“Necessity is the mother of invention; back in March the idea of running an online Festival seemed beyond our technical capabilities but the pandemic has caused many changes to happen and people have had to adapt to a new reality”
Irish Film Festival founder Dr. Enda Murray sat down to chat about the first IFF online in the Fest’s six-year run. Having enjoyed five seasons replete with satellite events in Western Sydney and Perth, Australia’s solely-dedicated Irish film fleadh’s lifeblood of volunteers and passionate Irish community participation has seen, without fail, an annual Chauvel home run more memorable than most.
“The main challenge for a tiny arts organisation is finding the resources and skills to manage and operate a high-end technical process,” said Enda. “A benefit of online Film Festivals is that they are accessible to people who might be denied access in a physical sense due to distance or disability.”
“We are a cultural Festival and the arts has a difficult time in Australia at the best of times. The pandemic has made it very difficult for grassroots arts organisations who do not work in the commercial space who are the life-blood of our Festival. Other countries such as Ireland support entry level arts because it is recognised as an entry point into the industry and also a place where artists and technicians hone their craft. I think Australia is in danger of losing its unique voice unless local production is ringfenced and supported.”
The pandemic has seen an unprecedented number of Film Festivals either delaying the better part of a year, postponing indefinitely or giving little to no indication that they will run again in the foreseeable future if at all. Most Festivals heralded by commercial outlets included the Sydney, British and Jewish International Film Festivals have either relied on consummate digital infrastructure to reach audiences in their homes, resumed proceedings within limited capacity or indicated a timeframe for so doing ala the Children’s International Film Festival. Among the aforementioned Festivals are events with audiences not insignificantly yet not exclusively composed of demographics to whom Government health advice has been more greatly adverse as regards contracting COVID-19; with the corresponding Festivals notably to date subsisting entirely online.
Some Festivals more heavily reliant on volunteers such as SF3 have either resumed in person, solely opted for streaming or determined a hybrid model. Other non-profit Festival ventures, contending with reliably lesser patrons and revenue whether or not they proceed with a traditional or adaptive 2020 showcases, have been forced to reckon whether such a run is financially inviable and irrespective prudent in light of the above. The Irish Film Festival being no less a tradition than many of the now longstanding Australian Film Festivals, this author joins many in relishing the annual tradition even if the form isn’t that to which we’re accustomed. Some Festivals have written off the year, some won’t come back and others will struggle to maintain a viable audience having not recurred in requisite time or otherwise having lost momentum. IFF’s audience would have been back in 2021 and will be grateful for the visits to our living rooms.
“My curatorial policy starts with my own gut instinct; I’m roughly the same age as a lot of our audience so my own preferences are a good place to start,” said Enda of the Festival which has consistently drawn from across the breadth of Irish cinema and genre iterations. “2020 has been a dismal year for just about everyone so we were keen to get some comedies to liven up proceedings.”
“Also ‘When Women Won’ which is about the change to the 8th Amendment in Ireland (which prohibited abortion) was an important film in terms of taking stories from contemporary Ireland to Australia. I’ve found that as the years go by I have more in common with fellow migrants to Australia than I have with people who I grew up with because the migrant experience is such a huge part of my life journey; one of the aims of the Festival is to explore the experience of being Irish in Australia and to this end we have started a short film competition which is dedicated to filmmakers who are of Irish origin wherever they may be around the world. We had some great entries this year including the winner ‘Wine Lake’ and we are looking forward to more great films in the future.”
While there has been a consistent Festival focus over the years on Northern Ireland whether a result of the fixtures’ origins or subject matters, commencing in 2018 and coinciding with the anniversary of the Good Friday agreement there has been a persistent and stronger focus on the region continuing in 2019 and indeed in 2020 with ‘The Ballymurphy Precedent’ chronicling the killing of 11 people in Belfast 5 months prior to Bloody Sunday.
“We have found that documentaries about the Northern Ireland Troubles provoke a huge reaction in Australia,” said Enda. “We found this with Alex Gibney’s ‘No Stone Unturned’ in 2018 and again with Seán Murray’s ‘Unquiet Graves’ last year. Getting justice for the victims of the Troubles is a big factor in achieving a lasting peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland and I think our audiences share this view.”
“It has been an anxious time for the Irish Film Festival crew because the move to an online format is such a huge leap for a small organisation but we have a marvellous bunch of people involved in the organising team and we have done our level best to make this a great Festival. We know that a lot of Irish people did not make their annual trip home this year so it’s especially important to keep those links with home for Irish ex-pats and for the wider Aussie community we want to bring some Gaelic sunshine to Australia!”
The Irish Film Festival is screening online until November 29