Guth Gafa has always found dramatic venues for the festival – the largest and oldest independent documentary festival in Ireland. The much-indented coastline of Donegal has played host to Guth Gafa first in the picturesque hamlet of Gortahork and then on a chocolate-box village green in Malin Head. It’s a very different ambiance from fests in the big cities: gigs like IDFA in Amsterdam, Dublin and Galway have their own energy but the scale of Guth Gafa has always meant an intimate bond between directors, festival moderators and the punters. We’ve had audiences follow us across the country because they’ve experienced the unique charm and fellowship that Guth Gafa generates. Couples have come together during the festival, got married, and continue to see the annual film extravaganza as part emotional pilgrimage reminding them of their early days.
Our move to Headfort School was also an important phase in Guth Gafa’s history – the historic building gave the festival a grand context with the mythology of the estate and its previous owner, the eccentric Lord Headfort adding to the mystique. But the physical setting is only part of the magic – the team who make Guth Gafa come from every field imaginable: filmmakers, psychologists, artists, writers, educators from all over the world arm-wrestle over the submissions for months to bring a properly curated program to life. It’s all about excavating themes that occur naturally in today’s society and the explosion of documentary making has meant that we’re spoilt for choice: thousands of films are made each year on subjects that sometimes defy classification – it’s a wondrous mix of art, science, biographies, and the natural world used as vehicles for very human stories. This year the themes explored are climate and the rise of youth power – a chilling reminder of the twelve years scientists tell us we have left to save the planet and the young cadre who are risking all to do just that.
Kells is the new chapter in the Book of Guth Gafa – a move to Kells Town with new opportunities in a stunning venue. The deconsecrated Nuns’ Chapel, long unoccupied will ring with the soundtracks of various histories and stories as filmmakers from around the world fill the space with secular parables and revelations respecting the space as a fount of creativity and wisdom , past and present. It surely is a beautiful building with huge volume and presence – ideal for cinema. And it’s within this amazing space that the magic of Guth Gafa will happen: the films are only part of the experience because each year the festival brings directors, cinematographers editors and subjects of the docs to participate in Q&A’s, round table discussions and actual problem-solving workshops around the issues. Being in such a forum one can ask a director, ‘How on Earth did you film that swarm of locusts?’… ‘ Did the young refugee ever return to her village?’ The directors are always generous with their backstories, artistic commentaries and technical advice to other filmmakers who join in. It is the closest one can get to these world famous filmmakers to ask probing questions, debate the themes and marvel at the critical artistic mass assembled. This year, amongst other guests we have Swarna Lakshmi, Prime Minister of the Indian National Children’s Parliament, who features in the film Power To The Children. She’s a dynamic force in the devolution of decision-making to local, and more importantly to young governing structures. Ken Ward is another guest this year, the subject of The Reluctant Radical, a film that examines climate politics and the toll stress takes on activists.
Having the festival right in the town this year will link the film activities to commercial enterprises in Kells and boost income for hotels, eateries, car hire and the like. The weekend will hopefully entrench itself on the Kells calendar and expand the Friends of Guth Gafa network that has proved so dynamic in the past. With a large mailing list the network has connected not only film fans to the festival but individual supporters with one another in a mutually beneficial arrangement.
The festival directors would like to thank all the Kells folk who supported Guth Gafa last year at Headfort and look forward to welcoming you this year – in the town, for what promises to be the finest edition of our thirteen year history.