Fascinating Fastnet Film Festival with 350 offerings, all for free

Cara O’Doherty looks forward to watching many of the 350 offerings in the Fastnet Film Festival — and may even catch a tutorial or two
Fascinating Fastnet Film Festival with 350 offerings, all for free

Abe's Story: One of the films on offer at the Fastnet Film Festival.

THE Fastnet Film Festival was forced to take a hiatus last year due to the pandemic, but this year the festival returns for its 12th year, bringing 350 short films from 50 countries worldwide. To ensure the event can take place this year, the festival has gone online. The tagline has always been “Our Village is Our Screen”, but going online means the whole country now has easy access to the prestigious West Cork festival, which kicks off on May 26 for five days and is free to view.

Festival director and head of communications Hilary McCarthy says that Fastnet has always been a May festival and that the team were determined to keep to their traditional month again, hence deciding to go online.

“We didn’t want to change our dates because we’re synonymous with the last weekend in May. We decided we had to go ahead this year, despite the pandemic. We didn’t want to let another year go by, so we knew we had to go online, and it has been wonderful.

“We have a brilliant collection of shorts, and we can’t wait for people to see them.”

McCarthy says that a dedicated team devised the programme with 700 films to choose from — no easy feat.

“We had a certain amount that was submitted last year. When we opened the judging this year, we added those in. We have a panel of over 20 judges who watched every single film. They score them in various categories — like cinematography, sound, music and so on — and, from that, a shortlist is sent forward to the festival and the competition.”

From those 350, 17 will be chosen as winners in their respective categories, with a prize fund of €20,000 to be shared between the winners.

This year’s festival will be introduced by Saoirse Ronan, who McCarthy says is a joy to work with.

We’ve got a great Cork programme; we have lots from Europe, but we also have films from the US, Japan, Iran and more unusual places like Tibet and Mongolia

Fastnet brings films from around the world to the festival, but there is a solid local contingent. There is a Cork strand and an Irish-language programme. According to McCarthy, this year’s homegrown batch is particularly strong.

“We’ve got a great Cork programme. We also have an Irish-language programme, which has been judged by a panel of judges from Cape Clear and is sponsored by Cork County Council. There are some beautiful films in the Irish language category, and the Cork programme has gotten stronger year on year. We have built a great following in Cork, so it is wonderful to see that reflected in the quality of film.”

With non-essential travel still not allowed, the festival brings us an extensive array of international films, allowing audiences to see the world through the medium of film. For those with wanderlust, McCarthy says there are films from all across Europe and further afield.

“We have lots from Europe, but we also have films from the US, Japan, Iran and more unusual places like Tibet and Mongolia. You get a very distinct and different feel from film from different places. When you watch a Japanese film, you feel you have been brought to Japan. It is one of the great things about short films. You get a snippet of a different culture and experience. This year’s standard is exceptionally high.”

Education and upskilling have always been an integral part of the festival’s philosophy, with world-class writers, directors and technical crews giving talks and workshops on their craft. This year, that trend continues, albeit in a smaller way, with In Short, a series of mini-tutorials given by leading members of the Irish filmmaking community.

The tutorials are produced by Conor Dowling and consist of short talks given by award-winning creatives such as costume designer Joan Bergin, writer Mark O’Halloran and Cork’s Carmel Winters. Ed Guiney from Element Pictures will present a short tutorial on producing. As the producer behind Normal People, no doubt audiences will tune in to see if Guiney mentions the now-infamous chain.

McCarthy believes budding filmmakers will relish the chance to get the inside track from renowned professionals. “They are so short. It is such a different approach to getting information across. Our festival director, John Kelleher, has watched them all and says each one is bursting with pearls of wisdom. Each one is very focused. If you want to know about acting for children or post-production or creating musical scores, you can pick the ones you want to watch or take advantage of the fact that they are short and sit down and watch them all. I think people really appreciate the effort that has gone into each tutorial.”

The closing night award ceremony is one of the highlights of the festival, and this year, undeterred, the awards ceremony will take place virtually on Saturday, May 29, at 7pm. Hosted by writer and director Gerald Stembridge, the 17 category winners will be announced. Stembridge will also announce the winner of the Puttnam Pitch.

“The Puttnam Pitch is a prize fund worth €20,000, which will be awarded to one director to make a 10-minute short,” McCarthy says.

The Puttnam Pitch remit included Covid-19, the “new normal”, and must be filmed along the Wild Atlantic Way in Cork

“We had 60 applicants. Each one had to submit a script, a breakdown of finances and a few other elements which could prove to us that, if they win, they will be able to produce the short. From the applicants, we chose four of the scripts, and the artists behind them will take part in a live pitching event on Friday, May 28.”

McCarthy says that the remit included Covid-19, the “new normal”, and must be filmed along the Wild Atlantic Way in Cork. The winning film will premiere at next year’s festival.

Those selected to pitch are Emma Wall with Lay Me Down; Michael Carolan, who has written Horizon Light; Zoë Brennan-Whitmore and Aoife Meagher for Moonstone; and Brian Benjamin Dwyer, who has scripted Wireless.

All 350 films, the awards ceremony and the mini-tutorials are free to view. Many of the films will be available to watch from outside of Ireland, and the In Short tutorials will remain on the Fastnet website when the festival ends.

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