Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Let’s get Reels

You still have time. If you are not within driving distance of Seattle, book your flight now. The Fifth Annual Irish Reels Film & Video Festival opens on Wednesday, March 6.

That’s right. It’s been a whole year already since the last time you heard me plug, I mean, report on this festival. (Disclaimer: I do work for this festival, but I do not get paid anything—unless you count the cans of Guinness I sneak out in my pockets after the opening night gala.) This year the festival takes on even greater importance since I have learned that the Dublin Film Festival, normally held in the spring, has been canceled this year. So, all ye Dubliners and other residents of Ireland who are suffering film festival withdrawal, hop on a plane and get on over here.

In our planning discussions for the festival, I frequently raise the important philosophical question of whether Irish Reels is “an Irish thing” or “a film thing.” Over time I have learned that nobody really cares about this question except me. But I keep asking it anyway. Last year I conducted an informal survey of people I met at the festival as to why they were there. Virtually all of them said that they came because they were Irish-American (or sometimes just Irish) and they wanted to attend something that had something to do with Ireland. Nobody said they just wanted to see some cool flicks and that Irish Reels attracted them because a lot of cool flicks happen to come out of Ireland.

So, I keep waiting for film buffs to discover the festival and descend in hordes. In the meantime, that just leaves more Guinness for me and those other people getting in touch with their ethnic heritage.

I am anxiously looking forward to the opening night film, which I had expected to see last July at the Galway Film Fleadh but didn’t because it was pulled from the schedule at the last minute due to “insurmountable problems with the print.” (Sigh.) It is called How Harry Became a Tree and is directed by Goran Paskaljevic, who previously made a provocative and mesmerizing film about the absurdity of 1990s life in Belgrade called Bure Baruta and known in English as either Powder Keg or Cabaret Balkan. Okay, I know what you’re thinking: Hey, this Goran whatsis doesn’t sound like he’s Irish! Technically, you’re right. Okay, there’s nothing technical about it. He’s even less Irish than I am. But the film is set in Ireland (in 1924) and has an Irish cast. It stars Colm Meaney (of The Commitments and its two sequels, not to mention two different Star Trek series) as a bitter cabbage farmer and Cillian Murphy (Sunburn, Disco Pigs) as his son. Having seen what Paskaljevic was able to do with the situation in his native Balkans, I can’t wait to see what he makes of Ireland in the aftermath of its civil war. Given the potential of this film and its Irish theme, the programming committee was persuaded to be flexible (and not for the first time) on its stated aim of showcasing contemporary Irish filmmakers.

The funny thing is that everyone wants to call this movie When Harry Became a Tree (instead of How Harry Became a Tree). This is undoubtedly because of a certain Rob Reiner movie that also has the name Harry in the title, and this slip of the tongue conjures up strange images of an embarrassed Billy Crystal watching Meg Ryan simulate the sounds of an orgasm for an amazed group of onlookers somewhere out in the bog.

People attending the opening night screening will also be treated to not one but two Irish shorts, which both happen to be nominated this year for Academy Awards for Best Animated Short Film. These are Ruairi Robinson’s Fifty Percent Grey and Cathal Gaffney’s Give Up Yer Aul Sins.

People who don’t get enough of Cillian Murphy (an up-and-coming actor from Cork, who looks something like a very young Mick Jagger) in the opening night film can also see him in John Carney’s On the Edge, which was the opening feature at the Galway Film Fleadh and was my personal favorite of that festival. The delightful and amusing subject is teen suicide, but don’t let that put you off. While it doesn’t completely avoid melodrama, the film is very entertaining thanks largely to a darkly funny script and Murphy’s performance as a young man hiding his anger at the world behind a pose of cynical humor.

There is another feature film scheduled, called Rat, about which I know nothing. And there is a wealth of new Irish short films, with an emphasis on animation and films in the Irish language, as well as several documentaries, including a timely one about people immigrating to (not emigrating from) Ireland. That film, No Man’s Land by David Rane, will be accompanied by a similarly themed 12-minute short by Alan Gilesnan called Zulu 9 that has to be seen to be believed. Oh yeah, and if you’re a fan of playwright Samuel Beckett, you will be in heaven. A generous assortment of his plays on film will be shown, including some by directors like Neil Jordan and Atom Egoyan.

Have I convinced you yet to book that flight? Or at least drive over the Evergreen Point bridge? Anyway, for the most up-to-date schedule and information on the festival, check out IrishReels.Org. You can thank me by showing up and buying me a Guinness.

-S.L., 28 February 2002

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