Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

A shot of Jameson

Hold on to your cockles and mussels, Molly Malone. I’m back!

Well, I was back. Now I’m back from being back. Anyway, after missing the Cork Film Festival for the first time in ages, I made up for it by making a return to the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival, after a three-year absence. Not that anybody would have missed me in the interim. The thing is huge. People always say that Seattle is a great film town, but Dublin definitely gives the Emerald City a run for its money. If anyplace has even better weather for watching movies than Seattle, it’s Dublin. Every screening I attended had large audiences. Even at 11 o’clock on a Sunday morning the cinema was nearly full for a subtitled movie. Now that’s impressive.

As is my tradition, I only managed three days of the festival, which runs 11 days. Someday I might attempt the whole thing, but there is something about Ireland’s capital that wears me out. Maybe the venues are just far enough apart that I feel like I’m always rushing. Or maybe it is the size of the place and the numbers of people crowding the footpaths all hours of the day and night. Maybe it’s because the city center of Dublin is such a tourist mecca, with hordes chattering away in Spanish, French and American everyplace you go. Maybe it’s all the trendy little (and not so little) cafés and bistros and restaurants and pubs that are constantly buzzing with attractive young people dressed to the nines (no fewer than at the height of the Celtic Tiger, as far as I can see) in Temple Bar and beyond. Let’s face it. The place is just too darned stimulating. I get exhausted from sensory overload. And walking.

I see Dublin different now than I used to. In the beginning, Dublin was all that I knew of Ireland. On my first couple of visits, I barely got beyond its edges. And on subsequent sojourns, when the future Missus was living and working there, it was my base of operations for weeks and for months at a time. It was the only part of Eire I really knew firsthand. And it suited me because, despite being a small-town boy in my roots, it made an easy transition from Seattle because it is about the same size and has some comparable qualities, including the climate. (And to top it off, these days in Dublin you can’t walk more than a few blocks without coming across a Starbucks.)

But for these past seven years, I have been a denizen of the rural west. And I have come to see Dublin the way the provincials do. When you live in the country, you come to realize that a lot of the people there regard their capital city as something like the way the Big Apple was portrayed in John Carpenter’s Escape from New York. They see it as a dark cauldron of criminality and anti-social behavior. And why wouldn’t they think that? If you watch the evening news on the telly, there is a report on some gangland murder or fatal street scuffle almost every single night. Incidentally, this urban/rural fear thing works both ways. The main Irish news operation, RTÉ, cannot seem to do a story involving agriculture in the west without locating the most grizzled, gap-toothed farmer to put on camera. And Irish movies about Dublin people going to the country generally seem to be inspired by John Boorman’s Deliverance.

Anyway, without realizing it, I had become fearful of the place myself. Because of two people in school and other time constraints, we hadn’t been back to Dublin for quite a while. The weather this past winter certainly didn’t help. For much of the past three months, Ireland has been in a deep freeze. In this part of the world, February is considered the first month of spring, but there is nothing spring-like about it this year. Anyway, we kept putting off a visit to Dublin because of floods and icy roads and generally just bad weather conditions. (Which is silly when you think about it. Putting things off here because of the weather can only mean it will never get done.) But when the opportunity of the Munchkin’s and the Missus’s mid-term school break came up, we decided to go for a long weekend—and leave me there for some of the film festival. And guess what? It was still the same old Dublin. Full of life, energy, excitement, stimulation and noise.

While three days were not nearly enough, I did manage to get a fair sampling of my favorite film festival kind of stuff. As part of the Michael Dwyer Tribute strand—which featured films championed by premier Irish film critic, advocate and JDIFF founder Michael Dwyer, who died on New Year’s Day—I saw a U.S. independent flick that was favorite during the early years of the Seattle International Film Festival: Hal Hartley’s The Unbelievable Truth, starring Adrienne Shelly, who was tragically killed three years ago. And I saw a cool, violent Hong Kong flick: Pou-Soi Cheang’s Accident, which sounds like it was just waiting to happen. And I saw a very interesting documentary, Tom DiCillo’s When You’re Strange, chronicling the brief but intense existence of The Doors. And I even got to see a movie filmed in another country I know well, the Spaniard Fernando Trueba’s The Dancer and the Thief, which was adapted from Chilean author Antonio Skármeta’s novel and largely set in Santiago.

And I even saw that staple of film festivals everywhere: the movie I didn’t know I was going to see. One evening I sat down believing that I was going to see the anthology film New York, I Love You. But I was wrong. Due to “a last-minute print problem” (another film fest staple), another film had to be substituted. It turned out to be Nicole Holofcener’s Please Give which, as far as I know, has only played twice before: at the Sundance and Berlin film festivals. It nearly qualified as an “I love you” to New York, since it, without drawing attention to it, really delivered a sense of the Big Apple as a place. And it even featured Holofcener’s longtime contributor Catherine Keener at the head of a very accomplished ensemble cast. If I had been concerned that JDIFF would not deliver an adequate film festival fix, especially under abbreviated conditions, I needn’t have been.

Another film festival staple is the post-screening Q&A, and I wasn’t disappointed there either. After Todd Solondz’s day-brightener (yes, that’s irony) Life During Wartime, we were treated to a conversation with one of its stars, Belfast-born Ciarán Hinds. He is one of those chameleon-like actors you have probably seen several times but never realized who he is. He has been in everything from The Cook the Thief His Wife & Her Lover to Oscar and Lucinda to The Sum of All Fears to The Road to Perdition to Veronica Guerin to Munich to Margot at the Wedding and There Will Be Blood and the recent Race to Witch Mountain. The man is the Zelig of character actors. He was even live on my TV late that night when I got back to the hotel room. In fact, a lot of Irish film and TV people were. It was the Irish Film and Television Awards. Part of the price of making it to the film fest was missing the TV broadcasts of both the IFTAs and its British counterpart, the BAFTAs. Oh well.

After Everybody’s Fine, we got to meet its director, Kirk Jones, whose previous movies include Waking Ned Devine and Nanny McPhee. He explained how an Englishman had come to write and direct a movie set in America, adapted from an Italian film. And there was an extended chat with Spanish director Fernando Trueba (best known internationally for Belle Epoque), following a screening of his new film, The Dancer and the Thief.

As I should have known, the only thing to fear about Dublin was that my time there would be too short.

-S.L., 25 February 2010

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