It’s a fair bet there hasn’t been a man wielding a sword in the parish hall in Schull in a while — but sure enough, there was yesterday.
No need for alarm. The man dressed as a Viking warrior was stunt actor Peter Dillon, getting in gear ahead of his first workshop at the 10th Fastnet Film Festival, a burgeoning event that is expected to attract thousands of people to the West Cork fishing village until Sunday.
The signs on entering Schull declare that the whole village is a screen, with numerous pubs, shops and public buildings hosting films both long and short over four days. And this year, in addition to the makeshift Odeons, Adelphis and Plazas, there’s a new addition — the Closet, the festival’s tiniest cinema which has a capacity for three people.
Like most things in and around the festival, this tiny room has its own story behind it. As festival vice-chairperson Hilary McCarthy explained, the seating was bought at a shop just down the road but came originally from a 1950s cinema. Anyone settling in for a viewing in the closet was treated to a short film that starred and won at a previous festival Happy Birthday to Timmy, created by student Johnny Cullen.
This year, some 200 films are being shown, down from an initial 350 that were submitted, and they will be shown in 14 venues and vie for 15 prizes, ranging from best international film to the other under-19 category and the best in Ireland and best in Cork categories.
According to volunteer Helen Wells: “We want to encourage young filmmakers that you don’t necessarily need big budgets.”
The quickest venue to sell out was the Long Island screenings, 24 guests at a time cram into an adapted house on the island having taken the ferry boat across.
Run entirely by volunteers and backed by a huge number of sponsors, the festival extends beyond what appears on screen. Last night’s gala opening featured a live performance of a new score written specifically to accompany the screening of 1925 classic Lady Windermere’s Fan, with workshops on documentary making and self-taping running alongside special showcases and Q&A sessions.
Another feature is a 25th anniversary screening of War of the Buttons, shot in West Cork and produced by David Puttnam, who will attend the screening. He’s not the only big name expected to attend, with Oscar-nominated Lenny Abrahamson, Pat McCabe and others expected over the four days.
Almost 7,000 people attended the various screenings and events last year and Hilary McCarthy is hoping for a repeat. She wasn’t
perturbed that the glorious weather might deter people from heading indoors to watch films.
Locals have certainly embraced the festival, from the eye-catching window displays to related exhibitions.
As for Peter Dillon, the man with the sword, it turns out he can now be classed as a local. Originally from Dún Laoghaire and for 12 years a teacher of German and Geography, since 2004, he has been a full-time stunt actor, a job which entails regularly being set on fire or thrown out of windows.
His entry into the craft was unlikely, beginning during a year of travelling, scuba diving and teaching his beloved martial arts before a series of encounters led to him getting work on Lord of the Rings.
“I said yes to it right away because I thought it would be an interesting story from my travels,” he said.
Instead it became a career, resulting in stunt and acting roles in Avatar, Vikings, Penny Dreadful and a host of other productions.
Honing his talents on the job he said:
He’s had plenty of broken bones but none as a result of the job.”I have been hurt but not injured.”
His workshops in the Church of Ireland parish hall — aka the Plaza — are for both those aged 12-15 and those aged 16-plus.
Best of all, when he puts away his swords and handmade replica light sabres, he can drive out the road to the house he recently bought and where he goes to teach some martial arts.
“This is a long-held dream come true,” he said, adding that even though he’s travelled the world, West Cork “feels like home”.
Maybe there’s a screenplay in it? He wouldn’t have to look too far for someone to make it.
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