Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 September 2014

All the best: Cian Smyth on his favourite things

Poignant role: Cian Smyth is encouraging others to remember the First World War

The 39-year-old lives in Belfast and is creative director of Lights Out, an installation which is taking up temporary residence on the east lawn of Belfast City Hall to commemorate the beginning of the First World War a century ago today.

My best moment

I went to the School of the Air once in Katherine Gorge, Australia. It remains one of the most beautiful experiences I've ever had. It's a radio station in a school in the middle of nowhere. They hold classes across the airwaves for young children on isolated farms, islands, boats in the South China Sea. The roll call alone between the teacher and the six- to 12-year-olds was pure magic to witness.

My best way to relax

I tend to go for walks but my favourite place to go is the lighthouse at Whitehead. I've been there a few times and there's no TV or wifi or anything and you can just about get a phone signal sometimes. I spent my 30th birthday there and I tend to go for a couple of days to chill out after festivals and big events.

My best bit of advice

My English teacher once told me there are students who get A's and students who understand subjects. You often want to be told you're the best at what you did, but he told me I wasn't an 'A grade' student and that was the best thing that could ever happen. That single message opened all the doors I felt were closed in front of me. So, don't strive for other people's approval based on established rules, strive to understand something in your own way and change the world around you.

My best song

Queen Of Denmark by John Grant. I love all of Grant's songs but that's the one that introduced me to him and that's how I became a big fan.

My best job

I've always worked in festivals, although I have worked for companies before. The London 2012 Olympic Games was certainly the biggest, although it was hard work. I got to be there for a lot of the ceremonies and games. I managed all of Northern Ireland's cultural ceremonies and helped organise the torch relay. I'm not into sports but being in the stadium to watch was wonderful.

My best gift

I was invited to a film festival in Poland recently, and the father of one of those who worked there had a tiny little shop. In it, he had hundreds of old Polish movie posters, which are among the best in the world, especially those from the Soviet era, when artists had to imagine images for films they never saw. Even later they continued the tradition of using artists to create the posters. I was given this beautiful one of The Big Lebowski. I adore it.

My best achievement

When I journeyed around the world at 23. It was the first time I had travelled and it was my first real sense of independence and confidence. It was difficult for the first few months but by the time I came back I knew I could face anything. I spent a lot of time in Australia and Italy.

My best buy

I found an original poster of Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds from the 1960s in a shop in Australia. It's hand-printed and beautifully illustrated.

My best movie

I've worked in film festivals all my life so I could have picked something obscure and European but I never get tired of Harold and Maude. It's an independent American movie from the 1970s where a suicidal teenager falls in love with an 80-year-old woman. It's quite life-affirming.

My best book

Franny and Zooey by JD Salinger. I love all of his books and this one consists of short stories. The characters in his books are so modern for the time and Salinger turns everything on its head in the last paragraph.

  • Lights Out invites every building, business and community member in the UK to commemorate the beginning of the First World War by turning off their lights from 10-11pm tonight, leaving on just a single light or candle for a shared moment of reflection. For details, visit www.1418now.org.uk/lightsout

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