First Irish Children’s Christmas Film
Fiona O’Brien speaks with Joan Burney Keatings MBE, chief executive of Cinemagic, the arts and youth charity behind Ireland’s first ever feature length Christmas Film
With an ensemble cast including Liam Neeson and Pierce Brosnan it is hard to believe that one of this year’s hottest Christmas films was almost exclusively produced by children.
Set in the picturesque village of Pottersglen in Northern Ireland, A Christmas Starfollows the intrepid Noelle who, born in dramatic circumstances under the Christmas Star, believes she has the gift to perform strange miracles.
Burney Keatings, who has been involved with Cinemagic for over 25 years, is highly excited at the prospect of the charity’s first ever feature length film, and its release.
“We had the world premiere in Belfast last week, and it was just really, really well received. The cinema were kind enough to let us use all 12 screens, so it meant as many people as possible could view it.
“And it was great, especially as it has a local community vibe, so all the children could bring their families along to watch their work. We had dancers and everything.
“But it’s not just a Christmas film, it’s a family one. It’s about love, and I can honestly tell you there were grown men in tears coming out of it at the end. It’s truly heartwarming.”
In the film Noelle’s peaceful life is threatened by conniving developer McKerrod, so she teams up with a misfit gang of local kids to save the village from demolition. But one by one her friends lose faith in Noelle’s abilities and she is left to fight McKerrod on her own.
The town’s future hinges on a final showdown in Belfast’s historic Stormont building as Noelle implores politicians, her friends and the watching world to believe in the true meaning of Christmas; love.
As a unique, educational and cultural project Cinemagic offered hundreds of children the opportunity to work and star alongside a star-studded raft of film industry professionals.
Over 5,000 young people auditioned to appear in the film and 11 children, aged 9-13 years, were chosen to star alongside seasoned professionals including; Robert James-Collier (left, Downton Abbey, Coronation Street, Mercenaries), Suranne Jones (Coronation Street, Scott & Bailey, Lawless), Richard Clements (Keith Lemon: The Film, Titanic Town, Good Vibrations), Bronagh Waugh (The Fall, Hollyoaks, Miss Conception), Kevin McAleer (Resurrection Man, Flipsides), Alan McKee (The Craic, Divorcing Jack, Everybody’s Gone) and Roma Tomelty (Your Highness, Miss Conception).
Over 40 children were also handpicked as trainee filmmakers and given an intensive training programme immersing them all aspects of production, from directing, acting and production to script editing, film composition, and costume/makeup.
They also received mentoring support from movie moguls including; Oscar director Richard Elson (M.I. High, Shadow Trade, Steffi), award-winning film composer Patrick Doyle (Brave, Rise of the Planet of the Apes), music supervisor Maggie Rodford, (The King’s Speech, Anna Karenina), casting director Ros Hubbard, (The Commitments, Dracula Untold), camera operator, Ian Fox, (Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Amazing Spider-Man), producer Iain Smith, (Children of Men, Mad Max, Fury Road) and production manager, Terry Bamber (The Man from U.N.C.L.E, Skyfall), who all took a break from their own shooting schedules to mentor the trainees.
Cinemagic patron and Oscar winning writer, Julian Fellowes, said: “I am proud to be associated with the fantastic work that Cinemagic has been delivering for twenty five years. We are told on every side that it’s time to lower barriers and cross frontiers and this is exactly what Cinemagic is doing. Young people, from every type of background and culture, are being encouraged to explore the world of film for themselves, first hand. We want them to break through the glass ceilings and walls that surround the m, and see for themselves what it’s really like. Whether or not they continue to live or work in the Arts, there can surely be no better preparation for seeking and finding the right life.”
Cinemagic Chief Executive, Joan Burney Keatings, MBE said: “Our Christmas feature film will bring young people from different cultural backgrounds together, and representatives from the worlds of film, television and music will collaborate to celebrate creativity and highlight the importance of developing young people’s skills and offering them unique film and television related opportunities.
“The industry professionals will mentor the young cast and crew throughout the film production process from script to screen, giving invaluable insights to the world of filmmaking across various film disciplines ranging from directing, acting and production to script editing, film composition, and costume/makeup.
“The young people will finish the project with a wealth of skills, experience, and, most importantly, their first credit on a feature film.”
An intensive training programme leading up to the start of pre-production, where the 40 young filmmakers learned how to do everything from scheduling and budgeting to film financing and distribution, has been made possible through support from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Now they have just two weeks to put their new skills to the test as they scout locations, source props and plan camera shots before filming begins on 15 November.
Gareth Ellis-Unwin, Oscar-winning producer of The King’s Speech and a Cinemagic mentor said:
“It’s a pleasure to be involved with Cinemagic’s first ever feature film, ‘A Christmas Star’. Interest in film and television production in Northern Ireland is at an all time high, and I’m very much looking forward to mentoring some of the trainee crew who already display so much passion and talent for film.
‘A Christmas Star’ is a fantastic opportunity for the trainees and will help to kick start the careers of Northern Ireland’s future film crews.”
Rebecca Kelly, 21, from Warrenpoint said:
“There is no better way to learn this trade than being on set, and being trained by the top industry professionals from the UK, Ireland and from further afield can help us achieve the careers we all are hoping for. The opportunities and training it will offer all of us is invaluable, and we’re all very lucky to have this opportunity. I cannot put into words how anxious and excited I am for this project and everything to follow!”
Philip McGonigle, 21, from Co. Donegal said: “Hopefully once I leave this project I will feel confident to apply for production jobs and begin a successful career in the industry here in Northern Ireland or even worldwide. I can’t wait to meet the cast and get to know all the crew and hopefully make friends for life and memories that we will never forget.”
A Christmas Star screens at Tricycle on Saturday 21st November at 3.30pm
Tickets are available on the Tricycle Website: www.tricycle.co.uk