What do Kenneth Branagh, Alan Rickman, Ryan O'Neal, Julie Andrews, Russell Crowe, Kim Cattrall, Danny Huston, Jack Reynor, Robert Sheehan, Orla Brady, and Vincent Perez all have in common? They are all special guests at the 2015 Jameson Dublin International Film Festival (jdiff.com). The festival opened on Thursday and continues until March 29. Where do you begin putting such a monster together?
"Actually some parts of the festival take three years to plan, that's when I start generally thinking about the overview and things like the Ryan O'Neal events," says festival director Grainne Humphreys.
"But up to 90pc of the films playing are brand new, so I only really start seeing them in about May of the previous year. It is important to make sure our festival is as relevant and fresh as possible."
Another key element of our film festival is that many films in it will not receive distribution, so this may be your one and only chance to see them.
"There is a growing conservatism in terms of what our cinemas are showing. Five or six years ago, there was much more diversity and less of an exclusively mainstream approach. Now even the arthouse cinemas are showing blockbusters.
"One of the films I particularly like this year is I Can Quit When I Want by a first-time director Sydney Sibilia and it is like an Italian version of Breaking Bad, about a group of academics who start to manufacture drugs and it transforms their lives. And it is really funny. I know that whatever audience comes to see this is going to remember how lovely it is to be laughing in the cinema. But once our screenings of it are over I genuinely have no idea where Irish people will be able to see it again. Or if."
This is Grainne's eighth festival at the helm, she is in the middle of her third three-year contract. What did she want this programme to say?
"I wanted to move away from the prescriptive genre films being made and look at new directors with a more individual style. It is all about mixing up the familiar with the first-timers, and there are lots of big names in there too. But I found it it interesting discovering people making films in places like Kyrgyzstan who are not as constrained by budgets or audiences."
And how does she persuade so many film stars to come? "They often don't need much persuading, someone they know came last year and told them it was the place to go. I am very aware that our festival with about 130 films has multiple audiences and that ranges from the high arthouse to blockbuster, and we need to provide something for everyone.
"Having people like Russell Crowe, Kim Cattrall and Julie Andrews coming helps us encourage people who maybe would instinctively think this festival isn't for them. And it's always amusing how nervous even they get before their film screens. Russell Crowe is a first-time director, that's a big risk for him." Are the opening and closing films always the tricky ones? You want to start and end your festival with a bang? "Yes, but sometimes it all just works out with scheduling. Our closing film this year is The Sound of Music and that's because it is the 50th anniversary and we are amazingly bringing Julie Andrews over to celebrate that."
The other big film that must require a lot of planning is the Surprise Film, always screened in the Savoy just before the closing film. It is one of the most tightly guarded secrets."That is one of the hardest slots. No one knows what it is, the projectionist only finds out about it last minute. The one clue I will give you is that it is 104 minutes long." Grainne's top five picks:
1 The Last Man on the Moon, Sunday March 29, Savoy Cinema. "The story of a real life space cowboy, Eugene Cernan."
2 Next Time I'll Aim for the Heart, Monday March 23, Cineworld. "Fantastic taut dangerous French film about a serial killer chased by a cop, who happens to be the real serial killer."
3 Wheel of Fortune: The Story and Legacy of the Fairview Lion Tamer, Saturday March 28, Light House Cinema. "Wonderful Irish documentary about when the lions escaped in Fairview.''
4 Meet Me in Montenegro, Monday March 23, Pavilion Theatre. "A very sweet love story with characters you are interested in and want to spend time with and surprisingly moving."
5 The Tribe, Tuesday March 24, Light House Cinema. "A beautiful Ukrainian film about a deaf boy who who falls in with a gang, all done entirely through sign language that will change the way that you watch film.
1 And speaking of the film festival, one particularly timely documentary will be screened next Friday. Queens of Syria is the story of 60 Syrian refugee women in Jordan who signed up for a production of The Trojan Woman. Directed by Yasmin Fedda, this blends their rehearsals with their harrowing stories of exile. jdiff.com
2 The clocks go forward next weekend, but this weekend is the spring equinox, which makes it a great opportunity to catch the sunrise when it lights up the 5,500-year-old Cairn T at Loughcrew, Oldcastle, County Meath. Prepare for a spectacular start tomorrow (unless it is an Irish rainy Sunday). loughcrew.com
3 Personal stories from the archives of St Joseph's Mental Hospital in Limerick and interviews with former staff and patients form the basis of an intriguing new work of dance Marble & Bread. Created by choreographer Megan Kennedy, this is performed in the disused Sailor's Home from March 26-28. dancelimerick.ie
The National Museum of Ireland: Decorative Arts & History, Collins Barracks, may be quite the mouthful, but it does provide quite the mind-filling experience. There are wonderful permanent exhibitions of Irish haute couture garments, furniture, silver, jewellery, ceramics and exhibitions exploring Irish military history, including the 1916 Easter Rising.
There is also now a beautiful exhibition by Irish wood-turner Emmet Kane (museum.ie). Curated by Jennifer Goff, A Journey is very much a life's work on display, featuring pieces Kane has made over the last three decades, and it is very special indeed.
It is hard to believe this seemingly delicate gold-pleated piece is actually created out of wood, but it is made out of Irish burr oak. Entitled P.S 2014, this is instantly identifiable as a homage to the gold paintings of the late Patrick Scott, the name referring to his initials and the year of his death.
Describing the particular process for this piece, Kane says "it has been turned wet, carved and sandblasted and left to dry and change over four months, before being bleached, which whites the wood with a gilded geometrical form."
This exhibition clearly defines the development of Kane's style, from early bowls to progressively angular shapes, spikes and colour to his latest dramatic shapes.
There is also a piece paying tribute to our grand dame of design, Eileen Gray. For it, Kane wanted to recreate the effect of her intricate lacquer work and replicating Gray's technique took him 40 coats to reach the dramatically deep and rich colour.