The three busiest film festivals in the Irish calendar have positioned themselves at a respectful distance from each other. Dublin arrives at the start of the year. Cork comes in as advent looms.
The Galway Film Fleadh, now approaching respectable middle age, bursts across the city in (we hope) steamy mid-summer. Aside from offering a welcome alternative to pop in a wet field, the fleadh – always at home to new Irish cinema – provides a fulcrum around which the film year can swivel. It shows us where we've been and suggests where we're going.
Several Irish productions that have already played to acclaim in festivals make an appearance by the Corrib before theatrical release. Mike Ahern and Enda Loughman's Extra Ordinary, starring Maeve Higgins as a driving instructor with supernatural gifts, has already gone down a storm at South by Southwest in Austin.
Variety called it "an accessibly off-the-wall comedy that moves at a brisk but unhurried pace". Sophie Hyde's Animals, starring Holliday Grainger and Alia Shawkat as best pals boozily adrift in Dublin, was consistently well reviewed at the Sundance Film Festival. "Hyde has forged a wonderful, utterly lived-in film about two women at a crossroads," raved the Guardian.
Paul Duane's Best Before Death, following musician and art oddball Bill Drummond on his latest adventures, comes straight from its world premiere at the Edinburgh Film Festival. The Scotsman felt it was "a far more interesting and entertaining portrait of an inscrutable artist than the usual documentary primers".
Mention of Edinburgh, Sundance and SXSW (as the Austin event likes to be styled) serves to remind us how different the fleadh is to those events or to any other.
The urge to get Irish film out there is certainly a defining characteristic. Other domestic films to seek out this year include Ivan Kavanagh's Never Grow Old, a western starring Emile Hirsch and John Cusack, Dathaí Keane's Finky, an oddball drama concerning a puppeteer in crisis, and Shelly Love's promising sex comedy A Bump Along the Way. Over the years, the festival has seen countless films make their home debut here before conquering the world.
The fleadh resembles its competitors throughout the world in that it gives attendees an early look at international releases that are squaring up for awards season. Tickets for Joanna Hogg's The Souvenir and Lulu Wang's The Farewell will be hard to come by. Hogg's picture stars Tilda Swinton and Honor Swinton Byrne, her daughter in the real world, in a searing relationship drama that has already gathered cult status. The Farewell features Awkwafina, much-admired actress and musician, in a comic drama concerning a family gathering in China. "Nominations" are already being discussed.
The fleadh is, however, distinguished from most other festivals by the sense of community that spreads across this city every July. It's something to do with the city's compact size. It's something to do with the isolated location at the outer edge of Europe. Now moving into its second year with William Fitzgerald as programmer, the festival is characterised by spirited chat outside the Town Hall Theatre and more furious conversation in the nearby Rowing Club (wiseacres have long enjoyed reading a pun into that venue's name).
Do we really need to say there's much more where that came from? We say it anyway
Those conversations will, this year, be fired by a session on film criticism, an acting workshop with Will Forte, the annual “pitching competition” and (hooray!) a special screening of Cagney & Lacey with veteran star Tyne Daly. The smart, witty Boyd van Hoeij, critic for the Hollywood Reporter, the Atlantic and others, will be there to provide a “closer look” at Wim Wenders’s Paris, Texas.
Do we really need to say there’s much more where that came from? We say it anyway.
- The Galway Film Fleadh runs from July 9th until July 14th.