Ireland's longest-running film festival, Cork International Film Festival (CIFF), returns this week for its 66th year. This year's festival combines in-person screenings and online films and runs from 5th to 21st November 2021. The programme is packed with features, shorts, and special events. Fiona Clark, festival director and CEO, says that the online aspect allows for greater flexibility.
"Last year, we planned to have a blended festival with in-person and digital screenings. As soon as we launched the festival, lockdown was announced, and we had to put the programme online. It was not the same as watching films on the big screen and collectively, but there's a real value in that people could join us from all over the country. We reached thousands of people, which would never have been possible without digital."
"Digital is still part of everyone's lifestyle. We wanted to combine what we learned last year and do it in a way that lets people have the physical festival experience. The digital festival is three programs over three days to allow people to have fresh content just like they would in a cinema."
As with previous years, directors and filmmakers will be on hand to introduce their films, but this year's festival also presents new strands to the programme. Clarks says it is vital for the festival to refresh, renew and make things as relevant as possible each year.
As world leaders meet to discuss the fate of the world's climate situation at COP26 in Glasgow, CIFF adds its support by showing films rooted in environmental issues in the Green Strand.
Clark says the festival team is interested in sustainability regarding their own practices and felt it was important to dedicate a strand to all things green.
"We have one of the largest documentary feature programs in the country, so inevitably, social and global themes around the human impact on the environment, climate etc., have been the focus of many of our films. This year we noticed a particularly strong focus from filmmakers on the environment. With COP26 front and centre of the news, it makes sense to use the platform of the festival as an opportunity to focus public engagement on those issues through film."
The Culinary Strand is more than just the chance to watch films set in the culinary world. There are two ticket options for Philip Barantini's Boiling Point; one includes a three-course supper in The River Lee Hotel. Clark says this is not the only treat for foodies.
"We have a wonderful documentary Nordic by Nature followed by a brilliant panel discussion which includes a Michelin starred chef and two of the filmmakers, and it is hosted by Regina Sexton, food historian and food writer from UCC."
A retrospective programme, Female Visions, celebrates female directors and includes a screening of Disco Pigs directed by Kirsten Sheridan, which saw a young Cillian Murphy in his breakout role.
"Female Visions showcases films by women who have pushed boundaries, and the programme is connected to art, to the city, and more. We commissioned a beautiful piece of art by Eleanor O'Donovan, who produced a piece in response to female visions. We have our Trail of Discovery, which is the walking tour exhibition around the city. There are six sites with different exhibitions and podcasts that all draw on the theme of female visions."
"We are keen to encourage people to explore, to see the festival as a journey through the Trail of Discovery and discovering new films. We want people to reimagine the world through what they see."
CIFF brings the best of national and international films to Cork, but Clark says it is essential to support the work of artists living and working in the county.
Tadhg O'Sullivan is this year's Filmmaker in Residence 2021 at UCC, and Clark says they are delighted to play his new film, To the Moon.
"We have a fantastic relationship with UCC. Each year we screen work by the Filmmaker in Residence, and this year we have Tadhg's beautiful film, which is a love letter to the moon. We run criticism workshops with UCC Media students. We also have an intern youth film and mental health program in partnership with UCC. We need to continue to support artists at home and help them gain wider attention."
UCC Film Artist in Residence alumni Mark O'Halloran brings his latest work, An Encounter, to the festival. The short film is loosely based on a short story by James Joyce. Written by O'Halloran and directed by Kelly Campbell, it is part of the Irish Shorts programme strand.
Clark says that, in these uncertain times, it is important for everyone to feel safe attending the festival, and the team have gone to lengths to ensure that all precautions are taken.
"People who want the flexibility of being able to watch from home can, and those who want to be in the cinema can do that safely as well because we are not selling to capacity. Our venues are well managed and ventilated, and everyone must have a COVID cert to attend the screening. I'm really confident that people can focus on enjoying the films knowing that safety and management are well taken care of by the teams at each venue and by our planning."
Cork International Film Festival runs from 5th to 21st November 2021. More information on CIFF can be found at corkfilmfest.org