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Five Minutes with… Galway Film Fair Manager Debbie McVey
11 Jul 2012 : By Steve Cummins
Debbie McVey (left) with Eamonn Bowles, president of Magnolia Pictures; Miriam Allen, MD of Galway Film Fleadh and John Nein, senior programmer of Sundance Film Festival
With the Galway Film Fleadh kicking off last night with the Irish premiere of ‘Grabbers’, today (July 11) marks the start of the Fleadh’s Galway Film Fair, an umbrella term for the many industry events taking place between now and Sunday (July 15). As preparations continue and the Irish film industry heads West for five days, IFTN spoke with Galway Film Fair manager Debbie McVey.

So the Galway Film Fair programme of the Fleadh gets underway today, are you busy with last minute preparations?
Indeed, the scheduling of The Marketplace event – where filmmakers get the opportunity to meet the world's leading financiers – is the toughest part. We schedule more than 600 meetings so I’m just cross-checking everyone’s times and name badges so here’s hoping it all goes smoothly!

How long have you being working with the Fleadh on the Film Fair events?
I’m 15 years here in total. It gets bigger and bigger every year. We keep expanding and we’re a very small team, so it can be quite challenging at times. You need to be quite passionate in order to do the job. We started very small. We started as a little film shop. People used to arrive thinking that they could buy some videos or merchandise, and so the Film Fair grew from that.

So it started out as a Film Shop?
Yep, it was an industry event called the Film Shop and really it was on a much, much smaller basis than it is now. Every year it has grown and grown. We now schedule, as I say, more than 600 meetings over two days, between producers and invited financiers from all over the world. But I should say that the Fair is an umbrella term for the many industry events that will take place this week. So The Marketplace that I was talking about is just one event. Really the Fair kicks off tomorrow (July 12) with The Real Deal, which is an event held in association with the Irish Film Board. That’s a day-long seminar. This year it’s entitled ‘The Business of Creativity’, so that will really kick off The Fair. We’re following that with an International Film Festivals panel, which will feature representatives from a host of festivals from around the world.

When you’re programming these panels and various industry events, what is the overall objective each year? Is it about educating the industry?
Well The Real Deal would be focusing on what is new and happening and relevant, I suppose. So each year you’d be looking at new ways of financing and of trends that are happening each particular year, so we try and have it as up-to-date as possible for filmmakers. You’re also trying to use everybody that is coming in to town for the Irish industry’s advantage. So, for example, every year we would have programmers from the various festivals coming to Galway ever year and looking at Irish films and others for their own festival. So by staging something like the International Film Festivals panel, we’re trying to utilise as much as possible for those who are in town. It gives Irish filmmakers an opportunity to put a face to the name and be in a position to be in the same room as these programmers and maybe sling a few films their way!

Networking at The Fair is obviously a key benefit for those who attend…
Oh yeah, networking is massive. In The Marketplace we’ve had many results over the years and many co-producers found and many distribution deals done, as well as TV deals and projects acquired by sales agents. Saying that, an awful lot of it is not instantaneous so somebody could have a meeting at The Marketplace and it might take three years to come to fruition. So an awful lot of my work in the winter would be in trying to get results and see what kind of progress has been made as a result at meetings at the Fleadh so that we can see and demonstrate that it is a productive marketplace and that deals are being done.

So I suppose the Fleadh facilitates that initial contact with some of the world’s leading financiers?
Absolutely. The meetings at The Marketplace are 20-minutes long and it’s a one-on-one meeting. The Marketplace is kind of unique in that the producers who apply have an opportunity to have quality time with the world’s leading industry professionals that they might not have as easy access to at larger festivals. Because Galway is intimate and small, we’re able to provide them with that opportunity to have a one-on-one meeting with people that they might not ordinarily meet. Financiers are attracted again because it’s small, intimate and they enjoy it so we’re kind of blessed both ways.

As an event you’ve obviously seen The Marketplace grow hugely over the last number of years?
Well it used to be run in a school hall beside the Town Hall Theatre. It was a little primary school hall and they had the little children’s toilets, which some of the world’s financiers found hilarious! We used to ring a bell every 20 minutes for the next session to happen. Six years ago we moved in to The Radisson and ever since then we’ve had access to much more space to do various seminars and in some ways we are kind of growing out of the space here.

Another event filmmakers constantly mention is the Pitching Awards?
Yep, that’s been really successful. It takes place this Sunday morning. In previous years one of the great hits out of that was the writer Will Collins who won the award in 2007 with a 500-word pitch. He managed to get Irish Film Board funding as a result of that and came back then in 2010 and we opened the festival with the world premiere of director Paul Fraser's ‘My Brothers’, which was the pitch Will had won with in 2007. So it’s lovely to see results like that over the years. You just feel like it’s all working!

How else have you seen the Fleadh develop over the last couple of years?
Well, it’s kind of taken on a role as the annual industry event over the past number of years. It does seem that anybody and everybody working in the industry is at the Fleadh come July. If you’re walking around The Radisson on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday everybody is in town, which is kind of nice because there’s no other event quite like it in the country. It’s a great couple of days.


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