Interview with ASFF 2013 Best Documentary Winner Mia Mullarkey

Mia Mullarkey took home the prize for Best Documentary at this year’s Aesthetica Short Film Festival (ASFF) for her inspirational modern day David and Goliath story Danger Overhead Powerlines. The short film documents 65-year-old Teresa Treacy’s battle with the Irish Electricity Board to protect thousands of trees planted on her land, which resulted in her imprisonment in 2011. Moving testimonies from Teresa herself and those who fervently support her campaign help make this such an emotive and compelling watch. We chat to Mullarkey here about making the film and bringing it to ASFF. The December/ January issue of Aesthetica includes exclusive online access to ASFF 2013 highlights, featuring Danger Overhead Powerlines.

ASFF: As your second short documentary, what does the ASFF prize for Best Documentary mean to you?
MM: I’m delighted to have won the ASFF prize for Best Documentary as it reinforces the choice I made in my mid twenties to become a filmmaker. Filmmaking is an unpredictable road which requires much motivation so the reward is a gratefully received push along that path. There were some outstanding films in my category and I feel honoured to have been selected considering the competition.

ASFF: Danger Overhead Powerlines has an important and compelling story to tell. How did you first come to be involved with Teresa Treacy’s campaign?
MM: I came across Teresa’s story in the newspaper and really admired her tenacity. The next day I showed up on her land with a camera guy and just started rolling. When Teresa was finally released from prison I didn’t know if she would allow me to continue making the documentary as I hadn’t met her yet, but we got on really well and she was very open and generous with me.

ASFF: Much of the funding for the short was derived from donations. What can you tell us about this process?
MM: Crowd funding is an amazing tool for young or independent artists trying to make something worthwhile. I was moved and impressed by people’s generosity towards my film and I am extremely grateful to them. Even though I found the promotional aspect of crowd funding tough – you have to promote the film online everyday and it’s hard to big yourself up on a regular basis – I would do it again.

ASFF: Have you had any feedback from the Irish Electricity Supply Board (ESB) since making the short?
MM: The ESB showed no interest in this film from start to finish and would not be interviewed despite several requests from my producer. I don’t think they feel threatened enough by a low-budget short documentary to react but several rural communities in Ireland have asked for copies of the film, a promising sign for the grassroots approach to change. Teresa’s story is just one of many and I think the ESB will see many more tenacious characters in the future.

ASFF: What was your main motivation for entering ASFF?
MM: I came across the ASFF website when searching for festivals to submit my short to. What caught my attention was the emphasis on visual beauty, which obviously ties in with the name Aesthetica. I was also impressed by the standard of previous winners’ work and thought it would be cool just to get accepted into the festival. I was excited when I got the acceptance email.

ASFF: Which part of ASFF did you enjoy the most?
MM: I loved how easy it was to meet other filmmakers. I arrived to the festival on my own so I was feeling shy but there were networking events every day (some with free wine, always a good thing) and York is totally walkable so I got to hang out with lots of cool people. Also York is a gorgeous, medieval town so the screening venues were always interesting. My film was screened in a beautiful medieval banquet hall.

1. Image taken from Danger Overhead Powerlines, Mia Mullarkey (Ishka Films) Ireland, 2013