4 December 2022 The Irish Film & Television Network
O’Mahony Talks The Kerry Film Fest
30 Oct 2008 :
With film critic Michael Dwyer officially launching the 9th Kerry Film Festival (1-8 November), IFTN speaks with festival Director, Jason O’Mahony, on the inaugural Maureen O’Hara Award and the unusual choice of a polly tunnel as a screening venue.

The Kerry Film Festival begins with a screening of John Ford’s classic, ‘The Quite Man’ and will launch the inaugural Maureen O’ Hara Award, which will be presented to Oscar winning actress, Brenda Fricker (My Left Foot) in Fels Point Hotel in Tralee on November 8. Events range from Charlie Chaplin’s silent movie ‘City Lights’, to more than 80 short films screening over the course of the week and the closing screening of ‘Dambé: The Mali Project’ in St. James’ Church in Dingle, on November 8, followed by a Liam O’Maonlai concert.

The festival's stellar panel of judges include; actor Liam Neeson, who will judge the Best Director prize; Kirsten Sheridan judge of the International Shorts; Vanessa Roth, who will adjudicate the Doc prize; John Carney, will judge the Irish Shorts while Suzie Templeton, Oscar Winner for the Animated Short ‘Peter & The Wolf’ will pick the best Animated Short.

Jason, how did you become involved in the Kerry Film Festival?

I’m from Kerry originally and I did a Bachelors of Commerce in college and then a Masters in Business. From there I went to live in America and was working for a high tech PR company but I always loved film. One of the people I was doing publicity with had worked on publicity for the San Francisco Film Festival so I met the people who put the festival together and ended up doing publicity for them. I then went and worked with the Sundance Film Festival doing publicity there as well. As soon as I got back to Ireland, I got work in the IT in Tralee but it was only maternity cover for three months and literally as soon as the job finished there this came up so I applied for it. I think having worked at Sundance and San Francisco it appealed to me.

What was it like working at Sundance?

It was fantastic! I am probably biased in favour of it but it is one of my favourite festivals. It goes on in Park City, a ski resort which is up in the mountains in Utah, and it takes place in January so the weather is freezing cold. Everybody is wrapped up and the number of people they actually get, celebrity wise, is huge and the quality of the films they have there is amazing as well. Particularly the documentaries, funnily enough, they are really strong.

Being spread over the county, has the number of host towns risen since the festival’s beginnings?

The festival was always focused on all of Kerry, and last year was my first year running it so we tried to get as wide a geographical spread as we could. We came up with a nice little slogan for it as well. It is “the biggest little film festival in the world” and it is completely true. We are a small festival in comparison to the likes of Galway, Cork, or Dublin and it is primarily a short film festival, but we would have a huge geographical spread and are actually showing films in Tralee, Dingle, Listowel, Killarney and two other smaller towns called Sneem and Waterville.

What are the highlights of this year’s festival?

Well the short films this year are very strong and we have a fantastic geographic spread of films as well. There are films in from Venezuela, Australia, Mexico and even one from Iran called ‘Presence’ which is an amazing film.

It is also the first year that we are giving an award to Brenda Fricker – the Maureen O’Hara Award. We will present the five minute shorts and then Brenda will be presented with the award so that should be fantastic.

What decisions went into picking the recipient of the Maureen O’Hara Award?

I think Brenda is a fantastic actress first of all and what she has done since she won the Oscar for ‘My Left Foot’ has been amazing. Even for that role on its own, she should have been given the award. Then the next big film she made was ‘The Field’ with Jim Sheridan - that was written by J.B. Keane who is one of the most famous Kerry writers of all time and the film was actually shot on location in Kerry as well.

With Maureen O’Hara she was a huge actress as well but she wasn’t just an actress. She subsequently went on to marry General Charles Blair who was huge in aviation and after he passed away, Maureen went on to be the president of company which was the first time ever that a woman became president of a commercial airline.

She was also the first person ever in all of history to be recognised as Irish by the United States of America government. Prior to her becoming a US citizen, all Irish people’s nationality used to be written down as English. She went to become an American citizen and she saw this and was obviously disgusted that it did not have the Irish possibility in it and made a big battle about it.

There are so many things that Maureen has done that shows her strength of character and I think Brenda reflects that as well. So there was a range of different reasons for choosing her but primarily that she is such a brilliant actress.

Can you describe the selection process for choosing films to screen?

We have two entry deadlines one is on 1st June which is the early bird deadline and the late entry is coming through on August 1st. This year we had close to five hundred films which is huge for us. Last year it was close to three hundred and I believe the year before it was in and around one hundred and fifty.

We watch each of the five hundred films and its good fun because you get to sit down for the week and watch nothing but shorts. I’m not really sure if I should mention any in particular as they are all terrific but we have one called ‘The Lion’ which came in from a twenty one year old film maker from the US and it is absolutely amazing. It’s fantastic to see the different films which are being made all around the world and the different quality of films being made. It is a complex screening process. We rate the films on things like author on direction, cinematography, story lines, on the writing. Some people have their own favourites, other people have other favourites, we have the discussions about what would fit in together and then we select them off of that.

For the actual awards we have a whole jury of adjudicators who select the winning film and the adjudicators for this year are Liam Neeson, Kirsten Sheridan, John Carney, and we also have Susie Templeton and Vanessa Roth who are both Oscar winners and short film makers.

Tell us about compiling such a high profile panel of judges?

What we did was we actually looked to see who we felt first of all would be good adjudicators and we were quite fortunate again this year in that everybody was really enthusiastic as soon as we got in touch with them. With Susie she absolutely loves animated films so the fact that she would be picking a film I guess kind of attracted her to it. Obviously we sent her the programme guides for the last couple of years and stuff like that as well so that she could see the quality of the films.

And again it’s great for the film makers here because an awful lot of short film makers obviously want to go on and make features so the fact that they can have an actual little blurb from somebody like Susie or Liam Neeson on their film and they can send it out on their showreel reflects very well on them as well.

The films that won there last year, ‘New Boy’ and ‘Frankie’, were super strong and they have reached success in other places. It is nice to be able to take a little role in helping fantastic film makers who have a fantastic film voice reach the next step or stage in their career.

Can you describe the choice of venues for the festival?

There are screenings in two churches. There is St John’s Church in Listowel and we do some educational screenings out there too. It has actually been converted into an Arts Centre so they would have a full on Arts program running throughout the year. We are screening the Liam O’Maonlai doc ‘Dambé: The Mali Project’ there.

I think the strangest venue we have is a polly tunnel which is out on Gurtbrack Farm, an organic farm, just outside Tralee. They have big polly tunnels which were used to grow strawberries. The tunnels are used for the Easter Festival as well as talks on star gazing. During the festival we screen out there as well and it is generally music documentaries that we would show. This year we have five or six short screenings and then there is a concert by a local Kerry based band called ‘Avatar’. So that is definitely the strangest venue we have. There will be candles lining the whole driveway up to it and a wine reception as well.

‘City Lights’ is screening as well which is a Charlie Chaplin screening down in Waterville and it will have live piano accompanying it. So it is literally like an opportunity to see a silent film how it should originally have been seen. It will be up on the big screen, be playing silently but will have a guy playing a grand piano right next to the stage - he knows the score like the back of his hand. It’s almost like a blast from the past as this is literally how this film would have been seen first when it came out in 1923.

For more information on the Kerry Film Festival, please log onto www.kerryfilmfestival.com or call 066 712 9934. Tickets for all events are available from the Kerry Film Festival box office on 066 712 9934.

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