By bus, it takes roughly two and a half hours and by car about an hour less to reach the village of Schull from Cork City. I can’t tell you how long it takes if you travel from further afield, but I imagine it’s long enough to acquaint yourself with many of the petrol pumps, ticket desks, luggage carousels and coffee machines that call this island nation ‘home’.
I mention this not as a complaint, but as a means to explain a rather strange phenomenon. It takes two and a half hours to arrive at the Fastnet Film Festival, but for all that a bus ticket will tell you that you are bound for Schull, which is only 100 or so kilometres from Cork City, upon arrival the feeling that one isn’t in Cork, perhaps not even in Ireland anymore, is hard to shake.
There’s nothing outwardly unusual about Schull. It’s a fishing village, small and picturesque. A few pubs, a hotel, a church. But by the time you’ve strolled the length of the main street, you can’t help wondering, if there isn’t something a little odd about the place? Something you can’t quite put your finger on. Bunting flaps gently in the breeze, you can smell the sea.
Schull is small, very small. A coastal petit fours. But its smallness cannot be described accurately in dimensional terms. Local. You don’t know the meaning of the word unless you’ve been to Schull during Fastnet. There, it transcends knowing the names of your neighbours or the owner of the local shop, they make it an art form. When bunting is stretched across streets from one building to another, flyers are sellotaped to windows running parallel and the same group of people wander continually from the pub, to the bookshop, to the community hall in the space of one afternoon, the village seems to thrum with delight.
Being a small festival, one might expect a predominantly national programme at Fastnet. A mix of local talent and highlights from across the Island. And on paper, that is exactly what you get. There are films that tell stories of the local and the national variety. But never ever in the way you might expect. The words ‘Irish film’ are stretched, twisted, and remodelled until you’re not even sure of their meaning anymore. The national films at Fastnet are made on a tiny island, sometimes they are shown on small screens and often they are made for minuscule budgets and yet, they are diaphanous. They speak volumes. They hold worlds within them.
This alone would be enough to set the Fastnet Film Festival apart, enough to set the cogs of your mind spinning, to bring to mind again that sudden thrill you felt as you arrived, the one that seemed to drift in on a sea breeze. And yet Fastnet goes further. The festival features films from Turkey, New Zealand, Australia, Iceland, India, Mexico, the USA, Canada, China, Singapore and the length and breadth of Europe.
But these are only words and they can never do justice to the vastness of Fastnet. Each year the festival expands itself in a way that cannot be marked on any map. Let me say simply, that you can travel immeasurably further in the festival’s dark, makeshift auditoriums than the distance indicated by the bus ticket, petrol money or boarding pass you used to reach them.
It seems an irreconcilable dichotomy, to be at once so tiny and so immense. But this is the magic of Fastnet. As each film programme ends, you rise up from your seat in the dark and head back outside, then blinking in the brightness you look back, unsure, behind you there is a tiny pub, the like of which you’ll find in any town in Ireland. You gasp. Only moments before, it had been a cinema.
Somewhere a wand is waved, there is a puff of smoke, a magic word drifts in on a cool sea breeze. This is a fairyland, where a pub can be a cinema, the global can be local and a village can be a screen.