23 September 2021 The Irish Film & Television Network
     
Deadly Cuts closes first virtual Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival
15 Mar 2021 : Nathan Griffin
Deadly Cuts
As the curtain comes down on the 19th Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival with the World Premiere of Rachel Carey’s black comedy Deadly Cuts, we round up the festival winners and speak with Festival Director Grainne Humphreys about delivering VMDIFF’s first fully digital edition.

The Closing Gala screening of Deadly Cuts was followed by an exclusive post show discussion with writer/director Rachel Carey and stars Angeline Ball, Shauna Higgins, Lauren Larkin, Pauline McLynn, Ericka Roe, and Victoria Smurfit.

“This year’s event has surpassed my expectations in terms of numbers and reach and I’m delighted the programme has connected with new audiences across Ireland and around the world,” said Festival Director, Gráinne Humphreys at the Closing Night Gala. “It’s been a different way to both present and experience the festival, but as a team we have embraced the challenges and delivered a great programme with a wonderful line-up of guests. As we come to the end of an exhausting 12 days we will close on a high note with a really superb new Irish film Rachel Carey’s Deadly Cuts.”  

Although 2020 was a tough year for the Irish screen industry, there was still a strong presence of the quality, depth, and breath of Irish productions at this year’s festival.

“From documentaries like The Father Of The Cyborgs and To the Moon, to horrors like Ivan Kavanagh’s Son and dramas such as My New York Year or I Never Cry, which are co-productions to the high energy and the humour of Deadly Cuts does show a really flourishing and diverse film community,” Festival Director Grainne Humphreys told IFTN.

Humphreys singled out the wit and sharpness of Irish dark comedy’s Boys From County Hell and Deadly Cuts, from Chris Baugh and Rachel Carey. “I think what I loved about both of those, in particular, is the writing is really, really strong,” Humphreys explained. “Then they've got this really, very well drawn, really complex, and at the same time nearly effortless characters that are funny, and they capture the wit and authentic voice of where the films are set and at the same time are incredibly appealing.”

The screening was a double celebration for Carey, who was announced during the Festival as winner of the Aer Lingus Discovery Award, along with cinematographer Burschi Wojnar, actress Hazel Doupe, and costume designer Saileóg O’Halloran. 

Humphreys also highlighted Tadhg’s documentary To The Moon, which was revealed as Best Irish Film award by the Dublin Film Critics Circle (DFCC) Awards. “Tadhg’s, To The Moon, I just love. He's just such a talent,”said Humphreys. Apples picked up the Best Film award, which was revealed on the Closing Night.

Further DFCC accolades were awarded to: Lili Horvát (Preparations to Be Together for an Unknown Period of Time) for Best Director; Joanna Scanlon (After Love) for Best Actress; Goran Bogdan (Father) for Best Actor; Lee IssacChung (Minari) for Best Screenplay and Viktor Kosakovskiy and Egil Håskjold Larsen (Gunda) for Best Cinematography. The Best Documentary title went to Acasa My Home, which was also the winner of the overall Festival Documentary Competition. 

The DFCC this year announced writer/director Ivan Kavanagh (Son) as recipient of the George Byrne Maverick Award, and actress Zofia Stafiej (I Never Cry) as recipient of the Michael Dwyer Discovery Award. Jury Awards were also given to actor Kyle Gallner (Dinner in America), writer/director Noah Hutton (Lapsis), writer/director Zoé Wittock (Jumbo) and writer/director Bryan Fogel (The Dissident).

Speaking about the awards, DFCC Chair Tara Brady said: "It's been my great privilege to collaborate with the festival and my fellow jurors this year, as we worked our merry way through a wonderful programme. At a moment when cinema is at a standstill, Gráinne and her team are fighting the good fight and winning."

There is no question that the importance of festivals is even more pertinent now during the pandemic with the few filmmakers lucky enough to have completed projects, having very few avenues to showcase with cinemas closed. “I think it’s vital,” said Humphreys when asked about the role of festivals at present. 

Visibility

“Visibility is a really important thing that I possibly didn't recognize as much (prior to the pandemic),” Gráinne explained. “I often thought it was really important to celebrate Irish talent and it was very important to include new work in the program, but actually, I have realised that how we see so much new Irish talent, is in cinemas.”

“Take that away, and you suddenly have the limited output that is on television or the certain number of films that might come back and into an online screening space,” Humphreys continued.

The festival director also highlighted the importance of long-standing relationships to helping make this year’s digital edition happen as VMDIFF celebrated its 19th year. “In a way, it feels like having a lot of experience and a lot of relationships with distributors really came to the fore this year, and that people wanted to make something happen.”

Humphreys noted that there was a clear sense of a wider community of people putting on the festival this year rather than one single organization in Dublin. “I think that's because we've all been so sick of not having cinemas to go to; the regular structures have been taken away.”

Playback X VMDIFF

One hugely exciting aspect of the festival was Playback x VMDIFF; a dynamic programme curated by producer Michael Donnelly V and musician Erica Cody, which celebrated some of the best contemporary Irish hip-hop and R&B on the international.

“Mike Donnelly has a long history of working on music videos and has done a music video celebration before. We talked about how it might look and what it would be. Back then, obviously, it was going to be in the cinema and it was completely different,” Humphreys explained. “Then we decided that we would talk to Erica and we would narrow down hip hop music.”

“We focused on the relationship between the incredible musical talent and the incredible and also invisible filmmaking talent who are making these music videos because my understanding is that you obviously have a really incredibly powerful and dynamic emerging independent film sector in Ireland,” Humphreys continued. “They're not getting money from Screen Ireland or Arts Council or any of the funding structures and they're doing it on their own.”

Playback presents 12 music videos alongside specially-recorded interviews with the featured film directors and music artists. This project showcases the vibrant, energetic creativity of the talents involved and gives them a platform to discuss their process, style and collaborations. 

“There's a creativity and an energy that's incredible; in a single frame, they have this creative and exciting, fresh vitality that I feel is really such a fantastic foretaste of what cinemagoers are going to see in the future,” said Humphreys. “There's some really talented directors working in music videos that I would love to give them a larger budget and say, ‘Make a film.’ Whether it's a short film or a feature or a documentary.

After Donnelly and Cody established a shortlist, the festival organisers went to the Culture Director Eugene Downes at the Department of Foreign Affairs and to see if this might be something that would work internationally. 

“They're connecting up now with L.A., New York, Chicago, Washington, Austin, Paris, London, Mumbai, Moscow, and potentially Sydney; we're not quite sure of the date yet,” said Humphreys. “It's gone global, and it is obviously about the celebration of the diversity of contemporary artists but it's also an opportunity in LA, that they would celebrate the musicians and create if you want a seminar that's looking at the filmmakers. It is one of those projects that just has this incredible reach.”

Shifting Online

In relation to the logistics of shifting this year’s festival, Humphreys never felt that much of the core ways in which the festival was put together would change programmatically or in relation to staff. “It was more the structural side that we had to keep refining and amending,” Gráinne explained. “We initially wanted a hybrid, because we thought that it would be the best of both worlds, that we would be able to carry off a certain limited amount of physical screenings and drive-ins et cetera.”

However, this was not to be the case as the festival was required to reduce the number of screenings by 50%, and eventually creeping up to 60% capacity. Other festivals that preceded VMDIFF, such as Toronto International Film Festival and the BFI London Film Festival, were both reduced to roughly 50% of their programme capacity due to COVID. “I think that was part of the dynamic for me, was learning from the other festivals, and very closely analyzing what they were able to do,” Humphreys told IFTN.

“I remember Anna from Cork (International Film Festival) told me, ‘Stay away from anything old because the rights are just a nightmare to clear, and the materials just aren't there.’ There were practical sides to programming that you became aware of. In a way, those would be elements that shaped the selection,” Humphreys continued.

“The other side to it, is the one that we're all very aware of, which is that the bigger studio films of the decisions around release dates have changed so much,” Humphreys recounted. “Films that weren't available in June, suddenly became available at the end of the year when it was a much more risky proposition to have a date and to stay on it. Suddenly, you found films were available that hadn't been previously.”

Support Systems

“To name check, my colleagues in the Fleadh and Cork and the IFI, there was lots of help and support around: what are the things that audiences need? What's the window that they need? What works best? Looking at capacity, so that you can get a similar festival-sized audience, but at the same time, you're making sure that that's just building up a head of steam for when those films come out,” Humphreys explained.

The Irish film festival community have been working in tandem with each other since August and have continued a monthly conversation to help support one another. 

“It's great because it means that, again, everybody is learning from everybody else,” Gráinne told IFTN. “The big scary topics are things like piracy or security in terms of data or audience development or marketing or even down to things like funding, if there's additional supports or if there's masterclasses that are happening that we think people might benefit from.”

“It's lovely because in a way, I worked in cinema for a long time and it is, on one level, it’s quite easy. You bring in a film. You put it into this big machine and then you project it on a wall. When you take that system away and you say, ‘We have to do it in a completely different direction and the structures that you worked with in the past,’” continued Humphreys. “We really benefited from the generosity of all of our colleagues that said, ‘This is what I think you should do or this is how you should track down the experts in this particular area and they'll advise you what the windows should be.’”

Full awards details and recipients are available on www.diff.ie.





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