ON THE BLOG: Cork Film Festival's Fiona Clark discusses its 63rd edition

The Cork Film Festival received MEDIA funding for the first time this year through the Creative Europe Film Festivals scheme. Festival producer and CEO Fiona Clark filled Creative Europe Desk UK in on all things change, innovation and how funding facilitated their success. 

What changes / expansions did you make to the festival this year?

The Cork Film Festival is Ireland’s first and largest film festival and the 63rd edition over ten days in November 2018 saw a number of developments and expansions.

Our main programme of features increased to 136, including over 35% documentaries, and representing a larger European dimension. Over 90% of the films presented were Irish premieres, with the Opening Night Gala being the European premiere of Float Like a Butterfly, written and directed by Cork’s award-winning Carmel Winters. We presented 18 shorts programmes, including a special presentation in partnership with the European Commission Representation in Ireland #EUandMe, and our Schools’ Programme expanded beyond Cork city to two regional centres, Midleton and Mallow, creating greater access to film education for young people. 

We presented the Irish premiere of iconic gothic horror Nosferatu in St Fin Barre’s Cathedral, Cork’s gothic revival cathedral, with a new score by Cork composers Irena and Linda Buckley. We expanded our artist engagement programme by expanding our dedicated Industry Days to three, and by hosting 170 filmmakers and international industry guests to introduce their films and participate in public discussions.

How did the funding enable this?

Creative Europe MEDIA funding was instrumental in enabling the development and expansion of the Festival. The funding directly enhanced the artistic programme by supporting the presentation and associated costs of more European films and enabled wider collaborative opportunities with a range of cultural and community partners, including hosting the AVA (Audio Visual Access) consortium of European film festivals in Cork to develop our growing European network and new opportunities for the dissemination of European film. The funding also supported marketing and promotional activity for the European content, contributing to an increase of audiences in 2018 of over 20%. 

Were there any unique challenges this year?

The Festival has undergone a period of review and refresh, and this change and evolution continues as the organisation develops to grow sustainably in order to realise our ambitions. Our focus from 2017 to 2020 is to consolidate recent successes and fulfil our three year Strategic Plan, leading to the Festival’s 65th anniversary in 2020. The Creative Europe MEDIA funding is a very endorsement of our plans; the challenge is around timeframe - receiving the funding offer in late August when our programme goes to print early October! We had a number of programmes and projects poised but unconfirmed, which we then happily accelerated following the successful application.

What do you consider a successful film festival?

Cork Film Festival’s mission is to bring people together through an outstanding programme of films and to create an unforgettable experience over ten days in Cork. I think that film festivals should provide a lens on the world, connecting people through film and conversation, and the festival environment allows for unique collaborations that fuse art, audience and place. In 1956 our founders were ambitious that the Cork Film Festival “must always be strongly influenced by the company it keeps. The company is good.” I believe that a successful film festival pushes artistic boundaries, supports new talent, and seeks out fresh audiences for cinema in all its forms. It is a human need to tell and share stories; successful film festivals create a unique experience through film - they excite, enrage, engage and entertain, and hopefully inspire the creative visionaries of tomorrow.

How did you endeavour to make the programme for this edition really stand out?

We set out to celebrate significant auteurs, while acknowledging award-winners on the international film festival circuit and recognising emerging filmmakers; we screened provocative and engaged non-fiction work, including repertory titles which complemented the new work we screen, and we aimed to produce a world-class shorts programme. Everything starts with the artistic programme, and is undertaken in support of that, for our audiences. In 2018 we set out to land the message - through the programme - that Cork Film Festival is the destination of choice for great storytelling on film, for filmmakers and audiences alike.

One of the criterias for funding is that a festival demonstrates strong efficiency in audience development (especially toward young audiences) - what have you done this, and previous years, to achieve this?

We provide a platform for emerging filmmakers who might not otherwise have an opportunity to show their films in Ireland by helping them build new audiences and creating exposure for their work. We are passionate about supporting the development of film, and film literacy, through the exhibition of outstanding work selected from international festivals, distributors, and filmmakers locally and globally.

We enable filmmakers to meet their audience, and a dialogue to happen. We support Irish and European filmmakers by platforming and promoting their work, facilitating their professional development opportunities, and through our expanded schools and family programmes, we further invest in and encourage the cinema audience of the future. In 2018 we extended our Schools’ programme from one to three venues, in Cork city and regionally, more than doubling the number of young people participating. We expanded our Industry Days to provide more opportunities for students to gain invaluable training and engage with professionals from across the sector, whilst creating access for them to experience the latest and best in European cinema.

The Festival represents this dynamic conversation with our audiences – the filmmakers who make the work, the industry who enable us to share that work, and above all the paying public, from young people exploring the world through film for the first time, to the committed cinephile. All are essential in shaping a programme of fact and fiction that is uniquely available in Cork.

Through partnerships with three third level educational institutions in Cork, accessible ticket pricing, and an increase in dynamic social media promotion, we increased audiences by over 20% in 2018.

What makes Cork Film Festival innovative?

Cork Film Festival provides a space to challenge perceptions, provoke debate and influence film culture in Ireland and beyond. Over 63 years we’ve retained our youthful energy and rebellious verve; we pride ourselves on our commitment not just to bringing the best new Irish and international cinema to Cork, but to working with artists and organisations - local, national and international - to champion new talent and to bring film to new audiences. We strive to present a very diverse and accessible programme where audiences experience both the wonders of world cinema and the wonders of a city named most culturally vibrant in Europe by the EU. Cork really is a unique city; I think there is something about being a port city, connected to the world with close ties to Europe and beyond, that keeps the Festival outward looking, embracing all the opportunities that beckon on the horizon.

What advice would you give to other festivals applying?

Start with clarity of your vision and mission and then show how your objectives align with those of the funding programme. Give clear examples for each objective and activity; don’t assume that the person reading the application knows your organisation, city, country - describe the cultural and community environment that you are operating in.

Allow plenty of  time for the application! We gather data throughout the year so that we can easily draw on appropriate data for applications. Our development strategy places a strong emphasis on collaboration and partnerships to support our plans for sustained growth, and we are constantly gaining insight from feedback from filmmakers, distributors, and audience members to develop our Festival.

Attendance at and participation in other European film festivals has been enormously enlightening; not only for securing programme content but in establishing contacts, networks and learning new ways of operational delivery that we can adapt and apply to Cork, all of which can help to build a strong foundation for an application to Creative Europe MEDIA. Be ambitious but realistic and back up your claims with evidence. To borrow from W B Yeats: “In dreams begins responsibility.”