Irish Winners at the Galway Film Fleadh Awards 2014

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The annual Galway Film Fleadh awards ceremony took place before the screening of the festival’s closing film An Bronntanas.

The Feature Film Audience Awards included Gerard Barret’s Glassland and Terry McMahon’s Patrick’s Day (pictured) jointly awarded Best Irish Feature. The Best Irish First Feature award went to This is Where I Used to Live, directed by  Frank Berry.

Best Irish Feature Documentary also saw joint winners with Sinead O’Brien’s Blood Fruit and Aoife Kelleher’s One Million Dubliners both awarded the prize, while the Best Human Rights Feature was awarded to Laura Fletcher for her documentary African Pride.

Irish producer AnneMarie Naughton won this year’s Bingham Ray New Talent Award and Cian McGarrigle took the Galway Film Fleadh’s Pitching Award.

Brenda Fricker and Brown Bag Films were the recipients of this year’s Galway Hooker Awards and were honoured at the festival.

Since 2011 the Fleadh has been recognised as a qualifying festival for the Academy Awards Short Film Category. Recipients of the James Horgan Award for Best Animation and Tiernan MacBride Award for Best Short Drama will qualify for consideration. This year’s winners were Fresh Cut Grass (Robert Cullen) and Rockmount (Dave Tynan) respectively.

D.O.P Patrick Jordan won the Donal Gilligan Award for Best Cinematography in a Short Film for his work on Volkswagen Joe and Clare Carroll’s A Girl’s Best Friend won the Best Short Animation Award.

Damien Dunne’s The Swing was awarded The Best First Short Drama, while The Sisters (Ailish Sarah Flaherty) and A Challenging Woman (Eimhear O’Neill, Trevor Birney) jointly won the Best Short Documentary Award.

Anita Gaughan’s Vertical Horizons won Best Animation Sequence in a Short Film and Aidan McAteer’s Deadly won the Don Quijote Award for Animation in a Short Film

 

 

 

 

 

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Glassland – Review of Irish Film at the Galway Film Fleadh

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David Gorman checks out Glassland, Gerard Barrett’s highly anticipated follow up to Pilgrim Hill. Glassland screened at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.

The atmosphere in the Town Hall Theatre, the epicentre of the Galway Film Fleadh, had an air of eagerness and excitement about it on Friday night. Two years ago, in the same venue, a young unknown filmmaker was about to emerge on to the Irish film scene with his debut feature, Pilgrim Hill.

Pilgrim Hill (2012) evoked critical acclaim from Ireland and abroad was the most talked about film of that year, resulting in writer/director Gerard Barrett winning Rising Star Award at the IFTAs.  So the excitement and anticipation at this year’s Fleadh for Barrett’s second feature, Glassland, was justified. Barrett, who also wrote both films, is a self-proclaimed proud Kerry man, who was compared to the great Irish playwright John. B Keane when the film was being introduced by the former Minister of Arts.  The irony of both of his films premiering in a theatre and not a cinema was not lost on me.

Barrett says about his second feature, “I come from a close family and I have never known anything else, but the reality is that there are plenty of broken families in Ireland and I wanted to explore that.” It is never easy to follow a successful debut and the pressure that goes with that can distract the best of filmmakers. However, there is an air of confidence about Barrett and it is refreshing to see a young man (Barrett is still only 27) with such passion about storytelling and I am glad that he chose the medium of cinema to convey those stories and not the stage like the comparative Keane.

Glassland progresses at a slow pace and there is a certain amount of patience required, but it is well worth it. Jean (Toni Collette) is slowing killing herself with alcohol and John (Jack Reynor), her son, is her only hope of survival but he is on the verge of a breakdown himself. Reynor’s character is obviously under strain and his family situation is making him sacrifice not only living his life, but possibly putting it at risk also. Reynor has a strong screen presence and can hold the attention of the viewer in long scenes without dialogue or a manipulating score. Toni Collette is unflinchingly raw, almost unrecognisable from the glamour of Hollywood that some might relate her to. She is 100% believable in the role. The strong, believable performances from the lead characters engage the viewer and there is an honesty and sincerity that pervades the film. The writing/dialogue is at times brutally frank but then this frankness is juxtaposed with moments of comedy that resulted in laugh-out-loud moments in the packed theatre.

There are certainly similarities with Pilgrim Hill, the sense of ‘anywhere’ shows why these films are so relatable, the only indication that both films are based in Ireland are the accents, brilliantly pulled off in Glassland by Australian Toni Collette and Will Poulter from England who plays John’s friend. Poulter is responsible for the comedic elements that ease the palpable tension among the audience at times. There is an honesty about Glassland and, again, like Pilgrim Hill, Barrett is certainly not afraid to depict the harsh truth of life in modern Ireland. Another clear similarity between the two films is that the viewer is completely immersed in the main character’s world, which in both cases are claustrophobic, repetitive and mundane.

This film is the type that grows on you as time passes; it dominated the conversation over breakfast the next morning. We need more films like this that explore the prevalent issues in contemporary Irish life –  addiction, emigration, and a sense of isolation from mainstream society. It is fair to say that not everyone might enjoy the pace or visual style over a dialogue-driven narrative. Nevertheless, these are stories that need to be told in Ireland by Irish filmmakers and Barrett is telling them with compassion, subtlety and refreshing honesty. A well-made mature second feature.

Click here for our coverage of Irish Film at the 26th Galway Film Fleadh  (8 – 13 July, 2014)

 

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The Canal – Review of Irish Film at the Galway Film Fleadh

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Cathy Butler enters the nightmare of Ivan Kavanagh’s The Canal, which screened at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.

 

Going into Ivan Kavanagh’s The Canal knowing nothing about its plot or genre turned out to be quite an experience, as a complete lack of any preconceptions strengthened the film’s impact. Dark and disturbing, yet with moments of inexplicable humour, the film is a perfectly constructed voyage through one man’s nightmarish experiences.

 

David (Rupert Evans) is a happily married film archivist with a young son and a happy home – apparently. Through his work, David discovers old crime scene footage from 1902, showing his house as the location of a brutal murder. Soon after, David discovers his wife has been unfaithful. He begins to suffer from bizarre, horrifying visions, and his wife goes missing. When she turns up drowned in the canal near their home, her death is ruled accidental. However, David believes otherwise, and begins to pursue the connection between the 1902 murder and her death, ultimately starting down a path of horror and violence.

 

One of the main plot threads is familiar: a happy couple move into a home which turns out to have been the location of a turn of the century violent murder. Horror ensues. However, The Canal takes these tropes for what they are and plays with them and the audience, instilling doubt over David’s perspective on events. Kavanagh himself remarked in the Q&A following the screening that The Canal is a very self-aware film in this manner, taking such aspects of the horror genre and subverting them.

 

Editing and sound design come to the fore here. The form of the film reflects the content in a violent and visceral manner, time and again. Great use is made of the physical film which David uses as part of his job, film that is cut and spliced and wound at great speeds through reels. Such images are used in jarring cuts between scenes, emphasising the violence of the film in yet another self-aware aspect of the piece, implying further that what you are watching is a construct.

 

Sharp cuts in audio keep the audience on edge from start to finish. One particular aural cut on the sound of a zipper on a child’s bag is unnerving and jarring, yet is just an everyday object. Much of the horror of the film is presented in this way, as being part of banal aspects of David’s life, the ordinary places and things that he sees everyday. This only serves to further intensify the thread of foreboding that winds through the film.

 

The Canal is an expert blend of horror, mystery and psychological thriller, underpinned unexpectedly by moments of comedy. That such a film could maintain its ominous tone while injecting moments of humour is a testament to the director.  All this, along with its all too vivid imagery, makes The Canal a film that will linger long with the viewer, welcome or otherwise!

Click here for our coverage of Irish Film at the 26th Galway Film Fleadh (8 – 13 July, 2014)

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Noble – Review of Irish Film at the Galway Film Fleadh

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 Cathy Butler is impressed by Stephen Bradley’s emotive and engaging film, which screened at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.

A film like this is difficult to review, being a fact-based story about an extraordinary person, whose actions have greatly improved the lives of young children in dire circumstances. It is difficult to separate the film as a work from the real-life woman it portrays. While in some ways flawed, Noble is an emotive and engaging account of how one Irish woman found herself coming to the aid of impoverished children on the other side of the world.

 

Directed by Stephen Bradley, the film focuses on the tumultuous life of the eponymous Christina Noble, born into poverty in Dublin in the 1950s, eventually being taken into care after her mother’s death due to the negligence of her alcoholic father. Her difficult childhood, her experience of homelessness and assault as a young adult, and the eventual breakdown of her marriage force Christina to become not embittered but resourceful. After having a dream of war-torn Vietnam, Christina decides that the country holds her fate, and pledges to one day travel there. When eventually she does, she finds herself up against various obstacles – both native and foreign – in her attempts to help the impoverished children she finds there.

 

The scenes of Christina’s childhood juxtaposed with her arrival in Vietnam as an adult make quite a clear parallel between the poverty of 1950s Dublin and that of 1980s Vietnam; that these two countries have at different times suffered from third-world conditions. It bridges the geographical gap between the two regions, and goes some way to accounting for how Noble identified with the Vietnamese situation.

 

Narratively the film is somewhat black and white, and has a tendency to oversimplify. The heroes and villains lack in ambiguity, being either the good guys or the bad guys with little in between. Some major plot points don’t seem to receive adequate attention for their significance, such as Noble’s experience of sexual assault, her relationship with her children, or the collapse of her marriage. Perhaps if more of an insight had been given into the effect these events had on Christina, rather than them being just items on a long list of hardships, it may have been easier to engage more with her character. Deirdre O’Kane does a fine job presenting Noble’s endless resourcefulness and boundless strength of character, but there is still some amount of distance between the audience and the character.

 

Whatever the film’s shortcomings, the film packs a fairly hefty emotional punch. Noble’s determination and profound love for the children she is trying to help come through with great clarity, which is ultimately the film’s triumph. Christina, both the film’s character and the woman that inspired the story, is clearly someone to be reckoned with.

 

Click here for our coverage of Irish Film at the 26th Galway Film Fleadh  (8 – 13 July, 2014)

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Close to Evil: Extended Cut – Review of Irish Film at the Galway Film Fleadh

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Stephen Totterdell takes a look at the extended cut of Gerry Gregg’s award-winning documentary, Close to Evil, which screened at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.

Cognitive Dissonance. Is there any psychological process that has caused more trouble in the world? But the cognitive dissonance on display in Close to Evil allows us insight into how atrocities can occur, and how they occur again. Tomi, a Bergen-Belsen survivor who arrived in Dublin in the late 1950s, decides to seek out one of the last remaining SS officers from the camp. He doesn’t want to confront or accuse. Rather he wants the SS officer to show remorse, and to shake her hand in the spirit of reconciliation. Hilde Lisiewicz served as an officer in Bergen-Belsen while in her early 20s, and went on to put it behind her and live a normal life.

It’s the smile that does it. The “chit-chat”, as one interviewee puts it. We expect a former Nazi to show remorse, or to have become embittered, or to live a punishing life. But Hilde smiles, says she doesn’t remember much, she liked the uniforms, would you like a sandwich? It’s the banality of evil, and is something German cinema has dealt with repeatedly. The recent Austrian film Michael analysed it: that film tells of an unassuming office worker who returns home in the evening to a child he has locked in his basement. It’s the stories about Hilter being a vegetarian. We expect a monster. When these people turn out to be human it causes what Julia Kristeva calls ‘abjection’. We see a part of our own identity become vulnerable; the border between us and these monstrous figures is blurred, and we react with disgust.

That Hilde can’t acknowledge her own history of atrocity speaks to a wider human condition. What would happen if she had acknowledged it sooner, or at all? Is it possible to acknowledge being a part of such a thing without finding some excuse, some reason that you weren’t really a part of it? Such a realisation would surely end in suicide. Hilde seems so assured of her innocence that she brought her children to visit Bergen-Belsen, telling them that she worked as a chef in the camp. But why did she lie about her job there?

It’s the kind of mentality that reminds us never to take the world for granted, that our powers for self-justification are endless. Look at those arguing for unjust wars abroad, look at the situation with Israel and Palestine. Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle comes into it. In a way, people find comfort in putting the Holocaust in the past; in saying there, that’s where the evil is. In looking at the horrific footage available. It existed, and it was terrible, but it was in the past where it can’t get us. Like Kristeva’s abjection, an acknowledgment that this kind of atrocity could still happen; that does still happen; that we could all be in some way complicit in something or other, would threaten our sense of identity too much. So we put it in the past, and we wonder how the Germans of the 1940s could have let such things happen.

Click here for our coverage of Irish Film at the 26th Galway Film Fleadh  (8 – 13 July, 2014)

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The Light of Day – Review of Irish Film at the Galway Film Fleadh

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Cathy Butler sinks her fangs into The Light of Day, a mockumentary about the making of a low-budget vampire horror flick. The film premiered at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.

 

When the opening title card appeared on screen, having characteristics suspiciously similar to Final Cut Pro default title settings, I had my doubts about The Light of Day. However, this meta-mockumentary about a disastrous film shoot defied its slightly unpromising opening.

 

The film was produced by students of the Filmbase/Staffordshire University MSc Digital Feature Film Production Course, and has at its helm not one, but three directors: Amy Carroll, Conor Dowling, and Eoin O’Neill. It follows the exploits of a film crew attempting to shoot a cheesy screen adaptation of a vampire graphic novel, led by their eccentric and incompetent director, Richie, and his beleaguered producer, Desmond.

 

Considering the scope of an entire cast and crew, Light of Day is truly an ensemble production. Film crews often feature diverse individuals who would never have spent time together were it not for the film they are working on, and this is used to great effect here. The cast of characters is the core of the film; the stressed yet dedicated DOP hiding from his personal problems, the writer worried about her book being butchered, the eager-to-please First AD, and a sound guy who never makes a sound, to mention but a few. The zany director figure, complete with turtleneck, is a bit of a cliché, but this ultimately serves to make more real the assorted characters surrounding him.

 

The film is certainly a testament to the potential of low budget or crowd-funded filmmaking – production values are high, showing what can be done by a talented crew regardless of how much money is behind a project.

 

This kind of self-referential film can be problematic. What if it is only enjoyable for people who know the trials of filmmaking themselves, and who can laugh out of familiarity? The film takes aspects of two of its more famous predecessors –Tom DiCillo’s Living in Oblivion and Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe’s documentary Lost in La Mancha ­– and fuses them together, making for a very enjoyable caper, with laughs that non-filmmakers will likely partake in as well.

 

The DOP remarks to the producer near the close of the film that he doesn’t strike him as the kind of man that enjoys being peaceful. One might wonder if this could be said of anyone with any filmmaking inclinations. Surely such a person must have some bizarre craving for disorder, given the wealth of potential problems and personality clashes that this film uses for comic effect. Light of Day takes such disorder and turns it into an entertaining and engaging piece of comedy.

Click here for our coverage of Irish Film at the 26th Galway Film Fleadh  (8 – 13 July, 2014)

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Interview: Willy Vlautin, author of The Motel Life

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Olaf Tyaransen interviews acclaimed American musician and novelist Willy Vlautin (pictured) for the Galway Film Fleadh. The movie of his debut novel, The Motel Life, – which screens at this year’s Fleadh –  is a searing and profound examination of brotherhood set in the timeless Sierra Nevadan frontier.

The film follows Frank (Emile Hirsch, Into the Wild) and Jerry Lee (Stephen Dorff, Blade Runner, Shadow Boxer), brothers who get by on telling fantastic stories and creating rich illustrations. When Jerry Lee is involved in a hit-and-run accident, the brothers are forced across the state to the home of Frank’s old flame, Annie (Dakota Fanning, The Twilight Saga). While they seem safe from the law, Jerry Lee’s instability and all-consuming guilt render their future increasingly uncertain.

The Motel Life screens on Sunday, 13 July at IMC 7 @ 19.00 as part of the 26th Galway Film Fleadh.

Don’t You Know Who I Am? produced by Olaf Tyaransen and John Burns, and directed by Paul Duane, screens on Saturday 12 July at the Fleadh as part of the New Irish Shorts 6: Close Up

Click here for our coverage of Irish Film at the Fleadh

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The Stranger – Review of Irish Film at the Galway Film Fleadh

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Stephen Totterdell checks in on Neasa Ní Chianáin’s documentary about Neal MacGregor, an English artist who died alone aged 44 in a cave on the remote island of Inishbofin. The Stranger screened at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.

Camus’ Mersault is the obvious association. Whenever a character like this appears; a character who chooses to live outside society – no, rather a character who refuses to engage in the “busying oneself” that makes up much of modern life – we think of Mersault. A character who refuses to lie, to engage in social practices for the sake of it. The young Neal MacGregor first strikes us with his good looks and charm. The narrative dissonance of his life – that a talented London charmer should end up a recluse on an island off the west of Ireland – is irresistable. It’s like a story out of a Roberto Bolaño novel.

Sometimes, perhaps, a little too irresistable. Whilst the interviews with Neal’s friends provide insight into his youth, there are repeated references to “What happened”, as if his move to the island was the result of personal difficulties that suddenly came upon him. Some suspect a bad acid trip. This kind of conjecture runs through the coding of an otherwise fine and intriguing film. Sometimes the narrative is a little too eager, or engages with the tortured artist complex a little too much. It wants there to be a mystical secret to Neal’s life.

For example: when the interviewees describe Neal wandering to the back of the island, they suggest that this was “Out of bounds” for the island’s residents, and that Neal disregarded this mystic barrier in order to explore “the back of the island” (read: his tortured soul).

Nevertheless, it is one of the more interesting documentaries of late, and its trawl through West Ireland culture certainly provides plenty of interest. Given that Neal’s identity is constructed through hearsay and half-forgotten memories (he died in 1990), that he should be remembered as a larger-than-life figure makes sense. The Cult of Neal. That the documentary takes as its subject an interesting non-celebrity reveals shades of Karl Ove Knausgaard and the new trend for authenticity. Much of what Neal did on the island was fascinating only because of its context. The obsession with minutiae and of building his identity through language is one of the great appealing traits of the modern age. It also has ties with Roberto Bolaño, whose novel The Savage Detectives consists of memories and fragments of characters who never appear directly before the reader.

It would be interesting to hear if, from all of the recorded interviews, Neal emerged significantly differently in the accounts of the Irish speakers versus the English speakers of the film. If language is how we perceive reality, and our identities consist of the ways in which we utilise language, and if Neal lived as an Englishman on an island where Irish was spoken, then perhaps his identity is caught between two languages, in the shades in between.

What makes a man desert society to live on an island? The interviewees speak as if there are reasons. Some people do things differently. “Neal enjoyed being alone,” says one interviewee, “That’s sad.” Why is it sad? It’s different. This is the Mersault problem.

Click here for our coverage of Irish Film at the 26th Galway Film Fleadh  (8 – 13 July, 2014)

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