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.
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!