Looking back on twenty-one years of the Galway Film Fleadh

Ronnie Masterson, Christopher Young, Lelia Doolan and Gabriel Byrne at the first Galway Film Fleadh (1989)

Ronnie Masterson, Christopher Young, Lelia Doolan and Gabriel Byrne at the first Galway Film Fleadh (1989)

THROUGHOUT TODAY and this weekend the Galway Film Fleadh will be in full swing, screening feature films, premieres, documentaries, shorts, and animation, in this, its 21st year.

As the fleadh is celebrating its 21st anniversary, it is appropriate to take a look back over the history of the festival and remember some of its many highlights.

The first Galway Film Fleadh took place from July 19 to 24 1989 in the Claddagh Palace. The core festival team was Lelia Doolan, Joe McMahon, Bob Quinn, Miriam Allen, and Steve Woods.

The festival officially opened on Wednesday July 19 with the Irish premiere of Venus Peter which was directed by Ian Sellar and was the last film completed by Ray McAnally before his death. Tickets cost £2 for daytime sessions, £2 for each European film, and £5 for full day and evening ticket to all showings.

In 1990 Ken Loach’s Hidden Agenda was the opening film. There was also a screening of Louis Marcus’s documentary on Padraig Pearse and Kenneth Griffith’s film on Michael Collins. The fleadh also paid tribute to Rex Ingram and Italian director Gillo Pontecorvo.

Westerns where women were the main characters, such as Johnny Guitar, The Woman They Almost Lynched, and Calamity Jane were screened in 1991. The 40th anniversary of The Quiet Man was celebrated with the screening of a new print of the film from the US.

The Galway Film Fleadh of 1992 was the first I one I went to, primarily to see a selection of short films by the ever popular Aardman Animations. I was also captivated by three films by Czech animator Jan Svankmajer, particularly Alice (1988 ), his bewitching, dark, and sinister take on Lewis Carroll’s Alice In Wonderland. It’s a film that to this day I watch again and again.

In 1993 there were screenings of the original prints of Star Wars and Return Of The Jedi. There was a retrospective on the work of Bob Quinn. Directors Peter Wintonick and Stephen Frears attended the fleadh that year.

It was fitting that in 1994, the year the fleadh chose to honour Ken Loach, it should also have screened films from Argentina, South Africa, Turkey, Germany, and Ireland, which charted the difficult roads to freedom.

The First Junior Film Fleadh took place in 1995 and there were midnight screenings in the Claddagh Car Park. The following year was the end of an era for Galway movie-goers as the Claddagh Palace closed down and the Galway Film Fleadh moved to the new Town Hall and the Omniplex Cinema.

In 1997 the fleadh hosted retrospectives of the films of Anthony Minghella and Neil Jordan with Jordan’s then latest film The Butcher Boy, being the closing film.

In 1998 Michael Moore attended the fleadh for the screening of his documentary The Big One and participated in a Q&A with the audience. In 1999 Angelica Huston’s Agnes Brown was the opening film and six films starring Gabriel Byrne were shown.

French films and the work of Yugoslav director Goran Paskaljevic dominate 2000’s fleadh while Woody Harrelson gave the Actors’ Masterclass. In 2001 the fleadh paid tribute to renowned Iranian film maker Abbas Kiarostami who Quentin Tarantino described as “one of the world’s greatest filmmakers”. Colm Meaney gave the Actors’ Masterclass.

In 2002 Aidan Quinn was the special guest. He also gave the Actors’ Masterclass. 8 Femmes, starring Catherine Deneuve was the closing film. In 2003 Pierce Brosnan was honoured by the fleadh, gave the Actors’ Masterclass, and the public interview in the Town Hall.

The 2004 fleadh focused on films from Britain and Latin America while the great Maureen O’Hara was the guest of honour. Paul Schrader, the man who wrote the screenplays for Taxi Driver and The Last Temptation Of Christ, gave the screenwriting masterclass in 2005. Actor Matt Dillon gave the public interview.

In 2006 Kathy Bates was the guest of honour. The first gay and lesbian films were screened as part of the new Out On Film Strand. In 2007 Jeremy Irons and Fionnuala Flanagan were the guests of honour. The Fleadh also hosted a special Polish season.

In 2008 the the fleadh paid tribute to Peter O’Toole, one of the greatest Irish actors of all time. Jessica Lange also attended and gave the Actors’ Masterclass. Bill Pullman attended the screening of his film Surveillance.

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