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Joan’s touch of magic grows as charity celebates 30 years

Thursday, 10 May 2018

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ARMAGH woman Joan Burney Keatings MBE, the driving force behind the internationally-renowned Cinemagic Film Festival, says she is helping to steer the organisation to bigger and brighter heights as the charity celebrates its 30th anniversary this year.
The mother of two, who is the charity's chief executive, is reflecting on Cinemagic's achievements as a group of young people from Northern Ireland recently returned from Los Angeles in California where they had the opportunity to meet with some of the film and television industry's biggest insiders such as HBO, FOX and CBS, as part of a ten-day festival held in Hollywood.
The event, supported by a host of high-profile actors, also included a special preview screening of Cinemagic's new short film 'Sasha of the Sea', billed as an inspiring story of teenage bravery, love, growing up and friendship.
“The young people get to take part in masterclasses and workshops, they get to have access to working industry figures. It shows that it's possible that you can get involved in the industry no matter where you're from, that's its not neccessary to be from Hollywood or living the Hollywood dream," insists Joan.
The young people's furvent ambitions to 'make it' mirrors Joan's own experience in bringing Cinemagic to California - she, too, had to start at the bottom. "I didn't know anyone in LA, I was speaking to everyone... I was knocking on every door that I could," she recalls.
The home of Cinemagic, is of course, where it started in Belfast back in 1988, but since then the festival has grown exponentially with festivals in Dublin, London, France, New York and Boston - and now in recent years, LA. And to date Cinemagic has engaged with over 500,000 young people, screened over 3000 films, and hosted over 500 masterclasses, workshops and special events. Cinemagic's film production projects have received international acclaim for their ambition, quality and reach.
“It really, really is incredible the impact it has made on young people's lives over the years. I'm part of a very dedicated team who all work closely together and all love doing what they do and are very passionate about it," explains Joan.
The largest film and television charity in the UK and Ireland for young people, Cinemagic has earned widespread plaudits within the industry and counts Liam Nesson, Saoirse Ronan, Pierce Brosnan and Colin Farrell among its many high-profile patrons. As well as giving young people first-hand experience of how the film and television business operates, the participants also have the opportunity to step into productions roles themselves, creating their work in the process. "Our first film was 'A Christmas Star' which starred Liam Nesson and Kylie Minogue and it was sold worldwide. Forty young people worked on it and some have gone on to work in the industry from it.
“We also have another film coming out, 'Grace and Goliath' which involved young people from Northern Ireland and young people from inner city parts of LA. Pre-production was done in LA but the film was actually shot in Northern Ireland. We've had some private screenings in LA and New York and the response has been great."
Joan adds that the province is gaining an international reputation for producing a wealth of film industry talent. "People I speak to tell me that Northern Ireland is the go-to place for production and long may it continue. There are so many areas that young people can get involved in from costume design, to carpentry used to built sets, make-up. It's a great option for young people who aren't perhaps academic but are creative, and can end up working in the creative arts industry.
“Our young people are proving themselves in the industry. We've had young people nominated for BAFTAs and even Oscars. The support we receive has been incredible, and from major studios and companies as well."
Each year 40,000 young people, aged between four and 25, participate in Cinemagic events across Europe and North America, yet Belfast remains the heart of the charity. "Belfast is our 'anchor' festival, it's the biggest and is held in October with a full-month-long programme of events and great guests," reveals Joan.
Before then, however, Joan has to make a whistle stop trip to LA to officially represent Cinemagic at a charity event, then make the transatlantic flight back home in time for the latest Cinemagic festival, which will take place in Dublin this week.
The impact of the charity's work on young people's lives makes it all worthwhile, she stresses. "What's really, really incredible is that Cinemagic shows that with ambition opportunities for young people can happen. From our recent LA festival two young people have confirmed internships at studios for the whole summer and a third is waiting confirmation. It just shows that you don't have to be ruthless or walk over people to get ahead. Real enthusiasm and hard work pays off in the end, as well as belief in yourself," adds Joans.

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