It’s the taking part that counts

Cork’s Underground Short Film Festival gives emerging talents a chance to show their work in public, says Colette Sheridan

THE artistic director of Cork’s Dare Media Underground Short Film Festival, Darren O’Mahony, is confident that there is room for his initiative, now in its second year. In 2011, 700 people, including film makers, attended the festival where all 70 films submitted were screened.

This year’s festival (Aug 10-18) will screen 110 shorts, whittled down from 200 entries. Despite the popularity of the long established Cork International Film Festival, as well as the Fastnet Short Film Festival in Schull, O’Mahony says a growing filmmaking scene in Cork means there are opportunities for a festival like his to attract up-and-coming talents.

The festival, run entirely on a voluntary basis, is born out of O’Mahony’s personal experience as an aspiring filmmaker. Originally from Tipperary, he studied film at St John’s College in Cork and subsequently studied video at Stillorgan Senior College.

“I was always interested in film and started with special effects, making models and blowing things up. There’s only one course in the country where you can study special effects. I kept applying to the National Film School in Dun Laoghaire but never got in. For my portfolio, I had made a video. The Dun Laoghaire people said they didn’t like my special effects but pointed out that I’m quite good with a camera so I should consider doing a video course. I did that in Stillorgan.”

O’Mahony became frustrated when he started sending his short films to festivals around the world. “What used to kill me was that you wouldn’t even get an acknowledgment. Granted, these festivals get thousands of entries. But from a purely personal point of view, it’s very tough. You don’t know why your film has been rejected. The whole point of our festival is to keep it personal and underground in the sense that it’s different to what is established.”

O’Mahony finally succeeded in having one of his short films screened at Skyfest in Colorado, which boosted his confidence.

He is keen to provide feedback to filmmakers. The judges write a critique of each film they view. The judges are Deputy Lord Mayor, Cllr Emmet O’Halloran; Cork City arts officer, Liz Meaney; Will Nugent, who runs a film festival in Clonmel; David Higgins, a film reviewer for; Sue Ellen Moloney, who used to run Director’s Cut (a DVD business); and Brian Coughlan of the Cork Comedy Club.

O’Mahony admits that the quality of the films screened at the Underground Short Film Festival is mixed. “It’s hit or miss. Last year, we showed international films that were of a very high standard. Others were poorer. But there’s something nice about showing these films because it gives people confidence.”

While most of the films shown last year were international, this year there is a strong local representation. Some 70% of the films that will be screened were made in Cork. Such is the volume of films from Spain and Poland that the two countries form individual categories. The other categories include comedy, drama, documentary, experimental, horror, sci-fi, gay and lesbian, and, unusually for a film festival, music videos.

The Cork film scene is thriving, says O’Mahony. “It’s helped by the Cork Screen Commission, set up to encourage film business in the Cork area. There’s also the Cork Film Centre. They run training courses and rent out equipment. St John’s College’s film course is one of the largest film courses in the country. You’ve got production companies in Cork such as Egomotion that are making films. They have a couple of short films in this year’s festival.”

O’Mahony expresses surprise at the amount of horror movies submitted this year. “Last year, I wanted to have a horror category but there wasn’t enough interest. This year, we got almost too many horror films.” He says very few recession-themed films were submitted. “During the Great Depression in America, film makers tended to make escapist films rather than showing reality.”

Last year’s festival was run on a miniscule budget of €1,200. This year, the budget is just €5,000, which comes from private sponsorship. venues for the festival are the Woodford Bar, the Triskel Arts Centre, the Vision Centre, Camden Palace Hotel, Chambers Bar, the Comedy Club and the Imperial Hotel.

With filmmaking now more accessible thanks to the low cost of digital equipment, O’Mahony hopes his festival will grow.

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