Lights, camera, Achill



Island to host its first film festival next month

Oisín McGovern

ALL the CGI and special effects in Hollywood Studios could never recreate a setting like Achill Island. From the majestic Meenaune Cliffs and the ghostly Deserted Village to the heavenly Atlantic Drive and God’s own hand sculpture in Keem Bay, this great western kingdom is less like something out of film and more like something out of another dimension.
It is little surprise then that the great and the good of Irish film have set foot on her sacred soil recently.
Last year Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson and Barry Keoghan all crossed the bridge at Achill Sound to film ‘Banshees of Inisherin’, written and directed by Martin McDonagh. Also being filmed on the island was Finnish film, ‘My Sailor, My Love’, which tells the story of a retired sea captain who falls in love with his home aid, despite his daughter’s disapproval.  
Farrell and his colleagues weren’t the first stars to film on the island, and probably won’t be the last. With festivals like Scoil Acla, Heinrich Böll and Achill International Harp Festival already to its name, Achill continues to punch above its weight as an arts and cultural destination.
This year, from May 20, the island will be hosting its own film festival for the very first time. For one weekend only, a taste of Hollywood will be coming to Mayo with The Achill Island Film Festival, which will feature film premieres, workshops, free screenings and panel discussions with working producers, actors and film crew.
Five venues across the island will play host to a wide variety of events while patrons enjoy the island’s scenery, food, music and culture.
Ticket sales and bed booking indicate a fair crowd will be journeying west for a festival that has had over 200 submissions from 17 different countries, including a world premiere of ‘Secrets of The Basking Shark’, which was filmed in Achill where these gentle giants swim. Among those travelling from afar are the makers of ‘Kilbanetown Comeback’ – a documentary about local boxing legend Johnny Kilbane – who are flying from America for the European premiere.
Festival Director Emily O’Callaghan is the driving force behind the Achill Island Film Festival. She hopes that this event will becoming an annual gathering for film enthusiasts looking to escape to the west.

Growing up in Rathmines in Dublin, Emily was a frequent visitor to Achill through her mother’s family connections in Keel and Currane.
It was during these visits that she developed a grá that inspired her to organise a festival that will showcase the west of Ireland to film enthusiasts across the world.
“There’s a big contrast for me between Dublin and Achill,” she tells The Mayo News via a Zoom call from her parent’s house in Currane.
“Especially now, because Dublin, unfortunately, seems to becoming more of a hotel-building Mecca and it’s losing all of its wonderful, cultural places.
“There’s an understanding down here that hospitality is important, and that it matters how the person feels as they’re leaving, whereas sometimes in Dublin you can kind of feel a little bit dismissed, I think.”
Over the years, numerous camera lenses have been cast upon the cliffs,  mountains, valleys and beaches of Ireland. ‘Star Wars’, ‘Saving Private Ryan’, ‘The Field’ and ‘The Quiet Man’ are just a sample of the pictures that have drawn Hollywood royalty to our emerald shores.
Still, Emily believes that many eyes have yet to be laid upon the west.
“Within Ireland in the film industry, the main spots are Belfast, Wicklow and Dublin. The West has not, I believe, been fully explored in terms of locations, in terms of showing off the beauty,” she says.
“On one hand that’s a really wonderful thing. And on the other hand, it means there’s so much more to explore and to show when filming in Ireland.” The two pictures that were shot in Achill last year did not fully capture every landmark on the island, she says.
“They shot a lot of beautiful views and places, but they actually didn’t get to everything. There’s so many places here that haven’t been seen on film.”

Intimacy, friendliness
She says that Achill Island Film Festival offers ‘an adventure’, where attendees can enjoy a variety of events while exploring parts of the island that haven’t been captured by camera lenses.
Small festivals like this also provide an intimacy and friendliness that extravaganzas like Electric Picnic lost many years ago.
“It’s like having a mini-community for the weekend, and my hope is that you get to talk to people that you wouldn’t ordinarily meet,” Emily says.
While some events will be ticketed, there will be plenty of free activities that will allow actors, directors, producers and screenwriters to mix, mingle and network in a casual, non-corporatised setting.
“There won’t be VIP areas, there won’t be roped off areas, there won’t be exclusive spots. This is for everyone.”
Emily cites the success of Fastnet Film Festival in Schull as something she and fellow organisers, Vincent English and Shannon Corrigan, would like to replicate. And with such a stunning backdrop, the stars – real and silver screen – look likely to align.

The inaugural Achill Island Film Festival runs from May 20 to 22. Tickets are available on Eventbrite.