This year I was lucky to be able to spend a whole week at the Galway Film Fleadh and I managed to see quite a few of the many intriguing Irish and international film screenings. I hadn’t volunteered with this festival before but it was pretty much business as usual: taking tickets, handing out audience award voting slips, cleaning up the venues and helping with all sorts of other events and tasks. There were some familiar volunteer faces from Guth Gafa and, as with every good festival, lots of friendly repeat volunteers. A bonus with this event was that we got vouchers for some excellent Spanish food by Cava who supplied the hospitality tent, i.e. the Rowing Club, all week with their yummy tapas.
At the start of the fleadh I did a good few shifts in the Cinemobile (fond memories of its weekend residency in Gortahork in June), which to me always feels a bit like being on a ship, especially when it rains. You welcome the punters on board the ‘cinema vessel’ and it’s all cosy with a hundred red seats inside and the rain drumming on the roof outside. My first highlight of the week was in the Town Hall though, a late screening of Leonard Cohen: Live at the Isle of Wight 1970. While it could have done with some more creative editing, it was amazing to see the doc again, this time on a really big screen. Just a pity I couldn’t really sing along like last time in Barcelona surrounded by die hard Leonard fans, but it was lovely all the same (especially as I’ll be missing the Sligo gigs this summer, sniff).
I tried to catch as many of the documentaries as possible as that’s what I’m currently most excited about. Some very good ones indeed, many different styles and stories from all corners of the globe, each of them moving in their own unique way. Favourites included The Beholder, Kings of Pastry, The Pipe, Counting Sheep, Men Who Swim, Steam of Life, Edie & Thea: A Very Long Engagement, Exit Through The Gift Shop (about Banksy) and some of the short docs on Sunday morning such as If These Walls Could Talk, Alibi, Bow Street and Bye Bye Now. Another highlight was the panel discussion with Lee Unkrich (director) and Darla K. Anderson (producer) of Pixar’s Toy Story 3. To hear about their Brain Trust concept and the detail they put into their films (down to editing voiceovers at individual syllable level!) was pretty astonishing. Also caught a directors talk on Saturday with Dieter Auner (Counting Sheep), Dylan Williams (Men Who Swim) and Joonas Berghäll (Steam of Life) chaired by Irish documentary filmmaker Anna Rodgers. It is truly amazing how much blood, sweat and tears goes into the making of a feature documentary. The amount of dedication, resilience, passion, diplomacy and ability to fundraise needed to complete a doc is absolutely incredible and made me appreciate seeing the completed films even more.
I’m a bit too fleadhed out at this stage to remember much else, but some of the feature films I saw, including The Runway and The Kids Are All Right (Irish release around October I think), definitely also deserve a mention. Brendan Gleeson, who replaced Annette Bening, who had to pull out of the Galway visit due to unforseen circumstances, was a highlight as well. His public interview was as humorous, wise and warm-hearted as the man himself (thankfully there are still actors like him around, he might just be one of the very last of a pretty endangered species). Here are this year’s award winners. The party on Sunday night with Alabama 3 (sang theme tune for The Sopranos) and lots of delicious tapas and wine nicely rounded off an exciting week of fantastic films. The festival organisers seemed really happy with both the buzz around town as well as the ticket sales throughout the week. It’s so heartening to see how many people still want to see independent films and how many great quality features, docs and shorts make it to the screens every year despite the odds being very much stacked against them. This is no doubt due to the hard work and dedication of countless individuals producing, mentoring, working, directing, acting and organising behind and in front of the camera who never seem to tire of keeping the magic of filmmaking alive for all of us. Bless them!