By George T. Marshall, RIIFF Executive
(November 2004) I just
received the latest edition of film guru, Chris Gore’s
“The Ultimate Film Festival Survival Guide.”
This 3rd edition is filled with more than 1,000 festival
listings and a plethora of tips on how to get your film
seen, assessed and even considered for distribution.
With unofficial estimates placing the number of film
festivals worldwide at over 1900, Gore has accomplished
no small feat with his publication.
What I found most interesting was his positioning of
different festivals. The Top 10 speak for themselves.
His worldwide selection is logical and precise. How
can one question the efficacy of a Toronto or Sundance
which spark careers and have multi-million dollar budgets?
Then he breaks down the Major Festivals in both North
America and overseas. The other festivals are listed
as “Best of the Rest,” a sort of B-list
purgatory encompassing hundreds of such events. I was
reminded of municipal bond ratings and wondered how
much ratings will determine the survival of many of
these fests. It is surely an overcrowded environment
and like the real estate market, it is bound to bottom
out. When and how are the questions.
The ratings don’t really tell the full story,
however. They never do. There are some festivals that
by their very nature are secure in longevity and perform
a much needed function. Take for example a niche festival
whose focus is on a specific topic, region or theme.
These events represent a captive audience that revels
in the work presented and guarantee a certain baseline
for attendance and financial support.
There are several festivals in the New England region
which come to mind: The Boston Jewish Film Festival,
The Boston Gay and Lesbian Film/Video Festival, and
the Boston Irish Film Festival. I decided to look at
The 6th Annual Boston Irish Film Festival (BIFF), presented
by Magners Irish Cider, took place October 21-25 with
a mandate to showcase the best of contemporary Irish
and Irish-related film and video. The annual five-day
festival always assembles an impressive group of feature
films, documentaries, and shorts that celebrate the
very best of Ireland and the Irish on screen while exploring
a variety of Irish social and political issues.
According to Peter Flynn, festival co-curator, the festival
exposes audiences to Irish films that they would otherwise
not have an opportunity to see.
"While the films feature issues pertaining to Ireland
and the Irish, the subject matter is universal and will
translate well across cultural lines, appealing to all
film lovers," notes Flynn.
Selected by a distinguished panel of judges, awards
are presented recognizing those artists whose work constitutes
a commitment to excellence. There are three award categories:
Best Feature, Best Documentary and Best Short Fiction/Animation.
A Director's Choice Award is also given as well as an
Excellence Award for the filmmaker whose work represents
the very best of Ireland and the Irish on screen.
A trend that seems to be taking hold is spreading the
festival screening locations out to as many areas as
possible. The Boston Irish Film Festival was no exception
with screenings at the Harvard Film Archive, the Brattle
Theatre and the Coolidge Corner Theatre. In addition
there were receptions at Boston area pubs and hotels.
Past BIFF screenings have included the world premieres
of Patrick Bergin's Some Other Place and the U.S. premieres
of Divorcing Jack, Rat, Traveler (May the Road Rise
Up), Wild About Harry, In America and the Boston premiere
of Bloody Sunday. This year was no exception and included
News fro the Church by first-time director, Andrew McCarthy
(who presented the World Premiere at the Rhode Island
International Film Festival in August), Timbuku by Alan
Gilsenan, Bloom directed by Sean Walsh and an appearance
by noted actor Gabriel Byrne for their Excellence Award.
I caught up recently with the Festival’s creator
and energetic director, Peter Flynn to discuss his work,
goals and prospects for the future.
NEED: Could you tell our readers what were the
reasons behind starting this festival?
Peter Flynn: It seemed like the best way to meet girls.
But seriously . . . there was the naturalness of it
to begin with. I was Irish. I was involved in the Irish
film industry to some extent. I knew people there and
I had worked for a time at the Irish Film Archive in
Dublin. But I was living in Boston. I was teaching film
history and media theory at Emerson College. The festival
seemed like a natural way to link both worlds. So there
was that. But there was also this need for an outlet
for Irish cinema in the United States at that time –
the late 1990s. There was a great boom in production
in Ireland and a lot of great stuff was coming out.
But there were so few outlets and venues for the work
here, so again, it just seemed like a natural decision.
Also, we were in Boston . . . and where better to have
an Irish festival than here.
NEED: Since the original concept was to be a
one-time event, what spurred the expansion into an annual
Peter Flynn: It was simply the success of the first
event. We were selling out most of our shows. People
were coming out of the woodwork to see what we had programmed.
I realized, maybe after the opening night that there
was a future for the festival, that it could sustain
itself as a yearly event. Its six years later now and
we’re running events on a year-round basis and
if anything the festival’s popularity has grown.
NEED: How many films were screened this year
and how were they selected?
Peter Flynn: We are screening 37 films this year. [Note:
at Press time the Festival was in progress] The selection
process is typically long and arduous. . . we get a
lot of entries and many good films are turned down because
we simply don’t have the program space for all
the works submitted. Those that we choose are selected
first and foremost on the basis of quality, but we also
take into account their importance as documents of particular
aspects of Irish culture and society. I like to think
that what we screen here are not just good films, or
great films, but are also important films in that they
capture something real and pure about the culture and
the people they depict.
NEED: If you were to define it, what would you
say is the vision behind the festival and it's long-term
Peter Flynn: At this point it’s really to continue
what we are doing - getting good and important films
that would not otherwise be shown in the US. In terms
of expansion, well, we’re offering awards, we
have the big-name celebrity guests, we have terrific
sponsors such as Magners Irish Cider, great audiences,
we are now running screenings and events throughout
the year . . . so I’m happy enough with the level
we’ve attained. The goal, however, remains the
same – make sure that we represent the very best
that’s out there.
NEED: Let’s talk about programming. What do you
look for in developing your schedule of films? Do you
have a specific theme?
Peter Flynn: The general theme is Irish and the Irish
on Screen. That can be as broad and as narrow as you
like it to be. But essentially we look for films that
reveal something of the Irish culture. In a sense we
are programming films that act as a correction to the
typical Hollywood representations of the Irish –
the happy-go-lucky, loquacious Paddys, the innocent
pure Colleens, and the beautiful landscapes, all that
stuff – and give audiences a real sense of what
it means to be Irish. That’s always the ultimate
theme and the purpose of the festival.
NEED: As a filmmaker yourself, you seem to have
an inside track within the industry. Tell us about your
relationship with filmmakers in Ireland and how you
have been able to find new work.
Peter Flynn: Irish filmmakers take their craft very
seriously. Money is hard to come by and so a lot of
sacrifices must be made in order to make films. So on
the whole, Irish filmmakers are committed, serious about
their art, and thrilled at any opportunity to screen
it, particularly to audiences outside Ireland. That’s
of course where I, and other festivals come in. And
I’m from Ireland, I grew up there, I have a lot
of contacts in the industry and I spend a lot of time
there, meeting with filmmakers, viewing their work,
Plus the industry is very small, everybody knows everybody
else. So if something good comes a long the word on
the street travels very fast and people are very supportive
of one another too. So finding the work, and working
with the filmmakers to get that work shown is never
a problem, in fact it’s my favorite part of what
NEED: What are your proudest moments you've
had with the festival?
Peter Flynn: I think it’s when the filmmakers
are interacting with the audiences and they see the
results of all their hard labor. Last year, Jim Sheridan
saw In America with an audience for the first time ever.
And he stood there at the back of the theatre through
the whole film watching the audience respond.
Something terrific can happen if artists and audiences
meet under the right circumstances – i.e., in
a relaxed, informal, fun environment – and they
really learn from each other. I’m most thrilled
and most proud of the festival when that happens.
NEED: Outside of the festival, what do you do year round--or
has this become year round?
Peter Flynn: My day job is teaching film production
and media history, which I’ve been doing now for
almost 8 years at Emerson College in downtown Boston.
I also dabble in production and have a couple of projects
in progress at the moment. The problem always is time
. . . there’s never enough of it. But I’m
happy doing this sort of stuff – its never boring,
there’s always lots to learn.
NEED: What words of advice would you give to
Peter Flynn: Just do it.
Do it by whatever means possible. Make films and make
sure people see them. It sounds simple and its not.
But it’s the good fight and filmmakers should
always be in the ring battling it out.
NEED: Where do you see this festival in 5 years and
Peter Flynn: Hopefully just as exciting and as vibrant
as it is now. Whether I will be as exciting or as vibrant
is another matter. But I would like to see it maintain
the quality and purposefulness that it now has. If it
grows and expands and becomes unexpectedly lucrative
financially then great, but I’d just be happy
to maintain this.
To learn more about the Boston Irish Film Festival,
go to their website at www.irishfilmfestival.com
In early December, I have been invited to be a guest
presenter at the first ever INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
SUMMIT, IFFS in New York City. The event is dedicated
to providing resources, information and avenues of communication
for industry professionals, vendors, & anyone committed
to the Film Festival Industry. IFFS is committed to
the idea that Film Festivals are an important cultural
celebration, a powerful voice in our society, and increasingly
play a vital role in connecting not only the local communities
they serve, but the world globally.
I will be involved a Film Festival Brainstorming Session
entitled “The Future of Film Festivals 2010.”
Slated to be an interactive program, the forum will
focus on where the industry is headed as a whole. The
session will be moderated by Anderson Jones, of E! Entertainment
and include Mohit Rajhans, of FILMI-South Asian Film
Other topics of note during the two-day summit include:
“The Secrets To Selling Sponsorships,” “Film
Festivals & The Local Community: Integrating the
Locals,” and “Film Festival Marketing 101.”
To learn more about the INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
SUMMIT, go to www.
About the Author:
George T. Marshall is the Producing Director of the
Rhode Island-based Flickers Arts Collaborative, the
creators of the annual Rhode Island International Film
Festival for which he also serves as Executive Director.
He teaches film and communications at Rhode Island College
and speech communications and documentary film at Roger
Williams University. He is a director, writer, producer
of commercials and industrials for numerous business
clients in the region and is currently completing the
multi-media components for a museum exhibit saluting
American veterans in Woonsocket, RI. He can be reached