It’s that time of the year at IndieCork towers - the press deadline for the festival’s programme. Last-minute alterations are made to summaries and other copy, design is tweaked and refined, and the festival’s renowned artwork is placed front and centre in its imagery, ahead of positioning on socials, website and elsewhere. As an important hurdle in the annual routine of the festival is cleared, festival directors Mick Hannigan and Úna Feely are catching their breaths briefly to put its programme into the context of Covid-19.
It’s an admirable effort to say the least. From what your writer has seen ahead of the existence of a finalised programme, a diverse offering of Irish and international features, led by Cork-made horror ‘Caveat’ and US drama ‘Never Rarely Sometimes Always’, is complemented with the festival’s usual staple offering of shorts from around the world, including the returns of its CreativeCork and World Shorts strands, as well as the addition of Homemade, a showcase for shorts made in the restricted environment of this year’s lockdown.
“We just proceeded,” says Feely. “Because we got so many entries, we proceeded with the viewing process, we received a lot of films and we continued the process. We kept in contact with our colleagues at the Gate Cinema, who reopened in June and have played a blinder. We knew we were in good hands.
“Parallel was our thinking of going online to take us to a wider audience and give us some security. Blacknight are our sponsors, heading into their fifth year, an independent internet hosting company, and they worked very quickly to help get us streaming online, and that’s been a new adventure.”
This convergence of technology and limited in-person experience has led to the festival presenting itself as a “hybrid festival”, according to Hannigan: reactive to pandemic circumstances and available worldwide, while catering to the social and sensory experience of a night at the pictures. For one of the few autumn/winter festivals of the usually-rammers Cork calendar to have stayed afloat this has made great cause for celebration.
“In March, when we saw other festivals cancelling, it was like, ‘oh my God’, but we had the feeling by October it would be sorted, which we know now it’s not. In the meantime, we watched quite an amount of webinars, from festival organisers, on what they did, how they did it, and what platforms there were.
“We know now from the likes of Netflix that people are quite easy with watching films online, so there was a lot of planning, but we’re quite happy with the system we have now, a system called Filmchief from the Netherlands, and in the position to have online and live screenings. To a certain extent, it’s an experiment on what works.
“Filmmakers are happy to have their films out there, and we’re going to be watching how this works, how people respond to the online aspect, because my supposition is that the hybrid element is here to stay. While we retain the primacy of live cinema, the whole online experience offers up a whole range of possibilities, and to extend our reach.”
While the participation of partners in an adapted schedule in going where the audience is has been crucial, the fact remains that IndieCork is the community’s annual film event: the festival has worked with a range of arts and community groups to deliver screenings and events, while memberships, at €7.50 a month, allows supporters to help keep the festival going, as well as taking a vote in the festival’s AGM.
In these circumstances, however, one could be forgiven for asking what else can be done to support IndieCork and other grassroots arts initiatives.
“It’s a good question, for which there is no easy answer,” says Hannigan. “This is new territory for us all, and we’re negotiating our way through that. There’s still film being made, and exciting, emerging filmmakers. They’re still submitting work, and our role is to give them platforms, and put them in front of appreciative audiences.
“We want people to see the films we’ve selected, they show talent, and submissions to the festival were way up. There was a big spike in the number of Irish films. They are still being made, and film-makers do want them screened... Life goes on, albeit in a quite different way.”
In terms of what might come next for the festival as the wider situation is evolving, it’s a predictably hard call for the festival to make. Feely insists on retaining the IndieCork feeling of community and connectivity, however.
“This sounds a bit bland, but the future is human. People want to go to the big screen, they want to get together, they want to see each other, and that’s what the festival hopes to offer. The reaction we’ve got since we decided to go ahead has been really heartwarming, and supportive.
“In terms of people lending their support, it has been a unique challenge to put on the festival this year, to do it both ways, so anyone attending the festival, the support is really welcome.”
IndieCork Film Festival 2020 runs from Sunday, October 4, to Sunday, October 11, at the Gate Cinema (limited social-distanced events) and online. For more information and bookings, head to indiecork.com.