Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2017
Scott R. Larson





ScottLarsonBooks.com




Building façade in Cannes, France

What’s the plural of Fleadh?

Go figure. Last year I barely managed to see any movies at the Galway Film Fleadh, yet I still somehow managed to the two joint winners of the Best Irish Feature prize, A Date for Mad Mary and The Young Offenders. For months afterward I had the satisfaction of having seen the buzzy new features that people kept talking about.

29th Galway Film Fleadh This year, by contrast, I managed to see a respectable number of films—several more than I saw last year—and while I did see some pretty good ones, I don’t think I managed to see a single award-winner. Like I said, go figure.

For the record, this year’s winners included Frank Berry’s Michael Inside (Best Irish Feature), about an incarcerated teen; Nick Kelly’s The Drummer and the Keeper (Best First Irish Feature), about mental illness and unlikely friendship; and Michael Fanning’s Rocky Ros Muc (Best Irish Documentary), about the boxer Sean Mannion. In my defense, I actually tried to get a ticket to The Drummer and the Keeper, but they were gone. Likewise for Ag Trasnú an Atlantaigh Dhuibh (Crossing the Black Atlantic), a 52-minute documentary with a Galway connection that my kid and I were keen to see. The fascinating subject is Tom Molineaux, a boxer whose journey led him from plantation slavery in America to England and then Ireland. Unfortunately, for us it trended on Reddit and all the seats in the upstairs Studio of the Town Hall Theatre were snapped up by Reddit people.

Film festivals are usually good places to catch some interesting new documentaries, and the recently concluded Film Fleadh was no exception. New documentaries like In the Name of Peace: John Hume in America, The Farthest and Chavela were all top-notch. The nearly-half-century-old classic Monterey Pop by D.A. Pennebaker was not too bad either. Talk about a time warp!

Not unlike my old stomping ground Seattle, Galway is a nice mellow place where people do not get too uptight—no matter how crowded the spaces get or how long the queues are. Anyway, queuing isn’t so bad since there is usually somebody nice nearby to chat with. Before one movie I met a fellow who had attended the Midnight Sun Film Festival in Finland for many years. He even had the tee-shirt. That gave me an excuse to once again tell the story about how I once offended everybody in Finland.

At least this year for once there was almost no rain to drench me while running between venues and other places. Still, I can only laugh at weird things that happen sometimes and make me shake my head. For example, Fleadh attendees are well used to the fact that screenings habitually start late. Promptness freaks like myself just accept that we will be kept standing outside the door for a quarter-hour or so past the scheduled start time. So of course, the one time I did not arrive early the whole universe shifted. Buying an extra ticket for The Farthest for my kid who decided to come along at the last minute, we headed for the door at three minutes past the scheduled start time to find that the doors had been closed and did not open again until after the director had been brought up on stage and introduced and, presumably, allowed to sit down again. By the time we—and quite a few other people—were allowed in, the film had started. If you ever see The Farthest in a cinema, be advised that during the first several minutes the screen is totally black, so there will be no light at all to help you find a seat. Like I say, you just have to laugh, and it was worth any amount of hassle necessary because it is a really great movie.

There is always a political dimension to festival films, and this year, as often happens, Northern Ireland was a common topic. It got a great documentary treatment in the John Hume movie as well as an interesting fictional take in the (mostly) Irish language film Aithrí (Penance). In fact Thursday marked a first, at least for me, in that I saw and listened to no fewer than two heads of government, one current and one former. It’s by no means unusual to see the odd minister of culture and, back before he became president, you couldn’t swing a cat at the Fleadh without hitting Michael D. Higgins, who not only represented Galway in Dáil Éireann but is a certifiable film buff. After the John Hume doc, former Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Bertie Ahern, a talking head in the movie and obviously concerned about the Northern Ireland situation, took part in the panel discussion. Later that evening, there was buzz about a special guest before the screening of Pilgrimage and I guessed it was Tom Holland. Would the latest Spider-man really have time to make a stop in Galway? No such luck. It turned out only to be Ireland’s new Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, who got a fair amount world press coverage on his recent ascension for being out of the mold of traditional Irish politicians. When I got home that night, for the first time I had to ask my daughter, who can actually speak Irish, what the plural of taoiseach is. (It’s taoisigh.)

Overall, I had such a good time that I am already looking forward to next year’s Fleadh. I will just have to remember to make a point to never be late for any screening—and pray that hackers bring Reddit down in July.

-S.L., 18 July 2017


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