IT HAS been a long time since we have been able to say “Let’s go out to the cinema this evening”, but this summer we can, and indeed being ‘out’ at the cinema - literally - will be the highlight of summer 2021 in the city.
The 33rd Galway Film Fleadh’s outdoor film screenings at Fr Burke Park will give the city a social, communal, public festival, one which brings people together, and gives the streets back that festival vibe we normally associate with July - while also responsibly maintaining and adhering to social distancing and Government health guidelines.
The Fleadh, which runs from Tuesday July 20 to Sunday 25, as well as taking place outdoors, will feature indoor screenings at the Pálás Cinema - which reopens tomorrow - and online screenings as well.
“It’s been like organising three festivals in one - the digital, the indoors, and outdoors, it’s been an unprecedented workload,” Fleadh programmer, Will Fitzgerald tells me during our Monday afternoon Zoom interview, “but we wanted to have that communal vibe and bring it back to the festival again.”
Spirited Away will be among the films screened at Fleadh 21.
The outdoor screenings at Fr Burke Park will be among the most looked forward to events of Fleadh 21. “We’ve partnered with Milestone Inventive, who did the Galway Summer Garden last year,” says Will, “so the outdoor screenings will have that same vibe, except this time it’s about film. There will be an LED screen from Sound and Light, so it won’t matter whether the day is sunny, cloudy, or rainy, you will still be able to see the screen, there will also be food and drink from businesses in the west end of the city - so this is a real Galway production.”
The event will allow for attendance by 200 people, and there will be social distancing. Headphones will be provided - for the Irish language screening of Wolfwalkers, the headphones will allow viewers to switch between Gaeilge and English language versions of the film - and there will be stretch tents to protect the public in case of bad weather.
“People have been asking us, ‘Should we bring deck chairs? Should we bring blankets?’” says Will. “No need, everything will be provided. All you need to bring is a mask and your ticket and arrive ten minutes before the film so you can order food. We wanted to have an in-person audience again, and this is about families, children, and young people, and it will have the summer festival vibe.”
Opening and closing films
Fleadh 21 boasts 11 world premieres, 45 new films, and more than 100 shorts. Apart from the outdoor screenings and screenings at the Pálás, the majority of the festival will be online. “Each film will have a premiere time,” says Will. “We’re hoping most people will tune in at the same time, then react on Facebook and Twitter. That way, it can still be a communal experience.”
The Fleadh opens on July 20 with the European premiere of psychological thriller Here Before, the feature debut of Belfast filmmaker Stacey Gregg. Set in Northern Ireland, Andrea Riseborough plays a bereaved mother whose new neighbours stir up uncomfortable feelings of grief about the daughter she lost.
“This is a really accomplished first feature from Gregg,” says Will. “She knows how to ratchet up the tension, and manipulate and keep the audience guessing. Is the main character losing her mind, or is there something else going on?”
The closing night film will be the world premiere of Untold Secrets, directed by Galwegian/Spanish filmmaker, Teresa Lavina, which gives voice to the survivors of Irish mother and baby homes, in particular, Anne Silke, who was fostered out of the Bon Secours Mother & Baby Home in Tuam.
“This film sort of came in under the radar,” says Will. “It was a very last minute submission to the Fleadh. I was almost going to say ‘wait until next year’, but when I saw what the subject matter was I knew we had to go with it. A film like this shows you the enormity of what went on, and what people experienced at the hands of the State, the church, and their own families. As well as women, we hear testimony from men in such institutions, and the racial abuse they suffered. A film like this demanded an important slot at the Fleadh. I think it will be cathartic and it’s also very much a Galway story.”
While the Fleadh has long been a champion of new Irish film, this year’s programme is noticeable for the number of intriguing, and potentially impressive, Irish feature films - including those with varying degrees of Galway interest.
Three features commissioned by TG4 will receive their premieres at this year’s Fleadh - Foscadh, the latest Cine4 Irish language Film (Friday July 23, Fr Burke Park ); docu-drama, The Queen v Patrick O’Donnell (online, July 22 ); and Doineann (online, July 25 ).
“Foscadh is based on Donal Ryan’s novel, The Thing About December, which initially caught my interest,” says Will. “It’s about a man with arrested development who is forced into maturity, and is set in rural Ireland. Dónall Ó Héalaí gives a fantastic performance and Fionnuala Flaherty is Irish acting royalty. The way it depicts the politics of rural Ireland, and issues of land ownership and development will resonate with rural viewers - as will the French film we’re also screening, Beasts, which looks at the effects of modernisation on rural communities.”
The Queen v Patrick O’Donnell tells the true story of how a Donegal native killed a member of the assassination squad The Invincibles in South Africa in 1883. “It’s really impressive, and fun, how this film brings the facts of this to life on screen,” says Will.
Doineann is a murder mystery starring Peter Coonan and Seán T Ó Meallaigh, with Coonan as a journalist who discovers his wife and child have vanished from the family’s island home.
The Fleadh will also host three ‘in conversation’ events: actor Kate O’Toole will interview Gabriel Byrne (Saturday July 24, 12 noon ), whose new film, Death of a Ladies’ Man, features in the Fleadh programme; Irish-Scottish documentarian Mark Cousins will give a directing ‘in conversation’ event hosted by director Declan McGrath (Saturday 24, 2pm ); while Irish-American screenwriter Mark Fergus (Iron Man and Children of Men, Cowboys and Aliens, The Expanse ) will talk to screenwriter Mary Kate O’Flanagan (Sunday 25, 2pm ).
Gabriel Byrne in Death of a Ladies’ Man.
Looking to the future, does Will think the ‘hybrid festival’ is here to stay as both a concept and a practice, and that this year’s Fleadh is the first taste of the Fleadh’s of the future?
“I think the digital element is here to stay,” he says. “There will also be a push to return to the cinemas in the more communal, traditional way we were used to before the pandemic, that will happen once it is safe to do so. I think we will retain all the aspects that work. This year is very much a trail event.”
For more information and booking see https://bit.ly/fleadh21 and https://palas.ie.