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Fleadh Programmer Gar O'Brien on Irish Film
27 Jun 2017 : Deirdre Hopkins
Gar O'Brien
IFTN caught up with Gar O'Brien ahead of the 2017 Programme Launch.

IFTN: The Fleadh has the cream of the crop in terms of programming the best Irish films every year; having programmed the Fleadh for 7 years, how, in your opinion, has Irish feature film and documentary changed and developed since you first started programming?

Gar O'Brien: Two words: Quality AND Quantity. Simply put there are more Irish Features and documentaries than ever before but crucually there are more genuinely great ones too. This obviously makes selection harder every year but it’s a good headache to have, like when a football manager has a full team to select from and someone good is going to have to sit on the bench.

I don’t mean that films weren’t great when I started here, they really were! But the sheer number of good films has been staggering. I think several things have combined to create this scenario, the obvious one being the democratisation of film production to an extent and there have been a number of really inspirational films that have shown people what’s possible on minimal budgets. Off the top of my head I can name Terry McMahon, Mark O’Connor, Gerard Barrett, Ger Walsh and films like Tom Ryan’s Twice Shy that really do inspire people who are maybe outside the system that they can make something substantial and strong with real potential for theatrical success.

Another element that I think has made film stronger over the years is the (still frustratingly slow) increase of female directors. This is most evident perhaps in our documentaries with Neasa Ní Chianáin and Aoife Kelleher, and now one of our best editors Emer Reynolds with The Farthest, to name but a few, all delivering exceptional, world-class documentaries recently. Things are improving in features too. Aisling Walsh’s Maudie this year for example adds to strong work like Juanita Wilson’s and Rebecca Daly’s. We’re not there yet but the signs are encouraging and with the Film Board’s commitment to the process things are getting better there. I’d love in a few years if you could programme a festival with 85% female directors and have no one bat an eyelid.

Finally I think the international profile of Irish film has been really strong in the last few years with international sales and festival selection coming out of the Fleadh becoming a more common thing. Similarly seeing Irish audiences embrace Irish cinema a little more has been amazing. Recent successes like The Young Offenders and Bobby sands, Mad Mary and Cardboard Gangsters, and many more have been really encouraging. There’s still nothing like putting on a strong piece of Irish cinema in the town hall theatre, feeling the audience respond to it and react to it in such a palpable way that you know that if the programmer for Sundance or Toronto or somewhere is in the audience, or a sales agent or distributor, that they are feeling that too and that the film can have an international life and success at home, and that comes directly from the way that audiences can react to film at the Fleadh.

The Galway Film Fleadh Programme for 2017 launches Tuesday 27th June. The Fleadh runs 11th-16th July. Full details at www.galwayfilmfleadh.com.

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