As the May Film tour kicks off with two wonderful titles about to travel the country, we chat with access>CINEMA’s Senior Film Programme Adviser & Audience Development Manager Karen Wall about her career, the films, and the exciting things on the horizon. 

Can you talk with us about your journey to becoming Senior Film Programme Adviser & Audience Development Manager at access>CINEMA?

I was a projectionist many moons ago. I did a work placement in a cinema in Cork through the college course I was doing. I loved it. I ended up getting a part time job doing it and worked there for the duration of the course. I then worked in the Irish Film Institute, again as a Projectionist, but after that I changed roles, working across both Festivals and the Archive. Between all those positions,  I got a very holistic experience of the film industry – working in so many different areas. Finally, I moved to access>CINEMA where I initially worked as the DVD Film Programme Co-ordinator and after a few years experience, there I was promoted to Senior Film Programme Adviser and Audience Development Manager. 

So impressive! What do you love about working there?

It’s a small organisation and we do a lot, so the work is always varied and very interesting. I really love working with the regional organisations and voluntary film clubs – it’s very rewarding. I’m from a small town myself so I know how important the community cinema  is. So many parts of rural Ireland don’t have their own cinemas anymore so the programmes we work to facilitate are a lifeline for many. It’s also a great place to learn about all the corners of the Film Industry too – everyone is happy to share their knowledge and experience. access>CINEMA also runs the Japanese Film Festival and we often distribute films too (recently we released Four Daughters and Ryuichi Sakamoto | Opus  – both very strong documentaries). We work with filmmakers, local and international distributors and sales agents and exhibitors, as well as all the sites on our network.

Can you tell me about some of your favourite films that you’ve screened over the years? 

I went to college in Galway many moons ago. I was lucky enough to find Galway Film Society, which had weekly screenings during their Film Seasons. (they are still going to this day and are celebrating their 60th year in 2024!). I saw Festen, Central Station and All About my Mother (and many more). I’d always loved films and cinema but those films really opened my eyes to the power of world cinema and all the different ways you can tell a story.

I’ve been luck enough over the years in access>CINEMA to see some extraordinary films, many of which have not gotten a theatrical release in Ireland or would not be seen outside of the handful of full-time art house cinemas we have in Ireland. Plus these are mostly in Dublin. The most powerful film I experienced recently was Jonathan Glazer’s The Zone of Interest; his previous film Under the Skin is another very visceral experience.

Sounds like such a great role. 

Yes, some of the most rewarding things we do is finding gems.  When a film isn’t being released in the cinemas in Ireland and just gets a UK release, we might be able to offer it to the access>CINEMA network. It’s so rewarding when it does well and is well received by audiences. We had that recently with a French Film, Driving Madeline, and pre-COVID a big hit was the Danish film The Guilty. Neither of these would have been seen on the big screen otherwise.

And is world cinema your only go-to?

I love all types of cinema – one of my favourite films of all time is Billy Elliot – I love a good ‘overcoming adversity through dance’ yarn!

This year the theme of the Bealtaine is “Lust for Life”, based on Iggy Pop’s iconic punk-era song celebrating life’s dreams and ambitions… talk to us about this!

Bealtaine is all about engagement with older audiences and celebrating the vibrant and fun side of getting older. The idea with this year’s theme is looking at the experiences of getting older and how it often comes with a newfound “lust for life”. It’s rediscovering old interests and passions that may have had to be sidelined as day-to-day life gets in the way as well as discovering new possibilities.

You have two wonderful titles for the May Film Tour. What is the process of choosing them as your picks? 

We always look for titles that will both appeal to the target audience but also offer a little more than you might be expecting. There are so many great films being made and released, it is easy for some real gems to be missed – so the May Film Tour gives us the opportunity to offer some of these titles a platform to connect with new audiences.

We also work with the distributors of the films, and they need to be on board and be happy to support the tour as it is a different model from their normal screenings: these ones are all free of charge. It’s important to keep costs low for participating venues.

The May Film Tour titles are The Great Escaper and Birdsong, two very different films, what can the audience expect?

Both films are very different but they are both about extraordinary men following a passion. In The Great Escaper we meet Bernie Jordan, a WWII veteran who is living in a care home with his wife Irene. Bernie longs to attend the 70th anniversary commemoration of the D-Day landings in Normandy but isn’t permitted due to ill health and general protocol in the care home. But he goes anyway! The film is also a love story, as via flashback we are told his and Irene’s story with the war as a backdrop. It deals with the trauma of soldiers. It’s an emotional but also a joyous celebration of life, friendship and love.

Birdsong is an extraordinary film about Ornithologist Seán Ronayne from Cobh, Co. Cork and his mission to record the sound of every bird species in Ireland – that’s nearly 200 birds. It’s a shorter film at 50 minutes but it is a captivating experience. Seán is so passionate and knowledgable about Irish Birds and nature generally. It is a pleasure to go with him on his journey and get a glimpse into his life and mission. I can’t overemphasise how very special this film is. It’s so gentle but powerful and will really stay with those that are luck enough to experience it on the big screen.

Can you hint at what wonderful screenings you’re planning after this?

Summer is a slightly quieter time on the access>CINEMA network, but we do still have some sites that are screening lots of great films into the summer months. Some of the highlights over the next few months would be the knotty German drama The Teacher’s Lounge which recently won the LUX prize. Two excellent but very different Irish films, political drama Baltimore and That They May Face the Rising Sun, Pat Collins’s gorgeous interpretation of John McGahern’s novel.

Oscar winning satire American Fiction is also screening in many sites and Alice Rohrwacher’s wonderful La Chimera starring Josh O’Connor will be screening from next month. One of the most popular titles recently which is still going very strong is Wim Wenders life affirming Japanese drama Perfect Days.

Sounds so exciting. We can’t wait!

We’ll be planning for Autumn soon and  all the sites and clubs will be resuming their screenings in September. It’ll be great to see what titles prove popular – it’s always great when audiences surprise us!

Thanks so much for chatting with us, Karen. Check out the Bealtaine May Tour Details here

About Karen Wall

Karen Wall joined access>CINEMA, the resource organisation for regional cultural cinema exhibition in Ireland in 2012 as DVD Program Co-ordinator.  Her current role is Senior Film Programme Adviser & Audience Development Manager. Previously Karen had worked in the Irish Film Institute in various guises from Projectionist and Print transport Co-ordinator to Festival Facilitator and Access Officer in the Film Archive.  Having studied Film and Television Production and Irish Heritage Studies, Karen also recently completed an Open Honours Degree with the Open University focusing on Business Studies and Sociology.


Gemma Creagh is a writer, filmmaker and journalist. In 2014 she graduated with a First from NUIG’s MA Writing programme. Gemma’s play Spoiling Sunset was staged in Galway as part of the Jerome Hynes One Act Play series in 2014. Gemma was one of eight playwrights selected for AboutFACE’s 2021 Transatlantic Tales and is presently developing a play with the Axis Theatre and with the support of the Arts Council. She has been commissioned to submit a play by Voyeur Theatre to potentially be performed in Summer 2023 as part of the local arts festival. Gemma was the writer and co-producer of the five-part comedy Rental Boys for RTÉ’s Storyland. She has gone on to write, direct and produce shorts which screened at festivals around the world. She was commissioned to direct the short film, After You, by Filmbase and TBCT. Gemma has penned articles for magazines, industry websites and national newspapers, she’s the assistant editor for Film Ireland and she contributes reviews to RTE Radio One’s Arena on occasion.

Write A Comment