- The Washington Times - Friday, December 11, 2009

The “High School Musical” set wouldn’t ordinarily have much interest in a feature film about a filmmaker whose most lasting work was completed some 50 years before they were born. But with teen heartthrob and star of the Disney series Zac Efron in the mix, anything is possible.

Part coming-of-age story and part history lesson, “Me and Orson Welles” tells the story of Richard (the “me” of the title, played by Mr. Efron), a young high school student who falls under the sway of the legendary auteur during his oft-forgotten Mercury Theatre days. While working with Welles, Richard falls in love with Sonja (played by Claire Danes) and competes with Welles for her affections.

Mr. Efron hopes he can help expose an entire generation of young people to the great work of a Hollywood legend. “I would love for them to come on this adventure and go see this movie, because it’s something very different,” he says during a recent interview at the Ritz-Carlton Georgetown. “It would be pretty cool to say that as a result of ‘High School Musical,’ I got everybody to go see this movie.”

Though the marketing campaign has been limited thus far, it’s not crazy to think Mr. Efron’s star power amongst the tween set could propel the picture to success.

“There were just girls, everywhere. It was like a barrier of screaming girls every time you go to the set,” Miss Danes says of her co-star’s appeal. No stranger to growing up in front of the camera herself — she was just 13 when she starred on the ABC drama “My So-Called Life” — she still finds it remarkable just how much things have changed in the past 15 years.

“Nobody had cell phones that they could take your picture with,” she explains. “There wasn’t this proliferation of tabloids. The Internet didn’t really exist. I felt great compassion for him, because he’s constantly observed and monitored in a way that I really wasn’t.”

That scrutiny comes with a bonus, however: the ability to get your projects noticed by a demographic cohort that otherwise might remain oblivious.

“I’ve always had an affinity for Orson Welles,” Mr. Efron says, explaining why he wants to bring the Hollywood legend to a younger generation more interested in the Disney Channel than Turner Classic Movies. “He had mastered every form of media — theater, radio and cinema — before the age of 24.”

Irish film showcase

An influx of government subsidies and a burgeoning creative class have helped fuel an explosion in the Irish cinema in recent years. The Capital Irish Film Festival is bringing 10 days of craic (the Irish term for fun or good conversation) to Washington, screening 15 features and three short film programs through Dec. 20.

“Irish film has had a huge resurgence over the last 20 years,” says artistic director Linda Murray. “There’s an awful lot of money out there to make films.”

The festival has run in Washington since 2005, but a surge in entries and increased demand led planners to expand to four sites this year: The Goethe-Institut, E Street Cinema, Flashpoint and Fort Fringe all will host screenings during the 10-day festival.

New for 2009 is a pair of midnight screenings on the two Fridays of the festival: “Strange Days Are These” and “Situations Vacant,” a pair of comedies, will screen at Fort Fringe.

“Strange Days Are These” is a mockumentary about a B-movie director who is having trouble getting his latest project off the ground. “Situations Vacant” is a flick about the state of the economy as a pair of 20-somethings look to enter the work force for the first time.

“We’ve done 10 p.m. shows with our theater programming, and we’ve found that there’s a younger audience,” Ms. Murray says, acknowledging the midnight screenings are “a bit of an experiment.”

“Perhaps nobody will show up,” she says with a chuckle.

The festival opened Thursday with the latest film from the acclaimed Irish filmmaker Conor McPherson, “The Eclipse,” starring Aidan Quinn and Ciaran Hinds. Tonight’s entry, “Garage,” is an alternately touching and sad (though mostly sad) look at the life of a nice-but-dimwitted garage attendant unable to navigate his way in the world.

Ms. Murray also recommends that people check out one of the three short-film programs. “Irish shorts have done incredibly well in the past five years at the Oscars,” she says. “They showcase a really wide array of shorts, including Irish-language shorts. It’s a quick overview of what Irish cinema looks like.”

Tickets are $10 apiece (though tickets for the midnight screenings will be available for $5 for people who sign up on the festival mailing list). For a full schedule, including times and locations, go to https://www.irishfilmdc.org.

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