As stars and film-makers gather in Schull for the Fastnet Film Festival, some of the visitors tell Esther McCarthy about their favourite movies of all time.
Many of film and media’s most creative minds will be heading to Schull, Co Cork, over the next few days for the Fastnet Film Festival. The festival, which has become a major event in the annual arts calendar, draws major figures from the industry in Ireland and internationally.
All of them forged the seeds of their own careers while falling in love with their favourite movies onscreen. We asked some of this year’s Fastnet guests about the movie that first made its mark, the film they love the most, and the recent release that most impressed them.
Director Breathnach, who will be discussing his powerful film Rosie with screenwriter Roddy Doyle following a screening at Fastnet, has a vivid childhood memory of seeing Irish-set Disney movie The Fighting Prince of Donegal, during a family outing for his sister’s first holy communion.
“There’s a scene in it when they have a toast around the fireplace and a character throws the glass at the fireplace. When we went home I did the same so it obviously had an impact on me!” he laughs.
In his teens, he started observing how films he watched were made. “When I was 15 or 16 I saw A Matter of Life and Death with my mother. It was the first film, I remember, that made me think about films a little bit. Later on, when I began to make films, I watched it again.”
Breathnach’s all-time favourite movie regularly changes, though there are a few he finds himself returning to.
“I’ve had so many and they change all the time. But I love Roman Holiday, It Happened One Night. Landscape in the Mist is long, it’s slow but at the time it really captured my imagination. Paper Moon is a film I love as well, as is Don’t Look Now. There are lots of different favourites I have that represent different times and places.”
In recent years, Pawel Pawlikowski’s much-loved Polish period drama, Ida, left a lasting impression. “I thought it was a really really brilliant film in so many ways. I think he’s a really fantastic filmmaker. I felt it was spectacular.”
The film historian and documentary maker, who was given a lifetime achievement Oscar for his preservationist and historian work, fondly remembers his first viewing of Disney classic Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
“I saw it at the age of three, in 1941 at the Regent Cinema, Tunbridge Wells,” recalls Brownlow.
“However, my reaction was unusual for such a dearly-loved film — I ran out screaming. My mother had to rush after me — it was the only time I ever needed tempting back into a cinema.”
Years later, at a film festival in Los Angeles, he was delighted to meet Marge Champion, the dancer who became the model for Snow White and brought the character to life with her movement.
“She was filmed making all the moves for the animators to reproduce. She married in 1947 and the husband-and-wife team of Marge and Gower Champion were box-office attractions throughout their careers.”
Highly regarded for his work on silent film, it comes as no surprise that Brownlow’s favourite is from the era. “My favourite film of all time is a silent epic which took me years to restore — the five and a half hour Napoleon, directed by Abel Gance in 1927.
“As a teenager, I saw a couple of reels on my home movie projector and I haven’t been the same since. It so amazed me I had to find the rest.
“My fascination with silents led me to become an enthusiastic film collector. The picture I shall be presenting at this year’s festival, is Smouldering Fires, made in 1924 by another director, Clarence Brown.
“The first book about Clarence Brown (who was Garbo’s favourite director and of Irish descent) has just been published by the University of Kentucky. It was written by Gwenda Young, who teaches film at University College Cork. Both film and book are highly recommended.”
A recent pleasure for Brownlow was the race drama, Green Book, which went on to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards. “It was superbly made, brilliantly acted and while tackling a very serious subject, terribly funny.”
Leyden, the head of RTÉ.ie, humorously remembers the first film that left an impression on him as a six-year-old boy — a screening of Steven Spielberg’s 1975 classic, Jaws.
“The primary school I attended used to show films after school. I remember paying ten pence when I was six years of age and going with a certain trepidation into the darkened gym hall. And rightly so, as it happens. I didn’t swim for many years after that.”
When it comes to all-time favourites, it’s Guiseppe Tornatore’s much-loved Cinema Paradiso that he keeps returning to. “It’s a movie for those who love movies. I saw it first in The (former) Lighthouse on Abbey Street in Dublin and was blown away. The music, the humour, the nostalgia, the sadness of lost love and the final scene when Salvatore watches the censored kisses — it’s just a perfect movie to me.
“It’s also a lament perhaps for that communal way we used to all watch movies together. Also, that scene where Salvatore’s mother beats him for spending the food money on the cinema (and Alfredo’s kindly intervention) gets me every time. There is so much said in that one small scene.”
As a dad of three young children, recent movie trips have focused on family films and as a big Pixar fan, that sits fine with him. He particularly enjoyed the latest exploits of The Incredibles family.
“I really loved The Incredibles 2 — possibly even more then the first one, which is saying something. I saw it with the three kids and we all loved it. It’s such a rollicking ride of a movie — part James Bond, part
Marvel, part bonkers. You have to hand it to Pixar and Brad Bird — they sure know how to tell a story.”
The Co Cork filmmaker and director of West Cork-filmed boxing drama Float Like a Butterfly has vivid memories of a big road trip with her family to the cinema.
“I remember my mother drove all of us from Kanturk to see King Kong in Dublin. I don’t think I had even started school yet but I’ll never forget the spectacle of seeing the tiny woman wriggling in King Kong’s giant fist. And the car journey home with all of us piled like sardines in the backseat. It was epic.”
An all-time great movie for Winters is a pitch-black comedy, Festen, from Danish filmmaker Thomas Vinterberg, though she struggles to pick a single favourite.
“It’s like asking me what my favourite child is! One that made a great impression at the time was ‘Festen’ — the sheer exuberance of the production style, and the electricity of the acting ensemble all in service to a cracking script, as compassionate as it was clever. Thrilling stuff.”
Of recent releases, critically acclaimed Lebanese drama Capernaum, about a gutsy, streetwise child, gets her vote.
“It was the closing film at Cork Film Festival and it left me speechless. I couldn’t talk to anyone at the festival wrap party afterwards, my solar plexus was hurting!
“I am in awe of film maker Nadine Labaki’s talent for capturing onscreen scenes usually only witnessed in real life. There is a rare genius at work in her filmmaking that inspires me. Women in film are seeing the world as it has never been seen before. It is powerful medicine and brilliant art.”
The writer and director will be remembering the work of filmmaker and former RTÉ drama director Tony Barry, whose work included the acclaimed drama series Strumpet City, and The Gorgeous Gael, a much-loved documentary on Jack Doyle, which will screen at Fastnet.
One of the first films that really resonated with him was a screening of Dracula, starring Christopher Lee, in his home city of Limerick as a child.
“The theory as far as my mother was concerned was that I was being brought to see Darby O’Gill in Limerick but my older brother and his pals wanted to see Christopher Lee’s Dracula.
“I was only seven but I thought it was fantastic. It scared me no more than anything else in my life, and it was such an interesting character and amazing performance,” says Stembridge.
There are many movies he returns to again and again, but Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard is a standout.
“Over the years you see so many films that you love or are important to you at different times of your life. The filmmakers I would watch again and again are Woody Allen and Robert Altman. But there are at least four films from Billy Wilder that make that list. He had an astonishing range.
“I love Sunset Boulevard because it is so brilliantly written, so beautifully constructed. It’s one of those miraculous films that can be seen on several levels.”
More recently, it was Pawel Pawlikowski’s critically acclaimed Cold War, a romance set against the backdrop in Poland in the 1950s, which struck a chord.
“It is just magnificent, so beautifully shot. Subsequently he was nominated for the Oscars this year. He wanted it to feel like a film that had been shot in the ’50s. It’s an insight into the communist world that only someone from that world can really give. I was completely blown away by it.”
Film producer Brian J Falconer, whose recent credits include gritty Irish drama The Dig has vivid memories of repeat viewings of The Karate Kid as a child.
“The first film that made a mark on me was Karate Kid, but if you watch anything 150 times at the age of seven it will leave a mark. Actually, it reminds me I am well overdue another viewing of it,” says Falconer.
“The first film that made me think about films was Andrew Dominik’s Chopper. I saw it when I was 20 in university and it was the first time I thought about how a film was made. It also started me off on my obsession with Australian crime dramas.”
He is also a huge fan of British independent filmmaker Shane Meadows, and ranks one of his as his favourite movie.
“If I could only watch one more film, it would have to be Dead Man’s Shoes. Shane Meadows is probably my favourite director and is the master of low budget, something I really understand.”
A recent film which touched him was Ray & Liz, an unflinching drama about a troubled family, impacted by poverty, which starts to unravel.
“It’s directed by Richard Billingham which I felt was a great debut by a hugely exciting director. After watching it I was really moved and needed to go home and hug my wife.” and kids,” he says.