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Galway Film Fleadh: Irish President Michael D. Higgins Guest of Honor at Closing Night Awards

Photo of John Anderson By John Anderson | Thompson on Hollywood July 15, 2013 at 12:15PM

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.
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Irish President Michael D. Higgins at Galway Film Fleadh
Irish President Michael D. Higgins at Galway Film Fleadh

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.

"Life's a Breeze"
"Life's a Breeze"

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.

This article is related to: Festivals


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.