Home Interviews BDE interview: Docs Ireland Head of Industry Roisín Geraghty

BDE interview: Docs Ireland Head of Industry Roisín Geraghty

The Flats at Docs Ireland. Photo includes Joe McNally with Freedom the dog (right) and director Alessandria Celesia (centre back). Photo credit: Jim Corr Photography.

“Docs Ireland is an all-island documentary festival in Ireland,” Industry Head Roisín Geraghty underlined to BDE on the eve of the event’s 6th roll-out (and the 5th Industry presentation). “I think in itself that’s quite unique…and it’s certainly the only industry focused documentary festival,” she adds, acknowledging the qualities of other Irish film festivals such as Galway Fleadh but whose offer is more fiction-oriented.

“I am a bit of a cross-border representative for Docs Ireland because I am based in the Republic,” adds Geraghty who also heads up Industry at the Cork FF. “But in terms of the film program, the wider festival and Industry, we really just want to support, nurture and foster the island of Ireland industry, particularly its emerging filmmakers.”

In realising this core objective to facilitate the production of local non-fiction works, Geraghty’s Industry programme oversees festival initiatives such as Project Marketplace and the Northern Ireland Screen Pitch, and year-round creative programmes that include the likes of IGNITE-Docs run in collaboration with the Cork Film festival, which is designed to “foster a new generation of Irish documentary filmmakers from the north and south of Ireland.”

On the UK mainland, she partners with Screen Skills, Doc Society, the Scottish Documentary Institute and Screen Alliance Wales on the UK-wide Producing Truth training programme, focused on “building core production and business skills, confidence and a support network for independent producers working on documentaries outside of commercial structures.”

Further afield Geraghty bangs the bodhran* for collaboration on Irish docs with events such as Cannes Docs, IDFA and the Czech East Doc Platform.

After this year’s DocPoint Helsinki focus on Irish documentary, the Industry Head is reciprocating with a ‘Spotlight On The Nordics’ programme in Belfast, which will look to foster and facilitate co-pro activity between local and Scandi producers and institutions, and will be attended by representatives and speakers from Swedish Film Institute, Finnish Film Foundation, SVT, Nordisk Panorama, DR Sales and others.

The DocPoint Helsinki experience in January 2024 was both fruitful and instructive, Geraghty underlines. “We hope to continue partnering with [international] festivals because there’s so much brilliant documentary being made in Ireland. Putting together these kind of programmes for us is really easy and it’s really brilliant to bring the work to international festivals,” she says. “But we were treated so well by the festival [DocPoint] and it was really interesting to get some insights into the Finnish and Nordic documentary infrastructure…It feels like the Nordics do have a great system in place for creative documentary.”

June 22 sees the Northern Ireland Screen Development Pitch at Docs Ireland, presented in collaboration with Northern Ireland Screen and offering one of six project teams £9,000 towards a pilot for a doc feature. Previous winners are The Unrest Collective by Lia Campbell (2023), They Say it is Love by Roisin Agnew (2022), Asking For It by Grace Sweeney (2021), The Last Balkan Cowboy by Dragana Jurisic (2020) and Myrid Carten’s No Place Like Home (2019). 

No Place like Home [working title] went on to be funded by Screen Ireland, Doc Society, the Netherlands Film Fund and New Dawn – and Northern Ireland Screen was the first funder to back the project through the Northern Ireland Screen pitch. That film is now finished and about to go out to festivals. So it’s exciting to see,” says Geraghty.

The festival’s Marketplace programme offers up 34 Irish, UK and international projects to the great and the good of the international sales, broadcast, distribution and festival sectors including Autlook, BBC Alba, BBC NI, CAT&Docs, Cinetic Media, Conic Films, Dogwoof, Dokufest Kosovo, DR Sales, Film Harbour, INDOX Films, Java Films, Lightdox, Met Film Sales, Nordisk Panorama, POV, S4C, Sarajevo International Film Festival, SBS, Sundance Film Festival, SVT, Swedish Film Institute, SWR, TG4, Thessaloniki International Documentary Festival, True/False, and Wildcard Distribution.

Geraghty is particularly enthusiastic about the In Real Life: Giving Your Doc A Life programme presented at Docs Ireland 2024, run by Irish filmmaker Luke McManus. “Luke put together a really successful Irish documentary a couple of years ago called North Circular, which travelled really widely internationally, and it’s a brilliant film, but Luke had to work incredibly hard to get that film seen. So I guess he’s taking the expertise and everything that he learned from his own experience and sort of incorporating it into this real-life event. It’s all about getting your film seen, and we’re really thrilled that we’re going to be presenting that workshop as part of Docs Ireland.”

One of Geraghty’s mild regrets every year is that time spent overseeing Industry means less time watching new Irish docs during the festival.

Nevertheless, she flags up some her favourites from this year, not least the opening film The Flats by Alessandra Celesia in which Joe, a resident of a near-derelict council estate in Belfast, decides to re-enact traumatic memories of his childhood in a strife-ridden city. The project was presented at the Docs Ireland market in 2019 before the onset of Covid, after which its completion was delayed. When it returned to the market in 2023, it was spotted by CPH:DOX programme head Mads Mikkelsen who selected it for his festval’s main competition in 2024, where it won top prize. 

“Obviously the film got into CPH:DOX on its own merit, but it’s very nice for us to know that they met Mads at Doc Ireland, and I suppose after these many years we’re finally starting to see how we’ve been able to support projects.”

The world is highly conflicted right now, as evidenced by the conflicts in Ukraine, Gaza and on the Azerbaijan/Armenian border, but thankfully The Northern Ireland ‘Troubles’ are, in great part, a thing of the past, and a film such as The Flats is “looking at the legacy [of The Troubles] and its effects,” rather than directly retelling the history, Geraghty argues.

Another such Docs Ireland selection that reflects on this dark period in Ireland’s recent history is Roisin Agnew’s The Ban, about the Broadcasting Ban imposed by outlets such as the BBC in the 1990s, and its effects on freedom of speech. The ban saw the words of prominent politicians such as Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams dubbed by actors.

“It does feel like they [docs about The Troubles] are kind of evolving. There’s obviously incredibly important films that have been made about the hunger strikes or the various horrendous things that happened during The Troubles, but it feels like there’s a lot more different kinds of films that are being made now, The Flats and The Ban being two examples.”

Geraghty further explains what will constitute a successful Industry event for her and colleagues. “It’s the sixth festival, it’s the fifth marketplace. For me, engagement is so important – that we engage with the industry and that they come to the festival and again and engage with the island of Ireland projects and UK projects that are being presented at our market. And success for me is these films being made.”

“Obviously all the films are never going to be made, but tracking the films and seeing how they do after our market [is important],” she adds. “A project like This Is A Quiet Love was a real highlight for me last year, working with those filmmakers. And obviously they have gone onto much success in pitching that film over the last year [such as winning the Sunny Side of the Doc Global Issues Pitch Award 2023].”

“I also really want the international industry delegates that come to the festival to enjoy their time in Belfast because the festival is so rooted in the city, and people tend to know maybe just one aspect of the city,” Geraghty continues. “But it’s a fascinating place with really wonderful people. And my general experience is that most of the international industry delegates that come to the festival really love it and are impressed with the quality of projects that are presented in our market and with the Irish films that are presented in the program. So more of that is what I’m hoping for this year.”

*a bodhran is a flat Irish drum