As any young filmmaker who has attended will tell you, the greatest thing about the Fresh Film Festival is seeing your own movie on the big screen. The thrill of seeing your film projected offers a kind of validation, encouragement and—by comparing your film with other entries and gauging the audience’s reaction—an education that is invaluable for young filmmakers.

Now, five years since I first attended and eight years since the festival began, that same thrill is still palpable; but the standard and quality of films on show has improved tremendously, to the extent that I doubt my original juvenile entry (a twisted super-hero movie called Shmerrgh & Bob) would make the cut this year. Indeed, festival director Jayne Foley has remarked that the organisers found themselves turning down films that would have won prizes a few years ago.  

Whether this is due to an increased understanding of the medium among teenagers or the increasingly cheap availability of filmmaking technology is hard to say, but what is clear is that this year’s Fresh offered a level of energy and diversity that is atypical of Irish cinema. What the films on show lack in production value (and some don’t even seem to lack that), they more than make up for in energy, quirkiness, originality, and other priceless qualities that seem to have been painstakingly beaten out of most professional short films. The increase in films from individuals and independent groups, as opposed to school and instructor-led projects, seems to have helped these qualities to shine through.

Out of the 44 short films screened, 1st prize deservedly went to The Vent (Glenn Lambert), a Hitchcockian tale which saw shades of Rear Window mixed with a sweet teenage love story. One of the most impressively made entries, The Vent showed a real understanding of film language and storytelling. Lambert is definitely a name to look out for in the future—especially since his brother, Jonathan, won 1st prize last year, and was also represented out-of-competition this year with the accomplished The Blessing.

In 2nd place was Niall Bergin’s Victims of War, which also won the Audience Award. A story of children forced to go into battle, it managed both to draw parallels with the predicament of real child soldiers in the third world, and to pull off ridiculously dangerous fire stunts—something for everyone, so. Jelena Petkovic’s Smile in the Mirror, a harrowing tale of the extremes that image-obsessed teenagers can go to, took 3rd prize.

Other winners included Guilty, Le Documentaire (Colette Fahy), a very funny mockumentary sending up all things “artistic”; the self-explanatory and inventive animation, How I Lost My Cat In A Parallel Universe (Bryan O’Sullivan); and the remarkable Wine Bird (Daniel Fleming), a dense and intelligent story of friends unravelling a mystery, boasting mind-boggling esoteric dialogue and an impressively confident young cast.

While all of the above deserved their awards, the overall quality was such that one could imagine a completely different selection of films equally deserving commendation. Irish White Catholic (Allyn Quigly), a harsh but thoughtful account of suburban peer pressure and racism, certainly deserved acknowledgement—as did my personal favourite, The Almighty Chicken of God (Sam Coll). Produced and acted entirely by two young teenagers, Chicken of God depicted a surreal and hilarious philosophical quest, with a sharp and unique comic sensibility that promises much for the future.

Drama is usually a risky choice for the Fresh, given how difficult it can be to get teenagers to take anything seriously. This year’s dramatic efforts deserve extra credit, then, especially since they managed to keep their adolescent audience engrossed for the most part.

Comedy was certainly well-represented, with La Retour Au Source (Luke Leslie), a smart silent movie about a French man’s return to his homeland, and Ring-A-Ring-A-Rosie (Salerno Secondary School), in which a long-suffering doll takes revenge on her owner, being the two other stand-outs in that area.

Horror and genre spoofs and rip-offs made up some of the weakest entries this year; however, it’s natural for kids to want to imitate the films they like, and in my experience, it can be a valuable phase for a young filmmaker to go through. Some films defied categorisation altogether. Keshet Zur’s captivating three minute piece, Self, stood out with its uncanny imagery and soundtrack. And the contents of Cathy Butler’s brilliant The Secret Adventures of Wooden Man are best left to your imagination.

Due to growing interest—there’s been an almost 50% increase in entries just since last year—the festival has gradually been expanding. This year saw the festival spread over a whole week, with eight feature films screened and four workshops held. The festival closed with a new addition, the Irish Schools Film Competition Junior Section, for filmmakers under 12 years old. (While mostly made up of instructor-led projects, the Junior Section did feature a few young auteurs, such as eight year old Santana Hernandez-Power, who won a prize for her film The Kidnapper.)The festival has also produced an educational DVD, How to Make a Fresh Film, which is available in the IFI Bookshop and from the festival.

This festival is steadily growing into what should be considered one of the most important events on the Irish film calendar—especially by anyone concerned (or despairing) about the future of Irish cinema. The Fresh is one of the few places where that future is really being cultivated and encouraged—and not by lecturing but by empowering kids to get down to it themselves. “Get’em while they’re young,” the saying goes—and that’s what the Fresh does. For the sake of Irish film, they deserve all the support they can get.


This article was originally commissioned and published in Film Ireland 105.

Still from The Unmentionable (Donal Foreman & Danny McMahon, 2003)

lineemail address