Bringing the Underground overground: Underground Cinema Festival 2012

The festival circuit can be the best way for a burgeoning filmmaker to make inroads into the industry. Unfortunately, getting anywhere near a major festival can be a task as tricky as making the film itself. For makers of short and low-budget films, that’s where Underground Cinema comes in.

Yours truly at the Underground Film Festival in Dun Laoghaire

Underground Cinema is a movement dedicated to championing emerging filmmakers. They offer monthly showcases of short Irish films, and their efforts culminated in the third annual Underground Cinema Film Festival, which took place across four days last week in Dun Laoghaire. The festival is a combination of both short and feature-length screenings, workshops and talks. This year’s festival was their most ambitious yet, notes festival director David Byrne. ‘We did about 20 workshops last year and we screened about 70 films. This year we got even more ambitious; we went to over 100 films, and included international films.’

The initial aim of Underground Cinema is to showcase the short films across the country, and then to help get them distributed further afield, to other festivals and arthouse cinemas in Britain and Europe. The ShortWave cinema in East London, for example, screens many of the films that Underground Cinema promotes.

Getting the films screened in this way is the key to getting them picked up for distribution. ‘The filmmakers know how to make films’, explains Byrne, ‘but they don’t know how to sell them.’ The Underground Cinema provides the filmmakers with access to markets they may not have even considered. One beneficiary of such access is Ivan Kavanagh. A guest speaker at this year’s festival, Ivan’s film Tin Can Man screened at last year’s festival, and went on to win a Special Jury Prize at this year’s Dublin International Film Festival. ‘Any festival like this that gives young filmmakers a chance to show their films is a good thing’, says Kavanagh. He also admires the quality of film that can be found at festivals like this one. ‘Because digital technology is so accessible by almost everyone now, pretty cheaply, and because the quality is so good’, maintains Kavanagh, ‘that’s why there are so many filmmakers out there who are making good quality work.’

The quality of films on offer clearly makes an impression on those from further afield on the lookout for independent Irish work. The special guest at this year’s festival was Jack Sargeant, director of the similarly-themed Revelation Film Festival in Perth, Australia. An acclaimed author, columnist and lecturer, Sargeant has been responsible for bringing some successful Irish exports to Australia, including Tin Can Man and Charlie Casanova. Sargeant was in attendance at the festival to host a day-long programme of shorts and discuss his insights on short films and independent filmmaking.

When it comes to the filmmaking process, Sargeant certainly concurs that distribution is the tricky part when getting independent film to an audience. ‘You don’t need anything to make a film except an idea. [If] someone’s got an idea they believe in, they can make it on their phone! Distribution’s the hard thing.’ That said, he feels the festivals are a golden opportunity for young filmmakers. ‘Festivals need films’, says Sargeant. ‘There’s enough film festivals out there, if you’re a young filmmaker, to get your film seen around.’

In between its work in promoting new Irish film, the Underground Cinema festival also takes the opportunity to salute Irish artists of old. This year, the centenary of Bram Stoker’s death was marked by screenings of Nosferatu and Francis Ford Coppola’s version of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which was introduced by Stoker’s great-grandnephew, the Canadian author and filmmaker Dacre Stoker. Other features shown this year included The Other Side Of Sleep, Rebecca Daly’s hit from earlier this year and Driller Killer, Abel Ferrara’s classic censor-bothering horror. Other features saw their premieres at the festival, including Bing Bailey’s Portrait Of A Zombie, itself an independent Irish production. Despite the difference in budgets and style between these bigger features and the shorts being shown at the festival, they are all linked by one key factor: all their makers wanted to tell a story.

Ivan Kavanagh perhaps describes it best: ‘People love to tell stories, and I don’t think that’s going to change, no matter what the technology or what the changes are.’ Underground Cinema continues the search for these good stories, and makes sure that they are told to as wide an audience as possible.

For further information on the festival and Underground Cinema, visit their website.

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