The 30th Cinemagic Festival in Belfast this autumn presents unmissable opportunitiesfor young people with fantastic films, industry workshops and masterclasses to inspire the next generation of audiences and lmmakers. For many of those years Chief Executive, Joan Burney Keatings MBE has cast a spell over kids, making them dream big and realise that anything is truly possible if you believe…

Interview by Nadia Duncan

Q) It’s been an incredible 30 years for Cinemagic. How did it all begin?

The journey started in the middle of the troubles in Northern Ireland when a number of representatives from the film and media industry got together and thought it would be a great idea to use film as a way of bringing children from different backgrounds together in a safe environment, to open up discussion and build new friendships. Our ethos has always been to educate, inspire and motivate young people and over the last 30 years we have seen the charity go through huge transition and growth. We’ve now reached over 40,000 young people at all levels, from children at a very young age having their first cinema experience of watching a story unfold, to young people attending workshops and masterclasses with industry professionals – who may then even go to on to work on a professional feature film and gain their first credit on a movie. We work with ages four to 25 and there’s so many opportunities for anyone between those ages to try different things and learn about the creative industries. Even if it’s just to try  something new and unlock their creativity, discover where their talents lie, build up their confidence or find friends who have similar interests.

Q) The Cinemagic message has now been shared globally with international festivals in Dublin, London, France, New York and now in 2019, LA. Wow, how was that?

In June we took 13 young people from different schools across Northern Ireland to LA where they got the chance to work with pupils from local schools in various workshops –and attend an insightful Q&A with one of our patrons Colin Farrell. It was amazing for those kids to get a real flavour for the industry during their week’s stay. They got to visit HBO, Warner Bros., all the major studios to showcase the short films that they had made and talk about what they want to achieve. The support we have received has been incredible and I think we’ve worked with all the big movie studios there now. Equally invaluable though was the opportunity to meet like-minded people and explore all the possibilities that are out there for them in the future.

“We even have Oscar-nominees and BAFTA winners who started their movie careers with us!”

Q) To make that kind of impact on a child’s life, and future, is a huge achievement. Are there any other highlights over the last 30 years which really stand out?

We are so proud of the two feature films that we have produced in Northern Ireland and as a result of those many young people have gone on to find future employment in the industry. It’s incredible to be a part what some of them have gone on to achieve. Recently we hosted a musical theatre performance, the result of our summer camp, and for some of those kids to just stand up and sing their hearts out in front of an audience for the very first time is also an incredibly special moment for all of us. When I look back over the years at some of our crazy projects –from SoccerMagic to MusicMagic, to festivals all over the world – it’s just been an absolute whirlwind of an adventure and I’ve loved every single minute of it. I’m very lucky to have a fantastically dedicated team of hard-working individuals who make it all happen and every day is different. We just keep challenging ourselves and try to be as innovative as possible. CineMagic is very much a family and the young people who get involved with us stay involved. Many who have become successful are now giving back by teaching masterclasses themselves to a new generation which is just wonderful. We even have Oscar-nominees and BAFTA winners who started their movie careers with us! I still believe though that even in our modern society today, our communities don’t mix enough. Watching young people from different backgrounds being brave enough to get involved, break down barriers and form forever friendships is probably the most important achievement of all our accolades.

 Q) Northern Ireland now has a place on the map in terms of a thriving film and television industry. What do you think are the biggest opportunities for our young people?

There is such a great belief internationally about Northern Ireland right now, such energy and such a huge talent pool. Filmmakers want to be here, they want to film here and the people and locations are fantastic. This is the right place to be if you want to be in the creative industry and I think young people here are beginning to realise that you don’t have to wait for opportunities to happen to you. With a bit of initiative you can make things happen yourself –which wasn’t the case 30 years ago. As we help create the pipeline of talent, it’s great to see how they slot straight into the industry as it grows, but we do need to keep on building and training more of our young people as the demand for them is unquestionably there.

“There is such a great belief internationally about Northern Ireland right now.”

Q) Which highlights from this year’s festival are you particularly looking forward to? 

We’ve obviously made an enormous effort with the programme this year for our special anniversary celebrations. We open on Sunday October 6 with a gala screening of the new epic DreamWorks adventure Abominable and the following Saturday kids can also see a festival preview of the new out-of-this-world Shaun The Sheep Movie: Farmageddon and get to ask the directors Will Becher and Richard Phelan a few questions in a special Q&A. For ages 16-25, Academy Award nominated Armagh native Seamus McGarvey is one of film’s foremost cinematographers and he will be talking about his craft and experiences on movies such as The Greatest Showman, Avengers Assemble and Atonement (Oct 26). Double Emmy award-winning local Casting Director Carla Stronge will be hosting a masterclass for young actors aged 11-17 to learn more about the casting process on Wednesday October 9 and CineMagic patron, Oscar-nominated actor Saoirse Ronan will take part in the first CineMagic ‘Conversations in Comedy’ screening and join panel guests to chat about all things comedy before a screening of her all time favourite funny film – Bridesmaids (NB – for ages 15+ only). The festival closes on Wednesday October 30 with an 80thAnniversary screening of the family classic The Wizard of Oz at Belfast Cathedral as part of the BFI musicals season.

These really are just a few highlights as during the entire month of October the City will be jam-packed with a feast of film fun to suit all ages. In total, we have over 100 public screenings, 75 educational workshops plus industry masterclasses… if you’ve never been involved with CineMagic before, we hope 2019 is the year we can enchant you to join us for another fantastic festival.

The 30th Cinemagic International Film and Television Festival for Young People runs throughout October. Visit for details.

Nadia Duncan

Author: Nadia Duncan


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