Shona McCarthy recalls fondest memories of the Foyle Film Festival

Shona McCarthy was the Foyle Film Festival Director from 1995 to 1998 and she took time out of her busy schedule to remember her first time working in Derry, while fondly recalling her time spent on the Foyle Film Festival.

Monday, 13th November 2017, 2:43 pm
Updated Tuesday, 12th December 2017, 7:29 am
Bernie McLaughlin, Foyle Film Festival Director/Programmer and Eamonn McLaughlin from Brunswick Moviebowl launch the festival's 30th anniversary programme on Derry's Peace Bridge. The Foyle Film Festival will showcase more than 100 films, including 55 feature films as well as 70 shorts from some 23 countries, in three main venues across the city from November 17 to 26. .

Some of my best memories are from my time as Director of Foyle Film Festival, writes Shona McCarthy.

Of course I loved the job and worked with great people, but I also bought my first home in Derry, and became pregnant with the first of my two wonderful daughters.

Some of the most inspiring people in the film industry joined us at Foyle Film Festival and always talked about how much they enjoyed the intimacy of the Festival and the welcome of the city.

Images that bubble to the surface and make me smile - watching men and women weep over the beauty and charisma of Julie Christie.

Chatting with Stephen Frears over an afternoon Guinness in a wee pub at Portsalon beach in Donegal. Picking Brenda Blethyn up at the airport in my beat up Ford and having to ask her to hold the broken rear view mirror in place if she wanted me to drive her in to the city safely. She roared laughing, it broke the ice, she was at the Oscars nominated for Secrets and Lies just after.

Danny Boyle and Andrew McDonald attempting an ice-breaking session with bean bags with young joy-riders in Belfast and when that failed to impress, blowing their minds with a sneak preview of the phenomenal Trainspotting. A Derry mammy giving marital advice to Ken Brannagh in Badgers bar: “Love, you should never have left Emma.” Jimmy McGovern and Ronan Bennett and Jimmy Nesbitt, Ros Hubbard and Paul McGann and many many more.

Seeing Julie Christie cross the Guildhall Square as the snow started to fall and Marty Melarkey trying to shelter her from the kids throwing snowballs from the walls. A Zhivago moment for sure. The vulnerability of that same star in her anxiety about wanting to fully represent the brilliance of the film that she was introducing, Don’t Look Now.

And then seeing Julie Christie relaxed enough at our Festival to be dancing with Roddy Doyle at the closing party. That was a good closing party.

I remember loving both the faded grandeur and the madness of trying to work in the Orchard Cinema, still owned by the Catholic Church, led by the formidable Father Con, and hoping that Willie the projectionist would keep the movies in focus. And the church then giving us permission to run the venue as a cinema all year round.

And Derry itself was responsible for some inspirational film-makers whose work I had the privilege of programming and listening to the makers share their stories with gripped audiences.

I was also introduced to the brilliant Derry women who played such an important part and paved the way for women in the film industry in Ireland, Margo Harkin and Anne Crilly.

I remember the tour de force that is Leila Doolin landing into the Foyle Film Festival offices one day with a box load of brochures for the first Cinemobile screenings across Derry and Donegal.

She had personally drove them in the boot of her car and carted them up three flights of stairs to ensure that we’d help spread the word.

I was more than delighted to oblige, this woman was Chair of the Irish Film Board and was gonna be sure that things got done. Some woman.

The Foyle Film Festival itself has a history of women producers and programmers from Margaret Gallagher, myself and Shauna Kelpie and over many years now nurtured and developed by the curatorial skill of the lovely Bernie McLaughlin.

On a personal level, I fell in love with Derry. A city of intellect and interest and political awareness. A small city that can see how the local is universal, whose politicians can inspire and disappoint in equal measure.

I will finish as I started, it will always be a special place to me. I conceived my first daughter there, bought my first home there, had the best child-minders ever there - the McMonagles, had the best laughs there, in later years I met Bobby, my partner, there, and, though I didn’t know it then, my time at Foyle Film Festival paved the way for me to be welcomed back to lead the City of Culture.

For programme and booking information visit or call the festival box office on 028 7126 0562.