Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Two Fleadhs in one?

What can I say? It was another great Film Fleadh. And no one paid me to say that. Nobody even reimbursed any of my expenses to say that. Indeed I paid good money out of my own pocket just to be able to say that. And it was again money well spent.

There was the obligatory mid-July downpour. The rain came down in buckets on Saturday. But I cleverly scheduled all my screenings in the same cinema that day, and I was all right.

It occurs to me that the Galway Film Fleadh is a bit schizophrenic. It’s as if there are two different Fleadhs going on at the same time. There is the one at the Omniplex, which is an edifice that looks just as you would imagine it would. It is in sort of what we Yanks would call a strip mall and has ten screens. The Film Fleadh there tends to show old classic movies or foreign (and other) movies you may have not heard that much about. It is a relatively relaxed place where you rub shoulders in the lobby with the unwashed masses who are there to catch Year One, Public Enemies and The Hangover. There is no problem going into the auditorium fifteen minutes early and getting a bit of reading done, and the films usually start on time.

The Film Fleadh at the Town Hall Theatre, on the other hand, is a bit different (at least on the evenings I was there). The screenings perpetually run as much as at least an hour behind schedule, so there is almost always a crush of people in the lobby waiting for the doors to open or who have just exited a screening or (take a deep breath and brace yourself for some serious squeezing) both. The smart people know the score and they are upstairs in the pub having their second drink. If you don’t like crowds and it’s not pouring rain, you can go stand outside, but not too close to the doors unless you don’t mind second-hand smoke. There is much more of a buzz at the Town Hall Fleadh, and everybody seems to be dressed to the nines or at least trendily arty. The crowd back at the Omniplex dress and groom themselves like, well, like people who spend all their time going to movies.

Make no mistake, I love both of these Film Fleadhs. Each is a complete experience in its own right. But I’m probably more at home at the Omniplex Film Fleadh. It’s fun to rub shoulders with people who are into the business of film and trying to sell or maybe buy something, as well as getting a glimpse of the well-known to the famous. But the punters queuing up for Brüno or who have come to see a classic from 1926 are all right too.

While it’s always dangerous to generalize about people (almost as much as it is to generalize about generalizing), film buffs who shell out for the full meal deal at film festivals and see three or four or five programs a day invariably seem to be very nice people. There is, of course, a camaraderie with someone who shares your strange affliction, knowing they will not think you weird for spending a week like this. But a lot of us seem to be shy, happy to bury our nose in a book between screenings and not make eye contact. We tend to have our own favorite seats, usually spread out when the auditorium is half-empty. But when the seats are pre-assigned, as is the case with more high-profile events, we tend to get clumped together. And sometimes we chat and compare notes and find yet another kindred spirit.

One fellow I’ve gotten to know a little (as has anyone who has spent much time at either the Galway or Cork film festivals over the past few decades) is Peter. He is ubiquitous at these things. He has slowed down a bit. He needs a walker to get around, but I’m pretty sure he saw more movies than I did. In one chat, he recalled with excitement that still seemed to be fresh how he had some involvement with a movie filmed in Ireland years ago and got to meet Debra Winger.

No more than the dyed-in-the-wool film buffs, the day-trippers can be interesting to chat with as well. It can be fun to hear someone experiencing the Film Fleadh for the first time and hear them gasp when you tell them how many movies you have seen in the past few days. I met one fellow in the Town Hall balcony who was having a great time. He had come for the screening of Alfred the Great (perhaps he was around when they were filming it in his own stomping ground in rural Galway in back in the 1960s) and stayed on for the awards ceremony. He was unceremoniously ushered out, however, before the Closing Night film because he had no ticket for that, but he went away happy enough. He had spent the awards ceremony chatting up a group of attractive young women, one of whom was “your one who’s the doctor’s wife on Fair City.” He was a bit disappointed, however, that I didn’t know her because I don’t watch that soap opera.

You never know who you will meet at these things. One evening I ran into a friend with whom I worked in Seattle a decade and a half ago. If she was trying to slip in and out of the country without seeing me, then she made a serious tactical error by going to a film festival.

It never fails that some theme or trend seems to emerge from the list of movies I see. This year it was problematic relationships between fathers and their teenage daughters. Antonio Banderas clinged desperately (but ultimately not enough) to his after Argentine security forces kidnapped his wife in Imagining Argentina. A Czech girl keeps up the pretense, via mobile phone calls to her strict father, that she is at summer camp when she has hit the open road with two wild friends in Dolls. In Baraboo, it was a mother and teenage son having the difficult relationship, but that’s the exception that proves the rule. In Atonement, Saoirse Ronan appears to have no father, but she could have used one, given the trouble she caused. In The Anarchist’s Wife a girl sets up a shrine with candles for her absent father and waits literally years for his return. Imagine his consternation, after fighting tirelessly for the political left, when he finds that she has grown up comfortable with franquismo. Even the legendary French gangster Jacques Mesrine has a daughter who dotingly visits him in prison in Mesrine: Public Enemy No. 1. Belfast dad James Nesbitt is not much use to his teenage daughter in Cherrybomb. Maybe he could given her more attention if he wasn’t so busy snogging her 16-year-old friend. Neither of the parents in Zonad have much of a clue about what their (rather physically mature) teenage daughter is up to, but maybe that’s because they are straight out of a 1950s sitcom. And let’s not get started on Andrea Arnold’s Fish Tank, in which Michael Fassbender becomes something of a substitute father figure to a very troubled Katie Jarvis. It was appropriately the final film because, after it, there is no more to say on the topic.

I always look forward to final night of the Fleadh because I know that Fleadh chairperson Kate O’Toole will have some very funny remarks that help overcome any tendency that these things often have toward getting too serious about themselves. She usually recounts some improbable story, invariably involving some sort of scandal or mêlée at the Radisson Hotel. This year it was some fracas involving a birthday party for Anjelica Huston. Oh, to have been a fly on the wall—or even a bystander on the ground—for that one.

-S.L., 16 July 2009

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