‘Michael Inside’ wins top prize at Galway Film Fleadh

Galway event focuses on new Irish talent and trying to increase women in production roles

 Barry Ward and Tom Vaughan Lawlor at the World Premiere of Irish thriller ‘Maze’ at Galway Film Fleadh. Photograph: Xposure

Barry Ward and Tom Vaughan Lawlor at the World Premiere of Irish thriller ‘Maze’ at Galway Film Fleadh. Photograph: Xposure

 

The 29th Galway Film Fleadh has come to an end with the awarding of prizes to the best new Irish films of the season.

The best Irish feature (presented by Volta) went to Frank Berry’s social realist drama Michael Inside. Nick Kelly’s The Drummer and the Keeper, a drama of friendship amid mental illness, won best first Irish feature. Best Irish documentary went to Michael Fanning’s Rocky Ros Muc, the story of boxer Sean Mannion.

The event has, since its inception in 1989, developed into the calendar’s most important showcase for domestic features. Last year, hits such as A Date for Mad Mary and Young Offenders premiered at the Fleadh. This year, the festival was characterised by musings on the Northern Irish conflict, studies of socio-political campaigns and debate on the continuing gender imbalance in Irish production.

At a discussion hosted by Women in Film and Television Ireland, Marian Quinn, a member of the Irish Film Board, introduced a initiative aimed at increasing female representation in cinema production. The new schemes build on the “six-point gender plan” announced in 2015.

Training scheme

There is to be a low-budget production and training scheme for female talent. Increased support of up to €100,000 will be made available to feature projects by female personnel.

The Irish Film Board will also set up a new “Gender Equality and Diversity Subcommittee” to establish policies and guidelines in relation to the application process and funding arrangements.

Dr Annie Doona, Irish Film Board chairwoman, said: “We are of the view that whilst a lot of been achieved in developing the careers of female writers and directors, not enough has been achieved in relation to increasing the actual funding applications received by the IFB, with female talent attached.”

Among the films receiving praise at the fleadh were two productions addressing the Northern conflict. Former taoiseach Bertie Ahern attended a discussion after the screening of Maurice Fitzpatrick’s documentary In the Name of Peace: John Hume in America.

“His view was inclusivity,” Mr Ahern said of the SDLP co-founder. “You tried and made as good friends as you could in Westminster, which wasn’t easy, and do it in America and do the same in Dublin.” The film brought together such figures as Tony Blair, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton to discuss Mr Hume’s legacy.

The packed crowd cheered loudly after the screening of Stephen Burke’s Maze at the Town Hall Theatre. Starring Tom Vaughan-Lawlor and Martin McCann, the picture examines the breakout of 38 Republican prisoners from the Maze prison in 1983.

Domestic premiere

Kelly’s The Drummer and the Keeper was one of the most strongly reviewed domestic premieres. A former member of The Fat Lady Sings, Kelly brought his rock ’n roll experience to the tale of a bipolar musician who befriends a young man with Aspergers Syndrome. The film – delivered mostly in Irish – tells the story of the traditional singer Joe Heaney.

Few films got a warmer reception than the hugely powerful Michael Inside. Berry follows up his excellent I Used to Live Here with the story of a young Dubliner whose life disintegrates when he is sent to prison. Dafhyd Flynn is brilliant as the young protagonist. Workshopped with former prisoners from the Irish Prison Service’s Pathways Programme, the picture is harsh, but balanced.

Flynn deservedly won the Bingham Ray new talent award and Michael Inside’s triumph as best domestic feature was not unexpected.