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Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

All in the fleadh family

Another Galway Film Fleadh has come and gone. As well as providing opportunities to see a few flicks that are hard to see otherwise (e.g. Hukkle from Hungary, Lilja 4-ever and Kopps from Sweden, Agnieszka Holland’s Julie Walking Home), the fleadh is a great chance to catch up with a still vibrant Irish film scene.

The fact that film in Ireland is flourishing is due to several factors. The Irish Film Board, which observes its tenth anniversary this year, gives a lot of support to Irish filmmakers. The government also provides support through the national broadcaster RTÉ and its Irish-language channel TG4, as well as providing tax breaks (at least so far) to filmmakers who want to do their filming in Ireland. All of this makes a difference, as can is evidenced by the large number of Irish short films (both animated and live action, some in English, some in Irish) that filled no fewer than eight program slots.

Also impressive is the number of Irish feature films screened at the fleadh. Personally, I managed to catch six feature films that can claim to be “Irish,” or eight, if you count a couple of the films I had previously seen which were screened as part of the Pierce Brosnan tribute. These Irish movies ranged from the low-budget The Honeymooners (which billed itself as “the first Irish dogma film”) to the slick Hollywood thriller Veronica Guerin.

What strikes us upon seeing all of these movies in the space of a few days is that, in a small country with a flourishing film industry, you see a lot of the same actors over and over. There are many fine Irish actors, but Ireland is after all an island with a population in the neighborhood of 5 million. If you are looking for actors in Ireland, there are only so many around to hire. Of course, Ireland is not a closed a shop, and we also see many non-Irish actors playing Irish characters, often in the lead roles if the producers have their eye on the international market. Hence, the Australian Cate Blanchett has the title role in Veronica Guerin and Englishman Albert Finney has a featured role as a barrister in Evelyn. But to a large extent, Irish films end up having the feel of the old Hollywood studio movies that used the same repertory of actors over and over.

A prime example of this phenomenon is Brenda Fricker, who made her mark in 1989 playing Daniel Day-Lewis’s mother in My Left Foot and winning a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her trouble. At the fleadh, she was seen playing Veronica Guerin’s mother as well as (less thankfully) the mother of an expelled seminarian in the overwrought Conspiracy of Silence. Hollywood hottie Colin Farrell also put in a couple of screen appearances. He was the first among equals in the ensemble cast of Intermission, as well as contributing a cameo to Veronica Guerin, apparently as a favor to director Joel Schumacher, who also worked with him on Phone Booth.

But I was most impressed by performances by a pair of actors who hadn’t caught my attention before. Coincidentally or not, they both happen to female, relatively young, coifed with long black hair, and endowed with hauntingly sultry voices. Fiona O’Shaughnessy was captivating, both as the open-minded Trinity College student who gets back at a two-timing professor by having an affair with his new girlfriend in Goldfish Memory and as the fantasy-enshrouded heroine of the glorious black-and-white short film Meeting Che Guevara and the Man from Maybury Hill. I know nothing about her, but I hope to see her in more films. Scottish actor Shirley Henderson stood out in Intermission’s large cast as a young Dublin woman who was refreshing in her unvarnished candor but who was somehow oblivious to the conspicuous crop of hair above her lip. She was even better in the Danish-Scottish production Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself, in which she played a single mother who finds love with a pair of brothers running a Glasgow bookshop.

While not yet a star, Henderson already has a healthy film résumé, having had roles in Trainspotting and Bridget Jones’s Diary. Her greatest claim to worldwide fame so far, however, would be her turn as the ghostly “Moaning Myrtle” in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Coincidentally, her Wilbur co-star Adrian Rawlins was seen briefly in both Harry Potter movies, as the young wizard’s late father.

* * *

One of the joys of attending film festivals is the chance to see perfectly good movies that I otherwise wouldn’t get to see. It’s not that there is a conspiracy to keep really good movies from getting released. At least I don’t think there is. Actually, I’m not sure. But anyway, obviously more films get made than the marketing engines of the movie industry can or are willing to handle. So lots of films get made that are perfectly good but don’t get a theatrical release. Sometimes the films that don’t get released are actually better than many that do get released. It used to be that your only chance to see many of these films was at a film festival, although that has changed during the past several years in that many of them now have the option of going direct to cable television or to video.

One such film that stuck in my mind was Bob’s Weekend, a hard-to-classify British comedy, which I caught at the 1997 Seattle International Film Festival. The director, Jevon O’Neill, happened to notice my write-up and has been nice enough to contact me a few times with updates. A year and a half ago, he alerted me to the fact that Bob’s Weekend had finally got a video release. More recently, he contacted me with more good news. He reports that he has finished principal photography on a new movie called Out of Season. The cast is impressive. It stars Dennis Hopper, Gina Gershon and Dominique Swain (Adrian Lyne’s Lolita). Also featured are Jordan Frieda, Jim Carter and, says O’Neill, “a great Irish actor to watch out for called David Murray.”

Let’s hope we don’t have to wait for a film festival to see this one.

-S.L., 17 July 2003

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