Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Here’s to Irish film fests

There is something really special about film festivals in Ireland (and the UK). I don’t know if I can put into words exactly what makes them so special, but I will try to find the words.

It’s beer.

Well there. That wasn’t so hard after all. Yes, it’s beer that makes them special. Or, more to the point, you can drink beer right in the cinema.

That’s right. When attending film festivals in Edinburgh, Cork or the one currently going on in Galway, after viewing a film I can walk directly out of the auditorium and into a pub where an assortment of beverages (both alcoholic and non) are available. And that includes beer. And I don’t just mean bland, watery American beer, although that is available. You can get real, serious, delicious Irish beer. Compare this with the recent Seattle film festival, where there is usually barely enough time between films to queue up for the bathroom, queue again for a latte and, maybe if you’re lucky, run out of the theater and around the corner to grab a fast food burrito. Sure, there is a tavern across the street. But that means you have to walk across the street. It’s not nearly as convenient as having the pub right there in the cinema.

Sure, the selection of drinks may not be as extensive as your standard pub. For instance, you won’t get a Guinness at the Cork film festival since it is sponsored by rival brewer Murphy’s. But quaffing a Murphy’s instead of a Guinness is a small price to pay for one’s art—not to mention the convenience of having to negotiate one’s way out of the building and down the street to a place that will be crowded with people who will be talking about all sorts of things other than movies. Who wants to listen to that?

People have even been known in some places to bring their pints right into the auditorium while they are watching the film, although I’m not sure if this is strictly legal. (In Ireland, there is sometimes a gap between the posted regulations and general custom.) Anyway, this can actually be going too far since there is nothing more disconcerting than tripping over a few empty pint glasses on your way to the loo in the dark.

It seems so right and so civilized to have a bar right in the cinema that I have culture shock over this when I go back to the States. As a volunteer at the Irish Reels Film & Video Festival in Seattle in March, one of my duties at the opening night gala was to actually stop people from carrying their beer and wine from the lobby into the auditorium. And plenty of them tried it. And it’s probably no coincidence that most of the people who tried it were Irish. When I would point out to them that some rule or law or policy (I’m not sure which) prohibited them from carrying their adult beverage any further, they would simply laugh at me and smirk, “Oh, you Americans.” Since we drew the line at frisking, no doubt quite a few cans of beer probably made it up to the balcony. Anyway, there has to be some explanation for why the people above seemed to be enjoying the movie so much more than the people below.

But enough about that. Getting back to my original point, there is something pleasurable about all film festivals, but there is something particularly pleasurable about film festivals in Ireland. It obviously has something to do with the Irish themselves: they are quite good company. Also, Ireland is a relatively small country (compared with the U.S.) and so the whole affair feels more close-knit. Instead of arriving and leaving in limos, as they tend to do at Seattle (and presumably other American film festivals), actors and directors are more likely to be seen mingling and rubbing shoulders with everyone else at an Irish film festival. For example, on the opening night of the current Film Fleadh, without making any particular effort, I wound up chatting with the star of the opening movie On the Edge, young Cillian Murphy. He seemed intrigued that people in Seattle had seen his earlier films Sunburn and Disco Pigs. He was probably particularly surprised about Sunburn, since it has never been released and who knows how its future will be affected by producer Jean Doumanian’s personal and legal battle with Woody Allen over creative bookkeeping.

So that just goes to show that you never know who you will run into at an Irish film festival. But one thing you can be fairly sure of is that you will probably see them at the pub—which is right inside of the cinema itself!

-S.L., 12 July 2001

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