by / March 2nd, 2011 /

Top Story: The Dingle Film Festival – Small town, BIG stars

Over the past decade the sleepy seaside town of Dingle in the west of Kerry has been earning itself quite the reputation as a destination for arts lovers and revelers alike. Last year it was listed as one of the top five places in Ireland to spend New Year’s Eve. Snow Patrol came here to stay as they prepared to record the Eyes Open album and let’s not forget the magnificent RTÉ alternative music show Other Voices that is now into its ninth season and is filmed in the town every Christmas. It seems crazy that a small fishing port with a population just shy of 2,000 can continue to attract such huge names in the art world. But since the 1960s, when David Lean chose Dingle as the location for his film Ryan’s Daughter, artists have flocked here for the stunning scenery, bustling nightlife and warm welcome.

Another reason that Hollywood megastars have chosen to descend on this curious town is the Dingle Film Festival. Now into its fifth year, this festival has grown in stature since its humble beginnings and was this year listed as the second most important film festival in Ireland – falling only behind only Dublin’s Jameson Film Festival. Over the years many celebrities have wandered the picturesque streets of Dingle and shared a pint with the locals. Actors Cillian Murphy, Saoirse Ronan and Gabrielle Byrne. Directors Stephen Frears, Jim Sheridan and Sir Alan Parker, as well as many important screenwriters and film producers have all been guests at the festival.

State sat down with the event’s artistic director Maurice Galway to find out more about the festival and what he has in store for this year….

Why a film festival in Dingle?

Well first off, it’s a film location and that makes it very attractive to overseas visitors. But it is also very unique in the terms of its cinema too. Built in 1937 by the Holohan brothers, it brought electricity to Dingle. They burned peat briquettes to power the two Italian projectors and after that started selling electricity around the town.

What makes the Dingle Film Festival any different to any of the other festivals around the country?

It is the place. When the guests come in – the directors, the producers – you don’t have to worry about them. Dingle takes care of them. The people, the scenery and the beauty. It’s wonderful that they can relax, walk the streets and can be approached in any of the festival clubs or events.

Over the years you’ve had various themes (Comedy/Gangsters) is there one this year?

There is a theme this year, but it’s not as obvious as the ones before. We are looking at ‘Being Here’, a sense of place. By that we mean Dingle itself, but as well you can take the bigger picture of life. A lot of the films and documentaries that are being shown are specifically dealing with places around the world. All the directors and writers that are coming in are going to be looking at the idea of creativity and being here. And they come together because of Dingle. You can’t consider being here in Dingle without creativity, and vice-versa. The theme was a given, as the film we have opening the festival on St Patrick’s Day [We’ll Always Have Dingle, a documentary shot last year by Grammy award winning director Geoff Wonfor] is about ourselves, and about Dingle and that leads straight into the theme.

What is, and who will be receiving the Gregory Peck Award?

We give the Gregory Peck Award for excellence in the art of film. The award itself is designed by [local jeweller] Brain De Staic. It is based on the 14th century Aglish pillar which is now in the National Museum of Ireland but was originally from Minard, Dingle where Peck’s Grandmother came from. So it is quite symbolic.

It’s an interesting choice this year for the award. We are spreading the word of the festival and we are going to French cinema to give it to Jean-Jacques Beineix (Betty Blue/Diva). I think it’s a lovely choice as Gregory Peck’s wife Veronique is from Paris herself. She is very much the holder of the Peck Trust. France is so well renowned for film and Beineix was a huge influence on me growing up and we are going to follow the award ceremony with a screening of Betty Blue.

Is it difficult getting people to come to Dingle? Or getting the prints of the films themselves?

Getting guests overall is very easy but it’s down to their timing. The prints – well, that’s a big job. It’s about the distributors having confidence in you as a festival. That has improved over the past five years. Ultimately it’s about press and over the past four years the festival has generated €3.7million in press coverage. Which is crucial.

If you had to chose one film in this years line up that is a must see, which would it be?

It’s a tough choice … there’s a documentary, Dreaming The Quiet Man, which is incredible. A thousand people sat down to watch it in the Cork Opera House, which is a record in Ireland for people to publicly watch a documentary together. Gabrielle Byrne has selected it for his Imagining Ireland curation to be shown in the Museum of Modern Art in New York in May. And the director, Sé Merry Dolye, will be there to introduce the film.

As a political documentary, Gasland is very good and was up for an Oscar. It’s shocking and amazing. And if you want a feature there is a little gem that we got as a recommendation, a small independent film called Little Rock. It’s an American film about a Japanese brother and sister who arrive in a small town and their experiences over a couple of days. It is really beautifully shot.

As well as the films there are also plenty of seminars and labs going on. Any that stick out for you?

The directors panel will be something else. This year it is in partnership with Media Desk Ireland. On the panel will be Jean-Jacques Beineix, Leonard Abrahamson (Adam & Paul/Garage) and Sophie Fiennes a documentary maker, and we also have her film [Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow] showing too. The three of them will talk about being directors in the chapel of the Díseart surrounded by the Harry Clarke windows, which will be an amazing. Also there is a retrospective screening of Adam & Paul which I think is one of the best Irish films ever made. That will be followed by an interview by a member of the Irish Film Board with the director and writer. If you are interested in film, getting this kind of access to the experts for a couple of hours on an afternoon in Dingle – it’s brilliant.

And maybe another couple of hours in the pub after!

The Dingle Film Festival is on from the 17th-20th March 2011. For more information, the festival programme and ticket booking go to http://www.dinglefilmfestival.com. To see the trailer for We’ll Always Have Dingle visit http://www.alwayshavedingle.com.