Lights, camera, action for Cinemagic's second feature length movie

Cast and production members set the scene for Cinemagic's second movie Grace & Goliath. Included are Cinemagic chief executive Joan Burney Keatings (second right), writer Maire Campbell (second left) and director Tony Mitchell (centre back)

EVERY parent goes through a moment or stage when their kids are embarrassed by them. That moment when the children put their hands over their eyes with utter dread at whatever is unfolding (dad dancing or singing are two of the usual offenders).

A month or two ago two of my closest friends, Aidan Donnelly and John McManus, were up in my house for Sunday breakfast. A good fry-up, plenty of toast and a debate about whatever is in the news or causing annoyance that week. We enjoy it.

I can't remember why or how but that day my movie career came up in conversation. Yes, I have a movie career. So far, it consists of a small supporting role in Cinemagic's short summer film, The Mantle. I die in the first scene.

The boys had never seen the film before, neither had my son Rory nor Aidan's daughter Holly, who were also tucking into their bacon and eggs. So, after breakfast, we settled down to watch my screen debut, with curtains crossed and lights down. Needless to say, my attempt at a heart attack while falling out of the cab of a tractor (I play a farmer) was a sight to behold. Even I am willing to admit that it is hilarious (it's not meant to be).

It was all too embarrassing for Rory, who was hiding behind his hands, while Holly, with her lovely manners, wasn't quite sure how to react. Aidan and John could scarcely believe they had happened upon such great comic material at what would otherwise have been a normal Sunday breakfast. I suspect I haven't heard the last of that heart attack scene.

I tell you all this not because it's Oscars week, but because my movie career takes another leap forward with a preview of my second movie appearance coming today at the Odyssey cinema. Grace and Goliath is Cinemagic's second feature length movie and it is altogether up a notch from my short film debut in The Mantle. This time however I have moved from being well up the credits list as ‘the father' to the more appropriate, given my amateur status, ‘man at bar', which I assume will make it to the credits list on screen when the guys are coming in to clean up the spilled popcorn and ice cream.

That is fair enough since Grace and Goliath is a proper movie with Ciaran McMenamin, Gerard McCarthy, Olivia Nash and Star Trek's Emy Aneke in lead roles. The movie is another massive credit to the work of Cinemagic, the charity based in Belfast which delivers an international film and television festival for young people, makes movies and does all sorts of other workshops and amazing activities for young people interested in film and television.

Cinemagic, which is headed by the indefatigable and always glamorous Joan Burney Keatings, is one of those organisations here which you're always happy to point out is one of ours when people think it's based somewhere else (like LA or London). My primary connection into it is through Maire Campbell. In fact, I better be honest here, without Maire, I would have no movie career.

Maire is one of those people who makes you proud she's your friend every time you see her or hear what new amazing project she's involved in. A former actress with an amazing singing voice, she gave up a very senior role in the PR and communications world a few years ago to follow her passion in life. She now combines screen writing with her role as the artistic director of Youth Arts within Youth Action NI.

Grace and Goliath is Maire's second feature length script after the success of Cinemagic's first feature, A Christmas Star, which was released in 2015 after which it had a cinema run, was released worldwide on DVD and was broadcast on the BBC. She also has a number of short film scripts, including The Mantle, to her credit.

I'm not going to ruin the plot Grace and Goliath. You need to go and see it. But speaking to Maire about it, she says it's a new, uplifting genre of movie for Northern Ireland not shackled by the troubles. That's refreshing and joking aside about my momentary appearance (I was tempted to say ‘scene-stealing' but I haven't seen it yet), it's just fantastic that a region of our size is producing people and content that stands up to scrutiny at a global level.

That is what Maire is doing.So is Cinemagic. So is Colin Williams at Sixteen South. So too are John Barry Waddell, Brendan Byrne and a whole plethora of other excellent independent television producers. And then of course we have the actors, writers, animators, producers, directors and in the case of a good Armagh man, one of the world's leading cinematographers, Seamus McGarvey (who I am claiming as a St Pat's boy since the College and the CBS have now merged), we have a set of people from here with undoubted credibility and massive talent.

Sitting across all of that is Northern Ireland Screen, the very successful organisation which funds, markets and very effectively cajoles its way into boardrooms and movie and TV deals to the point where, according to its second ‘Added Value' report, over £250 million will have been spent on goods and services here supporting nearly 3,000 jobs. Those are seriously good numbers and an indication of how important this whole sector has now become to the economy here.

Having said that, it's not just the numbers, it's the brand too. Everybody loves the movies and high-quality television. It's really cool and something we all love to talk and brag about. I was coming into Aldergrove recently and the wall-to-wall coverage for The Game of Thrones final season as you leave the customs area just gives you a pang of pride that you simply wouldn't get with many other industries. We need to support the sector more and celebrate it too.

What I haven't told you yet is that I come back as a ghost near the end of The Mantle – that caused even more mirth for Aidan and John and further embarrassment for Rory. But still, you gotta love the movies. Best wishes to Maire and all at Cinemagic for Grace and Goliath. Go see it when you can.

:: Paul McErlean (paul is managing director of MCE Public Relations Ltd.

:: Next week: Conor Lambe

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