Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

So, what’s the DIFF?

This is really bad. Two weeks ago, I presented the first half of a great examination of how the science fiction TV series Babylon 5 views the universe and what we can learn from it and how it applies to the current world situation. Then, last week, rather than completing the examination, as promised, I postponed the second half a week in order to talk about the Irish Reels Film and Video Festival in Seattle. But I promised that I would finish my great discourse this week.

Well, I lied again. I’m not finishing it this week either. Frankly, the only thing I can do at this point is, at the beginning of next week’s column, to direct you to read the first half again, so that it is fresh in your mind, and then proceed directly to the second half to finish the dissertation.

Sorry about that. But when I started this whole latest Babylon 5 thread, I didn’t realize that I would be going to a film festival in March. You see, as I was lamenting last week that I couldn’t go to a great Irish film festival (in Seattle) because I was in, of all places, Ireland, what I didn’t mention was that it had already come to my attention that there was actually a film festival going on in Ireland at the very same time. I’m not sure you can technically call it an Irish film festival. It is Irish all right because it takes place in Ireland. But it’s not strictly an “Irish film festival” because the vast majority of the films screened aren’t Irish. In fact, it doesn’t have as many Irish films in its eight days as Seattle’s Irish Reels has in its three days. (Two of its films that are, however, Irish—Photos to Send: People to Go Back To and Goldfish Memory—were being shown at practically the same time in Seattle at the Irish Reels.) It is, in fact, an “international” film festival.

There is a certain irony in all of this. Last year, since we were going to be in Ireland when the Seattle International Film Festival was on, I knew that I would be missing that one. But I consoled myself with the fact that I could make up for it by attending the Dublin Film Festival, which was held in the spring. So, it was a disappointment to read in February last year that the 2002 Dublin Film Festival had been cancelled. Rats! It seemed like a plot to keep me from seeing movies. The reason given for the cancellation was something about funding or politics or something. So, I didn’t expect to be able to go to the Dublin Film Festival this year either. But I was pleasantly surprised to read in The Irish Times a couple of weeks ago that there was indeed a film festival being held in Dublin in March. The article was careful to point out that this was not the same Dublin Film Festival, which had been canceled. Even though it was being held in Dublin around the same time that the Dublin Film Festival used to be held, and some of the same people were involved with it, this was definitely not the Dublin Film Festival. It was the Dublin International Film Festival.

It was as though some benevolent intervening fate had decided to make up for me moving away from Seattle. Not only was this new Dublin festival’s name similar to the Seattle International Film Festival, but so was its stated premise. Almost identically to what SIFF has trumpeted for years, the literature for the DIFF proclaimed that this was a festival “for the audiences rather than the industry.” The purpose was simply to show as many films as possible (66, to be precise) from a variety of countries around the world, for the benefit of avid filmgoers. The running time was only eight days as opposed to SIFF’s usual 25 but, hey, it’s only the first year. And I’m not going to quibble about any film festival that is within driving distance of my new home.

Unfortunately, I was able to get away to Dublin for only two days, so I sampled a mere six of its offerings. But if you count five of its other films, which I had previously seen, then at least I managed to view 17 percent of its screenings.

To judge by the crowds, Dublin film lovers are enthusiastically supporting this new film fest. Even at a 10:45 Monday morning screening for a documentary (Blind Spot: Hitler’s Secretary), there was a decent turnout. The Irish Times in particular has been very supportive to the point of singing its praises in print. But this probably shouldn’t be too surprising, since The Times is a sponsor of the festival (punishing punctual attendees by forcing them to sit through one of the most annoying ads of all time before each film) and festival director Michael Dwyer reviews movies for The Times and another Times critic, Donald Clarke, is involved as well. So, none of the write-ups I saw, for instance, criticized the Screen cinema, venue for most of the screenings, and their habit of not adjusting the screen masking or projector lenses for the brief snippets shown before the features (a detail the SIFF people are totally anal about). But, hey, gratitude for a chance to see movies trumps these kindx of quibbles in my book.

In my brief drive-by of the first-ever DIFF, I did manage to see a couple of celebrities. French director Claire Denis sat for a Q&A after the screening of her film Vendredi soir. She was quick to point out that one person, at a similar Q&A at a New York Film Festival, had asked had asked if Vendredi soir was meant to promote adultery and how shocked she was at the question. The point of bringing this up at all seemed to be to remind us how much more sophisticated the French are than everyone else (particularly the Americans) but also to make the movie we had just seen seem more interesting than it really was.

The next night, the Dublin actor Colin Farrell passed within inches of me as he maneuvered his way through the crowd milling outside the Screen after a showing of his American film, The Recruit. Looking as though he were in costume for playing the lead in Da Ali G Story, he good-naturedly indulged his fans by signing autographs and posing for photographs. And, yes, as it always turns out when I see these people close up, he is really short. Those of us, who first noticed Farrell playing the earnest Dublin lad who shows up at his elderly uncle’s Wicklow farm, in an effort to hold on to his beloved horse, in the TV series Ballykissangel, were not prepared for the range of cocky and often edgy characters that this quintessential Dub would be playing in a multitude of Hollywood films. He has been everything from Tom Cruise’s bane in Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report to a lawyer in a German P.O.W. camp in Hart’s War (with Bruce Willis) to the sociopath super-villain Bullseye in Daredevil to Al Pacino’s CIA protégé in The Recruit and the star of the thriller Phone Booth. This guy is everywhere!

Thanks, Dublin, for reviving, I mean, starting a brand new film festival just for me. Now that I know about it, I’ll try to spend more time there the next time.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

-S.L., 13 March 2003

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