Imagine! Belfast: 10 essential events for your ‘enter-brain-ment’ from this year’s festival

Journalism, poetry, AI, music, movies and more are on the thought-provoking line-up of the Imagine! Belfast Festival of Ideas and Politics

Noel Doran will step down as editor in April 2024
Noel Doran steps down as editor of The Irish News in April

NEXT week sees the return of the Imagine! Belfast Festival of Ideas and Politics, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year.

Running from March 18 until March 24 and aiming to provide thought-provoking “enter-brain-ment” for the city, its 2024 programme features 132 events in 44 venues across Belfast, including a mix of film, comedy, spoken word, music, poetry, theatre, exhibitions, tours, discussions and workshops.

Here are 10 essential events for your consideration:

Noel Doran in conversation with Amanda Ferguson - March 22, Cube Theatre, Crescent Arts Centre, 12.30pm

Noel Doran ad Amanda Ferguson
Noel Doran will be reflecting on 25 years as editor of The Irish News in conversation at Imagine! Belfast

Currently preparing to stand down from his position as editor of the Irish News after 25 years, Noel Doran is the longest serving editor of a daily newspaper in Ireland and the UK. He is passing the torch to Chris Sherrard next month, after which he will continue to play a consultancy role with the paper.

Expect a fascinating conversation on the Co Down-born man’s life and career, led by journalist Amanda Ferguson.

Click here for free tickets.

Henry Normal and Nigel Planer - Sunday March 24, The Black Box, 8pm

A collage photo of Henry Normal and Nigel Planer
Henry Normal and Nigel Planer

Henry Normal, famed for his work on Gavin and Stacey, The Royle Family and The Mighty Boosh returns to the Imagine! festival, this time with BBC Radio 4′s ‘poet in residence’, Nigel Planer, aka Neil from The Young Ones.

In this special evening event, they will entertain, educate (but mostly entertain) with poetry, a Q&A, jokes and knitwear.

Click here for tickets.

Don Letts: In conversation with Stuart Bailie & DJ set - Sunday March 24, The Limelight, 3pm

Don Letts
Don Letts

A special event with punk icon, film director, DJ and musician Don Letts in conversation with Stuart Bailie - followed by a DJ set.

It was whilst DJing at the first punk club The Roxy in 1977 that Don adopted the punk DIY ethic and began to make his first film The Punk Rock Movie on Super-8mm, a documentary featuring The Sex Pistols, The Clash and many other punk rock players.

As well as forming Big Audio Dynamite with ex-Clash man Mick Jones, Letts went on to direct over 300 music videos before moving into documentary work covering the likes of Gil Scot-Heron, The Jam, Sun Ra, George Clinton and Paul McCartney.

Shot in location in Jamaica, 1997′s Dancehall Queen (co-directed by Rick Elgood) was his first feature film. In 2003, he won a Grammy for his Clash documentary Westway To The World.

Don Letts’s work has been exhibited in The Kitchen NYC, The Institute of Contemporary Art, The NFT in London and has been honoured at Brooklyn’s BAM festival and The Milan Film festival.

Click here for tickets.

Her Story: Ending Online Violence against Women in Northern Ireland - Thursday March 21, The Law Society of Northern Ireland, 7pm

Her Story

A panel discussion will explore the impact that online violence has had on women and girls in the north.

Taking part in the event will be Professor Olga Jurasz from the Open University, Sophie Nelson, policy officer at HEReNI, Tahnee McCorry, CEO of White Ribbon NI, and Leigh Lyle-Toal, co-vice chair of Belfast Pride.

Róise Connolly from the Open University Law School will chair the event.

Click here for tickets.

Yard Act - March 19, Mandela Hall, QUBSU, 7pm

Fast-rising Leeds post-punks Yard Act have just released their second album Where’s My Utopia?, featuring the singles We Make Hits, Dream Job and Petroleum.

The band formed in September 2019, when bassist Ryan Needham found himself temporarily living in singer James Smith’s spare bedroom. The pair soon settled into a system of programming, looping and layering, which became the basis of the Yard Act sound.

“It’s been the greatest creative partnership I’ve ever had,” enthuses Smith.

“When you find a groove that works, it just kind of looks after itself.”

After recruiting Sam Shjipstone (guitar) and Jay Russell (drums), the band released a series of independent singles in 2020 and 2021, followed by their Mercury Prize-shortlisted debut album, The Overload, in 2022.

Click here for tickets.

Alan Johnson in conversation with Stephen Walker - Saturday March 23, Crescent Arts Centre, 8pm

Alan Johnson and Stephen Walker
Alan Johnson and Stephen Walker

In this wide-ranging conversation with award-winning journalist Stephen Walker, author and former British government minister Alan Johnson will discuss his political career, his views on current political affairs and the prospects of a Labour government in the forthcoming general election.

Click here for tickets.

Films at The QFT - March 19 - 24, QFT Belfast

The QFT is hosting season of punk music related films including legendary British filmmaker Derek Jarman’s classic film from 1978, Jubilee, on March 19, and Poly Styrene: I Am A Cliché, which looks at the life and legacy of the lead singer of X-Ray Spex, on March 22.

On March 23, you can witness the electrifyingly entertaining rise and fall of the world’s ultimate fictional female punk band with Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains.

Then, on March 24, Don Letts will be on hand to introduce his 2017 documentary Two Sevens Clash: Dread Meets Punk Rockers, about the coming together of reggae and punk in London in 1977.

Click here for tickets.

Alice asks our expert panel: What are the ethical challenges with AI? - Friday March 22, Crescent Arts Centre, 2.30pm

Alice Asks our Expert Panel
Imagine! explores the ethical challenges of AI

Disinformation, misinformation, conspiracy theories and deep fakes… is AI eroding our trust in communications and is it posing a serious threat to our democracy?

Discussing this thorny subject will be a panel consisting of AI expert Niall McKeown, CEO of Ionology, Martina Quinn, CEO of Alice Public Relations, and Ciaran O’Connor, Institute for Strategic Dialogue.

Former BBC journalist Sarah Travers will be moderating.

Click here for tickets.

Paul Muldoon in conversation with William Crawley - Friday March 22, Cube Theatre, Crescent Arts Centre, 8pm

Paul Muldoon
Paul Muldoon

Top poet Paul Muldoon will be speaking to the BBC’s William Crawley about his life and career to date.

This conversation, interspersed with readings from his extensive work, will examine the relationship between poetry and politics and the challenges of addressing contentious and ‘difficult’ political and cultural issues in verse.

Click here for tickets.

The Art of Political Speechmaking - Thursday March 21, Crescent Arts Centre, 5pm


Leading representatives from the north’s main political parties will come together to recite elements of favourite speeches which have influenced their political journeys in some way.

Deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly will be joined by MLAs Claire Hanna, Deirdre Hargey and Kate Nicholl for this event, which will be chaired by BBC broadcaster William Crawley.

Click here for tickets.

The full Imagine! Belfast Festival of Ideas and Politics 2024 programme is available to view online via imaginebelfast.com.

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