Lance Daly's crowdpleaser Kisses began its festival journey in Galway this summer, where it won the best Irish film award. Click here for review.
Its international premiere followed in competition at Locarno, and by the time the film screened in Telluride and Toronto, Focus Features International had come on board to handle international sales.
'Kisses has a freshness and honesty. It's a film that can be discovered and can hopefully become one of the darlings of the film festival circuit,' says Alison Thompson, Focus president, international sales and distribution.
'The film was a nightmare to make but turned out nicely in the end,' Daly says of Kisses, which is about two kids from troubled backgrounds who escape to Dublin's city centre on New Year's Eve. The director (whose credits include The Halo Effect and Last Days In Dublin) talks with mixed feelings about a gruelling shoot, working through nights during a cold Irish winter with two very young leads, Shane Curry and Kelly O'Neill.
'It was a big stretch for the kids to work through the night. Their body clocks were just so discombobulated by the whole process,' Daly says.
Kisses was produced by Macdara Kelleher through Dublin-based Fastnet Films. Backing came from the Irish Film Board, Sweden's Film i Vast, the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland, TV3 and Denmark's Zentropa.
Why so many international backers on what is essentially a lowish budget - $2.3m (EUR1.6m) - Irish film' 'It's part of this idea of reciprocation,' Kelleher says of the Irish Film Board's policy of working closely with international partners.
Kisses features several songs by Bob Dylan, either sung by buskers or featured on the soundtrack. Dylan is used throughout the film as a symbol of freedom and defiance. The young people running away from their abusive families do not really know who he is but they still regard him as 'a fuckin' musical god'. There is even a Dylan impersonator, played by Stephen Rea.
Kelleher sent Dylan's manager, Jeff Rosen, a copy of the script. Rosen approved and the film-makers were given preferential rates for the music. 'We came to an agreement. (Dylan's people) liked the film. It kind of celebrates Bob Dylan - the spirit of his music and its freedom,' Kelleher says. 'They signed off on all the references to Bob.'
Kelleher worked on Daly's first feature, Last Days In Dublin (2001), which he says was made 'for pennies'. Back then, Kelleher was a camera operator, 'But by the end of the film, I was coming aboard in a production capacity. We clicked.'
Shortly afterwards, the duo became business partners. 'For a producer, you get a director you really believe in and for a director, you have that protection from someone you can trust completely,' is how Kelleher characterises their relationship. 'That's not to say we don't have our disagreements.'
Having finished Kisses, Daly is at work on the screenplay for his fourth feature, Jesus Christ Airlines, about an airlift by Irish missionaries into Biafra in the late 1960s. He also scripted a Slavic fantasy, Queen Libussa, for German director Constantin Werner.
'Halo Effect (Daly's previous feature) was a nice film but it didn't really do that thing where people get really excited and say, 'This is a film-maker we want to do a film with,'' Kelleher reflects. 'That was the idea behind Kisses - to go back to something we could realise in a really strong way. It worked more than we ever could have hoped.'