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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson





Building façade in Cannes, France

So Fleadh, so good

I did my very best to avoid Zachary Quinto, but I failed. It’s not that I didn’t want to see him. It’s just that he didn’t fit into my plan for this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.

But before I explain myself, let me first apologize for all the terrible puns I have made with the Irish word Fleadh (meaning festival) for several years now—eleven of the past 16 Galway film fests, but who’s counting? Anyway, I do not apologize for the one at the top of this posting, since I stole it directly from the official 25th Galway Film Fleadh tee-shirt.

Galway 2013
Around the corner from the Town Hall Theatre, heart of the Galway Film Fleadh, is the fest’s party center, the Rowing Club (left).
To the right, the dome of Galway’s cathedral can be seen.

So back to Zachary Quinto. The new Mr. Spock was at this year’s Fleadh, and it turns out he has his own Galway connection, as he spent three months in the City of the Tribes waiting tables about a decade and a half ago, i.e. around the time I first started attending the Fleadh myself. He came to participate in the annual Actors Masterclass as well as Q&As for a couple of his films, Star Trek and Margin Call.

But I didn’t put any of that into my schedule. (My kid said, “I bet you would have gone to all of them if it was Leonard Nimoy.” I thought about it a moment and conceded she was right.)

In a contrary mood this year, I deliberately avoided events that were likely to be popular. That meant, essentially, avoiding the Town Hall Theatre altogether on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. It also meant skipping the annual public interview, which I had never passed up before. This year’s subject was young Carlow actor Saoirse Ronan, who seems to be everywhere these days, and I would have happily watched her grilling on Sunday. By all accounts, she was a delightful guest and got an thrilled reception by the audience. But I reasoned that, her being only 19, I might well get another chance to hear her and maybe at a time when she would have even more stories to tell. (Employing similar logic, I made sure five years ago that there was no way I was going to miss seeing Peter O’Toole.) What I might never have gotten another chance for, though, was to see the biopic of Chile’s musical/artistic legend Violeta Parra, which overlapped with Ronan in the schedule.

When I spent a year in Chile as student, about a decade had passed since Parra had died by her own hand at 49 in 1967. And, despite her leftist politics and the fact that it was the early days of the Pinochet regime, her classic song “Gracias a la Vida” (Joan Baez was one of several who did cover versions) could be heard everywhere. I particularly remember hearing it sung on a TV variety show by some diva in a fancy evening gown backed by full orchestra—making humorous and unintentional mockery of Parra’s tenets for la nueva canción chilena. So sorry, Saoirse, there was no way I was going to miss it.

Just because I spent more than half my time in the comfortable and more relaxed confines of Galway’s IMC cinema (formerly the Omniplex) didn’t mean that I didn’t get to see some impressive artists in the flesh. There was a large contingent of cast and crew present for Graham Cantwell’s very entertaining romcom The Callback Queen at the Town Hall Wednesday evening. And I even got to stare its lovely leading lady Amy-Joyce Hastings straight in the eyes and tell her what a great job she’d done, since she had to negotiate past me to get back to her seat after taking a bow on stage. (Yes, I can be creepy at times.)

It seems a tradition now that, at least once during every Fleadh, some producer or director gets to explain the absence of a lead actor by saying, “He’s off filming Game of Thrones.” This year it was co-writers/co-directors Joe Lawlor and Christine Molloy speaking of Aiden Gillen, star of their Mister John. One actor who was present, though, was their young daughter, who played Gillen’s child in the movie. But she wasn’t allowed to stay since, well, the film was really suitable for her age group.

One surprise (to me anyway) appearance I wasn’t expecting was that of Will Keenan, who had the title role in Paul Bunnell’s retro sci-fi musical The Ghastly Love of Johnny X (a title you just have to love). Keenan is something of a midnight movie deity, being a veteran of a number of Troma movies, including one of the Toxic Avenger flicks and playing the male lead in Tromeo and Juliet. He also starred in the execrable Love God. He seemed a bit disappointed that no one in the audience seemed to know who he was.

There was a very good turnout of crew and cast for the Donegal-set drama Black Ice, which examined Ireland’s dangerous “boy racer” culture. In addition to director Johnny Gogan and his co-screenwriter Brian Leyden, two of the actors (Jane McGrath and Dermot Murphy) were also there.

All in all, it was another great Fleadh. And, for me, this is nearly the best part. I have it on good authority that Galway was actually sunnier and warmer for its film fest this year than was Cannes. This being the west of Ireland, I heard more than one person sitting behind me whisper to someone else, “You know, it’s a sin to be here on a day like this.” As a native Californian, I learned at a young age that a cinema was a great place to get out of the relentless sunshine. Not only was this the first Galway Film Fleadh where I didn’t get drenched at some point running between venues, but I didn’t even bring a coat along any of the days.

But back to Zachary Quinto. As I said, I was fairly confident that I would not be seeing him. And then what happened? Well, the Fleadh had its first ever surprise screening. I wasn’t going to miss that. Who wouldn’t commit a couple of hours to sit through a movie without having any idea what it might be? The surprise screening at the Seattle International Film Festival was always a fast sellout when I went to it—not to mention the Secret Festival, which was a surprising screening every week of the fest. So I went to the surprise screening on Thursday, and what did it turn out to be?

It was J.C. Chandor’s All Is Lost, being seen for the first time since its debut at Cannes and boasting an all-star cast consisting of nobody but Robert Redford. And guess who introduced it. It was Zachary Quinto who, it turns out, was one of the producers. It is the second feature film for Chandor and Quinto’s Before the Door Pictures, following Margin Call.

And it was one of the best things I saw the whole week.

-S.L., 15 July 2013


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