated to films directed by women.

Saturday afternoon’s Ciné Gael session features screenings of two episodes of a TV series made by Cathy O’Brady, with the ominous title of Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay, as well as two shorts from other women.

And in a stroke of luck and wit (I would add charm, but that would cross over into full frontal paddywhackery), Ciné Gael’s Tim Hine has managed to snatch a special screening of the muchanticipated Canada/Ireland co-production Maudie, Saturday at 7:15 p.m.

The film stars the remarkable Sally Hawkins of Mike Leigh and Woody Allen fame as Nova Scotia folk artist Maud Lewis, whose childlike works became an international success. Fittingly, it is directed by Ireland’s most prolific female director, Aisling Walsh.