Way out West: The Galway Film Fleadh 2009

While 80000 others were partying at Oxegen last weekend I bucked the trend and headed to the beautiful west coast for the 21st Galway Film Fleadh. Naturally a much quieter affair, but a very eventful one, not least because it’s one of the biggest film industry events in Ireland.
The Film Fleadh Headquarters at the Town Hall Theatre in Galway
The Film Fleadh Headquarters at the Town Hall Theatre in Galway
The first event I stopped by on Saturday was an interesting panel discussion run by Screen Producers Ireland at the Meyrick Hotel on Eyre Square. It was all about finding a distributor or agent for one’s film project and how to avoid potential pitfalls. Bottom line: you can never start thinking about the distribution side of things early enough and should definitely also consider non English-speaking markets. 
 
Caffein therapy in between films at Java's

Caffeine therapy in between films at Java's

Time for a coffee, so I made my way to Java’s cafe on Upper Abbeygate street where a girl played the piano in the corner and half the people sipping lattes happened to be involved in the fleadh. That’s what I love about festivals in smaller places. The whole town transforms itself when a festival is on. Not always in a major way, but that’s what’s so neat about it. For most people life goes on as usual. But those attending the festival have a well-honed radar for noticing other festival goers and overhearing even the most hushed festival talk. You start recognising the same people in different places. You strike up a conversation with a stranger just because they also carry the fleadh brochure around with them. A festival is nothing less than a temporary, parallel universe. For its duration the venues act like stellar constellations connecting those who are passionate about music or film or writing through an invisible thread exerting an irresistable pull on them.
 
The Irish Film Board reception at the Radisson a bit later was good fun too. I almost regretted not having got a concept for a screenplay to pitch to anyone as that was definitely what everybody else was busy doing. Business cards changed hands left, right and centre. A few glasses of wine and a chat with some filmmakers and screenwriters later I headed over to the Omniplex for the main course of the night which turned out to be an excellent choice: The Cove, a documentary about the brutal butchering of thousands of bottlenose dolphins in Taiji in Japan every year. It was a well-paced, big budget film with a real life ‘Ocean’s Eleven’ feel to it that didn’t leave anyone in the audience untouched. Having the main person behind the project, Ric O’Barry, in attendance for a Q&A after the screening was an unexpected and welcome treat. If you’re into animal welfare and/or have friends in Japan and want to find out how to help, definitely check out  the official ‘The Cove’ website and Save Japan Dolphins.
 
Activist Ric O'Barry at the Q&A following the screening of 'The Cove'

Activist Ric O'Barry at the Q&A following the screening of 'The Cove'

Sunday morning was exactly as it should be. It was quiet in town with most of its inhabitants still asleep when I strolled down to the harbour for a bit of fresh air and to stretch my legs before some more movie magic. As I wandered around the cobbled streets of the city centre I ran into a lovely woman from New York who I had met at last night’s screening and found a delightful bakery called Gourmet Tart Co. (I know this really IS a food blog…). With a deliciously smelling mixed berry tart tucked safely away in my handbag I emerged from the cute shop a few minutes later making my way back to Java for another coffee and a browse through today’s festival offerings. A Finnish screenwriter who I’d met at the industry reception the night before happened to pass by and joined me for some more film talk. Unfortunately I only had enough time to catch two events today. The first one was a screening of a selection of animation shorts by mainly Irish up and coming student animators, a lot of them from IADT in Dun Laoghaire. My favourites were ‘The Office Environment’ (which won an honourable mention) and ‘Tawny Woods’.
 
Desserts to die for at Gourmet Tart Co. on Abbeygate Street Lower

Desserts to die for at Gourmet Tart Co. on Abbeygate Street Lower

 The final session was another free lesson in filmmaking, this time about documentaries: a panel discussion by a number of documentary directors who had been presenting their films at this year’s festival. A lot of the discussion revolved around the question why do documentary filmmakers do what they do. Most said they wanted to change the world and break people’s assumptions about it. They also agreed it was about curiousity for the world, a passion for finding and telling people’s stories and challenging themselves and others. Having said that, it also became obvious that “you don’t do it for the money,” as Samantha Buck, director of social drama 21 Below put it. And on top of that some projects can also come with considerable unforseeen risks attached. Sandy Cioffi, director of Sweet Crude, a story about the consequences of oil extraction in the Niger Delta of Nigeria, emphasised that “when we turn the camera on, our responsibility is enormous. This feeling of me and my damn documentary risking all these people’s lives.” She illustrated her point with an account of their shoot in Nigeria when she and some of the crew ended up in military prison not knowing whether they would make it out alive.  Another thing that was discussed was objectivity in filmmaking and where to draw the line between creating an intimate, insightful film without exploiting the subjects in the process. Lots of food for thought.
 
The problem we have with most epic battles is that the other side won't talk' - Sandy Cioffi of 'Sweet Crude' at the Directors in Dialogue panel discussion.

'The problem we have with most epic battles is that the other side won't talk' - Sandy Cioffi of 'Sweet Crude' at the Directors in Dialogue panel discussion.

Making my way down to the bus back to Dublin afterwards I was glad I’d come out here for the weekend. My head was pleasantly spinning with terms like production notes, primary audiences, taglines and multi-territory rights. And I had a notebook full of new contacts and details about upcoming festivals all over the world. That’s another thing I love about going to festivals. There is always another one just around the corner. The trick is to keep the time between them as short as humanly possible.
 
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