Cinemagic serves up another magical festival
Jenny Lee previews the 25th Cinemagic Film and Television Festival and discovers the secrets of television-making from Colin Williams, creator of hugely successful animated children's programme Lily's Driftwood Bay
A PREVIEW screening of Pan, the magical fantasy adventure starring Hugh Jackman about the beginnings of JM Barrie's best-known character, sets the scene for an action-packed Cinemagic Film and Television Festival.
Cinemagic’s 25th Anniversary Festival, running from Friday until November 4, is the most ambitious and action-packed festival yet with more than 150 events for four to 25-year-olds including new film screenings, workshops, young critics panels and the world premiere of Cinemagic’s very own feature film made last autumn by young people, A Christmas Star.
Festival industry hosts from the world of film and television include the Oscar-nominated music composer Alan Silvestri (Captain America and Back to The Future); animator and director Christian De Vita (The Grand Budapest Hotel) and film critic Mark Kermode, whose festival pick, The Others, will be screened on Halloween night.
One of the highlights for younger festival-goers is a new-episode screening of Lily’s Driftwood Bay, a children's TV series that's hugely popular around the world – and that's made in Northern Ireland.
The show is produced by Sixteen South, one of the major success stories of the north's thriving film industry that is, paradoxically, little known about on its home turf. The company was set up seven years ago by Colin Williams whose previous company, Inferno, developed commercials for the likes of Coca-Cola and Nokia. Williams's eureka moment came when he was watching Muppets pre-school TV show Bear in the Big Blue House with his then toddler daughter – he was hooked right away and embarked on making kiddies' programmes himself.
Sixteen South works in live action, puppetry and animation to produce “stories that create a sense of awe and wonder”, the Belfast man says. The only dedicated children's TV producer in Northern Ireland, the company operates a global market – the shows it produces, such as Sesame Tree, Big and Small and Pajanimals, are aired worldwide.
Lily's Driftwood Bay, aimed at four-to-six-year-olds, tells the story of a little girl who lives on an island with her dad in a hut on the beach. Every day the sea washes up a new treasure which sparks Lily’s imagination about what might be happening on Driftwood Bay, an island in her imagination.
Now shown in 40 countries, it has been dubbed into Irish, Norwegian, Swedish, Finnish, French, German and even Hebrew. The show is broadcast daily on NBC's kids channel in North America, while Irish audiences can watch it on Nick Jnr, Milkshake, Channel 5, RTÉjr and Netflix.
So, has Williams been surprised by its success? "You never know, as the journey to seeing it on TV for the first time takes five years," he says.
"It takes more than just a good idea to make a children's television series. I suppose you are creating a world and characters you are not going to grow tired of telling stories about. Broadcasters generally want 52 episodes as they want a show which is hopefully going to come back for a second or third series. So you are talking about 104 or 150 stories.
"There was already something special about Driftwood Bay as everything on the show stems from genuine materials that have been found washed up on beaches. We have photographed over 10,000 pieces. There are 100 people working on the show and it's a case of taking our imaginations and developing that into programmes."
Big-name actors including Jane Horrocks, Richard Dormer, Stephen Fry and Ardal O'Hanlon voice the animated characters "We created a daft bull character, who was like Father Dougal. So who else would do it apart from Ardal himself?" says Williams. "We are working on series two at the moment and are writing a lot more comedy in."
The programme, which employs a curriculum advisor, is aware of their responsibility to educate children. "It's celebrating creativity in that Lily uses her imagination to tell a story. It also teaches about living in community, and the importance of inter-generational relationships," Williams says.
Even though it is aimed at a young audience, the producers don't shy away from difficult subjects. "We have done a story on death and celebrating life. In the new series we are doing stories on fear and dementia. I guess we are trying to tackle the real things that kids are going to come across in life."
It's Williams's job to decide what has the wow factor and to read through the many ideas that land on his desk every day. His advice to future script writers is to "not be afraid to dream".
"People from here have pretty vivid imaginations and are good storytellers. We just need to believe that even though we are based in Belfast we can create stories that travel all across the world."
Sixteen South is working on three new shows, including Wildwoods, a live-action comedy for five-to-seven-year-olds set outdoors and a new show for seven-to-11-year-olds. "The pre-school market is the hardest as you have to tell stories with restricted language. If you master that you can move to the older age group and unleash all the naughty jokes and stuff you have been holding back," Williams laughs.
- The Lily's Driftwood Bay screening on The Belfast Barge on October 10 will include a Q&A with programme creator Colin Williams of Sixteen South and the voice of Lily, Belfast girl Orlagh O'Keefe.
The Hero of Colour City, October 10
Every night when the sun goes down Ben’s crayons pay a visit to Colour City, a whimsical world of breatHtaking beauty. Cert: U
Paper Plane, October 10
Dylan might not have the latest phone, and he may have some problems at home, but when a supply teacher shows him how to make the perfect paper plane, his imagination and his enthusiasm know no limits. Cert: PG
Bafta Kids Behind the Scenes, October 17
Presenters Michelle Ackerley and Ben Shires from CBBC show Officially Amazing! host a showcase of the films, television and games nominated at last year’s Bafta Children’s Awards. Age: 7-12
Acting with Bronagh Waugh, November 3
Hollyoaks, The Fall and A Christmas Star actress Bronagh hosts an acting masterclass. Age: 16 - 25
Beatles, October 24
Norwegian film taking a nostalgic look back at the trials and tribulations of boys on the cusp of adulthood, enduring friendships and the Beatles. Age 15+