The 4th Underground Cinema Film Festival runs from September 12th to the 15th featuring a fantastic selection of short films from award-winning filmmakers from all over the world and a feature film program with something for everyone. This year’s opening film is Dark by Noon, an Irish sci-fi thriller directed by Michael O’Flaherty and Alan Leonard. The closing film is the Irish fantasy film adventure The Shadows directed by Colin Downey.
Festival Director David Byrne took time out from his busy run-in to the festival to tell Steven Galvin about the history of the festival and what people can expect this year.
Back in 2009 Underground Cinema began screening a selection of short Irish films on a monthly basis in the Kingston Hotel in Dun Laoghaire. The idea was to showcase emerging young Irish filmmakers on a monthly basis. As these screenings grew in popularity we realised that there was a need for a film festival that specifically championed independent filmmakers
Can you tell us a bit about your background and how you got involved in Underground Cinema.
My background is in theatre. I first started treading the boards back in 1985 and turned professional in 1991. A number of young actors that I worked with in Dun Laoghaire formed one of the first professional theatre companys in the town called the Blue Moon Theatre Company. Since ’91, Blue Moon Theatre Company has staged over 50 shows all over Ireland and the UK. During those years I did some TV work and worked on the odd film here and there. It wasn’t until 2008 when I was directing Dracula in the Pavilion Theatre that I realised how big the independent cinema scene was getting. A number of the cast members used to turn up late for rehearsals. The reason why they were late was because they were working on various different short films. When they explained to me the story lines of the films they were working on I used to get excited and say, ‘when are we going to get to see this film?’. I’d then get the same reply, ‘Maybe if it’s accepted in to the Galway Film Festival or the Foyle Film Festival, etc. etc. you’ll get a chance to see it’. It was then that I came up with the idea of Underground Cinema which was to become a platform for independent filmmakers to showcase their work and to get the recognition that they deserved
How has the festival evolved over the last 4 years?
The first festival was a short film festival held over two days in the Screen Cinema in Dublin. It went down really well with independent filmmakers and we knew that we were on to something good. There weren’t too many film festivals out there that championed independent work. We therefore decided to make the 2nd festival even bigger with the introduction of workshops and feature films.
In early 2010 I had met Terry McMahon over a cup of coffee in the Twisted Pepper in Lower Abbey Street. He had a new film he wanted me to take a look at called Charlie Casanova. Without even seeing it we discussed the possibility of Underground Cinema doing a private screening of Charlie in the Screen Cinema. The idea was to showcase the film to the cast and crew and to a selection of those people who were in the industry and that were involved in independent filmmaking. To be honest I don’t think Terry even knew what he had. I think he felt that he’d either made something incredible and brilliant or something that could end his career. He needed an honest opinion from an audience that wasn’t going to biased. It was only when I got home and watched Charlie Casanova that I realised what Terry had done. He had broken all the rules of conventional filmmaking and created an incredible piece of independent filmmaking. Although our private screening fell through in the Screen Cinema (it eventually went on to have its private screening in the Sugar Club), I did approach Terry to submit Charlie Casanova to the 2nd Underground Cinema Film Festival. I was delighted that he accepted our invitation and the rest, as they say, is history. The film generated enormous interest within the industry and helped put our event firmly on the film festival map in Ireland.
As word got around on how well the second film festival went, it was inevitable that the next festival was going to be even bigger. It was a big ask for us as your continuously asking yourself, how are we going to top this one. Our third year saw us changing the festival from a three-day event to a four-day event. It was a bit of a gamble, but it worked out well for us. By extending the festival an extra day meant that we could introduce more workshops and offer an even bigger selection of screenings.
Looking back, is there one particular personal highlight that springs to mind?
I think the Q&A session that I did with Roddy Doyle prior to the 20th Anniversary Screening of The Commitments was one of my favourite highlights over the past four years. He was such a great guy to interview, very relaxed and down to earth and he was just brilliant with our audience. Earlier in the day I had been sitting down chatting with another hero of mine Jim Sheridan. I was with Terry McMahon and we were discussing filmmaking in general. Terry excused himself from the table for a few minutes and while he was gone Jim whispered to me ‘What do ye think of that McMahon fella’, I just told him with a smile ‘He’s one to watch out for in the future’. Jim smiled, he knew exactly what I meant. So that whole day was quite surreal for me, chatting away to some of our working class heroes, which was the theme for the festival that year.
Tell us a little bit about Dun Laoghaire as a location.
Some of the best film festivals are beside the sea. Galway, Cork, Foyle, Waterford, Dingle and Fastnet are all located by the sea. Even the most prestigious film festival in the world, the Cannes Film Festival is located by the sea. Dun Laoghaire is a beautiful seaside town undergoing an enormous rejuvenation project. By 2014 Dun Laoghaire will see the completion of a €65m library and civic centre. Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council Community Development Department, the Arts Department and the Planning Department are working around the clock on numerous different projects to ensure that Dun Laoghaire will be one of the most important artistic hubs in the country. The Pavilion Theatre has also recently installed a state of the art 4K Sony Projector which we will be using to screen the opening film [Dark by Noon] this year. It is our intention to use the Pavilion a little bit more next year. The town is extremely easy to get to with a regular bus services to and from the city centre. The town is also along the DART line, which makes it easy to get to North Dublin or all the way to Greystones.
What can people expect from the festival this year?
This year’s festival will see another 100 films from all over the world being screened. It will also see the introduction of music to the festival, a giant inflatable screen for screening outdoor movies and the introduction of the Underground Cinema Expo.
We have 12 bands from all over Ireland playing at the festival. At the end of each day these bands will play live every night in the Dun Laoghaire Club. There will be a party atmosphere there every night with a Barbeque each evening, freshly made popcorn, slushee machines and our festival bar with drinks served at club prices. We will also be screening some classic films on our giant inflatable screen that we had shipped in from America. You’ll be able to sit down under the stars and watch on the giant screen the 30th Anniversary Screening of Return of the Jedi and Sidney Lumets classic, Dog Day Afternoon.
Finally we have the Underground Cinema Expo. The exhibition that takes place on the opening day of the festival will see some of the country’s leading service providers there to meet filmmakers who may be interested in working alongside some of these businesses. The whole idea is to create a networking event that is mutually beneficial to exhibitors and filmmakers alike. We’ve no doubt it’s going to be enormously popular.
Can you tell us about this year’s workshops?
I had met John Dawson twice before. Once was at an Underground Cinema Screening and the second time was after a show I directed called The Woolgatherer in the New Theatre. He’s a guy that is extremely passionate about the arts. I had heard great things about his classes by a lot of acting friends who had attended. He was a natural choice for us for the festival. His workshop ‘Acting for the Camera’ is almost completely full.
The first time I met John Phelan was at the first Underground Cinema Awards in Fitzpatrick’s Castle back in 2010. John’s film No Justice, which he had produced had picked up two awards at the ceremony, Best Score for Joe Conlan and Best Director for Alan Walsh. After the ceremony we got chatting at the bar and I was amazed at his knowledge on Section 481. Section 481 can be quite complicated and difficult to get a grip on, but John made it sound so simple. I knew I had to have him at one of our festivals to give a talk on the subject. Again John’s talk looks like it will be full to the rafter.
The very first film screened at Underground Cinema back in 2009 was a film called Duality by Noel Brady. It really was a great piece of independent filmmaking. Over the years Noel and I collaborated on a number of corporate projects together and it was during this time that I found out that Noel did various different workshops for the Attic Studio. These workshops were unique and quite fun so it went without saying that I would ask Noel to do one for us this year. Noe’ls workshop this year is entitled ‘Filmmaking on the Fly’.
Finally, our Makeup Workshop with Debs Leonard is a result of a visit by Karen Hughes (assistant festival director) to Closer2Fabulous, a beauty boutique based in the heart of Dublin. Karen was so impressed by Debs’ work that she invited her to participate at the festival this year. Debs is also the Beauty Editor for the Irish Wedding Diary Magazine. This is also another workshop that will have big numbers.
This is an exciting time to be involved in Irish independent filmmaking.
As technology allows greater access to short and feature films as well as filmmaking tools, an increasing number of people are turning to filmmaking as a form of expression and an opportunity to explore creative freedom. The fact that we received 200 more submissions in this category than last year speaks to that. Within them we saw a wave of truly original and outrageously distinctive films united by their uncompromised spirit.
Anything in particular you’re most looking forward to?
I’m looking forward to so much at the festival it’s hard to pick out a favourite. I’m particularly looking forward to the outdoor screenings as this is something that I will like continue throughout the year, weather permitting. We’ve already had a number of requests from different organisations to bring the big screen to various different locations around Dublin.
Some of the features to watch out for this year would be Dark by Noon, The Shadows, Plot For Peace which won the Best Documentary Award in Galway this year, Stalker, Demon, Wrath of Crows, The Last Days of Joe Blow and Harry, Hamlet and I
Tickets for the Festival are available at the Box Office on the Top Floor of the Dun Laoghaire Shopping Centre or at the Box Office in the Royal Marine Hotel. You can also book tickets online at www.undergroundcinema-filmfestival.com/apps/webstore/products
For the full program visit www.underground-cinema.com