Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson





Building façade in Cannes, France

Dark screens for green themes?

Usually around this time of year, I moan and whinge about not being in Seattle for the Irish Reels Film & Video Festival. But this year is different. In a refreshing change of pace, I will now moan and whinge about there not being an Irish Reels Film & Video Festival.

I could go into the whole, sad, sordid story about why the festival is gone. (At least I assume it is gone. I have seen or heard no indication that anybody is attempting to carry it on in the absence of its two founders.) Anyway, suffice to say that petty politics and depressing mismanagement (although not by anybody directly involved in the festival itself) are the ultimate culprits. As a result, the ton of energy that went into the festival in the course of its stellar seven-year run (some of it underpaid, most of it unpaid) has been dispersed and is presumably doing good stuff in other areas. It’s not a new story, by any means. But that doesn’t make it any less sad. Still, it’s better to celebrate the seven great years the Irish Reels had rather than dwell on its absence.

The truth is that most of us can have our own virtual Irish Reels festival by doing a little research and making visits to well-stocked video stores. And, in fact, movie-goers have been having a love affair with Irish films for a long time. For the most hardcore of film fanatics, the romance goes all the way back to 1934 and the documentary about islanders off the Galway coast, Man of Aran. For most mainstream Americans (and particularly Irish-Americans), it goes back to the 1952 release of the American production, The Quiet Man. For the contemporary audience, it can be traced to Alan Parker’s 1991 adaptation of a Roddy Doyle novel, The Commitments. Now, as different as all of these three particular films are, they have one thing in common. While they each feature a fair a mount of Irish talent, the actual filmmakers of all them were not technically Irish.

There are still numerous “Irish” movies that are made by Brits or by Yanks, but thanks to the efforts of the Irish Film Board, for quite a few years now, more and more Irish movies are actually made by Irish men and women. Some, like Neil Jordan and Jim Sheridan, have well-earned international reputations. Some, like Pat O’Connor and Terry George (director of the much lauded Hotel Rwanda), do much of their work outside of Ireland. The truth is that, from its beginning in 1998, the Irish Reels’ stated aim of bringing authentic Irish films made by real Irish artists to Seattle audiences was already nearly becoming unnecessary. The world marketplace was getting somewhat close to doing that job already, at least in the area of feature films. The great contribution of the Irish Reels, as with many film festivals, was really in the area of documentaries and short films. These are the labors of love that are always under-seen, regardless of what country they come from. As for the feature films, the festival programmers frequently found themselves bending the rules for what constituted an authentic Irish film because so many of the authentic Irish films were being snapped up by commercial distributors or bigger film festivals. American filmgoers, at least in urban areas, generally have no trouble eventually catching films like Intermission or Cowboys and Angels (featured in last year’s Irish Reels) or Goldfish Memory or Bloody Sunday (featured the previous year).

Lately, I have found myself playing the mental game of programming a hypothetical eight Irish Reels Film & Video Festival. I suppose it would have to include Gary McKendry’s short film Everything in This Country Must, which was nominated for an Oscar. It would also probably include Lance Daly’s amusing and interesting slice of Dublin fast food nightlife, The Halo Effect, and inevitably, Alan Gilsenan’s equally interesting but disappointing Timbuktu. The programmers would also probably try to get a hold of the commercially popular (in Ireland) comedy Man About Dog, as well as the slice-of-Dublin-junkie-life (described as a “stylised downbeat physical comedy”) Adam & Paul. But they wouldn’t, on the other hand, bother booking the recent film by Damien O’Donnell, Inside I’m Dancing. That’s because it has already been released in the U.S., albeit with a different title (Rory O’Shea Was Here), apparently because it makes it sound less like a chick flick.

While compiling this list makes one wistful, it would be an interesting exercise to see how long it would take to see all these films in the States, either at the local art-house cinema and/or by ordering from Netflix or other well-stocked video sources.

The reason that the Irish Reels (as well the New York Film Fleadh, which as far as I know is still in operation) was always held in March is, of course, to tie into St. Patrick’s Day. On that note, let me wish both my readers (Irish or otherwise) a happy Paddy’s Day. I have to say that there is no better place to be on March 17 than in Ireland. Except for maybe just about anyplace in America, since Americans seem to take the day much more seriously than people in Ireland do. Oh, sure, there are lots of parades here, and people get a day off from work and school. But the real action is in places like New York and Boston and Chicago. Don’t take my word for it. Ask any Irish politician. It is annual ritual for all of them to depart en masse for the States. The really high-up muckymucks get invited to the White House to party with the president. The controversy this year is that, for the first time since the Good Friday Northern Ireland peace agreement, the leaders of Sinn Féin, widely considered the political arm of the IRA, have not been invited to the White House bash. The sisters and fiancée of a murdered Belfast man got the invitation instead. Things have gotten so bad for Gerry Adams that even Ted Kennedy isn’t meeting with him. This isn’t strictly because of anti-terrorist rigidity on the part of the Bush administration. It is also a reflection of what is going on back in Ireland. It’s as though the whole country (well, not the whole country; Sinn Féin’s hard-core supporters are pretty darn loyal) suddenly woke up one morning and thought to itself, hey, these IRA guys are a bunch of thugs! Anyway, I’m sure it will all make a fascinating movie someday, presumably directed by an Irish man or woman.

As for the annual exodus of Irish politicians for America (would George W. Bush and major members of Congress spend Fourth of July in Britian? would Jacques Chirac spend Bastille Day in Canada?), the best explanation I heard for the phenomenon was on the radio this morning. Some guy texted in (mobile phone texts and email have virtually replaced telephone calls on radio chat shows here) that it actually made perfect sense for the politicians to spend this particular day outside of Ireland. Is not St. Patrick best known, he asked with that wonderful Gaelic cynicism, for driving snakes off the island?

-S.L., 17 March 2005


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