Belfast Film Festival back celebrating film on the big screen for 2021

As the Belfast Film Festival prepares to get underway next week, David Roy takes a look at some of the highlights of this year's programme...

Jude Hill in director Kenneth Branagh's Belfast, which has its Irish premiere at the Belfast Film Festival next week

THE Belfast Film Festival returns next week with a return to live cinema screenings following the cancellation of last year's festival due to Covid restrictions.

The theme of the 2021 festival is Bringing It All Back Home: appropriately, it will kick off on November 4 with the Irish premiere of Kenneth Branagh's new semi-autobiographical drama Belfast at The ICC at The Waterfront Hall.

Inspired by the Bafta-winning director's own childhood in the city, Belfast stars Caitríona Balfe, Judi Dench, Jamie Dornan, Ciarán Hinds and newcomer Jude Hill in a story set amid the social and political upheavals of late 1960s Northern Ireland.

Having recently won the People's Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival, Belfast's festival-opening screening will be introduced by Branagh himself and is set to be attended by cast members.

Elsewhere in the festival programme, new Irish film-making talent will be showcased, including a screening of east Belfast writer/director Stacey Gregg's psychological thriller Here, starring Andrea Riseborough (November 13, Odeon Belfast, 7pm), and a special screening of occult tale Mandrake from Lisburn-born film-maker Lynne Davison (November 6, Odeon Belfast, 7pm).

The Belfast Film Festival will also present the Irish premiere of Lyra (November 7, Odeon Belfast, 7pm), film-maker Alison Millar's documentary on the life, career and tragic death of murdered journalist Lyra McKee which she made with the involvement of Lyra's family, friends and partner.

Belfast based documentary specialists Doubleband will debut their first Irish language feature drama at the festival, Doineann (November 11, Odeon Belfast, 7pm), directed by Damian McCann, written by Aislinn Clarke and starring Bríd Brennan.

Acclaimed film-maker and Belfast Film Festival chair Mark Cousins will screen his new documentary The Storms of Jeremy Thomas (November 5, Odeon Belfast, 7pm), an in-depth look at the illustrious career of Oscar-winning producer explored via a road trip which saw the pair driving from London to Cannes.

There will also be a series of 'in conversation' events, including Oscar-winning Dublin-born director Jim Sheridan discussing his film-making career with award-winning producer Trevor Birney (November 6, QFT, 6.45pm), and a live chat with Belfast-born actor Bríd Brennan discussing her long and distinguished career on screen and stage.

Acclaimed Belfast director Terry George will also be interviewed by Empire magazine's editor-at-large Helen O'Hara for Northern Ireland Screen Digital Film Archive's new After Image project (November 5, online). Portstewart-born Helen will also be discussing her new book Women vs Hollywood: The Fall and Rise of Women in Film during the festival (November 9, QFT, 6.45pm).

As ever, the Belfast Film Festival will be bringing a selection of classic movies back to the big screen. This year's cinematic revivals include Bringing Up Baby (November 4, Strand Arts Centre, 2pm), The War of The Roses (November 5, Beanbag Cinema, 7pm), Dog Day Afternoon (November 9, QFT, 1pm) and The Maltese Falcon (November 11, Strand Arts Centre, 2pm).

"Belfast Film Festival is certainly 'bringing it all back home' this year with a much needed sprinkle of stardust, as we welcome home some of our most internationally successful film-making talents," enthuses festival director Michele Devlin.

"The calibre of films being screened is inspiring, showing that cinema is well and truly back, and in particular, celebrating Irish film as it continues to thrive on the international circuit.

"We are thrilled to host the Irish première of Kenneth Branagh's 'Belfast'. A real full circle moment as the writer and director returns to a city much changed to that depicted in the film.

"Since the tragic murder of Lyra McKee in 2019, director Alison Miller has been working alongside her loved ones, to tell the story of Lyra, her friend. Alison's film is both a painful and joyful tribute to the late journalist, a beautifully crafted testimony of a young woman, her untimely death and its devastating impact.

"The film is edited by Chloe Lambourne (For Sama) with a soundtrack by multi-award winning producer/composer David Holmes.

"We are thrilled to welcome many other homegrown film-makers, both new and experienced, including Bríd Brennan and Jim Sheridan who will join us to celebrate their impressive careers.

"We look forward to welcoming film-makers and audiences back to 10 days of guests, talks, music, film and togetherness in front of the big screen. We've missed you."

:: Belfast Film Festival, November 4 to 13. Full programme and tickets available from

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