Though we didn’t know it at the time, 2010 marked our last Fleadh with Programmer Felim MacDermott. Felim had been with us for five years and had overseen some truly wonderful programmes, none more so than the 2010 edition. If he wanted to go out with a bang then the 22nd Galway Film Fleadh certainly achieved this aim.
Opening with My Brothers, which began its journey from pitch to finished product at the Fleadh, we were thrilled to be able to open the festival with the European premiere of Paul Fraser’s debut feature, thus bringing the project, initially pitched by screenwriter Will Collins at the 2007 pitching awards, full circle. Telling the story of three brothers on a road-trip to retrieve their dying father’s watch, My Brothers is as charming and funny as it is tragic and thought-provoking and is all the more impressive as it marks not only the directorial debut of Paul Fraser but also the writing debut of Will Collins.
Opening with such a strong Irish Film set the tone for the rest of the festival. Indeed 2010 was a particularly formidable year in Irish cinema and the Fleadh showcased world premieres of no fewer than eight Irish Features. Feature documentaries such as Burma Soldier, Counting Sheep and Best Feature Documentary winner The Pipe, directed by Risteard Ó Domhnaill, which received a rapturous standing ovation, all showed that the power of cinema as a dynamic medium to change the way we think is not only alive and well in the Irish Film industry but arguably stronger than ever.
Similarly the feature strand proved equally compelling, with films like Finola Geraghty’s micro-budget Come On Eileen, , Colin Downey’s surreal The Looking Glass, PJ Dillon’s stark Rewind and Carmel Winter’s innovative Snap (Runner-up in the Best Feature Award) all showing that the Irish film industry has plenty of new talent willing to take risks.
Tom Hall’s Sensation aptly caused a sensation all its own with its tale of a young man (played by rising star Domhnall Gleeson) who upon inheriting his elderly father’s farm promptly sets up an escort agency with an aging New Zealand call girl and inevitably a tense romance begins.
However it was Ian Power’s The Runway which, if you pardon the pun, took off with both the award for Best Irish Feature and the imaginations of the audience. The true story of a Colombian pilot who crash lands in 1980’s Cork and the efforts of the local people to build a runway to set him on his way captivated the Fleadh with its Capra-esque tale of a community’s healing.
As well as showcasing the future of Irish cinema the Fleadh took a look back in time to provide a special screening of four silent films made in Galway between 1932 and 1947. These were accompanied by the exceptional piano skills of Elaine Brennan and offered an enchanting and fascinating look at the rich cinematic legacy Galway has to offer.
Moving away from Ireland the World Cinema strand had a number of exceptional titles including Argentinean Oscar-winner The Secret in their Eyes which thrilled audiences with its tale of a criminal court employee who looks back on a murder he investigated in 1974 against the backdrop of the unstable and violent Argentina of the seventies. Another standout was Italy’s The Double Hour whose twists and turns kept audiences on the edge of their seats and was runner-up in the Best First Feature competition while first place went to Javier Fuentes-Leon’s Undertow which told the powerful and poignant tale of Miguel, a well respected Peruvian fisherman whose beautiful wife is expecting their first child. However he harbours a dangerous secret: he is also in love with a man named Santiago. When Santiago dies and his ghost haunts Miguel, Miguel is forced to choose between damning himself by admitting his true feelings to his family and community or damning his lover to eternal torment.
The feature documentary strand was equally strong with the elusive Banksy’s Exit Through the Gift Shop proving a huge hit with Galway’s art-savvy audiences. Alexandra Codina’s Monica and David with its tale of the marriage of the titular couple, who both suffer from Down’s Syndrome, was a also a rousing success. The film was screened in conjunction with a panel discussion on the topic of intellectual disability in Ireland today. Two other films which proved massively popular were the Scandinavian duo of Men Who Swim and Steam of Life. The former, documenting the at times funny and often poignant efforts of a group of middle-aged men who join Sweden’s all-male synchronised swimming team, was a wonderful look at contemporary masculinity. Similarly Steam of Life addresses a specific facet of masculinity, one which is particular to Finland: The Sauna. This beautiful film initially elicited giggles from the audience, not used to seeing so many naked men of all shapes and sizes but as the film progressed they quickly became enchanted with the depiction of men sharing their inner most feelings and by the time the stunningly emotional end came about the giggles had been stifled and replaced by many a tear being stealthily wiped from the corners of the eyes...of both women and men.
Another documentary which grabbed audience’s attention was Jimmy Murakami: Non Alien, the story of the Irish-based animator’s childhood wherein following Pearl Harbour he and his family, along with other Japanese-Americans, were moved to a concentration camp where his sister died of leukaemia. Jimmy, a renowned artist, created a series of stunning paintings depicting this period of his life. Jimmy’s best known film, When the Wind Blows, an adaptation of Raymond Briggs’ illustrated book, was also shown and delighted both fans of his work and newcomers alike.
2010 was in fact a particularly impressive year for animation at the Fleadh. In addition to Murakami’s masterpiece, Sylvain Chomet’s stunning The Illusionist, based on an unproduced screenplay by Jacques Tati, wowed audiences with its moving tale of an aging stage magician whose friendship with a young girl in Edinburgh changes both their lives. However the midweek Gala presentation of Toy Story 3 in 3D was arguably one of the events of the Fleadh. The film, which has gone on to win numerous film of the year awards, touched adults and children alike and we were honoured to present Director Lee Unkrich and producer Darla K. Anderson with the Galway Hooker, the Fleadh’s highest accolade, in honour of their stellar work.
Other tributes were paid to legendary screenwriter Sir Ronald Harwood who hosted our screenwriter’s masterclass and whose incredible career was celebrated with the screening of some of his most noted works including, Being Julia, The Pianist and The Diving Bell and The Butterfly. Another legend, Director Stephen Daldry, who holds the honour of being the only person Oscar nominated for his first three films Billy Elliot, The Hours and The Reader (all shown at the Fleadh this year), presented our Director’s masterclass.
And then there was Lelia Doolan, described by Bob Quinn as the Fifth Horseman of the apocalypse in his programme notes, and yet he somehow survived the use of such a male-centric gender role in his description of a woman who simply is Irish Cinema and who was last seen rushing about the Fleadh like a whirling dervish shouting “do it for Jesus” at all and sundry and terrifying and inspiring people in equal measure. The Fleadh and Irish Cinema would be in a poorer state without her, if in existence at all, and the Fleadh was particularly excited to have the opportunity to pay tribute to a true living legend.
Unfortunately not everything can be right on the night and our actor’s masterclass, due to be hosted by Annette Benning unfortunately fell through at the last minute, due to unforeseen personal reasons along with the scheduled public interview. However, whenever those fickle gods of cinema close one door they invariably leave a window open and in hopped the incomparable Brendan Gleeson to take over the public interview and the wonderful people at Hubbard Casting to offer a unique opportunity to aspiring actors by holding a massively successful casting masterclass.
Speaking of massively successful where would the Fleadh be without the shorts programme? This year saw some truly wonderful shorts including Action Evader directed and produced by Pádraig Mannion which won the Best first Animation Award in association with Cartoon Saloon. THE JAMES HORGAN AWARD FOR BEST ANIMATION went to Mister Heaney - A Wee Portrait directed and produced by David Quinn. THE TIERNAN McBRIDE AWARD FOR BEST SHORT DRAMA sponsored by WAVEFORM STUDIOS went to Noreen directed by Domhnall Gleeson and produced by Juliette Bonass, David Clarke, Ciaran Deeney
THE BEST FIRST SHORT DRAMA in Association with MAZARS presented by Paul Mee went to Hoodie directed and produced by Patrick Finnegan while THE BEST SHORT DOCUMENTARY AWARD in Association with STUDIO SOLAS TEO presented by John Brady went to Bow St. directed and produced by Tadhg O' Sullivan.