To celebrate the continued success of the Galway Film Society, Ireland’s longest running and largest film club, David O Mahony from access>CINEMA traces its history from humble beginnings to its current position as a champion of non-mainstream cinema in the West of Ireland.
Sunday evenings at the Town Hall Theatre – a multi-disciplinary arts centre in Galway City – are sacrosanct, for it is here that the faithful of the Galway Film Society gather during autumn and spring to experience the best cultural film has to offer. Now entering its forty-fifth year, the GFS is more popular than ever, proof that there is an audience for niche content, however troubling the economic climate may be.
What space does non-mainstream film occupy in a recessionary climate? A precarious one, if the auguries of An Bord Snip Nua are to be believed. The consequences of this recalibration of expectation in terms of arts provision are as yet a matter of speculation, but what is certain is that a narrowing of parameters has shone renewed light on artistic activity on a local level, in particular the voluntary film society.
A film society can be defined as a private club, maintained and coordinated by a committee of enthusiastic amateurs, where members watch films (in conditions as close to theatrical as possible) that would otherwise be inaccessible.
Nowadays, the remit of a film society is twofold: on one hand they exist to shore up the holes in distribution of foreign, non-mainstream, or variously alternative films beyond the main urban centres (just two cities in the Republic – Dublin and Cork – have dedicated arthouse cinemas), and on the other they provide an economically viable means for film enthusiasts to plug into a network of like-minded cinefiles at a local level.
There is an exponential growth in new organisations – currently there are over seventy such groups in the access>CINEMA network, which supports regional cultural cinema exhibition in Ireland. This testifies to their newly invigorated significance in Irish society, a fact that confounds the notion that our film culture is dominated by home cinema and illegal downloading.
The idea to set up a film society in Galway originated in 1964 with three men: the local post-office worker Tom Murphy, photographer Yann Giomard and John Cunningham, a journalist with the Connacht Tribune. Although famed for its vibrant artistic community, Galway was lacking when it came to provision for cultural cinema. There was no arthouse theatre of any stripe, and mainstream venues were uninterested in screening foreign titles. Multichannel television might have been available (albeit illegally) on the east coast, but its advent in the West was many years hence. As such, Galway was forced to subsist on a diet of safe Hollywood fare.
The full article is printed in Film Ireland 130.