Arts: Short, sharp and drawn from the hip

Mavericks Film Festival is a celebration of the free-ranging and unbranded.
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The Independent Culture
YOU WOULD almost miss the pub secreted in the back streets of Finsbury. Filthy McNasty's, so bad they named it twice, is like your bottle of good whiskey, tucked away in the cupboard to be brought out for good friends. It's the base of Gerry O'Boyle and Frank Murray who invented the book readings-with-music-and-booze-night called Vox'n' Roll, and who are now launching their second independent film festival called Mavericks.

What is significant about Mavericks is not so much the programme itself, although there is an impressive list of films including Irvine Welsh's Acid House, the Scorsese produced Monument Ave with Denis Leary, and the blue-collar elegy of The Florentine with Michael and Virginia Madsen, Chris Penn, and produced by Francis Coppola.

What's really interesting is that this two-year-old festival could only communicate such precocious confidence because of the personalities of its originators. The concept itself of the "maverick" - delivered successfully and coherently in the programme of films and readings - could only come from these two characters. And, ultimately, the Festival itself only makes sense if you buy into the imaginary ethos of the Celtic existentialism they invoke.

The outsider, the romance of the rebel in the figure of the cowboy, is the idea that holds together the economic and cultural dimensions of their various projects.

Shane McGowan is in the bar at the front. We sit in the back lounge at a table in front of a warm, glowing fire. The younger, wary Gerry O'Boyle is drinking stout, while the more garrulous figure of Frank Murray, who managed the Pogues, sips a glass of red wine. The relationship between the two of them is like Butch and Sundance, so when I ask them why did they call the festival Mavericks, Murray begins: "One of the first independent film festivals in America was called `Mavericks and Misfits'. We thought we couldn't call them misfits. Mavericks encompasses everything and there are a lot of get-out clauses..." O'Boyle concludes, "Because we are independent in what we do, in our vibe, it falls into the remit."

The other association with the maverick is the cowboy. Traditionally in Ireland there is a culture of the cowboy, partly stemming from an attachment to the land, the huge Country and Western scene and a less complicated attitude towards American culture than in Britain.

So I wondered whether there was something culturally specific about the title. O'Boyle, warming to the subject, looks up from his pint. "You know how the term "maverick" started? There was a rancher in Texas called JR Maverick and he refused to brand his cattle. The cattle that weren't branded became known as Maverick's cattle. That's how the word came into the language." The maverick, then, is a cowboy, an outsider taking on the establishment - rather like O'Boyle, five years ago, when he bought Filthy McNasty's and invented the idea of the Irish pub without the branding of Irish music.

If the hero's autonomy in the classic western was an allegory of the individual in a rugged market economy, O'Boyle's commitment to Vox'n'Roll and Mavericks is driven by a mix of cultural and entrepreneurial considerations. "Instead of Irish music I put in writers and the writers started pulling crowds," he says. "It's about quality entertainment. We both love putting on things that we get a kick out of doing and that people enjoy. It's breaking a formula and doing something different. That's why we're doing Mavericks."

As we talk, customers leaving the lounge shake hands with O'Boyle who, despite his relative youth, wears the mantle of a patriarchal landlord. I suggest that their conviction and success is to do with their Irish background. They deny it but the fact is, by design or default, Mavericks is in competition with the London Film Festival.

Murray suggests that I shouldn't get caught up in geography. "In Mavericks, the one thing the people doing readings have in common is that their work is very current. On the Sunday, for example, Nick Cave is reading in a section called `The Sunday School Readings'.

"We've got John O'Donoghue, who's written a mystical book called Anam Cara (My Spirit Friend), already on it's 10th or 12th reprint in Ireland. Then there's Ray Shell who's written Iced, which is about the tortured life of a crack addict."

O'Boyle picks up. "In Vox'n'Roll we did a lot of work with writers who had their work optioned for movies. People like James Hawes who wrote White Merc With Fins. He's reading on Saturday. Pat McCabe, who wrote Butcher Boy and Nik Cohen who did Saturday Night Fever. We've got the independent spirit of Sundance, but our ethos is writer driven. That's why we have two programs of writers reading both days."

Mavericks was only possible because of the connections O'Boyle has made while hosting Vox'n'Roll, so it's no surprise the role of the writer is emphasised at the heart of movie making. Other than putting the writer back in the frame, which gives the festival the veneer of a coherent agenda, there is no theme to the films chosen, as Gerry explains. "Denis Leary's Monument Avenue couldn't get studio backing," he says. "Eventually it was made it for $3m and produced by Martin Scorsese. The Florentine is named after a bar in a steel town in America. It's a place where these characters grew up, and their fathers had drank there before them. All of a sudden their community is breaking up and they have a tremendous sense of loss. The Boys has been nominated for 14 awards in Australia. It's quite a dark story with Toni Collette from Muriel's Wedding."

As a festival, Mavericks works because it isn't just a number of independent films thrown together, an "alternative" London Film Festival.

Its vision is provided by O'Boyle and Murray. The Irish would call O'Boyle "cute". It means smart, canny, an operator who knows what he's doing. Murray is perhaps more of a romantic. In some respects they're more like Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday than Butch and Sundance.

Afterwards as I chatted with Murray, O'Boyle, ever the professional, drew him away, worried perhaps that something untoward might be said. But between them they have delivered a coherent program built on a Wild West ethos.

As Murray concludes: "The cowboy is someone who is pushing back the frontier, living dangerously. Most of the western heroes were outlaws, whether it was Billy the Kid, Jesse James, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. They took on the establishment."

Mavericks Writers and Film Festival runs from today to Monday (Booking: 0171-684 0201)