Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Fleadh away home

Sometimes I wonder, if you asked Google Earth to randomly pick a point somewhere, anywhere on the earth, what would be the odds that the place would have a movie connection?

By that, I mean, if you talked to the locals, would they have a story about a film crew coming to the area sometime in years past to film a movie? Or would they tell you about how one of their own had gone off and made a name for himself or herself in the film world?

Obviously, the odds would be greater if your random point turned out to be in southern California or in or near other world film capitals. But I am struck how, everywhere I go, no matter how seemingly remote or non-tinsel-town, there always seems to be a movie connection. Whether it is my own native Kern County in California or my adopted Pacific Northwest or just places I’ve visited, like the tiny place in Alberta, Canada, where my niece’s husband is from and, it turned out, was where movie icon Fay Wray was from, there always seems to be a movie connection.

We read how tiny places, like Marfa, Texas, are apparently changed forever by the arrival of a Hollywood film crew, like the one that arrived, courtesy of director George Stevens and Warner Bros., in 1955 to shoot the movie Giant. And this is not just an American phenomenon. The beautiful Dingle Peninsula in southwest Ireland became a tourist magnet in large part to the exposure it got from the arrival of David Lean and his cast and crew back in 1969 to film Ryan’s Daughter.

I got to thinking about this because, every year around this time, I am again amazed at how much movie history there is in Galway, which for the past seven years, has been my arts and entertainment go-to city. Every year the Galway Film Fleadh finds new people to pay tribute to, usually with some connection to the area. Some of the honorees are obvious, like Maureen O’Hara (feted at the 2004 fest), who originally hails from Dublin but is forever associated with the west of Ireland because of her starring role in John Ford’s The Quiet Man. The village of Innisfree was played by Cong, which is properly a Mayo village but which straddles the border with Galway. Several locations in both counties, some quite a distance from each other, played roles in the movie. Another obvious choice was last year’s tribute subject, Peter O’Toole, who claims County Galway as his birthplace (although no one, not even him, can say with absolute certainty whether he was actually born on Irish or English soil).

But those scions of Hollywood and international cinematic royalty are merely the tip of the Galway film iceberg. For example, this year’s list of Fleadh honorees is headlined by Anjelica Huston, granddaughter of the actor Walter and daughter of the actor and director John. This is a homecoming of sorts for her, since she spent part of her childhood growing up in County Galway. Back in the 1950s John Huston relocated from Los Angeles to Ireland, the story goes, because he was advised that there was a tax advantage to living abroad. (In a way, I followed in Huston’s more illustrious footsteps, in making the journey from California to the west of Ireland, although I’m here to say that it has not helped my tax situation one bit.) He settled quickly into the Irish lifestyle in County Kildare and lived for many years in Galway. Six years ago the John Huston School of Film and Digital Media was established at the National University of Ireland (NUI), Galway. Anjelica Huston is on its board of directors. In the 1960s she attended a girls’ school in a castle in one of the most beautiful settings anywhere. As a cousin of mine exclaimed, when she first set eyes on Kylemore Abbey in Connemara, it is the real-life equivalent of Hogwarts. While most people would know Huston for movies like Prizzi’s Honor and The Addams Family, she has also appeared in Irish movies, like The Dead (based on a James Joyce story and her father’s last film) and Agnes Browne. In addition to The Dead, the Fleadh is also screening her work in The Royal Tenenbaums and Choke.

On Tuesday evening’s news there were some lovely film shots of Anjelica Huston and Film Fleadh board member Kate O’Toole (daughter of Peter) enjoying together the old world seafront ambiance around Galway’s Spanish Arch—two daughters of movie legends who grew up in the area.

Another honoree with a local connection is film producer Redmond Morris, who was born in Dublin but grew up in Spiddal, on Galway Bay. His father worked with John Ford in Ireland as well as the actor Tyrone Power. His own career has gone from being a location manager on Quadrophenia, For Your Eyes Only and Reds to being an assistant director on Zardoz and The Crying Game to being a producer on Scandal, Map of the Human Heart, Interview with the Vampire, Michael Collins, The Wind That Shakes the Barley, Notes on a Scandal and The Reader. Films being shown in tribute to Morris include The Butcher Boy, Quadrophenia and the movie that provided him his first job (as third assistant director), Clive Donner’s 1969 epic Alfred the Great, starring David Hemmings, which was filmed in the County Galway countryside.

Among the Fleadh’s other honorees this year are British screenwriter and director Christopher Hampton (Dangerous Liaisons, Atonement and the recently released Chéri) and the German-born actor Michael Fassbender, who grew up in County Kerry and who has been in everything from the graphic novel adaptation 300 to the horror flick Eden Lake to Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds. The Fleadh is screening his most acclaimed performance to date, as Bobby Sands in Steve McQueen’s Hunger, as well as the Cannes-prize-winning Fish Tank.

So far, it has been another great Fleadh this year. There is something very comfortable about it, as if this Galway institution has matured into a self-confident adulthood. (It is the Fleadh’s 21st after all.) And (cross fingers, touch wood, please God) I have not got drenched in any downpours, as I did last year. (I couldn’t help but notice that this year the delegate bags are plastic instead of fabric. To make them more waterproof?) And my computer has not died, as it did last year. If there is a down side (and it’s not really a down side at all), there are so many great films to see that there is no time to write about them, so the memories of them are stacking up in my brain like jets circling Heathrow airport. Let’s hope that I can keep them all in the air with none of them colliding.

-S.L., 9 July 2009

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