Films Refocused in Kerry

George Fleeton


“The Kerry Film Festival?” he snorted, “sure that’s a contradiction in terms!”

We were crossing the street in Killorglin, from the Crystal Cave Bookshop over to the Library, during Storm Brian.

“It’s like me saying Do you like me socks? - they’re two different shades of black!

As we stepped off the kerb, we were nearly annihilated by a car flying in low from the Glenbeigh direction and crash-landing on the raised section of the roundabout: she was on her phone, left hand in the air, gesticulating.

“An Ophelia chaser?” he ventured calmly.  I  reviewed my life.

Who dares to say pith wasn’t born in Kerry?

Once across, he added “I’ll take some of those from ye (I was carrying a handful of Film Festival programmes) for the Men’s Shed, you know…” then the rest of the sentence was lost in the wind and rain.

I thought he was saying “… in Hilltown and Castlewellan” but it was probably Milltown and Castleisland, given we were in Kerry, not Down.

As I reached the Library door, he called out “Did you know Tom Cooper had an aeroplane?”

I didn’t, and when I turned to reply, he had vaporised, vanished; we hadn’t exchanged names, just two strangers crossing the street.

Surreal, the entire incident couldn’t have lasted more than one minute; but doesn’t it have all the elements of an award-winning short at next year’s Kerry Film Festival?

Festival Features

At other film festivals which I have attended (such as Venice or Cork) there seem to be entries which you might call ‘festival movies’- artistic and adventurous, but esoteric and obscure - never likely to find an audience elsewhere; the sort of films that easily fill out the programme, some better than others, many much worse.

Indeed would they have ever been made or screened at all if there weren’t film festival circuits to soak them up

I saw six features  at the 18th Kerry Film Festival, 19th-22nd October 2017.

For over twenty years, when teaching film studies in further and higher education, my starting point always was:

Every film, ever made, tells a story, which relates to a journey; the journey does not have to be physical.

Films are narrative machines, and the beginning, middle and end of stories and journeys do not always have to be in that order.


Le voyage de Fanny & The Farthest 

These two films are sterling examples of that.

German-born Fanny Ben-Ami’s journey continued to Israel, after she had smuggled herself and eight other Jewish children across the Swiss border in 1943 from Nazi-occupied Vichy France.

Directed by Lola Doillon, it was an outstanding moving image testimonial to children, with children and for children, and very relevant today in the context of Middle Eastern and African refugee children knocking on Europe’s doors.

It reminded me of Louis Malle’s Au revoir les enfants (1987), an account of his experience as the eleven year old Catholic friend of three Jewish boys  hiding in his school in occupied France, who were betrayed, and deported to Auschwitz.

Some of us may also  remember Gladys May Aylward, whose biography The Small Woman (Alan Burgess, 1957) became the Ingrid Bergman film The Inn of the Sixth Happiness.

And Clodagh Finn’s recent book A Time to Risk All is even more appropriate in this context, as it tells the story of Cork woman Mary Elmes who saved over two hundred French-Jewish children from Nazi concentration camps

Just as affecting as Voyage de Fanny, and as abrim with pathos, the journeys of NASA’s Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 path-finders are endless, as they cross - forty years after launch - into the void of deep space, beyond our solar system, twelve billion miles away, already  far beyond Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune - according to the narrative of The Farthest.

Director Emer Reynolds was this year's KFF Maureen O'Hara Award  recipient: a baton passed from one outstanding and inspiring Irish woman in film to another, so to speak.

Reynolds' film was a superb documentary, well balanced and paced; it was also written and delivered  in plain English, always a bonus:

a  billion years from now, when our sun has flared out  and burned Earth to a cinder, the Voyagers will still be sailing on, the only remaining evidence that humanity ever existed.’

"Sure," as my near-miss, street-crossing acquaintance might have said, “didn’t Stanley Kubrick nearly get that bit right, back in 1968?

For the record, other feature films seen at Festival included: Soulsmith (dir. Kevin Henry), The Crest (dir. Mark Covino), Lies We Tell (dir. Mitu Misra) and A Captain Unafraid (dir. Charlie O’Brien), each one with ingredients to recommend it, each one though a ‘festival movie,’ as defined above.

49 Shorts

It is nevertheless national and international short films that define Kerry Film Festival.

Yet how  ironic it is, in this day and age, that the only way we can celebrate the art of short film is to project six or eight of them, one after the other, without pause for reflection, as they hurtle at you, each one attempting to obliterate your encounter with the one before.

Having sat through forty-nine shorts at Festival (twenty-five of them on the final day) I now struggle to recall the rhyme or the reason of a single one.

It must be emphasised, however, that Artistic Director Maeve McGrath and her team worked overtime to group those short films together, both imaginatively and  intelligently, so that generic straplines such as What Children See, Orchestrate, Irish Stories, The Returned, International, Kerry Made and Kerry Connection did make navigation through the plethora of shorts a pleasant challenge.

But if I was to review or comment even on those carefully curated clusters of shorts - which is not the purpose of this dispatch from Killarney - I would have to watch each one again, in turn, pen and paper to hand.

In my film-making days (I wrote a prize-winning script when I was age 12) and up until I left UTV over 25 years ago, we tended to deal with a heightened awareness of the passage of time, the brevity of life and the insignificance of the individual, all leavened with the yeast of humour.

I saw none of that in the dozens of shorts on view; instead, I had to resist relentless doom and gloom, every conceivable social issue and far too many narratives featuring men drinking pints in pubs.

In sum, rafts of evocations of the film-maker as tortured artist, unable to escape the limitations of his own self-serving brilliance.

Indeed some jumbled lines from Edgar Allan Poe came back to haunt me:

Thy soul shall find itself alone

’Mid dark thoughts of the gray tombstone…

…Be silent in that solitude…

(Spirits of the Dead, 1829).

It is impossible, when attending a film festival, to see everything; that would require a bi- or tri-location implant, preferably without anaesthesia, to help you take everything in.

I remember at Venice, six years ago, there were several films screening simultaneously, all day every day from 8am, and hard choices had to be made.

Next day when I read the overnight trade and industry newsletters in the media centre not one of the films I had selected to see, nor the press conferences I had attended the previous day, was even mentioned!


On day 3 in Killarney I managed to catch the industry event T.A.L.K. and the KFF Award ceremony.

The industry session was set up in association with the Irish Film & Television Academy, at which Kerry-born Maura Kelly and John Flahive did their best to annotate their different experiences of working at the cutting edges of international media production – creative Kerry abroad, as it were, but no supportive film clips of what they were about.

Katie McCullough had some pertinent if self-evident tips on the best approaches to getting your material on to film festival agendas – ‘every short film could be shorter’, ‘get your sound right’ and ‘no long end credits, please’ – as in, that is your best festival strategy; but don’t aspiring film-makers already know and practice that?

Then Andy McDermott was given free, unchallenged  rein to sell his film ‘Lies We Tell’ which was screened later that evening.

To say that this event was uninspiring is not to detract from the benefits which I hope both virgin and veteran film-making attendees derived from those three unilateral presentations.

The ad hoc Q & A at the end was, as I read it, low key and dispirited; but I know from  personal experience in broadcasting that such events may be easy to organise but very hard to animate and to energise; only spontaneous combustion, unexpected sparks from left-field, can do that.


Finally the Awards was a good-natured, unrehearsed, short and pointed evening, from which so many of the winners were absent, busy working on their next projects, we hoped



Over all (and I have only shared some personal flavours and subjective reflections of part of four days spent in Killarney)  this Festival deserves every kind of support, regional and national, to allow it to build and to consolidate, to breathe and to prosper, to sell itself and get noticed abroad and to bring the good news back home.

There are eight, maybe ten, annual film festivals, of all shapes and sizes, in Ireland, north and south, each struggling for its place in the sun, each trying to stay out of the others’ way, each competing in a world of endless mega-multi-media production (unimaginable to me when I started), each staking its claim to screen and to reward the imagination buried in and then unleashed to us, the watchers in the dark, by film of all genres.

There is no reason why, in the short-to-medium term future, the Kerry Film Festival should not be the leader of the pack snapping at the heels of the Cork, Galway, and Dublin Film Festivals.



PS (i.e. Practical Suggestion)

Let’s invite the 2019 Celtic Media Festival to Kerry, as part of KFF’s 20th outing.

I can just about remember the first one, in the Western Isles in 1980, and was later involved in the organisation of the third (Wexford, 1982) and the seventh (Newcastle, Co Down, 1986).

After my time, Celtic Media Festival was then held in Tralee (1998) and in Galway (2008); in Dungarvan last year, on the Isle of Man this year and in Llanelli next year.

Why not Killarney in 2019?