Galway Film Fleadh: A True Film Lover’s Festival.
Woody Harrelson holding a drink and an uncut lemon in one hand, his foot in the other, posing in front of a medieval building turned restaurant. That’s my first impression of the Galway Film Fleadh.
I’ll likely never know why Woody was striking such a pose in the picture. But he looked like he was enjoying the festival, so I was sure we would too; after all he’s Woody freaking Harrelson.
Galway’s six-day international film festival is billed as the “film lover’s festival.” Born out of a beer tent nearly 30 years ago, the Galway Film Fleadh does what other major film festivals can’t do, which is to bring together industry professionals—actors, directors, producers, etc.— film geeks and the movie-watching public in an intimate setting.
And while the Oscar qualifying festival may not have the name recognition that festivals like Cannes and Sundance enjoy, Galway keeps ticket prices low—no seat is more than €10—to ensure its movies are accessible to everyone, something the former festivals could learn from.
We arrived in Galway a few hours before opening night. I had read Galway is a beacon of bohemia, one of Europe’s best cultural cities. But, when we arrived at our charming bed-and-breakfast, Roncalli House (Chelsea Clinton stayed here in 1997 during her visit to the city) it felt more like a quiet California suburb than a vibrant city.
I soon discovered Galway has a split personality: West of the River Corrib is residential, while east of the river is the medieval section of the city. This is where you’ll find colorfully painted pubs and cobblestone streets lined with cafes next to shops selling handcrafted Claddagh rings, Aran sweaters and second-hand books. There’s an electricity to this section, and a lot of that has to do with its large student population.
Opening Night Buzz
The Town Hall Theatre is the cornerstone of the Galway Film Fleadh. Originally a courthouse and later a Town Hall, the 19th century grey-stone building was converted into a cinema in the 1950s. It’s here that the mayor, film buffs, actors, directors, mingled before the world premiere of My Name Is Emily.
There was a buzz around the theater, and it centered around the film and its creator Simon Fitzmaurice, who wrote and directed My Name Is Emily while battling Motor Neuron Disease (ALS); this was the acclaimed director’s first full-length feature, he wrote a majority of it by typing on an iris-recognition screen with his eyes, after losing all physical function. Hailed as “Ireland’s most promising film-maker” by Film Ireland people could not wait to see the film, and Fitzmaurice, who was on hand for the screening and a Q&A session, did not disappoint. As one review said, My Name Is Emily is “a love letter to life.” It’s a coming of age story for a teenage girl as well as a transitional tale of the loss of a loved one. As Beth’s father used to say, “A great story will make you laugh and cry;” My Name Is Emily accomplished both.
Something for everyone
While Fitzmaurice’s masterpiece was our first film of the festival, it certainly wasn’t the last. For the next few days, we watched a couple of more feature films, including The President—a moving film by Mohsen Makhmalbaf about a dictators attempt to flee his country that has fallen into revolution—a short film series and recently recovered 8mm footage from the Aryan Islands in the 1960s
The Galway Film Fleadh attracts directors, cinematographers, actors, and artists of all ages and backgrounds, and it’s not uncommon for American actors to attend the festival. Actor John C. Reilly was in Galway in 2015 to teach that year’s Acting Masterclass and perform with his band. And that, in my opinion, is what makes the Galway Film Fleadh so special: it strives to elevate cinema through creative workshops as well as a market place for budding filmmakers to meet with industry leaders and investors. With the city’s love of all things cinema, it’s fitting that Galway is a UNESCO City of Film.
The 2017 Galway Film Fleadh will take place Tuesday, July 4 to July 9th. For more details, visit http://www.galwayfilmfleadh.com.
Disclosure: Tourism Ireland is a Must Love Festival sponsor. They lent their support while we were in the region to cover the Galway Film Fleadh. As always, though, our thoughts and opinions are entirely our own.