The Belfast Film Festival began life in 1995 as part of Féile an Phobail – a community arts organisation also known as the West Belfast Festival – and was established as an autonomous, city-wide event at the turn of the millennium.

The festival has been nurturing Belfast’s rapidly growing filmmaking scene for over twenty years, as well as creating unique film-watching experiences for audiences through its varied programme, which celebrates established and experimental work from around the world.

Transforming the city

As a signature part of its programme, Belfast Film Festival transforms unexpected spaces across the city into cinemas for its series of site-specific screenings. Previous editions of the festival have seen screenings of The Breakfast Club in a library, Cool Hand Luke in a 19th-century jail, Mad Max 2 in a former shipbuilding warehouse and Jaws in a swimming pool.

These special screenings not only intensify the film-watching experience, but also invite audience members to explore different corners of the city.

Championing excellence in film

The festival promotes excellence in cinema from Northern Ireland and internationally, and runs competitions to highlight some of the best work by established filmmakers and burgeoning talent alike.

The Maysles Brothers Award was launched in 2006 by American documentary filmmaker Albert Maysles and showcases exceptional new documentary works. The festival’s short film competition recognises the work of emerging filmmakers from Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, providing a valuable and prestigious platform for new talent.

Education is also at the heart of the festival’s activity, and a host of community outreach projects aim to teach practical writing and filmmaking skills, as well as cultivate an interest in film culture among audiences for whom cinema has traditionally been less accessible.

Belfast Film Festival screening of Mad Max at T13 cinema
Belfast Film Festival screening of Mad Max 2 at T13 ©

Filly Campbell

Oscar-nominated Mustang opened the Belfast Film Festival 2016 ©

Filly Campbell

An international outlook

This year’s programme included the Northern Ireland premiere of Junun – which roughly translates from the Hindi for ‘obsession’ – by acclaimed American director Paul Thomas Anderson. Set in Jodphur, the film centres on the compositions of Shye Ben Tzur, an Israeli musician who spent 15 years in India. The film sees the Maharaja of Jodphur host a team of musicians at his fort, where they perform songs that blend the Qawwali devotional music of Sufism with Rajasthani Gypsy music and other traditions, singing in Urdu, Hebrew, and Hindi. Watch the trailer for the film above. 

The festival preview film above, shows the breadth of work screened at this year’s event, covering genres from documentary and drama to horror and animation, and everything in between. Highlights include An Experimental Path, a documentary about small-scale farmers in Italy who radically oppose the modern food supply chain, and gangster movie Bad Day for the Cut, in which an Irish man embarks on a bloody rampage to avenge his mother’s murder.

The Belfast Film Festival has become an important pitstop on the international circuit, and its commitment to providing exciting and entertaining film-watching experiences makes it a truly unique celebration of cinema.

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