When I was putting together a list of links for the Guth Gafa blog post today I came across an interview with UK filmmaker Kim Longinotto, who was a special guest at this year’s festival. In the interview she explains that she starts off with an a idea of what her next documentary is going to be and says it usually ends up being much bigger, much more life changing than she ever thought it could turn out. This is exactly how I felt about Guth Gafa!
It was my first time as a volunteer with the festival and while my expectations had been high before heading up to Gortahork (good news always travels fast), nothing could have prepared me for how brilliantly this weekend went. Seriously, 10 out of 10, and not just where the actual films are concerned. David and Neasa have really managed to build a community that is a very rare and magical thing to achieve. When we first got to Gortahork on Thursday and still had to decorate the place and prepare the venues I wondered how it would all pan out. But from the moment we welcomed the first filmmaker at the guest desk and people started pouring in, things just organically became this wonderful tapestry of ideas and goodwill, people meeting and sharing their thoughts, eating together, laughing and dancing.
There were so many memorable moments that if I strung them together they would surely reach all the way from Donegal to Dublin and possibly further. I had always loved documentaries but I don’t think I have ever been moved this much by them before. This has a lot to do with David, Neasa and the rest of the team setting the scene for experiences to unfold that are hard to replicate in a once off screening in a random urban cinema. The beautiful Donegal landscape and the generous spirit of the many different people who came together at Guth Gafa all helped to make this such a special weekend.
I had told a few of my friends about coming here and was glad some had decided to share it with me. At the same time it was brilliant to meet so many new people who felt like old friends after half an hour discussing film projects over a coffee. Having most of the filmmakers attend the festival was one of the many beautiful aspects of the festival. Almost every film was followed by a Q&A and as everything revolved around the Loch Altan hotel (or ‘L.A.’ as I dubbed it from day one) you would be able to just walk into the lobby and have a chat with a filmmaker from New York, Reykjavik or Edinburgh who were all incredibly approachable and generous about sharing their expertise.
I’ve been attracted to filmmaking as a medium for storytelling for a long time but have always felt a bit put off by the amount of technical skills, financial support and collaborators that seemed to be required. This weekend taught me that all these things will fall into place (sooner or possibly later!) if you follow your instinct and make a film about people or concepts that truly, truly mean something to you. The most moving stories on screen this weekend were those where the filmmaker or the main characters or both shared their own vulnerabilities and insecureties, which is really the greatest gift of trust anyone can give to another person. This trust and the enthusiasm for exploring the human condition was very infectious and cathartic and in turn inspired the audiences again and again to open up themselves and speak about their own, often extremely personal, experiences.
To call a festival group therapy might take it a bit far, but that’s what it really felt like on some level. I often get excited about events that touch me in some way, but have never felt quite this emotional at a festival for such an extended period of time. I could really be myself during this weekend and feel transformed in the most positive way possible. The most important themes of the festival for me were self-awareness, letting go of the past, embracing life, exploring memories and dreams, love, joy and forgiveness – pretty much all there is to learn in life. There is a book by Canadian author David Gilmour called ‘The Film Club’ in which he talks about allowing his teenage son to drop out of high school for a year and instead father and son watch three films per week together and discuss them. This weekend made me wonder about the value of the education we give our children and our adult selves. I think I learned more about film, and most importantly about life, in those couple of days than I did during all the years sitting at a desk in school and uni. If films and talking to people can have such a profound impact on people’s lives why are we bothering with the rest?
In the same interview I referred to earlier, Kim Longinotto also says: ‘Every time I go and make a film, I meet wonderful, wonderful people that I, sort of, fall in love with. It makes me feel good about being alive and about being a human being.’ That pretty much sums up what this weekend meant for me. If it was a documentary, there would be lots of wonderful characters in it. The amazing people I met, the emerging filmmakers excited to test and develop their ideas, the little Polish/Irish boy dancing to the trad music in the hotel lounge, the festival team that somehow made everything happen in a way that left everyone enough freedom to be spontaneous without losing sight of the overall project, Lucy the dog who was the ‘side show’ for a children’s event in the Parish hall, the brilliant bands at the festival club, the dancing somehow helped both to settle the many ideas of the day as well as shake our heads free from regrets of the past, our dream discussion in the Mongolian tent and the girl with the dolphin dream that came true, sleeping on the sofa of the hostel on the night after the party at David’s and Neasa’s because my friend had taken the room key with her to Dublin by mistake, the (partly quite emotional) drive back to Dublin with two other film fanatics (strangers before the festival) who I hatched at least two or three amazing projects with, which I’m going to follow up right after posting this, and last but not least at all, meeting Amy, Kim, Gabriel, Jan, John, Mika, Peter, Hana, Patricia, Liz and all the other film people who attended the festival for being so inspiring and so much fun to be around.
A huge thank you above all to Neasa and David for making this festival such a life changing experience for us participants. It somehow doesn’t come as a surprise that it is two filmmakers who made this extraordinary weekend happen, you’d need to have resilience and a special eye for envisioning this kind of event to unfold and they most definitely have that. Also thanks to Melanie for pulling me out of a shift at a screening at the right moment so I could talk to Kim for a minute before she left. And to all those of you who I met and shared a coffee, joke or film idea with. You are brilliant and really hope to keep in touch!
P.S. If you’re wondering which films I liked most at the festival just go to the Guth Gafa website and take your pick, the film choices were so spot on, you will not go wrong with any of the documentaries listed there. Having said that, Amy Hardie’s ‘The Edge of Dreaming’ is still holding my heart hostage and looking at the poster for her beautiful film on the wall opposite me now makes me really determined to keep writing about the things that move me most and the kind of people I most enjoy being around.