Omagh screenwriter and former South West College (SWC) student, Aidan McAleer, won three screenwriting awards last year. Aidan won 'Best First-time Screenwriter' at the Kosice International Monthly Film Festival; 'Best Feature Script' at the Prague International Monthly Film Festival'; and ‘Best Screenplay' at the Canadian Cinematography Awards, for his screenplay, 'Forgiven', which tells an emotional story of accidental manslaughter and the swirling guilt and aftermath that follows it.
Aidan says that much of the creative success he has enjoyed goes back to his decision to enrol at South West College after completing his GCSE’s. He says, ‘The decision to go to SWC rather than study A-Levels was an easy one for me. I never considered myself academic, but I was always very creative, and SWC offered me the opportunity to explore that creativity. The tutors gave me the fuel to develop myself and my work, and ultimately helped progress towards the photography and film work that I’ve managed to complete since studying with them.’
Aidan believes that studying at SWC allowed him to explore his creativity and try his hand at various elements of media production, before ultimately following the path that best suited his passion and abilities.
Aidan says, ‘I started with a BTEC Level 3 in Media Production, and it covered a lot. We made TV shows and recorded audio and songs. When it came to deciding what I wanted to focus on, I went for visual media, and ultimately this led to me studying Cinematic Arts at Ulster University (UU). Deciding what elements of media to focus on is a big decision, but again the atmosphere at SWC really helped with that process. I felt like I could talk to my tutors about anything at any time, either over e-mail or in person, and they were able to assure me that going to UU was the perfect next step.’
It was Aidan’s final year university module that first produced the idea for ‘Forgiven’. He explains, ‘in my final year at UU I had to pick a niche, either directing, acting or screenwriting, and deliver a project on it. I chose screenwriting as I thought it was my strongest attribute, but the first script I tried to write was something like a rom-com, and after a while I had to admit it wasn’t working. After that, I had the idea for ‘Forgiven’, and the whole thing came together quite quickly. I started working on it every day and I kept feeling like the script was getting better and better. I really enjoyed writing it and I believed in it, but after I submitted the project and graduated, I didn’t look at it for a long time. Last year, during lockdown, I returned to the script, fixed it up a bit, and started entering it into a few festivals. I won the first festival I entered, then soon won a second, then a third.’
Looking to the future, Aidan says, ‘of course I’d love to see the film get made, and I’d love to be involved in the making of it. I also have other ideas in my head too, so I’ll definitely continue screenwriting.’
Aidan also has time to reflect on the past, however, and in doing so he is thankful for the role SWC has played in his journey. Aidan says, ‘I don’t know where I’d be now if it wasn’t for SWC. My time there was a wonderful springboard for me, both creatively and personally. The tutors had a huge impact on me, and to be able to explore my passions in my home town was a brilliant experience.’