By David Hennessy
Kelly O’Connor is the Irish woman with a vision to bring the best of Ireland’s cinema to London audiences.
Speaking as Festival and Programme Director of Irish Film London, which celebrates its fifth year by opening up for submissions and awards, she gives David Hennessy an idea of what to expect from this year’s choices.
Since its foundation in 2011, Irish Film London has gone from strength to strength and established itself as a central part of the Irish cultural calendar in London. Having started as a five day festival, Irish Film London now has a year round programme with November’s festival remaining a popular attraction. It continues to attract big name actors, directors and producers for Q and As that allow audiences to really engage with Irish cinema.
The festival is celebrating reaching its fifth birthday by opening up the submissions process and introducing awards. There are also sponsorship opportunities available, ranging from naming rights to awards to one off events.
The goals of the festival remain to support the Irish film industry and to promote Ireland as a destination for filming while also serving the Irish diaspora in London by allowing them to come together through a love of film.
The festival has coincided with a great time for Irish cinema. Recent years have seen acclaim and awards for The Guard, What Richard Did, Life’s a Breeze and An Bronntanas which have all screened at the festival.
Kelly O’Connor, festival and programme director of Irish Film London, told The Irish World: “There’s been such a shift in attitudes towards Irish people, in the UK in particular, and there’s an element of us riding high on a wave of that. In other countries, because we are friendly, well educated people and we’re able to integrate, you would just accept, ‘yeah, okay, we’re welcomed here and that’s great’. But having lived here in the UK, you start to rub shoulders with people who have come over during more difficult times and so you naturally apply the contrast to your own experience. You then have a deeper understanding of the significance of being more welcome here and being able to thrive and flourish.
“I think part of that has instigated an explosion of Irish creativity and a celebration of that positive opportunity, making this an opportune moment for Irish creatives in particular in the UK.”
Kelly explains what inspired her to start the festival: “It was something that I had noticed before I started working with the Irish Cultural Centre, that there wasn’t an established Irish Film Festival in London. There had been elements of pop up film festivals before but they had never really grown into anything substantial. You look around the rest of the world to New York, LA, San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, Paris and Sydney and there are Irish film festivals everywhere. I just couldn’t believe that in London, on our doorstep, we weren’t doing our bit to support Irish film.
“Through awareness of Irish directors and producers who had moved over in the wave of emigration, I knew that there was an appetite here for screening Irish film. I knew that these people were still making works and there was an incredible amount of content being created and that it just didn’t have a platform to be exhibited on”.
The Tricycle in Kilburn was the venue for a special Irish Film Weekend recently with screenings of both the drama Patrick’s Day and documentary One Million Dubliners. Writer/director Terry McMahon and actors Moe Dunford, Kerry Fox and Philip Jackson were in attendance for the after screening Q and A for Patrick’s Day while director Aoife Kelleher and producer Rachel Lysaght were there to discuss One Million Dubliners.
“Storytelling is in the beat of every heart in Ireland, and Film is the newest form of storytelling.
“The average circle of friends in London is culturally diverse, so its natural for us to want to share our own culture among non-Irish friends. Film being a modern medium, able to focus on both traditional and contemporary Ireland is a wonderful way to share that culture.
As for dealing with the industry professionals, Kelly says: “It’s lovely, we’re able to give them insights into their audience here that they may not know. A lot of them are busy off in Hollywood, and it can be a bit difficult for them to understand how the diaspora feels about them. So it’s quite nice for them to get the opportunity to meet their fans one to one.”
Hollywood star Jack Reynor who made his name in What Richard Did and has since been cast in Transformers, was a special guest earlier this year when he and director Gerard Barrett were there for a special screening of Glassland.
The festival is now registered with Filmfreeway so submissions can be received from film-makers: “They’re absolutely flooding in. We weren’t quite expecting this level of submissions, it’s wonderful. There’s a really big appetite there for it and hopefully we’ll be able to show as many as possible. We are open for student films as well.
“The criteria comes back to what our goals are. Our goals are to support the Irish film industry and that includes Irish directors and producers who are working worldwide. But we’re also open to film-makers from other backgrounds who have made films about Ireland, Irish people or the Irish experience.
“This year we’re introducing awards and will be promoting and awarding the incredible creations and talents that are coming out of Ireland. We’re very proud to be honouring people in this way.
“It’s a nice way to launch the festival and to get things going and its a nice addition to our offering.”
Irish Film London is also playing a big part in the 1916 commemorations in London. In March 2016, a new commissioned documentary, ‘1916 The Rebellion’, narrated by Liam Neeson, is set to be simultaneously screened live to audiences around the world. Irish Film London will be co-ordinating the London screening with the Irish embassy.
Kelly and Irish Film London are also working with St Mary’s University on a project called Shifting Attitudes, a series of film screenings and lectures that aims to map the evolving Anglo-Irish relationship through the eyes of film-makers from 1916 to 2016.
Also next year, Irish Film London will present the film festival section of the Mayor of London’s St Patrick’s Festival.
For more information on Irish Film London, go to http://irishfilmfestivallondon.com/.
Any interested film-makers can submit to the festival through the platform https://filmfreeway.com/festival/IrishFilmFestivalLondon.