Sunniva O’Flynn was appointed curator of the IFI in early 2008. IFTN caught up with the former film archivist to chat about her role, her love of film and what we can look forward to at the IFI in the coming months.
Sunniva O’Flynn worked in the National Film Archives at the IFI for twenty years before moving to the position of IFI curator earlier this year. The seasoned film buff studied film archiving at the National Film and Television Archive of the British Film Institute, London and later at Bundesarchiv in Koblenz, Germany. O’Flynn explains why the new role of curator was created.
“To date the collections in the archive have been available to outside exhibitors and so on, but now we are taking initiatives and are taking more control over how material will be screened,” she says. “When I was exclusively working in the archives, my job wasn’t to judge, it was just to acquire and preserve. I didn’t need to be selective, whereas now in this new role I have to occasionally make value judgements and sometimes say “This work isn’t strong enough for exhibition in this context”.”
The IFI archive, which contains over 30,000 cans of film, is a massive collection of professional and amateur productions that includes films from the turn of the century to the present day. O’Flynn’s experience working in the National Film Archives means she has a wide knowledge of contemporary and classic Irish film and is well qualified to put together film packages tailored to an exhibitor or a festival’s needs.
“I’m fortunate in that I’ve been here for a long time and would have a good sense of what has gone before,” she explains. “I would have a sense of the breadth of material that’s out there, and would know filmmakers work. As a curator you would also have to be interested in first work from new filmmakers. and you have to listen to exhibitors ideas and advise them what might work for their audiences. An exhibitor in Outer Mongolia is going to know the needs and sensitivities of their audience better than I can! It’s always a pleasure to find a good fit whether it’s a dramatic strand, a documentary strand or whatever they are looking for. I suppose it helps that I have gorged myself on Irish cinema for the last twenty years and would have a good overview of what’s out there.”
Sunniva is currently working on a series called ‘Seóda’, co-funded by the BCI and TG4, which will see a series of eleven archive films, including political film ‘Our Country’, screen on TG4 in the Autumn. Introductions for the films, written by film scholar Dr Harvey O’Brien, were translated and are presented by actor Niall Toibin.
“These contextualising intros will help make sense of the archive films for contemporary viewers,” says O’Flynn. “I think it’s going to be something we will be very proud of as it’s showing the materials in the way we are preserving them. Often our archive films have been shown as extracts within contemporary documentaries and what’s interesting here is that the films are being broadcast in their entirety.”
O’Flynn and her colleague Alice Black are also working on this year’s Adaptation screening programme, which celebrates films adapted from literary works by Irish writers. Now in it’s fourth year, Adaptation has previously featured the work of John McGahern, William Trevor and Edna O’Brien and will this year look at the work of Roddy Doyle with films including ‘The Snapper’, ‘The Family’, ‘The Van’ and ‘Hell for Leather’ set to screen in the Cinemobile, in Dromahair, Co Leitrim.
“This is another example of how we are not just responding to other people’s programme ideas but we are actually being very proactive in putting programmes together,” says O’Flynn. “Roddy Doyle will be in attendance at this event. We’ve been very pleased to work with the people in Leitrim because it is interesting to put together a programme that can be screened regionally as well as tour the country.”
O’Flynn’s role also involved working with Aoife Coughlan, co-ordinator of Reel Ireland, on putting together a package of films for this year’s programme. Reel Ireland is a regularly updated package of films, funded by Culture Ireland, delivered to festivals around the world to introduce to a wider audience to Irish film. This year’s package includes award-winning films ‘32A’, ‘Once’ and ‘The Ugly Duckling and Me’.
“What Reel Ireland does is to make material available to cultural exhibitors, sometimes non-competitive or lesser known festivals, so the films can find new audiences, because there would still be territories that have been untouched by Irish film. Reel Ireland is enjoying a new level of involvement with the Film Board this year, they programmed the shorts that were included in the package. It’s very exciting to know that you are bringing films to far flung outer posts of the world. It’s almost a one stop shop for exhibitors of Irish film, particularly for new exhibitors.”
O’Flynn recently curated a programme of films for the Kilkenny Arts Festival, a tribute to the late actor Donal McCann, who featured in films such as ‘Miss Julie’, ‘Poitin’ and ‘Stealing Beauty’.
“The programme ranges from ‘Philadelphia Here I Come’ to an interview McCann did at the Galway Film Fleadh years ago,” says O’Flynn. “Last year, we put together a programme of films that were based on Kilkenny hurling moments. There was feature film and news reels and match footage, but what’s grown out of that is the symposium that’s happening there this year on Irish identity and how it’s tied up with GAA. We’ve put together a symposium that is from an outsider’s perspective. Kilkenny Arts Fest is a great organisation to work with because they are open to inviting curators along to assist with their programming and those two strands within Kilkenny will be well attended at their event in August.”
O’Flynn’s role exposes her to a wide variety of work and talent – amateur footage to big budget Irish films from the past up to the present day.
“One of the really colourful aspects of the curatorial position is that the films in the archive are drawn from lots of producer agendas, what all the collections have in common is that essentially they are all made on film. For example, yesterday I was looking at a beautiful collection made by a Scottish man who came here on his honeymoon and visited a small town in Leitrim and then this morning I might be looking at the 1967 film ‘Finnegan’s Wake’ that was made by an American. It’s so varied and it’s a privilege of helping to make these collections available to audiences that are interested in viewing them, it’s an enviable position.”
More info on the IFI screening programmes can be found at www.ifi.ie.