Ireland’s leading film festival is held every year in July in the picturesque tiny town of Galway. In its 26th iteration, the Galway Film Fleadh (is it pronounced Flea? Fleed? No, it’s actually Fla, go figure) brings together film buffs, filmmakers, film students, producers, wannabes, actors, Oscar winners, producers and film students in a six day festival, film market and of course pub crawl. (If you didn’t know that Guinness tastes different in different pubs, well, you’ll learn that soon enough and someone or other will point you, or take you, to their favorite.)
Galway and its surroundings have a rich heritage of film productions such as John Ford’s The Quiet Man starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara shot in Connemara, John Huston’s Sinful Davey, and Jim Sheridan’s The Field among others. But one film in particular, Joe Comerford’s 1988 Reefer in the Model resonated with Galway audiences in such a big way that the film festival was born there for the enthusiastic audiences that continue to throng its theatres – one of which is a 100-seat mobile van, the Cinemobile – which usually drives around Ireland showing films to local audiences and belongs to a registered non-profit organization.
This year the Fleadh showcased films from countries such as Canada (which had its own sidebar of films), Bulgaria, Greece, Australia, Chile, Argentina, Croatia and the UK. Human Rights Cinema in association with Amnesty International featured films spotlighting issues such as modern day slavery (Voice of the Voiceless ), LGBT rights in South Africa (African Pride ), and the trading of albino body parts in Tanzania (White Shadow). But the most vibrant part of the festival was the New Irish Cinema. In Get Up and Go a group of young Dubliners struggle to make sense of their unexamined lives and relationships. A Nightingale Falling is the story of two sisters who take in a wounded soldier during the War of Independence with catastrophic consequences. Stay starring Aidan Quinn and Taylor Schilling tells of a young Canadian torn between her lover in Connemara and her life in Montreal. Glassland , joint winner of Best Irish Feature has Toni Collette in the role of an addict whose son tries to hold the family together but gets dragged into the Dublin underworld. The other winner, Patrick’s Day is a bleak look at a schizophrenic young man and the people around him who make disastrous choices for the right reasons, with stunning performances from the four lead actors.
Other events included an Actors MasterClass with Fionnula Flanagan, best known to American audiences for Waking Ned Devine (one of the funniest films ever), Divine Secrets of The Ya-Ya Sisterhood , and The Others , and An Afternoon with Brenda Fricker, Ireland’s only Oscar-winning actress for My Left Foot who had this to say about her award – “when you’re lying drunk in the airport, you’re Irish. When you win an Oscar, you’re British.” A very active Film Fair included a Pitching Competition where a winning 500-word written pitch won €3000, a marketplace where filmmakers with projects in development were given meetings with invited financiers, distributors, producers and sales agents, and several workshops where topics under discussion included the promotion of Irish film worldwide, camera lighting, and tax credits for production.