FROM March 7 to 11, the town of Youghal is set to play host to more than 200 films at the First Cut Youth Film Festival (FCYFF).
Now in its 14th year, the festival showcases new and emerging young filmmakers from Ireland and beyond between the ages of 12 and 25.
It is also the culmination of deep engagement with the local community. Workshops run in schools and youth centres weeks before rooms darken and silver screens light up.
Festival Director Mary McGrath is the passionate Cork woman who gets the reels rolling.
“When I was involved with Youth Cafés in the mid-noughties, I conducted a survey of more than 800 young people, all expressed a desire to have more access to the arts” she said.
“The truth of it was that in Cork, if you were interested in sports at the time, you were made. Although sport is wonderful, it’s not for everyone, so I’m struck by the need to offer a creative outlet, something different.”
The director describes the festival as having developed organically over the years. She began by working with young people through the Cork Film Centre, offering workshops to schools, youth groups and individuals. This continued to expand; eventually the young filmmakers wanted to screen their work.
“It started off as a one-day event. Now it’s five,” says Mary.
The festival has a deep commitment to inclusion and diversity. Someone Like Me is a special guest panel discussion this year with members of the LGBTQIA+ filmmaking community.
On Saturday, writer/director Katie McNeice, film artist Francis O’Mahony, and filmmaker Barry Dignam will present their work, and discuss their filmmaking from their own specific point of view.
Mary McGrath relishes sharing the magic of film with young people. Not everyone will catch the bug, she says, but everyone will enjoy the experience. For those that want to go further, the festival offers a unique experience to network with people in film and to collaborate creatively with peers.
This Cork woman is clearly driven by a can-do attitude.
“We encourage them to follow their passion, aim for new heights, and ultimately have their work showcased on an even larger platform.”
Her enthusiasm is catching.
Lisa McDonald is a freelance animator and tutor at Dún Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology. This is her second year working with the festival, and she loves every minute, sharing her animation workshops with local primary and secondary students in Youghal.
It’s a busy schedule for the Wexford native, with up to three or four workshops a day, but like festival director Mary McGrath, she’s bowled over by the creativity of the young people in this unique seaside town.
“It’s genuinely one of my favourite times of year. I’m the youngest in my family so before this, I didn’t have that much experience of children. They are so talented and fearless and it is wonderful to give them this platform for their creativity. There are the funniest little people I’ve ever met.”
McDonald prioritises fun in her workshops. She says it is a bit of a free-for-all with everybody chatting with one another, collaborating and problem-solving.
For her, this skill of thinking on your feet and coming up with creative solutions is a life-long asset.
“I almost don’t want them to know they’re learning. They all get so much from it. I’ve never had a kid who doesn’t finish our project and it’s such a little victory when that one kid who isn’t so interested gets involved.”
All participants have their work shared on the festival’s big screen as McDonald creates a film combining all their drawings on a loop. This year the festival will also screen the beautiful animation film Marcel The Shell with Shoes On.’
McDonald is astounded by the quality of the work produced and says the young people enjoy the inclusivity of everyone contributing to the one film. Like the festival’s organiser, she believes in the transformative power of film.
“I think film can be like another parent, in its power to influence you. We are a very cool little country. Irish film promotes a way of being. It’s a wonderful industry to be involved in, but this festival is great because it gives me an opportunity to get back in touch with the demographic.”
Maya Lupton is a Transition Year Student in Scoil na Trionóide, Youghal. She participated in all three workshops on offer: animation, film-making and Irish language film.
“Every single student enjoyed these workshops. We all chose to do them, so everyone wanted to be there. The film-making one was great as we got to use and understand all the equipment, learning to understand how to use the cameras and the microphones. It made film more real, like something I could do. I understand how films are made now, even if at a basic level.”
The articulate student attends the Irish language part of her secondary school. She enjoyed making an Irish film about climate change through a workshop developed through the festival’s Athrú Amháin/One Change Programme.
The festival will showcase about 30 Irish Language short films on the big screen. This is an area director Mary McGrath would like to develop given more funding. In the wake of big successes like An Cailín Ciúin and Arracht, this seems timely.
“This year we worked with two Irish language filmmakers. We picked 200 films out of 1,500 entries to screen. We are looking for Irish language organisations to help fund and develop this side of the festival. It is such a great way to share our culture with the world and to show our young people a direct use for their native language.”
There will be a national and international flavour to the festival. First Cut International, the festival’s online screening programme, will screen a wide range of films from all over the world including the US, Iran, India, Korea, UK, Brazil, Lithuania and Denmark up until March 12.
Along with her passion to share Irish culture, Mary McGrath sees this as a great opportunity for young people to grow in cultural understanding, getting glimpses of different cultures and realities around the world.
An Australian film, Daydream (Julian Hamman), features on the Spotlight Programme, Saturday 11th, Regal Cinema 3pm, and a very topical Ukrainian film Russian Military Warship Go (Oleg Tchelkin) also screens on Saturday in The Mall Arts.
More than anything, young people are at the heart of this festival. Over 40 primary and secondary Schools from all over Ireland have created short films which will screen at the festival. A selection of these includes “ Lonely but Never Alone, Wilson Hospital School in West Meath, Lost and Found, Regina Mundi in Cork, and Liam O’Maoiliosa, Coláiste an Eachréidh, Athenry.
Student Maya Lupton is volunteering throughout the week of the festival, helping visitors to navigate the different venues and events. Screenings will take place in Youghal’s Regal Cinema and Mall Arts Centre. Both Venues have something unique to offer visitors and Maya can’t wait to play host.
“There is such a buzz around the place. I’m so excited for the festival. Not only will we be able to show off our work, we’ll get to show off our town. We’re so proud of both.”
For a full line-up of what is on at the festival, see www.firstcutfilmfestival.com