The Halloween Bank holiday in Clones is synonymous with the annual film festival which has long been enlivening the border down and its hinterlands over October bank holiday weekends. This year was no exception as the ‘best little Film Festival ‘in the country and was celebrating its twentieth birthday and marked the event with the usual fantastic programme of screenings, special events, musical interludes, and of course the addition of obligatory birthday cake.

Happy film buffs arriving

Festival chairperson Seamie McMahon kicked off proceedings on opening night by thanking the main funders of the event over the last two decades – Monaghan County Council and The Arts Council of Ireland. Without the ongoing support of these organisations the festival could not have happened. Pivotal too, were the host of local sponsors, businesses big and small who have continued to support the festival through good years and bad. Central among them have been Clones Credit Union, Adamson’s Bar, Supervalu, and First Choice Utility Options. Seamie pointed out that most important to the long term success of the festival have been the local community who have showed up each year to enjoy the screenings and events and who have made the whole project so worthwhile.

Acknowledging the work of the festival committee and the volunteers who help out over the course of the weekend, Seamie also paid tribute to the founders of the festival “those who back in 2002 who had the vision to conceptualise this event and the grit to get it off the ground. Harry Cleary and James Sheerin, Larry and Gilly Fogg, Cynthia Stewart, Siobhan Sheerin and Stephen McKenna deserve a huge ‘thank you ‘for bringing cinema back to Clones and lighting the spark that continues to burn today.”

Opening night saw the screenings of some of the 50 films co-produced by Clones Film Festival over the past twenty years including ‘Moonman’ by the Gulpins, ‘Senex’ by Little Warrior Films, ‘Moustache’ also by Little Warrior Films, ‘The Fag’ by A whole handlin’ production and ‘Autumn Elegy’ by Padraig Conaty.

On Friday evening a full capacity audience attended the courthouse cinema for ‘Wings over Carn’, an interactive evening of discussion, poetry and music performance. Audience and guests alike spent an intimate evening exploring the meaning of cinema and the magic of iconic movie moments. Hosted by BAFTA short listed editor Fergal McGrath and featuring music by Larry Beau guests for this sell- out event included director Julien Temple, poet Ted McCarthy, broadcaster and journalist Victoria Mary Clarke, actor Dai Bradley, director Philip Doherty and writer Pat McCabe

The younger contingent always enjoys the festival and the programme this year had plenty to interest them. Saturday and Sunday morning shows were ‘Reya and the Last Dragon ‘and ‘Ron’s gone wrong ‘respectively. Both were packed to capacity and proved very popular with the younger viewers. The festival committee was particularly delighted to welcome some youthful patrons from St Patrick’s Direct Provision in Monaghan who came to the Saturday morning show and were very enthusiastic and insightful movie goers! Other features such as Ken Loach’s classic ‘Kes ‘which was introduced by Dai Bradley who plays

Billy Casper in the film, and the Irish language ‘Róise and Frank ‘were also a draw for some of the younger patrons.

Bringing international film to a local audience is one of the primary objectives of the film festival and the programme delivered in spades this year. ‘The Worst Person in the World ‘by Joachim Trier featured a fantastic performance by Renate Reinseve in an invigorating and fresh take on the romance drama. ‘Hit the road’ by Panah Panahi which played to a full house, was a wonderfully engaging film about the difficult choices a family in Iran must make to stay safe and is particularly resonant given the current political turmoil in that country. ‘Quo Vadis Aida?’ was a thoroughly absorbing and staggeringly moving depiction of the massacre in Srebrenica, and ‘Nitrum ‘by Justin Kurzel was a riveting exploration of the unravelling of an erratic young man and his decent into violence and destruction.

There was plenty of Irish Language films on the programme, including ‘Róise and Frank ,’ ‘Beart Bunting’ by Deaglán Ó Mocháin and ‘An Cailín Ciúin’. All of these were well attended and gave folks a good chance to brush up on their Gaelige while enjoying great films. Indeed, thanks to ‘Muineachán Le Gaeilge bringing their pop-up Gaeltacht to the town on Saturday evening, patrons could continue to practice their Irish and discuss their viewing while enjoying some refreshment in Adamson’s bar!

Documentaries which attracted a lot of interest included ‘Crock of Gold: A Few Rounds with Shane McGowan’ directed by Julien Temple and examining the development of legendary musical icon Shane McGowen, ‘Border 1921-2021 A Centennial Calibration ‘By Darrach McDonald and ‘Lyra ‘directed by Alison Millar. The latter was a special preview of an intimate documentary about the life and death of the extraordinary Lyra McKee a journalist who was murdered while covering the riots in Creggan in 2019. Closing night was as usual “Francie’s Night “with the return of the Clones Film Festival short film competition. The judges this year were author, stylist, and DJ Aoife McElwain, visual artist, cinematographer and educator Colm Mullen and director Frank Shouldice. The winner in the Short Documentary category was Jonathan Harden for ‘Eamon’, while Dudi David Dorham scooped the award for ‘Craters ‘in the Fiction/Experimental category and Pawel Kleszczewski and Kasia Zimnoch were once again winners with their Short Animation ‘In the beginning was water ‘. The audience award went to the Clones Film Festival commissioned film which premiered on closing night. This year the script chosen for development was ‘The Talk ‘a coming out story which chronicles the conversation between stanchly unionist Dennis and his gay son Barry. Written and directed by Jonathan Hughes this film had the audience in stitches of laughter and was a well-deserved winner!

The festival weekend is never complete without some music to entertain and invigorate film goes between films.

The box office in the Old Post Office was the venue for some very chilled out musical interludes during the weekend afternoons. There patrons enjoyed coffee and cake provided by Frances Brogan’s gorgeous pop-up coffee shop and some fabulous jazz and swing delights with Fiona Maria Fitzpatrick and Niamh Currid on Saturday. Sunday saw the return of’ Wellfield,’ who played their own original music to a very appreciative audience who needed little encouragement to join in the singing! The festival club was also up and running in its usual haunt in Adamson’s Bar where ‘Blu Tack and the Greenhorns’ got things off to a cracking start on Thursday night. Friday saw the incomparable Graninne Duffy sing the blues, while on Saturday it was the turn of ‘Beatroot ‘who had the place hopping.

On closing night, once again the’ Sing along social’ finished out the festival and inveigled everyone (including those who can’t dance or sing ) onto the dancefloor to belt out classics in group karaoke and dance until the small hours.

Another fabulous film festival, and the third decade of this brilliant Clones institution now in the planning…