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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Thirsting for film

As I tramped through the rain, I couldn’t help but think of the irony. Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink.

Actually, there is plenty of water to drink in Galway. You just have to buy it in a bottle or get it from someplace with its own filtration system or boil it. For some months now, the city of Galway and other places that get their water from Lough Corrib (the Republic of Ireland’s largest lake) have been warned to boil their tap water before drinking it—because of a nasty little cryptosporidium contamination. The cause is uncertain. Some blame the runoff of cattle and/or sheep feces from bordering fields, washed into the lake by unusually heavy rains over the winter. Some blame a change in silage practices, forced on Irish farmers by the European Union which is, for some in my neighborhood, the root of all evil. And some suspect that one or more local communities are just dumping their sewage raw into the lake. In any event, many people in Galway and south County Mayo would be taking their lives into their hands if they dared to drink water straight out of their tap.

Fortunately, there is no reason to be drinking water in Galway this week anyway. Drinking is what whiskey and Guinness and Stella Artois are for. The annual Galway Film Fleadh is on again (it’s the 19th year), and the pub upstairs at the Town Hall Theatre conveniently provides at least the whiskey and the Stella Artois and will even boil the water to make you a cup of coffee or tea. I haven’t felt the slightest bit ill yet. In fact, I’m reminded of a wonderful story that legendary cinematographer Jack Cardiff told five years ago in Cork. When he was in Africa filming The African Queen with John Huston, it turned out that Lake Victoria had a similar problem to Lough Corrib’s current one, but no one knew it. Everyone in the cast and crew fell ill except for Huston and Humphrey Bogart. They were the only two who never touched the water, opting instead to refresh themselves with whiskey. It was an important lesson that I have never forgotten.

July has provided what we refer to as excellent film-going weather. If it is a good time to be indoors at the official Film Fleadh pub, then it is a good time to be indoors altogether. This summer (and I’m using that term in a strictly technical calendar kind of sense) has been one of the most non-summery ones I can personally remember. Well, I can actually remember getting one of the worst colds of my life from standing outdoors during a Fourth of July ceremony in freezing weather. But that was at a U.S. consulate in Chile, where it was actually the middle of winter. There is no excuse for this kind of weather in the northern hemisphere. It reminds me of the year that the Missus and I got married and we spent six consecutive months in the wilds of southwest Ireland. For months, we kept talking about all the outdoor things we were going to do “when summer comes.” Finally, one day it dawned on me that it was the middle of August and we were still saying “when summer comes.”

There is more irony here. Last year at this time, the weather was warmer than it is now, and I was going to the Fleadh to see An Inconvenient Truth, the documentary about Al Gore. (Al Gore is the man who many people believe won the U.S. presidency in 2000 and an Oscar in 2007.) Better they showed the movie last year than this year. Thus we have been spared one more article that certain pundits and reporters like to write about how unseasonably cold it was where Al Gore was giving another one of his talks on global warming. Clearly, many people throughout the world think that global warming (or climate change, as those sensitive to the just mentioned ironies prefer to call it) is a very serious matter that needs concerted worldwide attention and cooperation. But in the part of the world where I live, when you mention global warming, people sort of a smile and get a hopeful look in their eyes. It just doesn’t seem as scary here as it does in, say, the U.S. Southwest. Maybe we will feel differently when Lough Corrib becomes an inlet of the sea. (And we still won’t be able to drink the water.)

Anyway, back to the Film Fleadh. It has become a tradition every year about this time for me to write some amusing little anecdote about some mix-up or confusion with my registration or how I flustered some poor young volunteer with my unreasonable requests. This year is oddly different. Literally less than 24 hours after I mailed in my check for my series pass, a nice woman rang me at home to thank me and to assure me that my Fleadh packet would be available for pickup on Wednesday morning. Taken aback, I figured that one of the following must have happened: 1) a U.S. public relations firm was hired to run the registration process, 2) I am the only person that registered this year, or 3) they somehow came across my web page and are sick and tired of all the amusing anecdotes. The Missus assures me that the last possibility is a total non-runner. After all, she reasons, if even she never reads my web page, then why should anybody else. In typical west of Ireland fashion, she has assumed that someone connected to the Fleadh knows either her or my father-in-law and has told everybody to be nice to me. Whatever the story, I have been feeling special. Sure, there was still the usual fuss getting a ticket to the late movie on opening night. For some reason, the packet and badge aren’t handed out until the second day of the festival. And I am apparently the only registrant who goes to see the late movie on the first night. So the hapless volunteers wind up asking a few other people and maybe making a phone call and, finally, I get my ticket. It was basically the same this year, but the difference was that they seemed to recognize my name and were constantly apologizing to me. And the next day, when I went to pick up my packet, instead of the usual searching reams of printouts to find where I was listed, the pleasant young woman asked my name and then assured me that she knew it.

Of course, part of the fun and experience of going to a film festival that isn’t massively huge is enjoying the energy and enthusiasm and, yes, sometimes confusion of mostly volunteers who are putting in hours of work for pure love of what they are doing. Is Galway’s Fleadh getting too efficient? Not to worry. Another Film Fleadh tradition (for me anyway) is still in place. That is the early Wednesday screening mix-up. This usually involves the Omniplex, which is the multiplex that screens some of the Fleadh’s films. Inevitably, that first film starts late or has some other problem, apparently because of a confused projectionist or maybe Omniplex staff that haven’t reported to work yet or a mis-routed print. Inevitably, it ends up with a Fleadh volunteer figuratively beating himself up in front of us with guilt and apologies over the matter, in the unique way that only an Irish Catholic can. This year it was a screening of Roman Polanski’s classic early film A Knife in the Water. After many minutes of waiting for the lights to go down, a volunteer came and abjectly and apologetically told us that, due to some mix-up, the movie was screening in another auditorium. We all got up and dutifully filed out. Then, less than halfway to our destination, we were told to turn around and go back. We were in the right place after all.

Now that is the Film Fleadh I love!

-S.L., 12 July 2007

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