Kenneth Branagh talks about his optimism for the future of the Northern Ireland creative industries, the necessity for the arts at this time, his latest films Death On The Nile and Belfast, as well as giving practical advice to young people starting out in their careers, in a special interview to mark the 11th Belfast Media Festival (BMF) on November 12th.
This session was recorded virtually with Kenneth Branagh in Twickenham Studios and Kathy Clugston asking the questions from her front row seat at the QFT. It will be available to view from November 12th at 12.30pm free of charge for those who register for BMF via its website www.belfastmediafestival.co.uk.
Kathy Clugston says: “It was a pure delight to interview for this special BMF 2020 one of the world’s leading film and TV makers, who just happens to come from Belfast. He’s a man of so many talents – actor, director, producer, writer – both on stage and on screen. He’s generously given his time for this unique interview. Speaking to him was inspiring – and great fun.”
Branagh may have left the city when he was still a young boy, but he talks about how those early years contributed to who he is today, giving BMF an exclusive insight into his latest film Belfast which he describes as ‘auto-fictional’. “It’s a very personal film, set partly in Belfast and partly elsewhere, partly set in the past and partly set in the present. I hope that there is humour and I hope that it’s emotional, it’s a look at a people and a place in tumult through the eyes of a nine-year old movie mad kid.
“My experience of Belfast when I was growing up was to be part of a larger extended family, one that lived nearby each other, in a world in terms of television that had three channels in black and white. We listened to radio extensively, listened to records extensively and we went to see films extensively and when we weren’t doing that, we visited each other”, he says.
Belfast features Northern Ireland actors Ciarán Hinds, Bríd Brennan, Colin Morgan and Jamie Doran as well as Dame Judi Dench, Caitríona Balfe and newcomer Jude Hill. Filming took place over the Summer with daily Covid testing, cast bubbles and vigilance from everyone involved with 50 per cent of scenes taking place outdoors.
Branagh highlights the importance of humility, diversity, inclusivity and working collaboratively in the creative industries. Talking about the future given the current global difficulties due to Covid-19, he says: “I’m by nature an optimist, people need stories, we need to know we are not alone. We have to share our experience with others in fictional forms across the medium we are all lucky enough to work in. What’s been available for people to watch on their screens at home during lockdown has been invaluable, has been a life saver for many people, it has certainly diverted, and entertained. These are incredibly important things at moments of understandable stress. I feel for everybody in our business who has been having a rough time across this lockdown period and I wish them good work in the coming months and years.”
Branagh answers questions put forward by students from Queens and Ulster Universities with some advice for those starting out that “imagination and hard work will always yield opportunities” noting that “the first ten years of my career were marked by a sort of ‘pinch me pinch me’ in case I woke up, thrilled that I was getting to do something that I recognised I loved, I hadn’t expected to do and that I was thrilled to be working in.”
Helen Thompson, producer, Belfast Media Festival says: “We are incredibly grateful to Kenneth Branagh for giving us his time for what is both an uplifting and inspirational interview, so perfect to represent our virtual festival at this strange time. Here’s to BMF 2021 when we hope to put in place an exciting two-day event at the Mac once again.”
BMF in conversation with Kenneth Branagh is sponsored by Future Screens NI and was produced and directed by Frank Delaney, Queens University Belfast (QUB), with technical support from QUB students Ryan Elliman and Samuel Robertson and staff Craig Jackson and Ben Brown, presented by Kathy Clugston and graded by Yellow Moon.
The Belfast Media Festival is grateful to the support of its partners BBC Northern Ireland and Northern Ireland Screen who help to ensure the event remains free for attendees.