ONLY four months ago, the Cork International Film Festival (CIFF) team were amongst thousands of visitors to Berlinale — a key European film festival and market — viewing five films a day, meeting distributors, sales agents and filmmakers, busy planning this year’s Festival in November.
The Festival has developed hugely in recent years, and based on that sustained growth, a new director of programming joining the team, audiences up 36%, and a milestone 65th anniversary, we were thinking big for Ireland’s first and largest film festival in 2020.
We are still thinking big, just differently. The Festival has always been innovative and agile; it was established in 1956 before there was an airport in Cork or television in Ireland!
Our new ‘home cinema’ Festival experience, the CIFF Film Club is a year-round ‘book club’ model for a film club and something we had always planned to do in partnership with The Gate Cinema leading up to the Festival in November, reflecting the appetite for new independent cinema in Cork.
The Festival experience is a unique one, where specially curated programmes are presented thoughtfully, magnified on the silver screen in the magic atmosphere of a darkened room; and where audiences experience this collectively, and with the opportunity to meet the filmmakers. Film can be immediate, urgent, transporting and uplifting. Human stories told on film, and shared together in cinemas, is a powerful thing. We wanted to find a way to reproduce that experience and keep the essence of the Festival and cinema-going aglow until the return to our beloved physical spaces is possible, and then support venues in welcoming their patrons back.
Like many organisations, the past months forced us to pause, to consider the future carefully and how we might strategically and imaginatively approach a changed environment. After 65 years of delivering the largest film festival in Ireland, we are now reimagining this major cultural event that is so integrally tied into the cultural, commercial and community fabric of the city, and is such a significant platform for hundreds of filmmakers and creatives that form the film sector.
Film production and release plans have been delayed and postponed, as have film festivals and markets to showcase that work. But the film sector is resilient, and whilst recognising how vital physical festivals and theatrical releases in cinemas are, inventive efforts have been made to find new ways to continue showcasing filmmakers’ work and support them.
The digital platform is one part of that; it can help engage wider audiences, creating access through the thoughtful selection of trusted curators.
We launched the CIFF Film Club on June 16 with Solo, a beautifully observed documentary about a brilliant but troubled Argentinian pianist. The Festival has a longstanding commitment to presenting films that speak to issues around mental health, encouraging greater awareness and understanding of these important issues. As well as being known for championing documentary, we wanted to reflect this element of the Festival ethos in our new Film Club. We feel it is so important that we have developed a special film and mental health education and outreach programme called Intinn, for Transition Year students, and are exploring ways to expand this online.
Next up in the Film Club season is the Irish premiere of Bulgarian feature Sister screened with an Irish short companion piece tomorrow, Tuesday June 30 and we will host a live Q&A with director Svetla Tsotsorkova and producer Svetoslav Ovcharov.
On July 14, CIFF’s new Director of Programming Anna Kopecká has curated a double bill of two Czech classics — The Key for Determining Dwarfs and Josef Kilián, and on July 28 we will present a ‘Best of the Fest’ selection of award-winning Irish shorts, showcasing some of the great talent Cork has launched. The summer series will culminate on August 11 with a special homecoming preview screening — back in The Gate Cinema — of Broken Law, a taut thriller and Irish feature debut from Paddy Slattery, ahead of its cinema release.
We love nothing better than sharing great stories with audiences on the big screen, and our focus is to encourage a safe return to that unique experience and support filmmakers. For CIFF 2020, venues may be operating on reduced capacity with social distancing measures in place, and international travel is likely to remain restricted for visitors. These are challenges — artistically, economically and operationally — but stories are needed, now more than ever.
The Festival will be a beacon at the end of one of most challenging years we have all faced, and a wonderful opportunity to celebrate Cork’s resilience, solidarity and global connectivity. The generosity and ingenuity demonstrated by the cultural sector in responding to the pandemic is striking. Equally, there is a palpable sense of solidarity across all sectors in Cork. The Festival generates €2.5 million for the local economy annually and as we support local businesses to reconnect with their customers, staff and clients, we hope that they will continue to engage with and support the Festival too. We want to encourage artists, audiences, and sponsors to join us — to discover great films, and celebrate all that this vibrant, resilient city has to offer.
We are committed to delivering a Festival in November, one that embraces both the challenges and opportunities of the new normal. The CIFF Film Club is a positive first step. We hope you will join us.
Tickets are €10 or become a Friend of the Festival to go free to CIFF Film Club now and all standard screenings at the Festival in November. Details are available at corkfilmfest.org.