My Cultural Life: Bernie McLaughlin

Director of the Foyle Film Festival on Some Like It Hot, City of Culture 2013 and this year's festival programme

The 24th Foyle Film Festival begins November 23, with screenings scheduled to take place in the Nerve Centre and other cinemas. How many years have you been involved with the festival?

I first became involved when I did a Cinemanagement Course in the Nerve Centre way back in 1997. I had just finished a Masters Degree at Queen's University. That course included working on the Foyle Film Festival, and the Cinemagic Festival in Belfast.

My first real job with the Nerve Centre was managing and programming the Orchard Cinema. When the Nerve Centre moved into its new premises in Magazine Street, complete with its own cinema facility, it became the main venue for the Cinema Initiative. Work on that project also included continued involvement with the annual Foyle Film Festival, which is the flagship project of the Nerve Centre.

I programmed and organised the festival's stand alone education programme, and contributed in anything and everything as required. It is in the nature of a film festival that your role is never cut and dried. You always have to turn your hand to a bit of everything. I moved into programming the main festival when the existing programmer, Bronagh Corr-McNicholl, left her post. Then, when the festival director Shauna Kelpie left in 2007, I was just the last one standing.

No doubt you came to the top job with many new ideas and lots of energy. How do you keep up the enthusiasm and the creative juices flowing?

Taking on the festival director job was a progression rather than an absolute change, as I had been working on the festival in one form or another at that stage for ten years. Working on the festival has always been a challenge and I just enjoy the process of coming up with a theme, researching it, and then putting it all together... a bit like a jigsaw puzzle. It is hard work, but it's great when you see the completed programme.

I work closely with the Nerve Centre's graphic designer, John McCandless. John has also worked on the festival for many years, and so he knows instinctively what is required. He is responsible for the corporate identity of the festival. The technical staff at the Nerve Centre, headed by Mervyn Ramage, are also crucial to the success of the festival, providing all the technical skills. It would be difficult, if not impossible, for the festival to thrive the way it has over the last quarter of a century without that support.

No doubt you take inspiration from other film festivals. What festivals have you been to recently, and who/what did you see there?

I have attended the Berlin Film Festival a number of times, the London Film Festival, Galway, and Dublin. The Berlin Film Festival is amazing because the whole city gets behind the festival and supports it. It is a visable presence throughout Berlin leading up to and during the festival in February, and German audiences seem to embrace cinema as a very family orientated event. I did see Leonardo DiCaprio while in Berlin quite a few years back, but he was just a tiny spec on the stage because we were seated so far back. But it was still good to be a tiny part of it all.

When did you develop a love for cinema? Can you remember the film that first ignited a passion?

I cannot remember a precise moment when I realised a love for cinema, but guess it has always been a part of my life. I grew up watching old black and white films on TV on Saturday afternoons: Bette Davis being dramatic, and smoking and often dying onscreen, high emotions and high drama... those are the best films!

It's difficult to choose just one film, but if my life depended on it and I was forced to do so, then I would choose Some Like It Hot. It is the funniest film, and Jack Lemmon is probably my favourite actor of all time. The sight of Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon in a dress and high heels... there's nothing funnier.

Have you ever tried your hand at producing?

Have never even thought of producing, to be honest. Not somethng that has ever crossed my mind as a career – not until I had to answer this question, in fact!

If they were to make a film of your life, who would direct, who would write the screenplay, who would score the film and who would play you?

God, cannot think of anything worse and more boring than a film about my life. There are too many interesting people out there leading fascinating lives. So it would never happen, and I am happy enough about that.

When I'm happy, I watch The Royal Tenenbaums. When I'm angry I watch Scarface. And Sideways always makes me want a glass of wine. What are your 'mood movies' that you return to time and again?

My happy film is Some Like It Hot – makes me laugh every time. My sad film would be Ponette, a French language film about a young girl coming to terms with the death of her mother. Great natural performances from the young cast, and just so poignant.

City of Culture 2013 is fast approaching. Will cinema play a part in the festivities in Derry~Londonderry?

The Foyle Film Festival has been a cultural staple for the last 24 years, and cinema is such a popular medium that I am sure it will play a huge part in the City of Culture celebrations. As the festival is Oscar affiliated through its Light In Motion (LIM) Awards, then it is an ideal platform to highlight the talents of local film-makers, and also to attract international film talent to the city.

What are the stand out events at the this year's festival?

There are so many, but definitely Brendan Gleeson and Terry George attending this year's event is hugely exciting. Both men are so talented and have been great ambassadors for the island of Ireland.

The theme of the festival this year is On Film: Events That Shook The World, and as well as marking the tenth anniversary of 9/11, the programme tackles other significant local and international events.

Among the themed events in this year's programme is the poignant documentary JFK: The Day The Nation Cried, which looks back at the remarkable life of a beloved President, whose untimely death occurred 48 years ago this month.

Then there is Jimmy McGovern's Emmy-nominated drama Sunday, which should also be a highlight of the festival. It follows the events of the fateful day in 1972 when British Paratroopers shot dead 14 unarmed civilians during a civil rights march on the streets of Derry.

The festival opens with the Northern Ireland Premiere of The Artist, a contemporary movie paying homage to the Golden Age of silent film, and to Tinseltown in the 1920s. Shot in black and white, The Artist does what the medium of film does best by giving the audience a magical step back in time to a romantic bygone era.

And we continue to support emerging young talent through the CCEA Moving image Arts Awards. We have found that the quality of entries from schools has improved dramatically over the years. We are pleased to be able to support this and to foster the skills and imagination of the pupils, the film makers of the future.

The Foyle Film Festival runs from November 23 – 27. Full listings and film trailers in What's On listings.