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Eithne Considine Shankar photobombed by Oscar


Eithne Considine Shankar gives us a history of the struggle of the Irish Film Festival Ottawa on its path to success. This year’s festival runs 31st March – 2nd April 2017.

Three years ago, the Irish Film Festival Ottawa was one man’s dream. And it seemed very much like a pipe dream. But here we are three years later looking forward to a very successful third season.

A friend of mine who is a film buff had the idea that an Irish film festival was just what Ottawa needed. So he got together some friends and volunteers and started to organize.

There was only one minor problem. My friend planned the opening festival for six months down the line. Usually such events take a least a year or two to plan and get off the ground. But the idea was not put off the naysayers (myself amongst them).

With some Herculean efforts a program was put together, a date set upon, a venue booked, dignitaries invited, advertising done and the event well publicized, sponsors informed and invited to opening night and food arranged for our opening gala. We were posted on numerous social networks.

Then disaster struck. With two weeks to go, we discovered our venue was double booked. And as we were the ones who booked last, we were out. All the arguments in the world could not sway the venue management. This left us with a mad scramble for an alternative venue  Two weeks to go, all our advertising in place, (for which we had no budget) guests invited. Where on earth could we get a venue at such short notice and, more importantly, one that fitted our budget. We were all in a panic. We could not afford to advertise again. Moreover, we had serious doubts that the festival could take place at all.

We went down many blind avenues, many false hopes. We were advised to forget the whole thing for a year, that we looked foolish and disorganized. But  my friend was having none of it. And in the end decided that our best course of action was to change the date. This meant redoing all our advertising (for which we had no budget) re-inviting guests, and trying to explain that this was not our mistake, pleading with sponsors for understanding,

And so we postponed for two weeks. And what a frantic rush those two weeks were. The most difficult part proved to be getting the dates changed on social welfare. We reckoned most of our attendees would get their information from social media and would be none too happy to turn up for a film festival and find some kind of dance going on in its place. Frantic phone calls, pleading emails. New posters printed and posted. The list was endless. And to this day you might find the old dates posted on some obscure site.

And so a date was set, advertising, for what it was, in place, social media alerted to the change and we were in business.

Came the fatal night and we all arrived at our venue. Yes, you guessed it -double-booked again. This could well have been the breaking point. Our venue was booked until 8.30pm and we were due to start at 7.30! Again, there was a large group of dancers where we should have been.  And, of course, the theatre would have to be cleaned up before we could enter.

A large crowd had gathered to attend our inaugural film festival and we all milled around trying to find a solution. We had to do something so that our audience would not leave.

It was decided to open a free bar and that kept our audience happy for a short time. The reception, which was meant to be after the film, was put forward to before, but this took place in the waiting area so could hardly be called a success. Volunteers ran around looking for chairs for elderly patrons, tempers flared, people did give up and go home. But mostly good Irish humour prevailed and when we did get into the theatre the film was a huge success.

Our opening night was followed by six other films. All were well received, even if a few of the audiences were sparse. At the end of the three days, we were able to give a huge sigh of relief.  We had pulled it off and could count it a success. We were not in the red—well not much. And so we could plan for another year.

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The festival’s youngest – and best – volunteer, Eithne’s granddaughter Ciamha

Our second year. No problems with the venue so no problems with advertising dates. Our hopes were high .

The opening night was to start at 7.30. At 7 pm we looked around an almost empty theatre and despaired. The bar was open and I remember buying a drink to calm my nerves. Where was our audience? Last year people had arrived early and had to wait for hours. This year we had four people in the audience at 7.10!  All sorts of visions of disaster. A film festival without an audience. Would it be worth while to even show the film? Of course, we had to. Audience or not, we would proceed.

But then the audience started to trickle in. Little by little the theatre filled up. And then miracle of miracles, all seats were full and we still had people waiting to get in. A frantic search for chairs. Friends pulled out of their seats to make room for others. We were in business. The film started on time followed by a very successful reception. Friends had made Irish Soda Bread, which went very well with some smoked salmon. People sat around mingling and discussing the films. And, moreover, were making plans to attend more films.

But of course something had to go wrong.! Halfway through our children’s film a little boy cried out “BAD DAD” and all the children in the audience began to sob!  They were soon followed by their mothers and it was tears all around.

Our other films were also well attended. We could now say the the Irish Film Festival Ottawa was well on its way. It took a lot of hard work, disappointments, set backs, mistakes but we are not well and truly established as a viable film festival in Ottawa.

Who says one man’s dream cannot become a reality?

Eithne Considine Shankar is a member of the committee  of the Irish Film Festival Ottawa.


This year’s Irish Film Festival Ottawa runs 31st March – 2nd April 2017





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