Every July, hundreds of directors, producers, actors, broadcasters and cinema-goers converge on Galway for the city’s annual Film Fleadh, a six-day festival celebrating Irish and international cinema.
In addition to screening a diverse selection of drama and documentary features and shorts, the Fleadh also hosts masterclasses with leading actors, directors and screenwriters; round-table debates between industry professionals and an X-Factor-style Pitching Award, in which five shortlisted writers present their ideas in front of an audience and a panel of judges in the hope of winning a cheque for €3,000. This year, the Fleadh boasted eight premieres of Irish features – not to mention the Irish premiere of Toy Story 3 – and, in the past, the festival has provided a launchpad for films such as His & Hers (2009) and Granny O’Grimm’s Sleeping Beauty (2008).
Despite only spending two days at the Fleadh this year, I still managed to catch some interesting films, including:
This wonderful feature documentary by first-time directors Ross McDonnell and Carter Gunn follows a number of American beekeepers as they struggle to protect their livelihood from the threat of the mysterious “colony collapse disorder” which has been decimating the honeybee population in recent years. Despite all of the positive things I had heard about Colony, I avoided seeing it at both the Dublin and Guth Gafa Film Festivals, mainly because I suspected that a documentary about bees might well be coma-inducingly boring. In fact, this beautifully-shot film features a number of compelling and decidedly human stories, including that of the eccentric but likeable Seppi family, whose collective struggle in the face of adversity seems to mirror the labours of the industrious members of a beehive.
Like Colony, this purely observational documentary addresses the fact that, in many developed countries where small-scale farming is no longer profitable, the era of family-run farms may be coming to an end. The film centres around two brothers who work with their father as shepherds in the mountains of Transylvania, while their mother and sister are away in Germany, working on the production line in a zucchini factory. Over the course of a year, director Dieter Auner follows the young men as they carry out the work that has sustained their tiny community for centuries. Gradually, it becomes clear that shepherding is no longer a profitable way of life and in order to experience any real prosperity – in the form of a car; a hoover; a box of Pringles – the family is dependent on the money earned by the women abroad. Though the film felt a little long, it provided a worthwhile insight into a culture on the verge of extinction.
I must confess to being somewhat unclear on what the director of Hoodie, which won the jury award for Best First Short Drama, intended to convey with this piece. The central character is a teenage boy, who is struggling to come to terms with his homosexuality. The film opens with the boy wandering down by the Belfast docks in the company of a sinister stranger, who proceeds to perform oral sex on our be-hoodied protagonist, until said protagonist changes his mind and escapes back to his leafy, middle-class estate. At home, the boy pointedly runs a bath, in a presumed attempt to wash away the guilt and shame inspired by his dockside encounter. In the final key scene of the film, after “Hoodie” has spent the evening silently watching television with his parents, he logs into a seedy online chatroom, where he is propositioned by his married, middle-aged neighbour, who suggests that they “wank cam2cam”. The boy seems conflicted but finally closes his laptop, an all-too-temporary escape from what, the film seems to imply, are the horrors of homosexual sex and gay life. While the film looks great and has an ominous score reminiscent of There Will Be Blood, it relies heavily on negative gay clichés – anonymous sex; the husband with a secret; the exploitative older man – to tell what can only be described as a truly pessimistic tale.
I also popped into the Directors In Dialogue talk, hosted by the Screen Directors Guild of Ireland, which featured an impressive line-up of directors, including the aforementioned Dieter Auner, Anna Rodgers (Today Is Better Than Two Tomorrows), Dylan Williams (Men Who Swim) and Joonas Berghäll (Steam Of Life). Williams’ and Berghäll’s films both explore masculinity and manhood in Scandinavia: Men Who Swim is about Williams’ experience of joining a Swedish men’s synchronised-swimming team while, in Steam Of Life, Berghäll travels to sixteen different saunas around Finland to interview a cross-section of Finnish men about love, loss, fatherhood, life and death. Even though I spectacularly failed to see either of these films, I’m hoping to get my grubby paws on the DVDs at the earliest possible opportunity.