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Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

More blah-blah about the fleadh

It was a great week at the Galway Film Fleadh.

Despite the similarities in climate between Galway and Seattle, these two cities’ film festivals are very different. The Seattle fest goes on for three and a half weeks and has at least three or four screens in use all the time, thereby offering a huge array of films from all over the world. Galway has a good selection of cinema, but it is not nearly as large. This year—in addition to the usual documentaries and shorts—the fleadh showcased films from Iran and Scandinavia as well as new (and some older) Irish films.

While the Seattle audiences seem exemplified (if not dominated) by a huge film fan base that is both local and drawn, one gets the feeling that many of the audiences for the films in Galway are mostly made up people in the industry or people hoping to be part of the industry. Most of the films shown in Galway got extremely enthusiastic responses, even if only because more than half the audience seemed to have worked on the film. Often Irish filmgoers seemed to make up a minority of those attending this Irish film festival, as every conceivable variation of American and British accent could be heard, in addition to languages from across Europe. If you wanted to hear German or American or British English spoken, the easiest way was to take your seat five or more minutes early. The Irish usually showed up right on time or later.

It is hard to pick a high point for the fleadh since there were so many enjoyable moments, but if I had to pick just one, I would have to go with the public interview of actor Colm Meaney. Invariably, it seems to be the flesh-and-blood moments that stick with me after a film festival has ended, more than the celluloid ones. Meaney was charming and generous and was good company for the hour that he spoke about himself and shared his very candid thoughts. One interesting topic he spoke on that I neglected to include in my account of the interview was his participation in the 1999 American television miniseries The Magical Legend of the Leprechauns, in which he actually played one of the titular leprechauns. The production’s main attraction was apparently meant to be its elaborate special effects and a cast that included names like Whoopi Goldberg and Roger Daltrey. But the story itself was an ungainly mixture that lifted elements from practically every cliched film about Ireland ever made—from The Quiet Man to Darby O’Gill and the Little People.

It spurred a huge outcry from the usual quarters about Irish stereotyping. Meaney was clearly embarrassed by his participation and said that he had never intended to play in such an “Oirish” production. In fact, he said, the script (by Peter Barnes, whose writing credits include The Ruling Class and Enchanted April, as well as the TV miniseries Merlin) had read quite well on paper, and he thought that the miniseries had a “subversive” quality to it that made it worthwhile. Once in production, however, he realized that he made a major mistake. He said that the wrong tone was set because it was shot in England (at Shepperton Studios) and the English director (John Henderson) just “didn’t get it.” He voiced his frustration over the situation by invoking the common plea of an actor who realizes he’s enmeshed in a disaster: “Who do you have to f*** to get off this movie?”

Meaney’s cautionary tale raises an interesting question. It is common enough to hear the Irish complain about being portrayed as a quaint and cute people rather than how they really are. But if leprechauns and old men with white beards and a twinkle in their eye are out of favor for films about the Irish, what are the acceptable prototypes? Does the rise of the Irish film industry mean that this objection will now be part of the past? Or does it mean that the old stereotypes will be replaced by new ones, e.g. the plucky Dublin northsiders of the Roddy Doyle films or the IRA heroes of a whole slew of new films that keep rehashing The Troubles in Northern Ireland?

I will attempt to tackle this next time.

-S.L., 19 July 2001

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