Galway Film Fleadh
Ireland’s biggest Film Festival returns in in-person

Joyride with Oliva Colman and Charlie Reid

B.J. Quinn

The Galway Film Fleadh returned this past July for a live, in-person, and in-cinema edition after online and outdoor events during the past two years. From July 5th – 10th, this year festival goers, bouncing between the Town Hall Theatre and the Pálás, were able to see the best of Irish and international film back where they belong.

The Festival kicked off in style with the world premiere of Emer Reynolds’s eagerly anticipated Joyride. The film signified a change of pace for Reynolds, a filmmaker who, after making the switch from editor to director, has worked exclusively in documentary – most known for her Emmy award winning The Farthest and Phil Lynott biopic, Songs For While I’m Away. Her feature drama debut, Joyride, tells the story of Joy (Olivia Colman, who won the Academy Award for Irish co-production The Favourite in 2018), a woman struggling with motherhood, who finds herself on the run with Mully (Kildare’s own Charlie Reid), an adolescent with a mum-shaped void in his life. As they tear up the road on their riotous wild journey across Ireland, we follow these roguish ‘outlaws’ in search of their dreams. Sadly Colman couldn’t make it to the world premiere, but newcomer Reid received a rapturous ovation for his impressive debut performance. “He totally blew me away,” Colman told the Guardian last June. “He’s clearly got it all.”

Another debuting director, Antonia Campbell-Hughes, an Irish talent best known for her work in front of the camera, proves she has style to burn with It Is In Us All, which went down a treat on Saturday evening at the Town Hall Theatre. Written and directed by Campbell-Hughes, It Is In Us All stars Cosmo Jarvis (Calm with Horses) and Rhys Mannion (Water Under the Bridge). A formidable man who cares for nothing is forced to confront his self-destructive core when a violent car crash involving a sexually charged boy who epitomises life, challenges him to face his truth. “This has been a process of so many years of learning and experience on the film sets of artistic creators – a decade long curation,” said Campbell-Hughes. “I have so many people to thank. All the cast and crew who helped bring this to be, in the oddest of years. Heroics. What interests me about being a storyteller is being able to show something that has a gradient… and is not linear.”

One of the hottest tickets and most critically acclaimed films at the Festival was Kathryn Ferguson’s Nothing Compares, an intimate documentary which charts the phenomenal rise and turbulent career of singer Sinéad O’Connor. Focusing on O’Connor’s prophetic words and deeds across a five-year period (1987 – 1992), Nothing Compares presents an authored, cinematic portrait of a musical icon through a contemporary feminist lens. “When Sinéad burst into my consciousness it felt like a door had been kicked open,” Ferguson told Women and Hollywood. “Here was a bold Irish woman who said the things others didn’t feel they could say and she said them loudly.” During the Q&A following the screening, the director said making the film “was a phenomenal archival process, it was like mining for treasure.” And you can really see that treasure trove on screen; the director does away with talking head interviews in favour of simple voiceover, lighting up the screen with a collage of archival footage which spice up the music videos and concert footage that we know all too well. The film was a smash on its debut at the Sundance Film Festival, and now, after winning Best Irish Documentary at the Fleadh, one senses the sky’s the limit for Nothing Compares.

Closing the Festival was Carol of the Bells, a period drama whose story of survival amidst occupation in pre and post-WWII Ukraine takes on new resonance amid the current war. The film was presented by director Olesya Morgunets-Isaenko, who spoke on stage with tears in her eyes; for the past three months she has sought refuge in Galway. “Everything in the film is happening now.”

The winner of Best Irish Film was Lakelands, written, directed and produced by Robert Higgins and Patrick McGivney. Lakelands won the Fleadh’s Best Marketplace Project Award in 2021 and returned to the Fleadh this year for its World Premiere. The film follows Cian, a young Gaelic footballer who struggles to come to terms with a career-ending injury after an attack on a night out. Cian undertakes a search for his own identity in a small town where Gaelic football is a religion, and identity is defined by what you can do on the pitch. Featuring the directorial debuts of Robert Higgins and Patrick McGivney, and a cast of emerging Irish stars including Éanna Hardwicke (Vivarium, Normal People, Smother) and Danielle Galligan (Netflix’s Shadow and Bone).

Another highlight, The Sparrow, written and directed by Michael Kinirons, won Best Irish First Feature. The Sparrow follows Kevin Coyne, who lives in a dysfunctional household where grieving the death of his mother is forbidden by his father Larry, an ex-soldier. Kevin is also used to living in his brother Robbie’s shadow, so he is surprised when Hanna, a newcomer to this West Cork parish, seems to prefer his company.

That’s all folks! Another fleadhbulous Film Fleadh in the books. After two years of Covid compromises, 2022’s Festival not only marked a return to cinemas, but the return of the Fleadh buzz, a five day party celebrating fresh and compelling voices in Irish filmmaking today.