Farmer Michael (The Life and Times of a Social Media Pariah)
Seán Crosson took in a selection of documentary shorts at this year’s Fleadh, featuring works from both established and debut directors, showcasing the best of Irish talent.
A key component of the Galway Film Fleadh’s focus on new and emerging talent is the series of short programmes featured across the festival. In total there were nine sessions dedicated to shorts at the Fleadh, covering documentary, fiction, and animation and as always the organisers deserve great credit for the focus and space they allocate to young Irish filmmakers in the programme.
The films included in the first programme covered a wide range of topics from reflections on Irishness, to profile pieces, and considerations of aspects of the natural world.
The programme began with the visually stunning and evocative El Hor directed by Dianne Lucille Campbell. Inspired by the beautiful Saluki dog, the film combines mythology, nature imagery, and dynamic cinematography, with otherworldly musical accompaniment. In the surreal landscapes and images created, the film is reminiscent of Maya Deren’s work, but also in its imagining of the world from the perspective of the animals featured, the work of Stan Brakhage. Overall Campbell has produced an extraordinary cacophony of sound and image, impossible to categorise but rather oddly included in a section dedicated to short documentaries; this was a work much closer in form to experimental film.
More in keeping with documentary form was Eoin Harnett’s Our Land, an impressively realised reflection on what makes Ireland distinctive. Featuring seven contributors, each of whom provide engaging, humorous and at times insightful commentary on the topic, the documentary was excellently paced, moving effectively between its contributors and supporting footage from the streets of Galway.
The subsequent films Recommend Rapper (Caoimhin Coffey) and Farmer Michael (The Life and Times of a Social Media Pariah) (Gerard Walsh) each provided profiles of intriguing characters from Galway. Recommend Rapper focuses on would-be rapper Danny Rock from Kinvara in Galway and his efforts to produce his first music video. While generally well produced, there is an uneasy tension (never entirely resolved) evident in this work between the director’s concern to sympathetically portray the subject and Rock becoming himself a figure of fun. Farmer Michael concerns the man (Steven Timothy) behind the comic character in the film’s title who has achieved a considerable following in recent years for his entertaining and idiosyncratic YouTube videos. This is an entertaining and at times moving account of the challenges Timothy has faced in his life. However, it is also a somewhat unbalanced piece that would have benefited from either a longer profile to accommodate the tonal changes apparent or a more focused production.
Squared Circle is an interesting chronicle of a group of wrestlers setting up and performing on Waterford promenade, accompanied by an evocative commentary of the events concerned, written by Dublin-based wrestling promoter Simon Rochford, and recited by actor Ger Carey. In its day-in-a-life structure, the documentary is an informative account of the wrestlers featured and the effort involved in the events they organise and participate in.
Big Tom McBride was a legendary figure in Irish country music, above all for people from his native Castleblayney in Co. Monaghan. Táine King and Lorraine Higgins’ Making Tom is a sensitively produced study of the making of a statue to commemorate the country and Irish legend, and the impact of its unveiling on residents of his home town.
Pigeons of Discontent
The final documentary featured in this programme was Paddy Cahill’s Pigeons of Discontent – this was amongst the strongest works featured in this section, imaginatively engaging with the divided opinions among local residents of Stoneybatter in Dublin city towards the large number of pigeons that gather in the area. Cahill rightly chooses to focus his camera almost entirely on the pigeons themselves and the, at times, striking and beautiful shapes they create in flight, accompanied by comments (both positive and negative) from those who share Stoneybatter with them.
The Irish Talent: New Shorts 1: Documentary programme screened 10th July as part of the 2019 Galway Film Fleadh (9 – 14 July).