RICHARD COOKE is a man of many impressive hats. A founder and co-director of the Lisa Richards Agency, representing stage and screen talents, he is also the guiding light behind the Kilkenny Cat Laughs Comedy Festival and Kilkennomics.
His most recent venture is Subtitle, a festival of smash-hit European films, most of which have not been seen in Ireland before. Subtitle premiered in Kilkenny in November 2012 to great success and had its second outing in the same city just two months ago. Now it is hitting the road and bringing a showcase of nine of its most popular titles to Galway’s Town Hall Theatre from Friday January 31 to Sunday February 2.
The programme includes movies from Finland, Spain, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and Poland and embraces comedies, psychological thrillers, dramas, and biopics. Among the featured titles are the hilarious Spanish bachelor romp Cousinhood; Danish relationship comedy The Truth About Men; Swedish psychological drama Pure; and Poland’s The Suicide Room which blends live action and animation in a story of a young man who spends all his time in a cyber chatroom.
Popular films in a different language
Ahead of Subtitle’s Galway foray, Richard Cook took some time to talk about the festival. I asked what inspired him to set up the event.
“Through my work I found myself at quite a number of European film festivals and seeing really good films,” he replies. “I started to wonder why you couldn’t see these films in the cinemas in Ireland; these were films that were very successful in their own countries.
“Part of the problem is that Ireland and England are in the same sales territory, and that it is inevitably governed by a distributor-based system usually centred in London. So there were all these fantastic films that were very successful in their domestic countries but Irish audiences weren’t getting a chance to see them, unless it was at events like the Galway Film Fleadh or in arthouse cinemas.
“Also, Irish audiences 10 years ago would have associated subtitles with very intellectual or highbrow movies whereas now with the success of films like Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, and TV shows like Borgen and The Killing people are much more open to subtitled films.
“Bringing those two things together it occurred to me ‘Why not make a festival of accessible, stimulating films from Europe that haven’t been seen here but have been very successful in their own countries.’ Furthermore, one of the messages I am keen to get out there is that this is not a festival of arthouse European film, it’s a festival of popular European film that just happens to be in a different language from English.”
Are there any aspects of Subtitle that sets it apart from other festivals?
“One of the things that we look for in the work we show is that it’s actor-driven,” Cook declares. “All of the films that are showing in Galway feature really eye-catching performances. That is part of what we do at Subtitle which distinguishes it from other festivals.
“At most film festivals, what dominates the marketplace is producers and distributors, sales agents and exhibitors whereas at Subtitle we decided to put the talent at the centre of it - the actors, directors and writers, but focusing most on the actors. We put artists at the middle of Subtitle in terms of its focus and I’m proud of that.”
We love Scandinavia
More than half the films in the Subtitle programme come from Scandinavia, which has provided television with some of its most acclaimed series in recent years.
“There is a real confidence in film-making in those countries,” Cook observes. “I looked at the year-end figures for 2013 in Denmark and, quite extraordinarily, four of the country’s five top-grossing films were Danish. There are language reasons for that but it is still remarkable when you think there were Hollywood blockbusters out like The Hobbit and Iron Man 3 and they all were behind four Danish films which between them took over €29 million.
“I think that is indicative of a feeling of self confidence which is stimulated by the success of works like The Killing and Borgen. They’re confident that audiences internationally want to hear their stories and that in turn gives their domestic audience a sense of confidence in their film-makers. You can see that in the way in which people have flocked to see Danish film-making this year. Norwegian films have about 22 per cent of their domestic market and Sweden is about the same.”
Does Cook detect any traits that Scandinavian films have in common?
“They tend to have a sparseness about them which is really noticeable in their drama and thrillers in particular,” he notes. “The writing is very stripped down and pared back, they don’t overstate things so they don’t miss the beat. They hit the beat all the time.
“The tendency in a lot of films we see here and in the UK would have a lot of over-writing, a lot of flowery stuff but the way they construct films in Denmark allow sthem to really hit home emotionally.
“A lot of that is the seriousness with which they treat their training; if you are a young Danish film school graduate you will find yourself directing a bloc of The Killing 2 or The Killing 3 because they realise that’s how they will sustain their young talent and that’s a lesson that could be learned here.”
The Scandinavian strand includes Funny Man, a biopic of the renowned Danish comic and actor Dirch Passer.
“Anyone who’s interested in comedy will really identify with this film,” Cook asserts. “It’s the story of a man who is a naturally brilliant comedian and part of a double act. Emotionally and intellectually he wants to go down a certain path but what his audiences want and his partner in comedy don’t allow him to do that.
“It’s an extraordinary exploration of that, of a man’s desire for his talents and the expectations people have from him. It’s a fantastic movie, beautifully acted. Nikolaj Lee Kass, the leading actor, delivers one of the best performances I’ve seen in the last ten years, it’s extraordinary.”
Subtitle in the future
How does Cook see Subtitle developing in the years ahead?
“This will always be a European film festival, a world film festival would be too much, the festival would become too generalised and we want to establish a definite identity,” he replies.
“There are ways we can open out I believe. I think there is a huge opportunity for second chance viewing on popular films that have had a release here but were only around for a couple of weeks. Another possibility is looking at films from the past, we’ll look at doing that once we have a bit more mileage under our belt.
“What a lot of people are looking for is some sort of curatorial sense; in Subtitle if people don’t like a film they can come up to me or Holly Carey [Subtitle’s programme director] and debate it with us but our programme has been chosen by people not this big rolling machine you get in the major multiplexes that just pumps stuff out.”
Cook is looking forward to bringing the festival to Galway.
“I’m excited about going on tour and coming to Galway and am hopeful of the response we’ll get,” he says. “We’re opening with Finland’s biggest grossing comedy of all time, Lapland Odyssey and there’s a good selection of films overall, it’s a great rollercoaster. Hopefully it will become a regular event in Galway, as long as people want to see it we’ll be very happy to bring the festival here.”
Full details of Subtitle’s programme can be obtained from the Town Hall through www.tht.ie Tickets are available from the venue’s website and through 091 - 569777.