The Chicago Irish Film Festival’s tagline “films from the land of storytelling” couldn’t be more spot on as the festival presents an amazing program of stories, small and large, from around the world, but always with an Irish flair. 

The opening night film on Thursday, February 27th is Guns & Rosaries the unbelievable story of Fr. Patrick Peyton, who immigrated to the United States from county Mayo as a young man in the 1930’s and by the 1940’s had begun to build a media conglomerate using the slogan “the family that prays together stays together”. Merging religion, media and politics Fr. Peyton enlisted the likes of Hollywood A-listers Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly, Maureen O’Hara, Jimmy Stewart and dozens more who joined the “Rosary Crusade” promoting his work on radio, television and staring in his movies. Directed by award winning filmmaker Peter Kelly and narrated by Martin Sheen, whose mother is from Tipperary, the story of Father Peyton is an amazing part of American history from pre-World War II through the Cold War. 

Closing the festival, Sunday, March 1st, was Ireland’s submission to the 2020 Academy Awards, Gaza, the highly acclaimed film by Garry Keane and Andrew McDonnell. Shot over four years the documentary brings to life the world of everyday Palestinians that is not often seen in news and political reporting. Gaza is the story of eloquent, resilient and above all ordinary people as they endeavor to live meaningful lives in the shadows of perpetual conflict. Inside Gaza City we met a boy who wants to be a fisherman, a taxi driver, a woman who produces fashion shows, an emerging rapper and a young girl training as a cellist… people whose lives are shaped by conflict but not defined by it. As the filmmakers noted, “there are few places in the world that evoke such a strong visceral response as Gaza… it is somewhere that seems immediately familiar, known throughout the world from news’ reports,” but this story is about a unique and vibrant land, rich in culture and history. 

Seamus Heaney’s life and poetry are the basis for director Adam Low’s beautiful and intimate portrait that eschews a narrator and concentrates on contributions by immediate family and close friends. Seamus Heaney the music of what happens retraces Heaney’s life story, his rural origins in Northern Ireland, university in Belfast, the beginnings of his career during The Troubles, his 50 year marriage, the visiting professorship at Harvard and the receiving of the 1995 Nobel Prize in Literature. The archive footage throughout is extraordinary and hearing his poetry read by him, with the voices of the people they were for or about woven through, is both a stirring and unforgettable story. 

Irish talent shines throughout the rest of the program that includes U.S. and Chicago premiers. We are delighted to be screening director Shelly Love’s debut feature film, the heartwarming and hilarious A Bump Along the Way, about a middle-aged woman(Bronagh Gallagher) whose unexpected pregnancy after a one-night stand acts as the catalyst for her to finally take control of her life and become the role model her teenage daughter needs and craves. And BAFTA winning director Neasa Hardiman’s Sea Fever is a smart parasite-inflected thriller that puts an interesting twist on a classic sci-fi plot that finds the crew of a fishing trawler stranded in the Atlantic succumbing to an attack by an unknown creature, but instead of trying to kill the creature outright the crew starts to question their place in a constantly changing environment. 

Other highlights include Jason Branagan’s fascinating story of Ireland’s 1988 Olympic bobsled team in Breaking Ice; Karl Golden’s gritty story of a homeless man and young runaway that find each other and their way home in Bruno; Tralee native Louis Quill’s remarkable journey to Tanzania and her determination to help a group of orphaned children in the documentary Kilimanjaro Mama; Chiara Vaile wrote and directed the upbeat story, The New Music, of a young classically trained musician whose world is turned upside down when he is diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease; the Las Vegas based Black Donnelly’s are two very talented and newly immigrated musicians that head out on a road trip to play a concert in all 50 states in 65 days in Karl Nickoley’s hilarious documentary This Is My Home; everyone’s world is turned upside down in Eoin Cleland’s Ups & Downs as a young man with disabilities is determined to attend to a rock concert in Belfast; Galway, the 2020 European City of Culture, is painted with artistic stories and affection in Aodh O’Coileain’s stunningly shot Cumar: A Galway Rhapsody with contributions by comedian Tommy Tiernan; and Tom Burke directs a documentary based on the photographs that defined “The Troubles” and what it cost the men who captured them when they become accidental war correspondents in their own home towns in Shooting The Darkness. 

And then there were shorts! 40 plus short films selected from over 300 short film submissions will be presented in 5 curated programs as well as companion films with feature documentaries and films. Part of the CIFF”s mission is to support Irish filmmakers from the beginning of their careers and this year’s line-up includes films from emergent filmmakers alongside some of Ireland’s best known cinematic talents A special Family Shorts Program on Saturday, February 29th will have films for children ages 9 and up an include live action as well as animation.

The Chicago Irish Film Festival gratefully receives support from the Irish Government Emigrant Support Program, the Consul General of Ireland-Chicago, the Irish Film Institute, Screen Ireland, Culture Ireland, Northern Ireland Screen and Ireland Network-Chicago. CIFF is also supported by a network of valuable sponsors and individuals, whose donations and sponsorship have a great impact on presenting the festival and an incredible board of directors and advisory board that donate their talents year after year! 

CIFF offers ticket discounts to seniors, students and children and Festival Passes. CIFF also offers limited-time reduced price tickets sales for its opening and closing screenings and special ticket offers on its social media pages. Ticket and festival passes range in price from $5 – $60. 


  • THEATRE ON THE LAKE: 2401 Lake Shore Drive, Chicago
  • THE LOGAN THEATRE:  2646 N. Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago
  • SOCIETY FOR ARTS Gallery Theatre: 1112 N. Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago
  • WILMETTE THEATRE: 1122 Central Avenue, Wilmette

The full screening schedule is available at