The 32nd Galway Film Fleadh

Review by Gillian Doyle

The 32nd year of the Galway Film Fleadh was undoubtedly a memorable one. Safety measures necessitated by Covid-19 could easily have led to the cancellation of the entire event, but instead the festival team, consisting of less than twenty people, pulled together and the fleadh ran online from July 7th to July 12th.

Films were made available for rent at different times during the festival to mimic the usual flow of a programme but remained online until the end of the event. Not only were the screenings open to anyone in Ireland with an internet connection, but those still working had a better chance of getting to see the films they wanted. It also gave reviewers the chance to watch and re-watch the films they wished to talk about, taking notes easily without disturbing other viewers. Not having to pay for travel or accommodation also left regular festival goers with more money to spend on films.

Of course there were drawbacks to the format. It’s a shame to think about the young filmmakers unable to make connections with each other while milling around the venue, though of course this loss was for the safety of everyone involved. I was at first surprised by the subdued reactions of those receiving awards at this year’s closing ceremony, but of course finding out your work is now qualified for Oscar nomination via Zoom call in your sitting room just isn’t the same as being able to celebrate with others who worked on the film.

Without even taking into account how little time the organisers had to make the changes, the online fleadh was a resounding success. It’s a comfort to know that we can keep each other safe while continuing to celebrate film and other creative media. I can even see this format being utilised for smaller and less-established festivals post- Covid.   

It’s a comfort to know that we can keep each other safe while continuing to celebrate film and other creative media.

The Cartoon Saloon event during which viewers got a behind-the-scenes look at upcoming film Wolfwalkers (Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart) was particularly informative regarding the animation process. Two different art styles are used in the film for English and Irish areas, and they cited Studio Ghibli’s The Tale of the Princess Kaguya as an influence on the use of linework to help tell the story. The film centres around two young girls, one Irish, one English, and is based in Kilkenny history and legend. The short finished sequence we were treated to at the end of the event made me look forward to its release in August.

I also got to see some finished work, such as Ascending Grace (dir. Claire Byrne). The obstacle the characters faced- a ninety minute delay on a flight to Knock- were endearingly down to earth, especially when considering the film’s fantastical climax. The film focuses on two pilots who struggle to connect (or not to), and one unlucky flight attendant left to deal with the passengers. The trailer fits the piece perfectly, establishing the comedic style not with snippets of dialogue but with the awkward silences and sounds of exasperation coming from the flight crew. First Officer Maedhbh is anyone who’s ever tried and failed to win the approval of a superior, and Captain Cara is very enjoyable as a wall that she runs into over and over again.

I can see why feature Weathering With You has won awards on three continents. Hodaka Morishima is the kind of teen who will feed a stray cat despite being a jobless runaway, and though I would have preferred more insight into why he left his home for Tokyo, it’s impossible not to connect with him right away. When he says that “a blue sky makes you feel happy you’re alive”, it comes across not as an empty platitude but as knowledge won by someone who’s had to fight to do so, and it’s this reality that makes this fantasy film so compelling. Based on director Makoto Shinkai’s previous work, breathtaking art was a certainty, but the score was a welcome surprise. There are times when it is surprisingly relaxed compared to what is happening on screen, as if to comfort the audience.

Although the festival is over for another year, I now have a list of directors whose work I intend to seek out, including Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name. Most events are still available on galwayfilmfleadh.com for free, and are well worth a watch.

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