The Iris Prize Festival 2017 ended with a carnival in a disused warehouse and a special guest appearance from Heather Small!
So there it is. Another Iris Prize Festival done and dusted. Now, it's become a bit of a cliche for me to say, "This was the best one yet!", but this year's festival really was off the scale. There was a moment yesterday afternoon, as I watched Heather Small strut her stuff before an admiring throng of festival-goers, when I thought back to the very first Iris in 2007. Then, we could shuttle pretty much all of our guests from venue to venue in two minibus trips. Now it takes squadrons of taxis, minibuses and volunteer drivers. Our first closing night awards show took place in cosy little Screen 15 of Cineworld. Now we were in a warehouse.
Cardiff venue DEPOT is a cavernous former industrial unit at the less salubrious end of Dumballs Road. From the outside, inauspicious and non-descript. Inside, garlands of lights, weird tree-like sculptures, old disused caravans. A bit like Tina Turner's Barter Town from Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, but with nicer facilities and better access to mainline train services. (See note.)
The Carnival began with the all-important awards. If you follow Iris on Twitter, Facebook etc., you'll already know that Mother Knows Best, by Swedish director Mikael Bundsen, won the Iris Prize, while We Love Moses was a popular Best British winner for Dionne Edwards.  Best Feature went to Christopher Schaap's debut film Prom King 2010, while the Best Performance awards went to Milos Szanto (Teenage Kicks) and my pal Fawzia Mirza (Signature Move). The Youth Award, voted for by students at our Education Day and the Pride Cymru Youth Festival, went to Graham Cantwell for Lily.
Berwyn Rowlands, Katie White, Andrew Murphy and Scott Flashheart. (Photo courtesy of Andrew Murphy.)
We were then invited into the Food Village, sponsored by Co-op Food. There was curry, there were sausages, there were Welsh cakes and ice-cream and yoghurts and beer and... next week I'll be living on lentils, broccoli and distilled water. The afternoon was rounded off with musical performances from the brilliant Lily Beau (whose song Tonight featured in our 2015 Iris Montage), Climbing Trees (whose song Fall features in this year's montage) and the one, the only Heather Small. I think it's safe to say that Heather's set went down an absolute storm. She played all the hits and came back on stage for an encore. Though it wasn't the first time I've seen Festival Chair Andrew Pierce dance, I've never before seen him do so with quite so much gusto. Which brings us back to that moment when I realised how far the festival has come since 2007. And it's not just about scale, or glitz, or any of that. Collecting her award, Fawzia said the important thing about a festival like Iris is that it provides space, and I think I know precisely what she means. Iris provides space for dialogue, space for creativity, space for storytelling and the sharing of ideas, regardless of who you are or where you come from. In a world that seems determined to remind us of our differences, a platform celebrating the differences that matter and challenging the ones that don't feels like a very good thing to have. As the crew packed away the lights and decorations, there was a last minute change of venue for our wrap party (best laid plans etc.) We hotfooted it across town to the Golden Cross and invaded their drag queen karaoke night. Exhausted but content, the Iris Prize team danced and sang the rest of the night away. As I left, festival regulars Christian Webb and Bernard Kane were duetting Islands in the Stream. The perfect end to a perfect week. And that's about it for the Iris Prize Festival 2017. Stay tuned, however, as there'll be more blog posts in the coming weeks, including guests posts from sponsors and (hopefully) more from Suri Mukherjee! (Note - Except when there are a number of rail replacement bus services and you have to get your London-based jurors back to the Big Smoke in a hired minibus whose driver then takes an unscheduled 40 minute break at a service station... but that's a story for another day.)