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Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Fleadh and away

Another Galway Film Fleadh has come and gone.

This one was the 26th, which seems like a lot to me—but only if I don’t count up how many of these I have actually been to since I first started spending time in the province of Connacht. But I did count them, and this was my 12th time attending the Fleadh. It astounds me that I am only a couple of years away from having attended half of these annual events that have now been going on for more than a quarter-century.

For me it all started with Roger Michell’s Titanic Town starring Julie Walters and Ciarán Hinds, about a Belfast housewife trying to bring peace to her violent divided city, which kicked off the 1998 Film Fleadh. New Irish films I saw during that week included Terence Ryan’s The Brylcreem Boys, Jimmy Smallhorne’s 2 by 4, Eugene Brady’s The Nephew (with Pierce Brosnan and, in one of his very last screen appearances, Donal McCann), Colm Villa’s Sunset Heights, Mark Joffe’s The Matchmaker (with Janeane Garofalo) and Paul Quinn’s This Is My Father (with James Caan and Aidan Quinn). I also saw a couple of interesting rock documentaries (Nick Broomfield’s Kurt and Courtney and Timothy Greenfield-Sanders’s Lou Reed: Rock and Roll Heart), and in the Town Hall Theatre lobby I kept running into Michael Moore, who was there to show his documentary The Big One. And that doesn’t even cover the other interesting flicks I saw from Sweden, Iceland, Brazil, Scotland and even the United States.

I wasn’t nearly as ambitious this year. Due to circumstances, I only saw a handful of films. Why? Well, as my fourteen-year-old might explain it: because reasons. But I enjoyed everything I saw.

Opening Night was fairly no-nonsense, with not as many guests or speeches as some past years. As always, board chairperson Kate O’Toole struck a festive mood for the evening, and it was good to hear her late father, the great actor Peter, acknowledged since this was the first Fleadh since his passing. We also heard about Galway’s bid to become designated as a UNESCO Creative City, specifically as a City of Film.

The Opening Night film was a vivid illustration of how the Irish film business and Irish film talent have flourished over the past decade or two. As I mentioned in my review of Begin Again, eight years ago John Carney brought his filmed-in-Dublin movie Once to Galway first. From there it went to Sundance and the rest was history. By contrast, his latest film was made in New York with major American and British stars and it opened for its commercial run in the States before it got to Galway. Well done to him.

For every John Carney, of course, there are many other Irish filmmakers still hoping for that kind of recognition for their work. Luckily for them, the Fleadh and the associated Film Fair and other programs provide the hope and opportunity to follow in his footsteps. In fact, after the screening of Stephen Bradley’s Noble, I happened to run into a good Irish friend of ours from Seattle who was there in pursuit of support for her current film project.

That is part of the excitement of film festivals in general and of the Galway Film Fleadh in particular—the chance to catch The Next Big Thing before the rest of the world does. This time I didn’t get the chance to sample as much first-time-filmmaker work as I would have liked. The fest’s Our Nation’s Sons looked particularly interesting. The list of films about problems facing young people included Terry McMahon’s well-received Patrick’s Day, about a 26-year-old schizophrenic who falls in love with a suicidal flight attendant. The strand and a related panel discussion tied into an ongoing art project by Joe Caslin whose haunting large-scale portraits of young men have graced cityscape walls and other surfaces all over Ireland, including Galway, and even on the concrete slabs that make up the notorious Achill-Henge on County Mayo’s Achill Island—as well as this year’s Film Fleadh program cover.

Our Nation’s Sons
The Missus’s photo on St. Vincent’s Avenue of a wall mural tying in to the
Our Nation’s Sons film strand and panel discussion

As always, the question is: which of the new films screened at the Fleadh will go on to be talked about and seen for years to come and which will fade (sometimes quite undeservedly) from popular attention. I certainly have to way to predict. I did not foresee Once’s success, whereas of those films I saw at my first Fleadh I thought The Nephew had quite good commercial prospects. Just shows how much I know.

As for the Fleadh just ended, my favorite flicks were the first and last ones I saw. As I said in my review and contrary to most professional critics I’ve heard, I thought the charming Begin Again was better than Once. And the beautifully written, filmed and acted A Long Way from Home was made quite special because if came after a conversation with one of its stars, the great Brenda Fricker.

And A Long Way from Home neatly illustrates what is wonderful about the Galway Film Fleadh. The filmmaker Virginia Gilbert—who happens to be the daughter of Brian Gilbert, who has made films as diverse as Vice Versa, Not Without My Daughter, Tom and Viv, Wilde and The Gathering—won a prize at the Galway Film Fleadh four years ago for her short film Mea Culpa. Like John Carney, she was clearly delighted to be back to show her most recent work.

-S.L., 15 July 2014

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