All the town’s a screen at the Fastnet Short Film Festival

With screenings on walls and buses, this year’s festival in Schull – its 10th – will include David Puttnam, Jim, Kirsten and Naomi Sheridan, Pat McCabe and Lenny Abrahamson

James Frecheville and Hugo Weaving in Lance Daly's ‘Black 47’

James Frecheville and Hugo Weaving in Lance Daly's ‘Black 47’

 

Last year, in Schull, accompanying the newly digitised silent film The Goose Woman, the musician-conductor Carl Davis opened the Corona Fastnet Short Film Festival by playing the piano nonstop for two hours. This year, the festival’s 10th anniversary, he goes one better. Having written a completely new score for the 1925 silent movie Lady Windermere’s Fan, he conducts UK music group Trio Apaches, who will play the music as the story unfolds. This unique live performance is expected to be a showstopper – which is perhaps one reason why tickets cost €25.

In the festival office, Pauline Cotter, formidable chair of the steering committee, looks up briefly from her computer screen. “Yes, €25. And that includes a glass of wine,” she adds, ever the businesswoman, which is perhaps why she was unanimously elected chair this year, prompting advice from a friend that she should “learn to quench fires . . . rather than igniting them.”

The suggestion that this small one-time fishing village, population 2,000, might hold a film festival took root 10 years ago. Starting as a courageous glimmer of hope, it has now grown to fullblown stardom, fielding a glittering list of award-winning directors, actors, composers and scriptwriters, both Irish and international, all ready to share their film-making skills and experience. There’ll also be a surprise guest at the festival, though who they are and when they will appear is under wraps.

A pop-up cinema during the Corona Fastnet Short Film Festival
A pop-up cinema during the Corona Fastnet Short Film Festival

The idea of a film festival surfaced when Cotter was running a DVD hire shop in Schull, and noticed that everyone just loved film. She met with Hilary McCarthy (festival vice-chair) and Helen Wells (submissions director) to discuss various projects.

“It seemed,” Cotter says, “with so many people in the area working in the creative field, a film festival would be an obvious choice.”

Education

And because she’d been working with young people (her DVD shop had been an ad hoc youth club for the young of Schull), she wanted to keep education at the core of the project. So, this year’s festival offers practical workshops and seminars, including how to make a movie on your cellphone and how to plan a sword-fight, led by a Lord of the Rings stuntman. There’s also a masterclass on costume design as well as talks and discussions on the roles of the producer, the casting director and the scriptwriter. Intent on keeping young people in focus, the festival will showcase some of the films made by students from the Film and Media Studies Department at UCC.

It’s a lovely warm evening when I visit Schull, the sort that West Cork does so well, and it’s tempting to join the crowd of punters who have overspilled onto the pavement from Hackett’s Bar. But you have to stand firm in the face of such temptation and so instead, Hilary McCarthy guides me towards the bank – though not a bank as we know it. This is the former AIB building, now owned by Irish-Americans Bill and Judy Bollinger, which they have made available to the festival for screenings, meetings and prizegivings.

In the early days of the festival, it was the Army that helped out with the loan of tents. “That was great,”says Cotter, “because they were dark green, so very good for screening films in, and we screen wherever we can. One year, we showed a film in a converted bus.”

Last year, a film was projected onto the gable end of a house and another one onto a wall in someone’s bedroom. Clearly this is an enterprise that the whole of Schull has a hand in. The local Citroën dealership provides a fleet of cars over the five days – very useful when people have to be picked up from the airport. Money has come in from grants and donations, with 60 people – including Lenny Abrahamson, Pilar Alcala, Joan Bergin and Gerry Stembridge – giving their time and expertise for nothing.

Old friend

David Puttnam is an old friend of festival and, along with John Boorman, is judging submissions entered in the 15 film categories for which cash prizes will be awarded. Puttnam will also chair a discussion on Hollywood and gender equality.

If you’re wondering which is the most isolated movie palace in Ireland, it’s the Paradiso on nearby Long Island, accessible via a 10-minute ferry ride

Jim Sheridan, who originally helped to get the whole thing going, will be here this year with his two film-making daughters, Kirsten and Naomi. Pat McCabe is another participant and, at the mention of his name, Cotter shifts into ecstatic mode. “Pat McCabe?” she says. “We love Pat McCabe.” Why? “Because he’s a very loyal friend and takes the time to support us.”

Lady Windermere’s Fan (1925). Courtesy: The Kobal Collection/First National
Lady Windermere’s Fan (1925). Courtesy: The Kobal Collection/First National

And since none of these people are paid, the festival tries to recompense them in kind by offering hospitality to their families and making sure there are events such as drama workshops and puppet-making that their children can participate in. Volunteers are also on hand to ensure that people with disabilities can also enjoy the festival’s programme, says Cotter. “If there’s a screening upstairs in Hacketts and someone can’t get up the stairs, they just look to see where else the film is showing. We’re screening 200 short films including all the submissions and rotating them at different venues.”

These pop-up venues in halls, houses and shops are easy to find, and they have been allocated familiar names such as the Savoy and the Carlton. If you’re wondering which is the most isolated movie palace in Ireland, it’s the Paradiso on nearby Long Island, accessible via a 10-minute ferry ride.

But wait – there’s more: the whole of Schull will be a hotspot so that you can log on to watch all or any of the films screened over the last 10 years. Screenings of short films are free, with a €5 charge for feature films. A charge (subsidised) is also made for participation in workshops.

Something for everyone

While feature films and their Q&A sessions include Making the Grade and Michael Inside, ensuring there’s something for everyone, I have to ask, why the continuing emphasis on short films?

“Because,” says McCarthy, “they are challenging to produce. You have a very short space of time to say what you want.” Cotter agrees: “Our emphasis is on the craft of film-making and of course people who make shorts can always move on to features.”

Nick Kelly is one who has made that move. This year, the festival screens two of his shorts together with his debut feature The Drummer and the Keeper. Aoife Kelleher, another who moved from short to long, will be screening and talking about One Million Dubliners, her documentary on Glasnevin Cemetery.

But lest you think this a mainly Irish film event, there’s also a world cinema section. This was an initiative by the committee, who approached various embassies asking to be put in touch with each country’s film institute. As a result, there will be screenings from countries including Moldova, Mexico and Japan. Cotter is especially keen that aspirant film-makers here learn about how other countries are supporting their own film-makers.

Finally, I ask Cotter and McCarthy if they ever go to the pictures themselves. The answer is yes, but they have to drive the 30 miles across to Bantry because Schull doesn’t have a cinema – not as you know it.

The Corona Fastnet Short Film Festival runs from May 23rd to 27th; 028-286000, fastnetfilmfestival.com

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