They’re tasks equally quixotic in brief: the short film programmer’s, to assemble an overview at once broad in its reach and consistent in its tone; and the critic’s, to divine from such efforts a unifying theory of The State of the Cinema. Both can but hope to tease some shared themes from the unwieldy abundance of films—neither, in their right mind, would ever deign to proclaim a wholly representative sample. Yet for all the foolhardiness of taking but a small selection of shorts as an indication of broader trends writ little, there is to this microcosmic curation a kind of crass logic: if such small-scale psychology seems inherently selective, that’s a fitting reflection of the creative currents shaping the movies themselves. Or so I told myself intently as I staggered out of the cinema for the final time at the 30th Galway Film Fleadh, and wondered just what it was that might unite the fifty-plus Irish short films I’d exhaustedly ogled across the previous week. The day was drawing close, and there were many windmills to tilt at.
But as unenviable a task as perusing and processing so varied an onslaught may sound, it’s a positive pleasure beside the Herculean labour of Eibh Collins, who nevertheless fulfilled her second year as the Fleadh’s shorts programmer with customary gusto. In selection and scheduling, the various programmes this year did a deliberate job of complement and contrast; moderating topic and tone so finely across such diverse, distinct strands is a job of unassuming expertise, and all too often unacknowledged ingenuity. Here it allowed for difficult exhumations of national trauma alongside dry appraisals of outdated mindsets, absurd interludes of fancy-flight amidst sombre looks at social strife, bracing heights of formal experiment beside grounding subtleties of practiced craft.
For all that variety, though, the immediate impression was one of reflection as three of the first programme’s nine films concerned themselves with institutional abuse and its ever-present legacies. Rendering the personal trauma of its eponymous subject a sober distillation of national shame, Damien Connolly’s Denis did as much to suggest the unresolved cruelties at the heart of Irish identity as Remembering to Forget… Forgetting to Remember, whose tracking shots through crumbling corridors of still-standing structures made for a neat visualisation of how firmly this past still figures in the national self-image. Processing that pain is central to Mia Mullarkey’s fine Mother & Baby, screened later in the week: in sitting in on a group of survivors assembled by Catherine Corless, whose exhaustive work uncovering these atrocities in Galway restarted the national conversation from and to which these films speak, we are invited to collapse the divide between personal and political. As with Denis it’s clear from the outset: these people’s pain is ours to share, its legacies not theirs alone to reckon with.
As much is true too, of course, of the North, and between a festival focus on films of the UK and the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, the Troubles featured high on the strand’s agenda. Hope - The Story of Yes led the fray with a handsome if humdrum talking head style, reliving the push for acceptance of that peace process landmark in the ‘98 referendum. That optimistic outlook played like a plea for perpetuity, as fiction efforts Troubles and Crossmaglen conjured stark reminders of the chaos the yes vote helped largely lay to rest. Their respective successes are nothing if not variable: where the former’s insular quietude crescendos to a striking moment of tenderness amidst tension, the latter’s opposite effort to magnify the conflict in genre trappings falls frighteningly flat. Both, though, feel oddly of a piece with the modern-day The 11th, which unevenly enmeshes aspects of each in a tale of family and faith that works best in reminding us that up here, nothing’s ever really over.
Shorts from the Fleadh
CinÉireann / Issue 9 21
Words: Ronan Doyle