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'Movie Hooley' Searches for Best in Irish-American Filmmaking

By Mark Konkol | March 9, 2015 5:23am
 After his documentary
After his documentary "Our Irish Cousins" got shut out of Ireland film festivals, Mike Houlihan decided to create his own. The "Irish-American Movie Hooley" is set for Sept. 25-27 at the Gene Siskel Film Center Downtown.
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CHICAGO — When Mike Houlihan’s 2013 film “Our Irish Cousins” scored a three-star review on RogerEbert.com, he hoped it would be just the thing that might get his documentary accepted at a big-time movie festival in Ireland.

“I got clout, and I still couldn’t get into any of them,” Houlihan said.

“I think it’s because I’m Irish-American. If I was Al Pacino, it probably wouldn’t have mattered. But I’m not, so. … That’s where I got the idea to do my own film festival. Basically, I was p----- off.”

With his Irish up, so to speak, Houlihan sold Barbara Scharres, the Gene Siskel Film Center’s programming director, on a grand plan for what he’s calling the "Irish-American Movie Hooley" set for late September at the Loop movie house. (“Hooley,” in case you’re wondering, is Irish slang for party.)

"This collaboration is just another way the Gene Siskel Film Center can support independent cinema and a different way to showcase American independents" Scharres said. "Chicago has one of the country's largest Irish populations, and we hope that Irish community supports the first hooley."

Even though Houlihan — half of the "The Skinny and Houli Show" on WCEV-AM (1450) and a columnist for the Irish American News — is a noted proponent of South Side Irish nepotism, the “movie hooley” is not a thinly veiled vanity project. He said his goal is to discover three great feature-length narrative or documentary films that have Irish-American flair.

“I think it’s important to discover new Irish American talent,” Houlihan said. “We’re looking to find the next Ed Burns or James Cagney. It’s for people like me or my son, who’s also a filmmaker, to have a great venue to showcase films that have an Irish-American sensibility.”

All film entries must be premieres that are written, directed, produced or starring an Irish-American — or generally tackle a topic in the Irish-American tradition of pride, bravado and legendary storytelling. Submissions will be accepted until July 31. The three final selections will be announced by Aug. 30.

“We’re putting out a national and international call for entries, and over the next few months we’re looking for submissions from around the world,” Houlihan said. “We’re hoping to get a couple hundred submissions, maybe pick up a sponsor and see how it goes.”

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