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Miriam Allen Talks 21 Years of the Galway Film Fleadh
02 Jul 2009 :
Miriam Allen
In our latest interview, IFTN chats to Miriam Allen, Managing Director of the Galway Film Fleadh, who has a busy two weeks ahead of her organising last minute details for the 21st birthday celebrations of the Galway festival which kicks off Tuesday July 7th.

The Fleadh, which has increased both in popularity and size over the last number of years, with annual attendance now on average over 20,000 people, has turned into a six day international film event held every July which welcomes a diverse range of film talent from both on screen and off screen.

The Fleadh is now a true attraction for people involved in both the Irish and international film industries, having welcomed some of the greats in terms of both writers, directors, producers and actors including; Maureen O’Hara, Kathy Bates, Pierce Brosnan, Gabriel Byrne, Peter O’Toole, Neil Jordan, Bingham Ray and Jeremy Irons.

This year’s festival has a jam packed line up including no less than eight Irish world premieres that cover a number of genres including; ‘Zonad’ (w/d John Carney & Kieran Carney), ‘The Disturbed’ (w/d Conor McMahon), ‘The Race’ (writer Rowan O’Neill, director Andre Nebe), ‘His and Hers’ (w/d Ken Wardrop), ‘Savage’ (w/d Brendan Muldowney), ‘Swansong’ (w/d Conor McDermottroe), ‘One Hundred Mornings’ (w/d Conor Horgan) and ‘Memoria’ (w/d Brian O’Toole); and the programme does not stop there. Oscar winning actress Anjelica Huston is due to engage in a public interview on Sunday afternoon, masterclasses are taking place over the duration of the week with Writer Christopher Hampton, Actor Michael Fassbender and Producer Ted Hope, not to mention an IFTA “In Conversation With…” producer Redmond Morris, all combining to make the 2009 lineup as exciting, enticing and memorable as previous years.

The Fleadh, which annually attracts people involved in both the Irish and the International film industry, has over the years welcomed many guests in terms of both writers, directors, producers and actors including; Maureen O’Hara, Kathy Bates, Pierce Brosnan, Gabriel Byrne, Peter O’Toole, Neil Jordan, Bingham Ray and Jeremy Irons.

Prior to the annual event, commencing on Tuesday, IFTN caught up with Miriam Allen to discuss the success of the Fleadh, how it has evolved, and what it means to Galway.

IFTN: Can you tell us how the Galway Film Fleadh was initially set up?

MA: In 1988, ‘Reefer and The Model’ had its World Premiere at the Galway Arts Festival and, such was the response to the screening, it was decided to have a Film Festival as part of the Arts Festival. Lelia Doolan spearheaded the Festival and got myself, Joe McMahon and Bob Quinn involved.

We decided early on that we didn’t want to be known as the Galway Film Festival so Bob suggested Fleadh and here we are 21 years later. We spent the first seven years as part of the Arts Festival and, as we had at that stage grown, it made sense to become a stand alone Festival.

This is the Fleadh’s 21st anniversary what has been your most memorable experience/event over the last number 20 years?

I have many great memories that still make me laugh. I remember Johnny Gogan, who was projecting for us in the Claddagh Palace Mini, running down the fire escape with a 16mm print in his hand saying “please tell me you see a sound track???” …Or the year we had Istvan Szabo and the print was in Hungarian with French sub titles.

Another big memory is 1995, Tiernan McBride died on the 18th of July - he had just left the Fleadh to attend a meeting in the IFI – and 2 days later I gave birth to my son Dominic. I drove myself to hospital and was visited by every filmmaker in town including Arthur Penn and Ben Barenholtz. I returned to the Claddagh Palace and gave out the Awards on the closing Sunday night. Michael D. Higgins was holding Dominic in the Audience and Damien O’Donnell was one of the filmmakers that won a prize that year. And that is 14 years ago this July!

How has the festival evolved over the last number of years?

Well it has certainly got bigger and, in particular, the industry side has grown to reflect the industry. We also have more access and better responses from distributors with regard to getting films for the Fleadh – it used to be so hard. Also, we have to try harder as, while we may be the cultural capital of Ireland, we don’t have the access or cache of ‘the Capital’.

As festival director what do you enjoy most about your role?

I suppose it has to be meeting so many different people and making lasting friendships with some of them. The hard part is getting the money for it all but the response is usually great and we are grateful for the support that we receive from the film industry in general.

The Film Fair is in its 13th year, can you tell us how and why it started?

The fair grew organically – the MEDIA Programme had just started in Europe and we had them over to explain what it meant for and to the Irish film industry. We then started one-on-one meetings with those representatives and Irish filmmakers and it all snowballed from there.

What does the Fleadh mean for Galway city?

€5 million financially and, culturally, well that cannot be measured! Galway City Council has been very proactive and, in 2011 as a result of the Fleadh and indeed the Galway Film Society, we will have our own three-screen arthouse cinema in the centre of town. That is a direct result of all that work and it is great that this year the sod will be turned for Galway Picture Palace on July 7th and we will finally, after many years of fundraising and effort, have another venue for the Fleadh and also all year round screenings of alternative ‘cinema’ for the audiences that we have built up over the last 20 years.

How do you see the relationship between the Fleadh and the Irish film industry?

Well, I like to think that the Fleadh has carved a special niche for itself and that the growth of the Fleadh reflects that of the Irish film industry. I am biased of course but if I wanted to meet the Irish film industry and not just directors/producers but also cameramen/ actors/ writers etc. I would head for the Fleadh. I always say that we offer the full 360 degree experience and we are lucky that we can do so.

The Pitching Award at the Fleadh is an innovative competition that offers budding scriptwriters a unique opportunity. Who will be on the panel this year?

Well, as always Lelia Doolan will be the Chair, Christopher Hampton and Redmond Morris make up the rest of the panel.

Are there any special celebrations planned to mark the 21st anniversary?

Not really. In these dark days we are happy to be still here and happening. We have a couple of special ‘awards’ this year – we are calling them the Galway Hooker Tribute Awards – and we are delighted to be presenting them to Anjelica Huston and Redmond Morris. We might have a cake on Sunday night to mark the event.

You’ve worked with some terrific people over the years – Kate O’Toole, Felim, Lelia, Bingham… Can you give us some insight into how you work with these people?

Yes I have worked with great people and still do. I think we are all part of a team and we are all striving for the same goal. Either people buy into that or don’t – they either get it or don’t! We are all friends at the end of the day and we always get over the shouting and fighting. In other words, we are all passionate about film and respect each others opinions and take it from there.

Has the role of the festival changed since its first years?

In my opinion no. We have always strived to represent and reflect the ‘Irish Film Industry’. Bear in mind that when we started all those years ago there were very few filmmakers in Ireland and they didn’t have a voice or indeed a platform (other than TV) to have their work viewed by their peers in a constructive, conducive or collective event that respected their work. After 20 years of the Fleadh, I would say nothing has changed except the names and the collective memories of filmmakers who now think they are operating in ‘an industry’, and never think of those who carved it out for them.  We like to remind and respect those who have gone before... That’s very important, I feel, as you are only as good as your last film.


  • The 21st Annual Galway Film Fleadh runs from 7th-12th July in Galway City.
  • Industry guests, professionals, and many more will be in attendance. For more information please log onto www.galwayfilmfleadh.com or alternatively contact info@galwayfilmfleadh.com.
  • The Event is proudly supported by principle sponsors The Arts Council of Ireland, The Irish Film Board, Northern Ireland Screen, Galway City Council, The Radisson SAS Hotel and Media; A Programme of The European Union.

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