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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Pulling another Cork

I can’t believe I am back in Cork again. The years just fly by. Really, it seems as though only a couple of weeks have passed since I was last here. Wait, it was only a couple of weeks. The family and I came down for a weekend to meet up with a Seattle friend, who was spending a week in the East Cork countryside. No wonder everything seems so familiar.

That visit turned out to be very instructive. We visited Cork’s Crawford Gallery, which I was familiar with, since it has been the scene of numerous film personage interviews during many Cork film festivals. Imagine my surprise when I learned that it is also an art gallery! And a very interesting one at that. A very nice lady named Rose gave us our very own private tour of the gallery’s collection of statues (many copies of the Vatican’s collection of classical figures) and paintings. One painting in particular intrigued me. It was a view of the Cork city center as seen from an overlooking hill. Interestingly, the very building we were in (originally, an 18th-century Customs House) was there, and it was what you could call waterfront property.

Cork (which, I learned, had the world’s second largest harbor, after Sydney) had basically built its Customs House for drive-up (sail-up?) convenience. Ships could sail into Cork Harbour and up the River Lee and right up to the Customs House. In fact, old Cork had more water than streets. Patrick Street, the main drag through the city center—which has always struck me as following a meandering course, kind of like a river—was, well, a river. I had heard that Cork was sometimes referred to as the Venice of the West, but now I could see exactly why. Old Cork, like Venice, had water where its streets should be. But where did the water go? It was replaced with landfill. Knowing this suddenly made things much clearer. Every couple of years or so, some combination of heavy rains and/or very high tides convert Cork back into the Eire’s own Venice, and Oliver Plunkett Street and other city center routes become part of the river again.

I thought I was going to personally witness this display of nature’s force on Sunday when I drove into the city. The rain was coming down in buckets, and I looked anxiously at the high-water mark of the River Lee as I made my way to my hotel, which happens to sit on water’s edge. I was, of course, back in Cork again because there is another thing that this city has in common with Venice. It has a film festival.

There is something new with the Cork Film Festival this year. In its 51st year, it has finally instituted online booking. This was great news for me. In the past, short of making a special trip down to Cork to visit the festival box office a week in advance of the film festival (which I never actually considered doing), I had to queue up at the box office on the opening day and hope that tickets would be available for all the movies I wanted to see. Almost invariably, they were, but with one extremely consistent exception. Never in any previous year was I able to get a ticket to the opening night gala, even though it would have been included in the price of my full-season ticket. But this year, literally within minutes of the festival’s online ordering page going live, I was able to purchase my full-season ticket and book my individual films. And I got all of them. It was so easy and convenient that I was sure something had gone wrong. So, when I arrived in Cork on Sunday, my top priority was to hotfoot it down to the box office and get my actual hard copy tickets in my eager little hands. It was such a high priority that I refused to be daunted by the fact that enough water was falling out of the sky to make the Crawford Gallery waterfront property again.

I made my way down Washington Street with my goal visible in the watery distance, negotiating puddles the size of Lough Corrib and doing my best to avoid drenchings by cars driving through hectares of standing water. As I got closer to the box office, I saw a worrying sight. The front of the box office was blocked by fire trucks. “Oh no!” I despaired. “What are the odds that the very hour that I need to get my film festival tickets in the worst downpour of the year the festival box office would catch on fire!” When I arrived, I was relieved to see that box office was not on fire. It was open and doing business. In the back of the room, there were three drenched firemen standing around talking. I never found out why they were there, but to all appearances they just wanted to get out of the rain.

To my delight and perhaps because of the weather, instead of the usual long queue, there was no queue at all. I walked right up to a pleasant young lady who, upon getting my surname, immediately handed me my full-season pass, my official festival program and 20 tickets—including opening night! I was so amazed and pleased that I almost didn’t mind the fact that I was soaking wet.

I went back to my hotel to try to dry out and to get ready for my very first Cork opening night gala. The great thing about going to a film festival in a city far enough away from one’s rural, broadband-lacking home is that you have to get a hotel and, if you pick the right hotel, it has wifi. This means that, while at this film festival, I don’t have to keep hanging out at McDonald’s to post my rantings. This is probably good for my health since I’m pretty sure the hotel doesn’t use trans-fats in its full Irish breakfasts.

Anyway, I was very excited to attend my very first Cork opening night gala. I couldn’t wait to see how it was different and more glamorous from, say, the Monday night gala or the Tuesday night gala or… as it turns out, the people who run the Cork film festival really like galas. They literally have one every night of the week. The irony is that I’m guessing that I could have gotten a ticket to opening night even if I hadn’t booked a week in advance. I don’t know if technically it was a sell-out, but there were a few (although not many) empty seats around. The really hot ticket this year, the pleasant young lady at the box office told me, was the one for Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man. She seemed very impressed that a dripping wet man like me could even have gotten one. “They’re like gold dust!” she emphasized.

So, I will now share with you the excitement and the glamour of the opening night gala. The curtains opened, and festival chairman Charles Hennessy hobbled out on stage on crutches. “This is our 51st year,” he rasped, “and we’re looking it.” After a few remarks, he hobbled off, and the curtains closed. After a few minutes, the curtains opened again and festival director Mick Hannigan walked out. He introduced John Callaghan, the director of the opening night short film, Imagine This. After the short, Mick was back to introduce Gabriel Range, director of Death of a President, as well as producers Ed Guiney and Simon Finch. Usually the opening night film is a premiere of a new Irish film, but Guiney provided an Irish connection for this UK production, since he has a long list of producer credits on Irish (and British) movies going back 15 years. A couple of his earliest were Gerry Stembridge’s Guiltrip and Stephen Bradley’s Sweety Barrett, and his latest include Charles Sturridge’s new Lassie movie and Billy O’Brien’s horror flick Isolation.

It is interesting to ponder the role of film festivals, given the constantly evolving forces of commerce and technology. Traditionally, the allure of film fests has been the opportunity to see films before you can see them anywhere else or, in some cases, see films you will never get a chance to see anywhere else. But on Cork’s opening night, the opening short film had already been viewed hundreds of thousands of times on YouTube. And, while the main feature, as Hannigan pointed out, was having only its second viewing in the world (after its premiere at the Toronto film festival) and its European premiere, it was aired the very next evening on the UK’s Channel 4. Given the internet and the technical changes in television broadcasting, one wonders if film festivals will eventually become an outmoded concept. My own opinion is that they won’t, at least not anytime soon. And for the same reason that a lot of people still go to church even though they can pray all they want at home. On the other hand, churches generally don’t make you queue for ages out in the rain.

I have to tell you, I thought I had really arrived when, on the second day of the festival, the man at the Cork Opera House who takes the tickets greeted me by name! I’ve known this man’s face for years, handing him my tickets as I entered the auditorium. It wouldn’t be completely strange that he might remember my face. But how on earth did he know my name? My mind started racing. He must have seen my web site! But how would he know it was my web site? Maybe everyone at the festival has seen my web site. Maybe they have all been talking about me and pointing at me and saying, you know, that’s the Scott of the Scott’s Movie Comments! This and other scenarios were swirling all around my head, when I happened to look down at my ticket stub.

My tickets, which I had so proudly pre-ordered online, all had my full name printed on them.

* * *

Please allow me to pass on a correction. Last week, I wittily (or so I hoped) mentioned a New York Times report that Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez thought Noam Chomsky was dead. The Times has since printed a correction, after complaints from the Venezuelan government, saying that a bad simultaneous translation from Spanish to English had given its reporter the impression that Chavez was referring to Chomsky when he was in reality talking about the late economist John Kenneth Galbraith.

But how can we be really sure that the Times even has it right this time? Perhaps what Chavez actually said was that he regretted not being interviewed by that icon The New York Times before its editing and fact-checking staff had gone brain-dead.

-S.L., 12 October 2006

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