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DUBLIN 2024

Grainne Humphreys • Director, Dublin International Film Festival

“I love our independence”

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- The DIFF director delves into how her team retains its core audience while continuing to experiment

Grainne Humphreys  • Director, Dublin International Film Festival

Taking place from 22 February-2 March, the Dublin International Film Festival (DIFF) offers its local audience an insight into international arthouse cinema, but also a peek at new Irish films. All the while, the team faces that usual festival dilemma, says its director, Grainne Humphreys: “How do we keep our core audience and keep experimenting?”

Cineuropa: You have decided not to have a title sponsor any more. It’s a big change.
Grainne Humphreys:
It is! I knew the old Dublin Film Festival, which was set up in the 1980s, and it didn’t have a sponsor. I was only a volunteer back then – I am not that old! When I started to work here in 2008, it was sponsored by Jameson for 13 years, then by Audi and Virgin Media. These partnerships were great in many ways, but when it comes to advertising and money, many festivals struggle with these dynamics. They spend more and more time dancing to the corporate bagpiper instead of expanding their educational programme or their programming team.

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We have a core funder, the Arts Council, and Screen Ireland is our industry partner. This long-term relationship with a title sponsor can be tricky: it’s the first word in your title, and it’s amazing how for the audience, and maybe even for filmmakers, it can be the only word. It becomes that brand! Now, I feel like someone who has been newly separated: I love our independence. It’s all about Dublin, about being international. There are financial elements we have to look after ourselves; we have grown our patron scheme, and we work really hard. It has strengthened us.

As you said, it’s an international festival, but what about Irish premieres? Are they a priority right now?
When the festival was set up, it was all about bringing films that hadn’t been shown in Ireland. Irish cinema would go to Cork or Galway. When I joined – which wasn’t in any way connected – there was this sudden rise in Irish film. The films that were made, or that we were pursuing, were the kinds of movies that wanted to be seen alongside international films.

My first opening-night title was In Bruges [+see also:
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, and it genuinely started to feel like the festival could be a launchpad for Irish films. We partnered with the Arts Council on a scheme for experimental art documentaries, and suddenly, another strand opened up. We used to stay away from shorts, but this year, we have nine programmes of shorts. The percentage of Irish films has increased, which is great.

Are there any new topics that local filmmakers are interested in?
We are a literary nation, so many times, we would think about the past, the war or the land. Not any more. This year’s opener, Twig, features a much more diverse cast than we would normally see in Ireland. To my mind, that’s really refreshing. People are showing parts of the country that are not necessarily “cinematic”; they are getting into hard topics. Baltimore [+see also:
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is also a good example of that – two Irish directors teasing darker parts of our culture, rather than reinforcing standard opinions or a tourist-board version of Ireland. With filmmakers like Lenny Abrahamson, there is an intellectual quality to their work. They seem to be influenced by European masters, rather than being focused on making generic, will-it-play-well-in-America kinds of stories.

Youth is another thing. Ireland had to stop making films about middle-class, middle-aged people. Looking at something like King Frankie, there is a wide range of actors coming through. We have the wonderful Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, plus Cillian Murphy, so we are very lucky, but there is a new generation interested in something other than getting a big show or a Marvel movie.

It can be more difficult for festivals to make their mark when they are based in big cities. Would you agree?
It’s much harder, yes. We have a rugby match tomorrow; we are playing against Wales, and that’s literally what happens. Suddenly, that’s the only topic people are talking about. We put a massive amount of work into audience development, however: we went out to community groups and colleges. We decided that the 18-25 age group is the one that’s not necessarily coming back after COVID-19. But they are here, they are booking tickets, and we are delighted.

It’s obvious that it’s an audience festival. But are you planning to have more world premieres in the future?
We have some great filmmakers, but we don’t have a big market or many distributors buying new films. We don’t have the capacity to build an industry event, but there is a lovely informality about the festival, which plays really well with certain films. There is this sense of “real people” responding to them.

When it comes to world premieres, we don’t really care. Interestingly, though, we have more of them this year. I like to say that we don’t take world premieres unless we know we can do what’s right for the film, or that we won’t establish a competition section for fiction features until we know we can do it well – and not just because it might look good in our press release.

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