Galway Film Fleadh... Are you sitting comfortably?
As the 29th Galway Film Fleadh prepares to open, our film critic previews some of the blockbusters and hidden gems being screened
Galway was a quieter, calmer place back in the late 1980s, when a group of local cinephiles decided it was high time their city had a film festival. Led by Miriam Allen, who's still director of the Fleadh, they began the herculean task of pulling together an international film festival from scratch, working with no budget from an office "the size of a wardrobe".
Twenty-nine years later, the Galway Fleadh is one of Ireland's great cultural success stories, an event that attracts great films and top directors and actors from around the world. Tuxedos and fancy gowns are not required at Fleadh premières, and most guests walk to the cinemas, giving the event a unique informality foreign visitors find very appealing.
In 2011, the Galway Film Fleadh was awarded the great honour of being accepted as a qualifying festival for the Academy Awards, in both the short film and best animation categories. It's come on in leaps and bounds in recent years, and this year's programme may just be the most impressive yet. Here's our pick of the highlights.
Song of Granite
This year's opening film, Song of Granite powerfully evokes the life and work of the great sean nós singer Joe Heaney. Director Pat Collins and co-writers Sharon Whooley and Eoghan Mac Giolla Bhride imaginatively explore Heaney's childhood in the bleak beauty of Connemara, his emigration to London, later life in America, and heroic devotion to his art.
July 11, Town Hall Theatre, 7.30pm
Philippe Van Leeuw's film is set in war-torn Syria and stars the great Hiam Abbass as Oum, a charismatic mother-of-three whose home becomes a sanctuary for friends and neighbours when their neighbourhood is engulfed by the conflict. This screening will be directly followed by City of Ghosts, Matthew Heineman's documentary about a group of Raqqa activists who banded together when their city was overrun by IS.
July 12, Cinemobile, 1.15pm
Dublin author and academic Padraig O'Malley has devoted much of his life to promoting peace in Kosovo, Nigeria, the North and Iraq. His work is deeply linked to his own struggles with alcohol addiction, and James Demo's documentary charts his extraordinary life. Demo and O'Malley will attend the screening. July 12, Town Hall Theatre, 2pm
Winner of the Silver Bear award at the Berlin Film Festival, Agnieszka Holland's stark and stylish psychological drama is set along the mountainous border of Poland and the Czech Republic. When an elderly woman finds the bodies of several hunters in the woods, she's convinced she knows who the killer is, but nobody believes her.
July 12, Cinemobile, 5pm
Seamus Hughes (An Klondike) gives an enjoyably obnoxious performance in Eamonn Norris's low-budget comedy Making It, which follows the travails of a would-be Orson Welles. When he's sacked from his high-paying job, the egotistical but talentless Mike McMahon decides to bounce back by making a hit action film, and the results are not impressive.
July 12, Town Hall Studio, 9.30pm
In the Name of Peace
Though many have queued up to take credit for the Northern Irish peace process, none of it would ever have happened without the quiet and patient work of John Hume. This documentary charts his journey from civil rights activist to national politician and peacemaker, and includes contributions from Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, John Major and Tony Blair. Bertie Ahern will take part in a panel discussion after the film.
July 13, Town Hall Theatre, 4pm
Irish director Aisling Walsh's moving biopic is based on the life of Canadian folk artist Maud Lewis, played here by Sally Hawkins. A bright and talented woman who's been kept from the world by her family because of her severely arthritic hands, Maudie finds liberation in her distinctive and colourful art. And her life changes forever when she meets a gruff and eccentric bachelor caked Everett Lewis (Ethan Hawke).
July 13, Town Hall Theatre, 6pm
Thanks to budgetary restrictions, and an international lack of interest, there have been very few attempts to cinematically explore Ireland's rich and complex history. This brisk, brutal and commendably efficient low-budget drama from Brendan Muldowney does something to redress that imbalance, and stars Tom Holland and Jon Bernthal as members of an order of monks who fall foul of Norman treachery while transporting a holy relic to Rome.
July 13, Town Hall Theatre, 8.15pm
A Ghost Story
American critics are getting quite excited about David Lowery's poetic exploration of a possible afterlife. Casey Affleck plays 'C', a struggling musician who's killed in a car crash and returns to his house to watch over his grieving wife. As her life spins on and she begins to forget him, C encounters another ghost, who explains that she is waiting for someone to return. Rooney Mara co-stars.
July 13, Cinemobile, 8.15pm
Condemned to Remember
In Gerry Gregg's simple but powerful documentary, Irish holocaust survivor Tomi Reichental celebrates his 80th birthday before embarking on an epic journey across Europe. In Germany, Tomi confronts convicted SS war criminal Hilde Michnia, in Poland and Slovakia he explores the failure to acknowledge local collusion with the Nazi extermination project, and in Bosnia he embraces survivors of a more recent attempted genocide.
July 14, Town Hall Theatre, 4.15pm
The Drummer and the Keeper
Musician Nick Kelly makes his feature debut with this heartfelt drama starring Dermot Murphy as a troubled young rocker. Gabriel is 25, loves to party and cause trouble and has recently been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. But Gabriel is forced to reassess his life when he meets Christopher, a 17-year-old with severe Asperger's who yearns to fit in. A fine cast includes Peter Coonan and Aoibhinn McGinnity.
July 14, Town Hall Theatre, 6pm
The Silver Branch
Katrina Costello's stunningly photographed film uses the epic backdrop of the Burren to explore the work of fifth generation Clare poet Patrick McCormack. The wildlife and deep rhythms of the area are very nicely evoked as McCormack explains his simple but radical vision, explaining "how to be" in the world and live in close communion with nature. It's a nice little film.
July 14, Cinemobile, 8.15pm
The causes and consequences of incarceration are explored in Frank Berry's stark Irish drama. Dafhyd Flynn is Michael McCrea, a rather innocent 18-year-old boy who's living with his grandfather on a Dublin housing estate when he's caught holding a bag of drugs for a friend, and is sent to prison. Berry's film was researched and workshopped with the help of former prisoners, which has added to its veracity.
July 14, Town Hall Theatre, 8pm
Tom Collins' Irish-language thriller explores the history of violent republicanism, and begins in 1916, when a firebrand Catholic priest's nationalist rabble-rousing leads to tragedy. Fifty years on, the boy the priest radicalised arrives in Derry a hardened gunman on the eve of a new war. With Peter Coonan, Terry Byrne.
July 15, Town Hall Theatre, 4.15pm
Rising star Gerard Barrett has been a regular visitor to the Fleadh in recent times, and returns with a powerful drama that could hardly be more timely. Limbo follows 24 hours in the lives of a young Irish mother and her child as they battle for a stable life. After receiving an eviction notice from the hotel where they've been living, they have just hours to find somewhere else or face a night on the streets.
July 15, Town Hall Theatre, 6pm
Tom Vaughan-Lawlor and Barry Ward head the cast of Stephen Burke's ambitious thriller based on the true story of a mass breakout from the Maze Prison in 1983. Vaughan-Lawlor (pictured below left) plays Larry Marley, the architect of the escape, who begins courting a prison officer called Gordon Close when he realises he could be useful to his plan.
July 15, Town Hall Theatre, 8pm
Bad Day for the Cut
Chris Baugh's gritty thriller is set in rural northern Ireland and stars Nigel O'Neill as Donal, a tough but kind farmer who looks after his elderly mother. When his quiet life is violently disrupted by strangers, Donal's revenge is bloody, and thorough. Susan Lynch and Stuart Graham co-star.
July 15, Town Hall Theatre, 10pm
Festival-goers will get a sneak preview of Christopher Nolan's eagerly anticipated epic, which doesn't open in cinemas until July 21. Kenneth Branagh, Tom Hardy, Mark Rylance, Cillian Murphy and Barry Keoghan star in what promises to be a stirring recreation of the mass-evacuation of 300,000 Allied troops from a Norman beach in the summer of 1940.
July 16, Town Hall Theatre, 4pm
Return to Montauk
Several of Colm Tóibín's books have been successfully adapted for the screen, but in Return to Montauk he makes his debut as a screenwriter. Stellan Skarsgård stars as Max Zorn, a German writer who's haunted by a brief love affair he had years before in New York. And when he returns to the US on a book tour, he seeks out the woman he's convinced is the love of his life. Nina Hoss co-stars.
July 16, Town Hall Theatre, 8pm