Achill Island Film Festival social media account courts controversy defending high-profile transphobes

The Achill Island Film Festival has for the last two years aimed to provide a showcase of Irish and international filmmakers off the west coast of Ireland. Recent social media posts from the festival’s official X (formerly Twitter) account have caused concern among the Irish filmmaking community however.

Early in the morning of the 17th August, the @AchillFilmFest account tweeted in support of disgraced Irish writer and comedian Graham Linehan:

The above message, flippant responses from the account when challenged by other users, and ongoing support for Linehan and Rowling prompted concern from a number of Irish filmmakers on the platform, noting discomfort at the possibility of submitting films to the festival in future. Other users questioned if sponsors – including Screen Ireland, DCU, RTÉ Supporting the Arts and others – could stand over their partnership with the festival.

The account issued a further post at 5.50pm Aug 17 apologising for airing personal views on the festival account.

The festival has previously programed the Bernie Masterson film Three Generations of Queers. The documentary sees three Irish queers of different ages interviewed about their lives. This includes Ezra, a young trans person transitioning from female to male, interviewed by Ailbhe Smyth.

The Achill Island Film Festival is organised by Emily O’Callaghan, who has served as Festival Director since founding the event in 2021. O’Callaghan has previously worked in the film industry in various roles for many years, as well as organising events, such as comedy nights, gigs, mini festivals and festival stages.

We reached out to the Achill Island Film Festival with the following questions:

–        Can you advise if all views and opinions communicated through the Achill Island Film Festival account are representative of the views of the Achill Island Film Festival and/or its organisers?

–        Do you believe Graham Linehan describing transgender people as a “shitty, perverted, paedophilic movement that “has to be destroyed” is consistent with the account’s statement that Linehan is talking about “everybody’s safety” and that he is “not filled with hate”?

–        Is the Achill Island Film Festival supportive of the belief that all people, regardless of gender identity or expression, should enjoy full acceptance, equality and human rights?

–        How can you assure trans people and others from all backgrounds that they are welcome to submit films to and to attend future editions of the Achill Island Film Festival?

Following the apology message above, we reached out again with further questions:

 – Is this apology for use of the account for airing personal views only, or for the content of those views in the previous message?

 – Can you clarify why the original message has not as yet been deleted and if there is an intention to do so?

 – Is the account used by yourself only (i.e. O’Callaghan) or by others associated with the Achill Island Film Festival?

The festival has not responded as of the publication of this article. This article will be updated pending a response.

At 1.55AM on 18 Aug, the account tweeted a further apology for ‘any (unintended) genuine stress or upset’, noting festival sponsors. The message was signed by O’Callaghan.

The account continued liking TERF social media accounts and posts containing transphobic talking points.

In Ireland, the rise of fascist attacks on libraries across Ireland over books including queer content, a number of violent hate crimes against members of the queer community and calls for a repeal of the Gender Recognition Act of 2015 are actual, substantial threats to people’s safety and civil liberties that are cause for concern. It is disappointing to see a burgeoning film festival focus on defending high-profile transphobes who encourage, enable, or are actively involved in this harmful hatred. We want to see festivals thrive across the island, with films, creators and events providing the platform for the sharing of community, expression, ideas and ideals. Who and what that platform is provided for requires thoughtful consideration.

Update: The original message by the @AchillFilmFest account has now been deleted.

On Tue 22, a further apology was issued by Emily via the account, thanking those who had reached out and for the further conversations had in the days following the original messages:

About Luke Dunne

Luke is a writer, film addict and Dublin native who loves how much there is for film fans in his home county. A former writer for FilmFixx and the Freakin' Awesome Network, he founded Film In Dublin to pursue his dual dreams of writing about film and never sleeping ever again.

3 comments / Add your comment below

  1. Maith thú, Luke. Ráite go maith agat.
    Tá Emily iomlán as bealach.
    Tá gá le duine nua i gceannas ar an bhféile agus ar an gcuntas Twitter sin.

  2. It’s OTT to publish the questions you asked, publicly putting pressure on the organiser to answer.

    This article is passive aggressive in the extreme.

    Seen as you’re so keen to update your article, could you update it to mention she has deleted the original tweet? And could you perhaps cover the vast amount of vitriol that has been directed her way, and how the majority of responses refuse to accept her apology?

    Does the author agree with the sentiment expressed by many of those who have attacked the founder and suggested the festival should be cancelled?

    Does the author, a film aficionado, think self expression should be limited and censored to the extent that a tweet defending someone else warrants a pile on?

    Is the author part of a dogmatic problem, without realising it?

    Will the author answer any of these questions or hide the comment?

  3. Thank you for writing this and being brave enough to venture into this topic despite such hatred that was unmasked by this situation. I was appalled to see the responses to the posts made by AIFF and refuse to have anything else to do with their festival. They have deleted all posts and responses now and have hidden themselves from it all. Thank you for being brave enough to leave this here. Well done.

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