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Galway Film Fleadh carves out niche

Festival's victories include 'Once'

Two decades since its inception, the Galway Film Fleadh (“festival” in Gaelic) has carved out an important niche in the often hardscrabble landscape of Irish cinema.

An unusually concise event (this year’s edition, the 20th, runs for just six days, from July 8-13), the Fleadh seems designed to concentrate its energies, and thereby to maximize its impact. From the outset, it has had its gaze fixed squarely on survival.

“Twenty years can afford you quite a perspective on the Irish Film Industry,” admits its managing director Miriam Allen with wry understatement. “We’ve seen the Irish Film Board come and go — and then come back again! But all through this time, we’ve stayed true to our core purpose: to be the central platform for spring-boarding Irish film into the international film industry.”

In this respect, the Fleadh’s most enduring contribution might prove to be its Film Fair, which runs through the heart of the event, from July 10-12, and offers filmmakers with projects in development a pre-scheduled round of meetings with various financiers, distributors and producers from all over Europe.

It’s not so far removed, at least in principle, from the old county matchmakers Ireland used to specialize in — though on a considerably larger scale: last year’s Fair saw 560 meetings take place over two intensely crowded days, with over 60 invited guests hearing a succession of pitches. And this year’s event looks set to exceed that number.

But with no broad-based resurgence of Irish cinema from which to draw, Galway has instead concentrated on small victories — the acclaim meeting John Carney’s “Once” (a world premiere in 2006) being the most recent example.

And its programming has remained solid, combining the best of local product, both in terms of features and shorts, with a healthy sampling of contemporary world cinema.

Programmer Felim MacDermott cites with particular relish a new strand, Music on Film, presenting a selection of classic concert movies that will play outdoors, in Eyre Square, over the closing weekend; while the Out on Film section (now in its third year) aims to showcase the best in new queer cinema — and doubtless raise a few conservative eyebrows along the way.

And while many of the 2008 masterclasses have yet to be confirmed, Allen and MacDermott take evident pride in this year’s Irish Tribute, honoring one of the most legendary figures in their country’s film industry: Peter O’Toole.

Remarkably, the actor (who famously sought to turn down his Lifetime Achievement Oscar in 2003, believing that it implied the end of his career) is scheduled to attend in person. A modest but considerable coup — and as such, very Galway.

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