Irish Film | The Big City Portrait: Limerick Through a Different Lens

During 2014, Limerick was Ireland’s first city to hold the title of National City of Culture. It was an important year for Limerick, a year that would paint Limerick in a different light and see the city established as a cultural hub. The city came alive as natives and visitors alike were treated to a year long programme of multi-cultural events. Limerick was also given a chance to showcase its creativity through a series of funded projects in areas of craft, music and film, to name but a few.

When the call for ideas for these projects went out, Ireland’s largest young people’s film festival, Fresh Film Festival put forward an ambitious and innovative proposal. Their goal was to celebrate youth cinema by producing an interactive webdoc.  The result is one of the most inspiring and extensive webdocs to be produced in Ireland, featuring 24 short documentaries made by the young people of Limerick and gathered together in one interactive space. The Big City Portrait.

Pete Moles Director of The Big City Portrait -
Pete Moles Director of The Big City Portrait via Limerick Leader

Pete Moles, Director of The Big City Portrait explains how the idea came about “When talks first began about City of Culture, back in 2013, myself and Ciarda Tobin (Festival Manager, Fresh Film Festival) knew we wanted to be involved somehow and that Fresh had a role to play. We toyed with the idea of revisiting a previous project where we made documentary films, but I wanted to do something a bit different, a bit more ambitious in terms of the final product. So I pushed for the webdoc. I’m a big fan of what can be achieved with that form, like Bear 71 and Highrise. They were a huge influence.”

The Big City Portrait was born. Each of the 24 documentaries explore places of a particular interest to the young people making them.


We wanted to empower young people to tell their stories, to share their identities with a wider audience. As a result, we have films about hanging out in Arthur’s Quay or Peoples Park, a lot are about friendship or a particular moment you are at in school” comments Pete.

These documentaries are then curated online in their own space and are available through an interactive map, featuring an original piece by artist Dave Lilburn.

I’d go and visit Dave regularly and tell him sites I wanted to be included. Not just the individual hot points for the films but also other bits and pieces that were inspired by conversations with the young people. It’s very much reflective of what was being talked about; the Limerick I heard them talk about. The map itself isn’t digital, it’s a print, a mixture of different mediums and even when you look at it you can tell, it’s almost tactile. It celebrates the city on a bunch of different levels and is a unique piece” says Pete.

The Big City Map via bigcity -
The Big City Map Designed by Dave Lilburn via bigcityportrait

The website was developed by Little Blue Studio “The website is all custom code, there’s no flash for a smoother viewing experience.  It’s very much a response to modern trends. Little Blue Studio were involved from early on, obviously having a webdoc rested on having a really talented web team and Kieran and Elaine were an absolute joy to work with” reveals Pete.

Composer Paddy Mulcahy provided the beautiful soundscape “We had a couple of conversations and I gave him words like ‘architectural’ and the idea of capturing the bustling city, with it being a little bit quieter on the outskirts. He then translated my half-baked thoughts into an actual soundscape far better than I ever could have imagined. The mood that he sets is so perfect” says Pete.

The Big City Portrait took a year and a half to complete and in that time grew to become something truly special. What started as an effort to engage and facilitate young filmmakers took on a life of its own. It has presented a product that is quite different to what Irish audiences would have perhaps expected from a project of this nature.

“The Big City Portrait isn’t something you view, it’s something you experience.  The point of it is to take you out of your usual web experience. To put the films in this curated space that sort of slows everything down and is a bit meditative, it’s giving the films a significance and a relationship to each other. If it was just a series of films online, I think it would make the whole thing less meaningful” explains Pete.

The Big City Portrait affords the young people involved an opportunity to exhibit their filmmaking skills and the chance to have their work celebrated, on a national level and hopefully internationally as well. Now that the t’s are crossed and the I’s dotted Pete reflects back on his experience working on The Big City Portrait.

“It was great to get the opportunity to do something like this. It was a great legacy of City of Culture that people were given the chance to do things that they otherwise might not have had. I’m delighted to have been given the opportunity to do something that I have always wanted to do”.

“None of this would have been possible without Fresh, who were incredibly supportive of the project, especially Ciarda, and the young people who took part. It was really exciting just seeing how engaged and interesting they all were. It was a privilege to get to work with them. They made it feel worthwhile… Something unexpected… Something special”.


The Big City Portrait can be viewed at

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