By Michelle Newman
When we caught up with Jayne Foley back in March, it was only a couple of days after the Fresh Film Festival, and she was resting up after what was another busy, but successful, year.
Jayne, who was born in London but moved to Limerick when she was five, studied art in college and works as a teacher – which she ‘loves’ - when she’s not running the festival.
Now in its 22nd year, the festival – which is the brainchild of Jayne herself – has gone from strength to strength since it’s humble beginnings over two decades ago.
“I was always very interested in film and then when I finished my degree and did teacher training, I suppose I was interested in young people as well and working with young people,” says Jayne noting that once upon a time she was involved with the Limerick Film Festival ‘which didn’t last very long.’
“I decided to run the young person’s part of that and the first event we did after that was called the Irish Schools Video Competition. We sent out application forms to the second level schools and we got 50 entries back which we were really surprised at,” she says, which showed them that the interest from budding filmmakers across Ireland was out there.
“It was a very different landscape back then, there was no digital or anything it was much harder,” says Jayne adding that now kids have lots of platforms and social media outlets on which they can express themselves, options which weren’t around all those years ago. Yet, the content the received continues to be just as relevant in 2018.
“Those 50 films we got were really diverse, some of them were on issues that we still see today; bullying, body image, they’re very common and they haven’t changed in 22 years. We got a lot of films about teen pregnancy in the early days, we don’t tend to get those at all now,” says Jayne. “So, it is quite interesting I think.”
The Irish Schools Video Competition cemented the need for young people to have a space in the film industry all for their own, and Jayne and her team grew the festival around that. The aim was to build the festival around young people, for their benefit, choosing films which they could relate to and holding film related workshops which they could attend. The competition has now been given a new moniker - Ireland’s Young Filmmaker of the Year – and runs in conjunction with the Fresh Film Festival.
“One of our first workshops was crash editing, where you would be able to shoot and edit as you go, on the camera, which is a great skill [to have]. Now, you have so much choice and sometimes when you had to be very paired back with it, it was good learning,” Jayne says.
“We were really lucky in that the late John Hunt, who was a great, great supporter of so many arts organisations in Limerick city, gave us funding for three years out of his own pocket because he really believed in it,” she says. “After we started to get funding from the Arts Council, so form that point we were kind of up and running really.
“I suppose we really had to change with the times and as we’ve gone on as well but the core aim has never changed and that’s just been about encouraging young people to make film.”
Jayne says this is one of the most ‘special’ elements of the entire festival; giving these young filmmakers the opportunity to screen their films in an audience of their peers and gauge their reactions to what unfolds in front of them.
“The reaction is such an important part of your film, that they laugh at the right bits, are they quite all the way through because they feel something, that’s very special.”
Some well-known Irish filmmakers, such as Dónal Foreman and Conor McMahon, all competed at the festival in years gone by and Jayne says their current filmmaking style mirrors their original content.
“Lots of [past entrants] are working in the industry, we see their names at the end of credits, the ones who did well went onto film school. Dónal Foreman has been with us since the age of 13 all the way up until the age of 18, making films every year. He’s just done his second feature which was on in the Dublin International Film Festival and he works in Tribeca,” she says.
“Conor McMahon [who] I think has made three or four feature films, all horror and that is what he entered with us. In the first ever Irish Schools Video Competition, he was there with Tales of Terror, which were a trilogy of horror films.”
The Fresh Film Festival has since grown into a year-round organisation, which also creates jobs and employment opportunities in the Limerick area.
“We are now in a position where we employ a good few people coming up to the festival, we have somebody working all year-round and that’s fantastic, I mean they’re jobs as well for people you know?” Jayne says. “Never underestimate young people, the stuff that they’re doing is just unbelievable.”
For more information on the Fresh Film Festival see Freshfilmfestival.net