Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Come fleadh with me

I have to say it. I miss the little cowboy.

It’s a very small and trivial point, and who but myself would even bring it up?

I’m speaking of the little film clip that is shown before each film presentation at the Galway Film Fleadh. Most film fests seem to have these things. It’s something of a branding tool, just in case the audience has already forgotten, in between the time they bought their tickets and when they took their seats, that they are at a film festival and that the film festival has a name. I suppose the little identifying clip—akin to the television logo that TV networks air before prime time television programs, with an announcer intoning what network you are watching, in case you are too far from your television dial (or LED) to see what it is—gives the film festival a sense of importance in being an institution that can afford to buy (or have donated) marketing tools.

Anyway, the problem with these little clips is that, given that they are shown before most, if not all, films, you can become very familiar with them if you are one of those people who take in, say, ten or twenty or (God forbid) eighty films during a festival. If the clip is mildly annoying the first time, it generally isn’t any better by the thirteenth time. The Seattle International Film Festival has always gotten around this problem by having several different clips that are rotated. Even so, you still get to see each one plenty of times.

The two times I previously attended the Galway Film Fleadh, in 1998 and 2001, they used the same clip in front of every major screening. And, amazingly, I always enjoyed it. This is a minor miracle. But the success of that identifying clip was its brevity and simplicity. It featured a cartoon cowboy riding over the horizon and wielding an unraveling film reel as if it were a lariat. In the background was the single most identifiable landmark in Galway, its cathedral. There was no voiceover, just a pleasant melody that evoked classic American westerns, but with a bit of a Gaelic lilt to it.

For all its simplicity, the clip was brilliant. What better evokes the power of moviemaking to create mythology than the western? At the same time, the western theme was a reminder that this film festival was taking place in Ireland’s west, not an insignificant detail since historically most major Irish cultural events have been centered in Dublin, on the eastern coast. While only three hours apart by car, there is a world of difference between the Irish Republic’s capital and its western counties. I think it’s safe to say that a lot Americans might find themselves more at home in urban Dublin than would many people from rural Galway or Mayo.

Anyway, the cowboy is gone. I don’t know how many years he adorned the screens of the film fleadh, but it must have been at least three, and maybe even more. His replacement, thankfully, isn’t annoying. It is just a quick series of photos taken from past film fleadhs to a background of jazzy-sounding music. It feels a bit corporate and even self-congratulating, and I suppose that is an accurate summary of where this film festival is now. With fifteen years soon to be under its belt, it is truly a well-established institution. And it is the nature of big arts events to congratulate themselves regularly. Since many of the people involved would be volunteers, it is only fair that they get thanked often and profusely. Still, it is also telling that the photos are mainly of celebrities who have attended the festival over the years. There is always an element of attendance at any film festival of gawking at stars or wanting to be seen with or around them. I can’t help but be a little wistful that this new, fawning, more grown-up film clip has replaced the playful, childlike cartoon cowboy.

As you’ve probably figured out by now, I am back at the Galway Film Fleadh, which is where I belong. It’s great to be here. As my friend Dayle admonished me recently, maybe this what I need to cleanse my mind of movies like Anger Management. It is also an excuse to avoid writing more tributes to dead actors (sorry, Buddy Ebsen!), which these days is starting to seem like a full-time career.

With movies like Conspiracy of Silence and Veronica Guerin being shown, I can already see that there will be new insights to be gained into how Ireland is seen by the world and how it sees itself.

Stay tuned.

-S.L., 10 July 2003

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