A world of cinema and cultural experience at Cork International Film Festival

For its 67th edition, Cork International Film Festival has served up a selection of cinematic excellence, new and old, including themed strands and broader community engagement - including the Cork Film Trail. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with festival head Fiona Clark.
A world of cinema and cultural experience at Cork International Film Festival

Direct Provision movie ‘Aisha’, starring ‘Black Panther’ star Letitia Wright, shows at Cork International Film Festival.

While we perhaps got our first glimpses at what winter festivals might look like this time last year, with tentative in-person programmes in the wake of the lifting of Covid-era restrictions, this year has seen the beginnings of a resurgence for festival programming in the city, the start of a slow coming-around from the lumps and bumps taken by the sector over the past three years.

For its 67th annual edition, Cork International Film Festival has fully embraced the freedom and certainty of the world coming to terms with the pandemic, and gotten back to programming full schedules of in-person screenings and year-round community outreach - and for festival director and CEO Fiona Clark, there’s been a real joy in digging back into the routine of running a full festival - and the response from the city’s communities.

“It's been so gratifying, because we work away all year on this, and as you know, the last two and a half years have been really challenging for everybody, and for the arts. One of my most favorite days of the year is the programme launch day, because finally we have to let go, and share [the year's work] with everyone, and you get the wave of enthusiasm, passion and questions that follows. It's wonderful, because it's very much reaffirming that cinema is so much part of everyone's lives, and it's such a dynamic way of telling stories and connecting people.

“90 percent of the films are Irish premieres, so you get to see it first in Cork, and people are excited about seeing films on the big screen, new films, but also some classic films that you just don't get to see in that kind of wonderful cinematic environment very often. There's a genuine excitement of people coming together and lots of guests coming, lots of filmmakers coming. We've expanded a number of different areas of the festival this year, including things like our Culinary Cinema strand, including a great thriller, 'The Menu', and those events are pretty nearly sold out now already.

“So, definitely, people want to come and enjoy film, they want to explore new things, and they want to get together and really enjoy Cork as well - a city of culture and food and great pubs, and we've really tried to weave all of that into the festival this year, with the Film Trail, with costumes from Irish productions like 'The Wind That Shakes the Barley', and all the different strands in the Film Festival, the event cinema, and more.”

The Costume trail will feature garments from ‘The Wind That Shakes The Barley’.
The Costume trail will feature garments from ‘The Wind That Shakes The Barley’.

The festival was the very first of its kind in Ireland, a generational peer to prestigious international affairs like Cannes, Venice and Berlin, and a civic amenity that predates the development and construction of Cork Airport. It’s rarefied air that the festival breathes, and it’s the responsibility of those tasked with its custody to keep it in the community, and continue to work toward reaching a broad cross-section of society.

“The thing that we've all realized over the last two or three years, is how important the arts are to society, to all of us, to our communities. I hope that none of us ever take that for granted, because we needed each other, and we needed the arts to really get through all of that. What it also shows us, is what the real positive impact of the festival is on the community. One simple example of that is in 'Intinn', a really important youth education outreach program that we run year round, film and mental health for young people.

“When that was happening in person before the pandemic, we'd reached about 300 young people in Cork. With the pandemic, obviously, we couldn't do that, so we had to reimagine that programme, and find a way of still having that really good engagement, but doing it online. I'm really proud that over the course of a couple of years, we've now reached over 6000 young people with that programme, which is supporting their mental health and wellbeing.

“There's such a richness and diversity of subjects that are told on film, and particularly in our festival, that we've got over 200 films, from over 45 different countries, and we're really putting an emphasis on different aspects, including our Green Screen strand, which is films around climate action and the environment, human impact. And what we've realized there is that film is a great platform for sharing those ideas, for sparking debate and discussion, and hopefully inspiring action - reflecting the world back to us and taking the conversation forward.”

The festival opens tonight with a screening of Direct Provision drama ‘Aisha’ at Cork Opera House - featuring ‘Black Panther’ star Letitia Wright as the titular character as she negotiates Ireland’s draconian and inhumane asylum system. It’s an important document of what is certain to be a black cloud over Ireland’s history in future generations, akin to the Magdalene Laundries and Mother & Baby Homes - and it’s important to the Film Festival to place stories and experiences like this on the largest possible platform.

"I can't wait to get it all kicked off on Thursday, I think it will be a really, really special occasion. We're back at full capacity, back at the Opera House, which is the iconic cultural venue in Cork, with an amazing film, an Irish premiere of what I consider to be the best Irish film of 2022 by an award winning filmmaker, Frank Berry, who's the loveliest man, the most compassionate filmmaker, brilliant storyteller, and what he's teased out of the two very big stars, Letitia Wright, and Josh O'Connor, the most beautiful and tender and heartbreaking and wonderful performances, it's a real joy to watch.

“They're really important stories to tell, and for us, it was a no-brainer for it to be the Opening Gala, because it's one of the best and most important films of the year, and exactly the kind of film that festivals should be showcasing. This is an opportunity for audiences to discover something they wouldn't necessarily have come across, a really special occasion and an opportunity to celebrate everything that's good in the art of bringing people together and telling great stories.”

Cork International Film Festival opens tonight, Thursday November 10, and runs until Sunday November 20. For more information, programme, and remaining tickets, visit https://corkfilmfest.org/

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