Now in its second year, the Subtitle European Film Festival returns to Kilkenny next week (Nov 25-Dec 1). This year’s programme boasts 35 of the best European films of recent years, among them Christian Mungiu’s stunning drama Beyond the Hills and the French comedy The Intouchables.
A special strand will celebrate recent Russian cinema while a variety of international stars will be in town, among them Aksel Hennie from hit Norwegian crime flick Headhunters and Nikolaj Lie Kaas, star of Danish TV hit The Killing.
As the festival name indicates, this is an event that is happy to proclaim: ‘Yes, our films have subtitles in them’. It flies in the face of the haggard old cliché that such films are anathema to mainstream audiences, the ongoing success of Scandinavian TV and film having firmly dented that old misperception.
“Years ago, when I was at school, subtitled films meant dirty French movies and maybe the odd Swedish one as well,” laughs the festival’s artistic director, Richard Cook. “They were the ‘sexy’ films, or else subtitles meant an odd arthouse movie that nobody would go to see. But with successes like The Killing, The Bridge, Borgen, the Millennium Trilogy, and Headhunters it’s gone the other way around now and subtitles are popular. We’re very clear that we’re not selling this as an arthouse festival. We’re selling this as a popular film festival. Ninety per cent of the films in the programme will have been big box-office successes in their own countries. It’s just that they happen to be in a different language to English.”
As the man behind Kilkenny’s successful Cat Laughs comedy festival, Cook knows a thing or two about forging a festival’s identity, and he has a range of high ambitions for Subtitle. He is hopeful that in a few years the event may attract in the region of 15,000 ticket sales. He would also like to gain a reputation internationally as the European actors’ festival, an event that specifically celebrates Europe’s onscreen talent. (As part of that ambition, the festival already schedules meetings between its invited actors and casting directors from around Europe, the UK and Ireland.) But before any of that can happen, Cook knows he has to make Subtitle a hit with film-lovers in Ireland, and specifically those in Kilkenny and the South East.
“I know this to be true from Cat Laughs — if the local audience don’t like your festival, then it’s not going to work,” says Cook. “Last year we got a small but very significant knot of people who utterly loved it and championed it, so I think engaging with that base is the way it’s going to grow meaningfully in terms of numbers.”
Subtitle’s programming policy may also prove helpful. Cook is not too bothered about premieres but more intent on presenting successful European films from recent years. He cites as an example French comedy The Intouchables, which smashed box office records in France and is the world’s highest-grossing movie in a language other than English. Yet, typically, it had only a short and very limited release here. “It always surprises me how easily a film gets discarded just because it’s been out for a year or two. By giving ourselves a 10-year sweep, rather than obsessing about getting the latest premiere, it gives us the opportunity to look back at some terrific films, many of which have never been seen here.”
* Subtitle European Film Festival runs in Kilkenny Nov 25 – Dec 1. subtitlefest.com
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