This would have been a grand year, no doubt, for the newly-remonikered Cork International Film Festival. Celebrating its 65th anniversary with an innovative programme of film, industry events and external initiatives like the launching of its digital archives and a city-centre trail of movie-worn costumes, the festival was set for a banner year. And then, we all went back into lockdown, and a blended-medium festival had to shift entirely online.
A baptism of fire, then, for programming director Anna Kopecká: “This is my first year at the festival, and it’s very special because I’m supposed to come in with new ideas, and bring programming and other strengths to the job. It wasn’t as I imagined - in April and May we knew we’d have to change things, even if we were hoping for a physical festival. And when we did go online, we then became available to the whole of Ireland, and that was nice.”
“One of the ideas I had was to hold a festival film club, and when the first lockdown happened, we went online with that, and could provide something for our audience, and adapt. It was interesting, but difficult, because we didn’t know what the final product would be, but I’m happy with our selection, people can watch it anywhere, and film-makers can get their work to an audience.”
While they weren’t the first event of their kind to move to a secondary, online-only space over the past few months in response to Lockdown 2, the circumstances have enabled the festival to create a space for themselves in film fans’ lockdown routines for a few days, and Kopecká feels people have been receptive to this, and to the programme itself.
“I think people are excited. We have had a positive response. It’s different, because it’s the first year that we’re available outside of Cork, and lots of people still don’t know it’s possible for them to watch, what they can expect, so it’s something new.
“We hope we can reach people, and show them this great collection of films, because I think sometimes some people are afraid of films from a festival, they think ‘not for me’, or watch television and Netflix. I think we have something for everyone, including four world premieres, and I think people are responding well.”
Being realistic, 2020 is looking like the first of a few years where blended presentation might be necessary, as the ongoing crisis continues and restrictions in public spaces continue to change. Kopecká talks about her hopes for the Festival this year and beyond, speaking to a very human want to get back to in-person arts venues like the cinemas.
“There’s two ways of looking at it. It was high time all the festivals also started working online, because there are a lot of restrictions and practicalities for some people to watch films. Same with industry events, it’s good for some to hold them online. We have a lot of films that won’t screen in Ireland again, and it’s good that people will be able to see them.
“But it’s really important to understand: film belongs to cinema. And I hope that politicians and the general public will support cinemas and the film culture, because it could easily disappear. It’s one of the industries that is at high risk everywhere. We see cinemas closing and they might not reopen, and I think it really should be a shared experience, with family and friends, and that it’s not something that we just decide is not as important as other things, because art does help everyone.”
It’s summer of 1998, the first stages of Le Tour de France are hosted in Ireland and Dom Chabol (Louis Talpe) has been one of the best ‘Domestiques’, or support riders for the past two decades. Doomed to a supporting role in the pack as his team’s sprint hogs the glory, Dom’s secret ambition to break from the pack and win, just once, is about to overtake even him... action, romance, and lots of doping await film fans in The Racer, the festival’s opening presentation and scheduled gala programme.
Stand-up comedian Kate (Gemma-Leah Devereux) has been fixating lately on life, the meaning of it, and her place in the world, and a breast cancer diagnosis seems to reinforce said ponderings. But in confronting death, with the help of others in the same position, can Kate get perspective and confront her feelings on existence? Ruth Meehan’s debut in the director’s chair balances existential dread and the question of mortality with friendship, connection and catharsis. Irish gala premiere.
Every family has its secrets, even the well-off and well-connected Keenan clan. The Edge of Chaos looks at the ruptures created when daughter Carrie, struggling with alcoholism, attempts to blackmail Derek, the family’s father figure, over shady business dealings. Dissecting the nature of grief and unresolved trauma on individuals and families, the film goes deep under the veneer of family life and social airs.
Wildfire (streaming November 11th-15th)
Sisters Lauren (Nora-Jane Noone) and Kelly (the late Nika McGuigan) have grown up on the Irish border, with the trauma that attends. When Kelly returns suddenly after being presumed missing for a year, the sisters confront the truth of their mother’s death in their own fight for survival in a visually-distinct story from first-time director Cathy Brady.
The Castle (streaming November 12th-15th)
Aspiring pianist Monika, a thirteen-year-old Lithuanian girl living with her mother and grandmother in Dublin, fantasises about performing in the mysterious ‘Castle’ venue. But when her mother sells the family keyboard out of necessity, Monika resorts to extreme measures to get it back. Realised in stunning fashion by cinematographer Michael Lavelle, this cross between psychological thriller and coming-of-age story by director Lina Lužytė presents a rare screen perspective on migrant life in Ireland.
A WORLD OF DOCUMENTARIES
The Sheriff (streaming November 9th-15th)
Polarisation of politics is a defining issue of our times, in and out of current affairs, and looking at the recent sheriff’s election in the small American town of Frederick, Maryland, The Sheriff presents a microcosm for wider events and circumstances. Conservative incumbent Chuck Jenkins battles it out with moderate Democrat Karl Bickel, providing political theatre, pathos for the plight of ordinary rural Americans, and poignancy in the light of wider debate regarding policing.
Castro’s Spies (streaming November 10th-15th)
Castro’s Spies is an extraordinary documentary of the lives and experiences of Cuban spies living and working in 1990s Florida under assumed names. Seen through the perspective of these men and their families, the so-called Cuban 5’s stories weave a tale of intelligence and espionage into the fabric of wider domestic and diplomatic relations.
The 8th (streaming November 12th-15th)
It was the civil rights debate that brought Ireland to a standstill on several occasions, and stirred strong emotion in the process. The 8th depicts the struggle of activists in the lead-up to the 2018 Irish abortion referendum, after several decades of grassroots work. While both sides of the discussion are addressed with respect, the story of the movement towards the repeal of the 8th amendment is framed within a broader, more profound move toward social change in recent years.
Home is a Sacrifice Zone (streaming November 13th-15th)
A highly personal account of the controversial issue of hydraulic fracturing (‘fracking’) in Ireland by film-maker and environmental activist Johnny Gogan, Home is a Sacrifice Zone documents the campaign undertaken by one small Irish community against vested interests, the hard work of the national anti-fracking movement, and the showdown that has led to the government’s recent decision to make Ireland the first country to ban the use of fracked gas.
Crock of Gold: A Few Rounds with Shane McGowan (streaming November 13th-15th)
Shane MacGowan and The Pogues followed Irish folk music’s revival with a swift kick of punk-rock, bringing their concoction to the world stage in a whirl of chaos, empathy and poetry, speaking universally to the emigrant experience in the process. Julien Temple (The Filth and the Fury, Oil City Confidential) attempts to bottle this lightning in a documentary that examines McGowan’s life, times and body of work.
For more information on these films and others, as well as the full programme of industry events and community initiatives, head to https://www.corkfilmfest.org. Features and shorts selections are €7.50 each, streaming from release night until Sunday November 15th, ten-film passes are €60, while an all-access digital pass is €99.