IT could be argued that the spectre of Dick Rowe hangs over every arts programmer. Rowe famously rejected The Beatles in 1961; for the programmer, especially the short film programmer who has to sift through thousands of shorts each year, how can we safeguard against such calamitous decision making? Truth is, we can’t.
This year’s 2013 Cork Film Festival — a granddaddy in terms of film festivals at the ripe old age of 58 — features 20 different shorts programmes, ranging from local filmmaking talent, Mexican retrospectives to short filmmaking masterclasses. And if I included every single film I viewed which I liked, I would need about 20 more slots to utilise. Accordingly, you begin to trust your instinct, adapting your own litmus test to the barrage of films encountered on a daily basis during the programming period.
We received over 1,000 entries for Cork this year, and while the dire submissions are often as easy to remember as the delightful, it’s the films in the middle are the ones that myself and my pre-selection team were most challenged by.
The thematic concerns of the festival largely come from the filmmakers themselves. After watching the first hundred or so shorts, certain topics began to repeat themselves. Often this was country specific: British entries were teeming with intense and inappropriate love triangles, generally occurring in some tatty Northern seaside town; Danish marriages are prone to rampant infidelities on both sides if their short filmmaking is anything to go by; while an unusually large number of Irish entries were inexplicably based in those well known hotbeds of public interaction: petrol stations.
We created six series of world shorts focusing upon nefarious activities, warped love stories, political and religious weirdness, utter madness and the transition from young to old through a series of striking character studies. Stand-outs include Just Before Losing Everything, winner of the Grand-Prix prize at this year’s Clermont Ferrand Festival, an incredibly tense and affecting account of a damaged family thwarted in every attempt to flee domestic horror; and Happy Birthday Cindy Wei — a student made film — which centres upon an adolescent girl ostensibly desperate for sexual attention only to find satisfaction in an unlikely fashion.
Curating the Irish shorts programmes was a different beast altogether. Appositely for a country indelibly tied to an incompetent government and awash in debilitating austerity measures, the national shorts programmes depict lives driven to desperate measures or simply driven to giving in and laughing at the ridiculousness of our predicament. Falling into the latter category is the wonderful Hannah Cohen’s Holy Communion, a touching tale of a young Jewish girl in 1970s Dublin who dearly wishes to transcend her faith and join her classmates in their Catholic rituals; while the former is most aptly represented by the sight of Dylan Moran in Breakfast Wine, masquerading as a small-town drunk, charged with the task of keeping his boozer alive as a dearth of local alcoholics threaten it with extinction.
And finally we come to Cork. Much to the chagrin of the rest of the country, Cork has long been a city which derives an infinite source of amusement from itself, a quirk indelibly imprinted on the city’s filmmaking. The two programmes of local filmmaking talent are suffused with a frankly bonkers humour and teeming with savage and often satirical quests to understand our own lives. Prime examples include Atrophy, where an elderly farmer exacts startling revenge after a motorway is cruelly built through his land, and The Scumbagnetic Effect, which combines local humour and futurology to dazzling effect as a foreign scientist attempts to discover the true meaning of the word ‘scumbag.’
The task of programming a film festival is a rare joy.
*Colm McAuliffe is Head of Short Film Programming at the Cork Film Festival
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