READY FOR OUR CLOSE-UP

As the Wicklow Stories Film Festival returns to The Whale, filmmaker, author, writer Dave Thomas reflects on the importance of such showcases for independent film.

I love film festivals.

As an independent filmmaker, that may not sound preCy obvious, but
it’s a lot more than just loving them. A film festival is more than a place to see other films.

I had missed visiting the Wicklow Stories Film Festival in the Whale Theatre in Greystones in
2022 as I was busy with other projects. However, I had heard a lot about it from other
filmmakers, I was reading about how successful it was online while constantly seeing
photographs on social media from actors, writers and directors I know, and I was learning
how good it was. When I was invited to join the team as one of the Programme Directors
with Marlena Murphy and Ronika Merl for the 2023 festival, it was a no-brainer decision. I
wanted to be part of this unique event.

Unlike other film festivals, the Wicklow Stories had something unique and special. Every film
had to be at least 60% made in County Wicklow, with preferably a strong Wicklow based cast
and crew. It’s a festival that is encouraging independent filmmaking in Wicklow, inviting
creatives to conjure up fascinating and engaging stories in Wicklow, about Wicklow, for
Wicklow. It’s no easy task. However, the importance of all this is that it exists and provides
the essential platform for these films to be shown to a Wicklow audience, along with
national and international visitors to the county.

We often hear about the thriving film industry in Ireland, and the growing number of mega
studios being built, with one under construction in Greystones this year. This is to be
welcomed as it provides enormous revenue to the exchequer while providing much needed
employment for the very talented cast and crew we have in our country. Films made at
these studios will be mostly films funded from America, the UK, Canada and other countries,
with some financial supports plus tax breaks from Ireland. The budgets for these films will
be enormous, because hiring mega studios will cost mega bucks. Independent Irish films
may not get the same level of funding and most certainly short independent films will not be
in a position to hire these incredible facilities.

Independent short films rely on fundraising such as a crowdfunding campaign where
everyone can donate a few euro to support the film while gettng their name in the credits.
There are small state-funded grant schemes, which are very competitive, making it difficult to
secure. Applying for state funding for a film is like picking your numbers for the Euro millions
lotto. You have more chance of winning the lotto than winning one of the grants.

Many counties have local Council funding schemes for short films. County Wicklow does not
have one.

That is surprising considering the number of film studios located here and the amount of
films being shot in the county. I wrote a proposal to create a Wicklow Short Film Bursary
Award and submitted it to Wicklow County Council and the local Wicklow Film
Commissioner. Initially, it didn’t go anywhere. After a little persistence from me, the proposal
was sent to the local Wicklow Arts Office where it is now under ‘development’ and it may
actually happen in the first quarter of 2024. It will provide some support to filmmakers to
write, produce and make a quality short film all within County Wicklow.

Short independent films don’t generally make money for the filmmakers. They are not
commercial, they don’t get a cinema distribution deal or end up on Netflix. This is a major
issue when making a short film in Ireland. So why do it?

Short independent films are not under the same pressures as major feature films because
they don’t make revenue for anyone. Major feature films are a product and they need to
make a good return on the investment made in them. While not having major funding is a
significant disadvantage for short films, it does give immense freedom to the filmmaker to
tell unique engaging stories without having to worry if it will sell, or not. Short films can be
any genre, and any length up to approximately 40 minutes in duration. After that, it could be
classified as a feature film.

Raising the funding is extremely difficult for short films. That’s why sponsorship is important,
crowdfunding campaigns are important, and support from the local community is vital.

When the independent short film is made, it needs to be seen, because it won’t get on to a
major streaming platform on your telly or mobile phone. A filmmaker needs a platform
where it will be screened and enjoyed. This is where film festivals come in.

A filmmaker submits their work to be assessed by a panel of judges in the hope it will be
officially selected for screening to a live audience. When the festival accepts your work and
adds it into the programme, it feels like you have won the lotto. All your hard work with your
talented team will now appear on the big screen at a festival. It’s time to celebrate.

A film fes<val, like the Wicklow Stories, select the best films submitted and creates a
programme. A huge amount of work, often taking place over 12 months, goes into the
organisation of the film festival.

A good film festival is more than showcasing films. It is a place where filmmakers come to
network, see other people’s creative efforts, exchange ideas and phone numbers, and be
inspired by what they see on the big screen. Some people may meet a writer or a producer
they wish to collaborate with on future projects. An editor may meet a director that they
admire but have never met before. A film festival is a place of opportunities.

Just like the Wicklow Stories Film Festival, a festival is not just for filmmakers. Everyone who
loves a good story, especially one connected in some way to the county you live, is welcome
to attend. The festival is a place where a community is formed. A community made of those
that love cinema, love the arts, love rich storytelling, and love seeing the results of a long
difficult creative process. Without a film festival, storytellers that use the medium of film,
would have limited to no platform to showcase their art.

In some cases, feature films screened at national and international film festivals may find a
distributor to take on their film so that it will be screened at a cinema near you.

Independent films need better funding opportunities so that they can produce beautiful and
important stories for a global audience. Filmmakers need film festivals as a way for their
work to be seen and a place to collaborate with other industry professionals. And film
festivals need quality films.

I am delighted to have worked on the Wicklow Stories Film Festival. I have had the
opportunity to select with my colleagues films with a strong Wicklow connection. On
October 7th, we have created two screenings, at 2pm and 8pm, where we will present the
work of storytellers who will also be joining us. We will also be presenting films that were
invited for screening but are not part of the actual festival programme.

One of these invited films is mine, called The Journey to Pride. While this will be a feature documentary film, my team and I have been very busy editing a short version of the film just for the Wicklow Stories Film Festival. The film tells of the journey of a group of people that formed a
committee in 2022 with the purpose of creating the first ever Wicklow Pride Parade in July
2023. We filmed this over several months, and it was indeed a rollercoaster of a journey for
everyone involved.

I hope you join us for a wonderful day of independent short films with a diverse range of
stories. There is a full programme at www.wicklowstorieesfilmfes<val.com and you can
purchase tickets at the www.whaletheatre.ie.

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