Imagine that you met a guy named Barry O’-something–or-other at Sundance, or Tribeca, a real film fan who’d come every year, watch films in the seat right beside you, and then went off at some point and was elected president of the country.
“That Michael?!!” screeched one American, from deep within her film festival bubble, when told that one of her old Galway Film Fleadh friends -- someone she’d been meeting year after year -- was the same Michael D. Higgins who is currently president of Ireland and was Sunday night’s guest of honor at the Fleadh’s closing-night awards.
Such is the hermetically sealed world of film festivals. But it makes sense that Higgins would have been a Fleadh habitue: A former member of the Irish Parliament for Galway he was the nation’s arts minister, too, before being elected to his current office in 2011. He’s a poet, and an impassioned progressive (it’s been around, but here’s a link to his slap-down of Boston radio clown Michael Graham, whom Higgins called, with artful alliteration, “a wanker whipping up fear”). And he’s a supporter of culture, Irish and otherwise.
Last night, he delivered a passionate address that extolled the “emancipatory and transformative” powers of film, the importance of film to national culture, the importance of protecting one’s national cinema (“it’s absurd that all the films in the world should be made in a small city on the west coast of the United States”) and gave out a few awards:
To actress Saoirse Ronan; to Irish arts institution and former Irish Film Board chair James Morris; and to Miriam Allen, the director of the fleadh who, two nights earlier, had received a honorary doctorate from the University of Staffordshire over in the U.K. (A good week for Miriam).
A few people got choked up when young Kelly Thornton, the best thing about the Irish-made comedy “Life’s a Breeze,” accepted the second annual Bingham Ray Award for emerging talent, named for the late great indie distributor (“It’s good to get this, because they told me Bingham was cool …”). And it was nice to see a president get a couple of spontaneous standing ovations, and talk about culture and film with a voice of knowledge.
The full list of awards for this year's Galway Film Fleadh is here.