Hannigan’s vision went beyond the red carpet

Anybody who takes on the running of the Cork Film Festival has to do it for madness or love — or perhaps a bit of both.

There isn’t huge money in it, you can never please everyone, there will be huge setbacks, and, inevitably, the constant grind of fundraising to stay afloat will begin to wear you down.

And that’s without even seeing a single movie.

Mick Hannigan, who has been made redundant by the festival board, was the CEO and man synonymous with the Cork Film Festival for almost 30 years.

He took it all in his stride since he took over the running of Europe’s oldest film festival in 1986. From the get-go, he knew exactly what the punter wanted.

Cork Lord Mayor John Buttimer put it succinctly when he recalled his passion for movie-going at the opening of the 2012 festival last November.

“I remember taking many a week’s holiday in my youth to sit in the dark environs of the Opera House, the old Triskel, and the Kino cinema, clutching my season ticket, as I gorged on cinematic offerings that would never be shown anywhere else in Cork or Ireland.”

That — and Hannigan’s vision — is what has made it special. With all the cinemas in all the world, Cork Film Festival offered something different, not just the latest Hollywood offering, although Hannigan was not averse to the occasional blockbuster to book-end the festival’s more cerebral fare.

The festival has been part of the cultural life of Cork since 1956. In the early days, it was mostly tinsel and red carpet, with crowds milling outside the Savoy on Patrick St to get a glimpse of the latest Hollywood starlet.

All great fun, but it couldn’t last when bigger festivals from bigger and wealthier cities began to emerge.

Hannigan took over, and saw the way to go was smaller and smarter. He gave the festival a more artistic hue without making it a nerd’s paradise. He also encouraged Irish talent and brought movie-makers from all over the world to Cork.

Less red carpet, more grey matter — it worked.

Chairman of the festival board, Denis McSweeney, acknowledged the contribution made by Hannigan and festival programmer Una Feely, who has also been made redundant, even as he confirmed that the festival could not afford to pay their statutory redundancy.

“I feel sorry for them. It was a decision not taken lightly,” he said. “Of course I am sorry to see them go. We have been working with them for years. I have known Mick for aeons, long before I got involved in the festival myself. They have both made enormous contributions to the cultural life of Cork.”

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