Fastnet Film Festival 2018

How do you run a film festival in a town with no cinema? You use technology! The festival’s motto is Our Village is Our Screen, and it’s totally apt. For the duration of the Festival, you can drop into any venue (pub, cafe, village hall, mobile cinema), order up a coffee or a pint, and enjoy one of the many free short film programs on offer. This distributed intranet is all organised locally (kudos to Digital Forge!).

It’s all run now from the new Film Centre: the old Schull bank building is being converted, thanks to generous endowments from William and Judith Bollinger and others. It will be a tremendous asset for the town and there are Big Plans for the building in the future.

Pauline Cotter – the Chair, and beating heart of the Festival

The marvellous Blue House Gallery organised a show with the theme of “Tribal” that included a series of films along with the art works.

One of the gallery rooms in the Tribal Exhibition: felt idols by Christina Jasmin Roser, ceramics by Etain Hickey and Jim Turner, and sculptures by Eyelet Lalor

Each short film lasts anything from two to eighteen minutes. We are so used to long movies that it comes as a revelation that a complete story can be told in such a format. If you’re not sure that this is actually possible, watch Happy Birthday Timmy. We watched in in the world’s tiniest cinema – only room for three.

It’s called The Closet Cinema

One of the shorts that really hit a chord with us was from Cartoon Saloon, Late Afternoonhere’s the trailer, but it doesn’t really give a complete sense of the colour palette that made this such a special experience. It’s from the celebrated Cartoon Saloon studio and it’s already won awards. We also howled through The Fountain, a fabulous conceit built around the re-disovery of DuChamp’s iconic work of art. The Festival Image this year was from a powerful short called Little Shit, with a moving performance by the young actor, Badger Skelton.

DuChamp’s Fountain, said to have ushered in a new era in modern art

Besides the short films from all over the world, there are feature length movies, along with question and answer sessions with producers, directors, actors, casting specialists, composers, set designers… Aspiring film makers can take a stunt workshop, or have their script critiqued by a laser-sharp expert, or learn how to make a movie using only an iPhone. We had the young star of Song of Granite (an Oscar contender) who gave us an example of his sean nós (old style) singing. Here’s the trailer of that film, which we saw in general release earlier this year and which made a powerful impact on us.

We attended a screening of The War of the Buttons, with the producer, Lord David Puttnam (beloved local), the Casting Director and several of the (not so young any more) actors. It was a joyful occasion. Not only is it a classic and thoroughly enjoyable movie, but it was shot around West Cork, and apparently was one of those movies where everyone felt like family afterwards.

The best movie we saw all weekend, hands down, was the Irish documentary Making the Grade, which believe it or not was all about piano lessons. The header photo for this post is from that movie. The Director, Ken Wardrop, was there to receive our standing ovation and to tell us a little about his technique. Here’s an Irish Times Review that perfectly sums up how we all felt about it.

More difficult to watch was Black 47, a film of the Great Hunger, shot as a kind of Western, with a Connaught Ranger returning from the British Army’s Afghanistan Campaign to find his family dead and the land devastated. It raised complex issues for us and lead to some pretty intense discussions afterwards. Interestingly, it seems to have divided the critics down the middle, earning a 50/50 rating on Rotten Tomatoes. But the Irish Times had a thoughtful review of it that also contains a link to the trailer.

Lance Daly, the impossibly young-looking director of Black 47

And in between the shorts and the big screen events the star of the show was Schull, buzzing with lively interchanges on the streets and in the pubs and cafes, conversations spilling out onto the streets, speedy young volunteers dashing around the venues, banners waving gaily above the crowds. Celebrities, actors, producers, directors, casting experts, script writers happily mixed it up with the locals.

Locals out with the camera – except that’s Chris O’Dell behind the lens and Jim Sheridan (in the white shirt) directing

And the locals themselves featured in several movies, including one (The Wheel) about our friend Sheena’s superbly restored mill-wheel. The hilarious duo of Eileen and Marilyn (aka Terri Lieber and Karen Minihan) played us out tonight with their own take on a local film, made with the help of a great local crew.

Coosheen Mill, home of Sheena Jolley the esteemed wildlife photographer, and the subject of one of the short movies

We didn’t attend the awards ceremony, but it doesn’t matter to us really who won – except for one thing. Over and over we heard people urging us to see The Swimmer, about local resident and marathon swimmer, Steve Redmond. We didn’t get to see it – but we do hope it won a prize as it seems to have riveted everyone who saw it.

THANK YOU to the incredible committee that puts this Festival together every year – what an amazing job you have done, again!

It’s a cake, locally made by a VERY talented baker

The Fastnet Short Film Festival

Our Village is Our Screen Schull has been getting ready for this Festival for months. Everyone we know seemed to be volunteering or involved or just, like us, planning to cram in as many films and events as they could. The town was freshly painted (yes – the whole town! Well, it seemed that way), banners and streamers flapped gaily along the main street, and cinemas popped up everywhere. The church hall became The Adelphi, Hackett’s Bar became The Carleton and Grove House turned into The Palace. You see – Schull doesn’t have an actual cinema!

But lack of facilities has never stopped a West Cork town intent on hosting a world-class festival. They have come up with the most ingenious method of screening and watching that you can imagine. For the duration of the Festival, the films are hosted on a server and the whole village becomes an intranet. While the main programme runs at the Adelphi, all the pubs, cafes, shops and premises on the intranet have large screens where you can watch the movies. Some are playing the ones on the programme, and others are hosting re-runs so you can catch up on what you’ve missed. You can sit with a coffee and a scone, or a pint and a sandwich and watch whatever’s on screen. You can drop in and out, all for free. But there’s more: you can bring your own device – computer, tablet, phone – and log into the intranet and watch on a park bench, or sitting in your car, or while shopping, if you want. The marvellous Whyte Books hosted a story telling session, and The Blue House Gallery got in a load of bean bags so you could lie on your back and watch movies on the ceiling.

Robert, Chris O'Dell (Festival Artistic Director) and young Austrailian filmmaker Jake Zappia

At the Opening Reception: Robert, Chris O’Dell (Festival Artistic Director) and young Austrailian film maker Jake Zappia

The opening party was at Grove House – the sun shone, much Corona was downed (the generous Festival sponsor), and then it was off to The Adelphi for The Lord’s Burning Rain, filmed in West Cork and based on the Aeneid – a coming of age story with echoes of Ireland’s War of Independence, the effects of which still resonate in this area. This was followed by a Q and A with the filmmaker, Maurice O’Callaghan, hosted by the excellent John Kelleher. With our Canadian visitors in tow (Alex and Mavis, enjoying it all hugely) we took in some shorts the next day in Newman’s restaurant and that night attended the second featured film, Living in a Coded Land. The Q and A session afterwards was enjoyable and stimulating – the director, Pat Collins, expounded on his vision and his influences, and the host, Aidan Stanley, drew him out with thoughtful questions and directed traffic as audience members got into the conversation.

Our most unusual experience of the festival came on Saturday. We took the ferry to Long Island and watched movies in the bedroom of a beautiful island house courtesy of the owners, Maurice and Helen. Long Island has a year round population of under ten people. A local film maker, Helen Selka, has made it her focus. Although we didn’t get to see her longer piece, Bleak Paradise, we watched a shorter one called The Polling Station. In the film, nothing much happens beyond a handful of people coming to a cottage to cast their ballots in a referendum – and yet it was funny, charming and poignant. We also watched one of the eventual Festival winners – a closely observed tragicomedy called Breakfast Wine. The set finished with a gut-wrenching, wonderfully conceived and acted piece called Stolen. I was glad I brought along kleenex for this one. 

There were celebrities to meet (David Puttnam, Steve Coogan and the team from Philomena, Stephen Frears), events for children, lots of technical sessions for the hoards of young filmmakers invading Schull for the festival, and forums and clinics on all kinds of topics. But mostly there were the films – in turn quiet, ambitious, animated, provocative, amusing, youthful-but-showing-potential, soulful, well-written, cleverly directed, beautifully shot. They left us marvelling that powerful stories with fully realised characters can be told in a few precious minutes.

Superlatives fail me – especially when I think that this was all accomplished by a dedicated group of volunteers! Well done indeed Schull and the Fastnet Short Film Festival Team!