Interview: Philip Ilson, curator of audio-visual experimentation at the Cork Film Festival



Matt Micucci delves into the audio-visual experimentation that featured at this year’s Cork Film Festival and chatted to curator Philip Ilson about the three events: Felix the Cat: The Original Megastar,  a screening of classic Felix the Cat shorts that were rescored, written and performed by Sean O’Hagan and The High Llamas; harpist and songwriter Serafina Steer performing a live re-score of Amer; and A Field in England-Remixed, performed by electronic post-rock band Teeth of the Sea and features the music of Jim Williams and Blanck Mass.

So far, the 58th Cork Film Festival has certainly been one full of exciting treats and charming surprises. Aside from the high quality of the programme itself, one of the most interesting and creative concepts of this year’s edition is certainly the audio-visual experimentation that aims to mix screenings with live music performances – a concept that was created and is curated by Philip Ilson.

This type of project is not new to Ilson. “I run a festival in London called the London Shorts Film Festival, which grew out of film nights that I was running in the late ’90s and early 2000s. Although we are extensively about showing short films and showcasing short film talent, we always try to incorporate things like live music, VJ’s or elements that make it more than just about the screenings. Even when I ran a club in the early 2000s, we used to have this kind of audio-visual stuff and worked with artists such as Ladytron and DJ Yoda.”

Over the years, he helped set up the film festival in Jersey and one of the many things he really wanted to do was add this performance element to it. Although he had been part of the short film jury at last year’s edition, it was the new artistic director James Mullighan – with whom he also worked on the Jersey Film Festival – that asked him if he had any ideas for the Cork Film Festival. Out of these ideas, three of them were included in the final programme and were to take place in the beautiful and mystical Triskel Christchurch.

Felix the Cat: The Original Megastar was a screening of classic Felix the Cat shorts that were rescored, written and performed by Sean O’Hagan and The High Llamas. The mix of the comedy of the animation and the melodic and psychedelic pop melodies of the High Llamas was simply wonderful. This project also came to life thanks to the London International Animation Festival. “They were the ones who initially commissioned it, but in the end it didn’t come together in time for it – mostly due to costs. It was also something that I had talked about doing with the High Llamas a few years ago to take to Jersey. So, it was great to see it finally come to life here in Cork.”

With the next two concepts, things  get a little more experimental. Friday night, as part of the Giallo Night programme, harpist and songwriter Serafina Steer performed a live re-score of a film called Amer, made in 2009 by Hélene Cattet and Bruno Forzani. “The filmmakers who made Amer have been drawing on the aspects of the giallo films. They are very much drawing on the imagery, which creates a very visual experience.”

Saturday night’s event,  A Field in England-Remixed,  was performed by electronic post-rock band Teeth of the Sea and featured the music of Jim Williams and Blanck Mass. “The Field in England thing happened purely because I saw the film at the cinema and thought it was so amazingly visual that it would work great in a concept like this. We spoke to many artists and there was a lot of back and forth but I’m really pleased that Teeth to the Sea, with whom I’ve worked twice before, are doing it. They’ve got a great understanding of the piece and worked on the remixing of a piece by Neil Marshall in the past.”

Despite being the creator and curator of the project, Ilson insisted that the artists should have creative freedom and very much stayed out of the artists’ way in preparation for their performance. “Finding the right people is always a bit of a struggle, but once they have been commissioned to do it, they are pretty much on their own. It’s as much as a surprise to me as to the rest of the audience.”



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