Grainne Humphreys

Source: DIFF

Grainne Humphreys

The Dublin International Film Festival (DIFF) opens today (February 22) with the world premiere of Irish filmmaker Marian Quinn’s anti-war epic Twig. 

It is the first in a programme crammed with local voices for which festival director says there is growing audience appetite. 

“We started out as a film festival that wanted to bring films that weren’t being shown in Ireland to Dublin,” Humphreys explains. “Now, a lot of what we’re doing is allowing audiences to see films from filmmakers who live here. It’s about representation and visibility.”

International talent are still a key part of festival buzz, with UK-born, Netherlands-based12 Years A Slave filmmaker Steve McQueen and French star Isabelle Huppert both in attendance to receive Volta career achievement awards.

Humphreys has been working at DIFF since 2007. Venues for this year’s edition include The Lighthouse Cinema, the Irish Film Institute and a new industry hub, in arts centre The Complex.

She talks to Screen about changing audience habits, this year’s anticipated titles and avoiding festival burnout.

What are the must-see films from this year’s programme?

What’s really interesting is patterns of sales and buying patterns [for festival screenings] have changed and continue to change. If I do look back on the initial years of working at DIFF, there were films that you knew would sell out, and they aren’t the same as the ones that sell out now. To me, it’s fascinating. You make decisions about cinemas, choices and slots based on what you think are your infallible programming instincts, and then the great general public comes out. There’s been a move to local – Irish features are extremely busy, waiting lists, people getting het up [about not getting tickets], which is kind of nice.

Evil Does Not Exist and Monster – there are those ones, you could put them on at midnight, and the audience would be there. The French films, a decade ago, would have sold out really fast, but not so much anymore. Docs are doing really well – Kevin MacDonald’s John Galliano doc [High & Low: John Galliano].

We’ve done so much work on audience development over the summer, and the one thing they all want, and I shared this with Allison [Gardner, Glasgow Film Festival director], is the more time you can give us the better. So we went a full four weeks between [programme] launch and opening night.

What is behind the shift in audience tastes?

Irish cinema has had a huge visibility at the moment, which is great, and there’s a huge explosion in production – a combination of both the work of Screen Ireland and the Arts Council.

We have less [US] studio films than we would have had before. That’s probably to do with the change in the Oscar, Bafta corridor. That’s meant we’ve had space to bring in more standalone, arthouse pieces. But it also means we’ve lost that somewhat starry, studio, big name flashy title that goes into the press release.

What are some of your industry-facing events?

We’re bringing in sales agents [Claudio Corsetti, acquisitions manager from Media Luna New Films] and programmers from other festivals for panels. We have a big line-up of people coming from Karlovy Vary, San Sebastian, Guadalajara, Munich. We’ve done a big focus on programming – we did something in lockdown, where we set up an Irish film programmers network, and we would meet every month. We’ve stayed in touch – the idea is we want to do something so people get a sense of learning from each other.

Why was the African season important to do for this edition?

Being in Cannes, and seeing the numbers of films there, like Banel & Adama, like Goodbye Julia [both screening at DIFF], and going wow, maybe this is the time. We’re working with Justine Atkinson [of Aya Films, a distributor with a track record of releasing African films in the UK, whose slate includes DIFF title Omen], we’ve got Hounds. Some of it is perfect timing. We have a really interesting dynamic in our screening team, where we have a number of programmers with an interest in African cinema.

What is your intended audience for Dublin?

I have to confess, the season ticket holders and cinephiles are always in my head. We all know them. They are important, but I suppose the other side to it is I do think there is a visibility argument where you have to put on things and try and go the audiences that wouldn’t normally come. A festival has a bigger chance to do that then cinemas.

We are for the people of Dublin, we have an audience award, we’re trying to ensure our ticket prices are at a level that people can experience the festival. We have a 5% allocation for all screenings, and we work with the filmmaker to see if they would like those tickets to go to a particular group.

Where does your funding come from?

We made the decision a couple of years ago to step back from our title sponsor [Virgin Media Ireland from 2019-2022]. We made that for a number of reasons. We were very conscious that there is a dynamic around creating an art event, and sometimes the Dublin part was something we wanted to put more of a profile on. We have funding from the Arts Council [of Ireland] and Screen Ireland, and they are our industry partner and core funder. We have brought in some partners, we’re delighted we have [drink brand] Tanqueray 0.0%, and we have a wonderful array of patrons, people like Adam McKay, Kenneth Branagh, and I don’t think would have happened if we had stayed in our previous model.

It’s a balance – we’ve shortened the festival and reduced the number of screenings, that was something we were beginning to start evaluating pre-pandemic, and that was around the idea of what we could do with the size of budget and staff we had. There is a lot of burnout in the [festival teams] area. We addressed that, we changed our own internal structure, to make sure that pressure is managed.