Sadhbh paid a trip to Docs Ireland Film Festival in Belfast last week, an inaugural event established by the folks of the Belfast Film Festival, and shares her thoughts on the experience.
I found it to be a very impressive first edition and I wasn't the only one. It has very quickly garnered a lot of praise around the industry both online and by word of mouth, by those who have just attended it. What it lacked in self promotion in the lead up, has now been overshadowed by tales of quality films, excellent speakers and forums, and well run networking opportunities (at the Docs Ireland marketplace in the Europa Hotel). There was also an attention to detail sometimes not found in small indie festivals, especially those starting out - free refreshments at industry sessions, an abundance of friendly, helpful volunteers at every venue, and buses organised to and from some receptions. Even a noticeably very well laid out festival programme. It all made for a very pleasant and efficient industry event! Of course that special buzz around a first time festival helped its overall enjoyment also.
Upon arriving on the first day of the festival, Wednesday, I had meetings with some Belfast friends of NITV - Christine Morrow of Northern Ireland Screen fame and Hole in the Wall Gang producer Damon Quinn (from recent short comedy Father Father, and 2011 Oscar nominated short The Crush). This was followed by a screening of True North Shorts, BBC NI's commissioned refreshing short docs about life in contemporary Northern Ireland. Unfortunately there were no other shorts again until the start of the competitive programmes on Saturday which was a pity. That opening night, I attended an in conversation event with documentary filmmaker legend Alex Gibney. He was there with his new doc The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley, and the talk covered this plus some of his other most famous work and the great stories behind them. The day ended memorably with the opening reception party in the newly refurbished stable building of Ormiston House, the beautiful stately home of Belfast local jewellery business tycoon Peter Boyle, with free food and drinks a plenty.
On Thursday there was a visit to the well organised marketplace (with speed dating style meetings) to meet a few producers, and I attended an interesting panel discussion of the island's top commissioning editors. This was followed by an introductory experience to the world of VR (not just documentary) with plenty of choice and good advice from the festival team on what to see. Pretty mind blowing to say the least! I then attended the touching feature documentary about one of Ireland's great female activists and feminists of modern times, Mairin de Burca - A Loner's Extinct directed by the documentarian Cathal Black (Learning Gravity), who attended a Q&A afterwards. Biographies (in both film and book form) of these important game changers in modern Irish society are quite simply essential, to help never forget their importance for generations to come. This was quickly followed by a very different documentary Diego Maradona directed by Asif Kapadia, an archival orgy of football genius, and Latino and Mediterranean fever pitch drama! As usual, fact is stranger than fiction and the archive alone told the story, with Maradona's own V.O. Highly entertaining. A dinner followed with producer and long time friend JB Wadell and his DOP and filmmaker friend. This ended with a Madmen style cocktail on the penthouse bar of the new Grand Central 20 story Hotel, with 360 views of the city. This truly is a modern Belfast!
Friday's highlight was seeing the great Shane Smith In Conversation, head programmer of Hot Docs in Toronto (the biggest documentary festival in North America) which lasted about an hour and a half. There was some great insight into what makes Hot Docs tick, and what important and inspiring work the festival does year round. This event definitely highlighted a lack of prior promotion and publicity by the festival as it had barely 20 people in attendance, when in fact it should have been full of filmmakers. This was a unique opportunity on this side of the pond to learn about one of the biggest hitters of the documentary festival world. My trip ended nicely with a few more interesting meetings, in the environment of the BFI Doc Society event at the Queens Film Theatre, running in conjunction with the festival. I then headed home on the train, very satisfied with those 48 hours. The documentary world remains as inspiring, promising, and fascinating as ever, thanks to Docs Ireland.