Stephen Porzio caught up with festival director Grainne Humphreys to get a heads-up on this year’s Audi Dublin International Film Festival.
With the prestigious Berlin Film Festival in full swing, what better time is there to shine a spotlight on Dublin’s own annual celebration of cinema, ADIFF 2018. From February 21 until March 4, over 100 movies from across the world will screen and A-listers will be in attendance. Yet, while many presume the life of a film festival organiser must be one of glamour, ADIFF director Grainne Humphreys wants to set the record straight.
“The common perception if you meet civilians, which occasionally you do [Humphreys jokes], is that they think your life is basically a yacht at Cannes and you walk on a red carpet and have dinner in very expensive restaurants. That’s not the case. I was on my first yacht in 25 years last year by complete accident”. She adds, “for anyone who thinks it’s a glamourous lifestyle… I really want to sit them in a small darkened room with a laptop and put them in front of four hours of really terrible film”
Humphreys has been running the festival for 11 years. Warm and genial, she is the opposite of what one would expect from a film festival director. One tends to think of professional cinefiles as culture snobs. While this was the case at Cannes, a festival which turned women away from screenings for not wearing high-heels and has banned Netflix movies from competing for awards, Humphreys believes the key to ADIFF’s success is down to its more ‘calm’ and ‘informal’ vibe.
“We’ve tried to shy away from the celebrity element. The festival never becomes a segregated VIP only event. [Guests] like that. They come as filmmakers.”
As if to prove her point, the festival director seems less interested in discussing the bigger names appearing at the festival, such as Joaquin Phoenix, Rooney Mara and Cillian Murphy. Instead, the acclaimed directors and character actors scheduled to give Q&As excite her more, particularly Lynne Ramsey (We Need to Talk About Kevin) premiering her latest, You Were Never Really Here.
Phoenix, appearing at ADIFF for another premiere (Mary Magdalene), stars in Ramsey’s film as a war veteran turned contract killer. He uncovers a web of corruption while trying to save a kidnapped teen from prostitution.
Claiming You Were Never Really Here feels as immersive as the virtual reality conference ADIFF is running this year. Humphreys says excitingly about Ramsey, “That’s somebody who is really a story teller. That’s a film where I was gripped, I was moved, I was shocked and when I came out I literally was still moving around, trembling for a couple of hours after.”
Another high-profile guest is Independence Day star Bill Pullman, premiering the Western, The Ballad of Lefty Brown. Humphreys sites this as an example of ADIFF’s reputation as being less celebrity-focused paying dividends.
“It’s a small passion project. [Pullman] knows film festivals and the kind of energy and support that a festival audience can give. A lot of the time you are sending invitations out but a lot of the time [filmmakers] are looking towards film festivals to give their projects a kind of profile or positioning. They get a sense they will connect with audiences”.
What hidden gems should audiences seek out at the festival? Humphreys praises Irish documentary The Lonely Battle of Thomas Reid, Belgian crime thrillers Above the Law and The Racer and the Jailbird and Indonesian film, Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts. She also thinks opening-night film Black 47, a Western set during the famine, starring Hugo Weaving and Barry Keoghan, could be this year’s most successful Irish film.
However, the movie she seems most enthusiastic about is Thirst Street, an American indie from director Nathan Silver. “Nathan has been around 15 years and makes these low-budget but really clever melodramas. Thirst Street is about a female air hostess who is dumped by her boyfriend and goes to Paris. It has this wonderful whimsical aspect to it but a witty voiceover from Anjelica Houston spins it in another direction”.
To prepare for ADIFF, Humphreys watches over 30 movies a week, culminating in around 12,000 per year. This experience has left her with plenty of feedback for filmmakers.
“So often it strikes me that a lot of filmmakers don’t go to the cinema enough. If they went to the cinema, they would realise there are standards for telling a story. A lot of the time people think long, slow, boring serious movies about the weight of the world make people feel important. No. They don’t. They make them feel terrible. If you have something that makes an audience feel happy or makes them view their world differently, that’s a plus and something you mark as special”.
Talking about the current health of Irish film, Humphreys says that the quality and quantity of Irish movies has ‘doubled’ since she began as ADIFF director. She believes Irish actors and directors happy to work both internationally and domestically helps bring money into the industry, that the rise of TV has given filmmakers the ability between movies to ‘hone their craft’ and that Ireland’s four film studios keep important professionals constantly working.
Ending the interview, Humphreys states, “It used to be quite lonely going to festivals a few years ago. You’d say, ‘oh, we have a great Irish cinema’ but nobody ever knew anyone. Now we have a well-known, well-structured industry”. Perhaps, if things progress, Dublin could compete with Berlin or Cannes someday.
The 2018 Audi Dublin International Film Festival takes place from 21 February – 4 March 2018.