You don’t hear the phrase “under the blazing Irish sun” very often, but that’s where the 25th annual Galway Film Fleadh is unfolding, in a city where it often rains and currently shines. Actually, it’s hot as hell, but the people and films are cool. Zach Quinto, who arrived yesterday (a little late for the “Star Trek” presentation but in time for an acting masterclass and screening of “Margin Call,” which he helped produce) almost immediately made a stop at a café here where he used to work.
A-lister Saoirse Ronan is a native of Ireland, of course, and will be doing an on-stage interview adjacent to a screening of Joe Wright’s lunatic action-thriller “Hanna” (2011). And while the terrific Aiden Gillen was off with the rest of the Irish acting world, conjuring up more “Game of Thrones” episodes, he sent along a bravura performance in Christine Molloy and Joe Lawlor’s “Mister John’s,” which was filmed in Singapore; producer David Collins got a laugh from the Town Hall crowd, when he compared the climates of the two cities.
At the moment, Galway could also be compared to Havana, which is where half the action unfolds in “Here Was Cuba,” a doc about the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 directed by Irish people Emer Reynolds and John Murray. As done from an Irish perspective (and with Irish Film Board and PBS money) it takes a pretty even-handed view of the Kennedy-Krushchev brinkmanship ballet that danced the world to the edge of the abyss. JFK is remembered (by, among others, Ted Sorensen just before his death) as the adult in the room; likewise Soviet Premier Nikita Krushchev, a man who kept his head while those around him were losing their Russian cool.
“Here Was Cuba” marks Reynold’s first feature directing credit, although she’s been an editor for years (“I Went Down,” “The Eclipse,” “Jump”). She also edited “Cuba,” a seamless, propulsive effort that incorporates not just the predictable talking heads (who sometimes say unpredictable things) and archival, but also present-day footage of sometimes mundane activities that add an urgency to a 50-year-old story (Putin is, after all, reigniting the Cold War).
“We shot it all,” said Reynolds, referring to the Havana street scenes and shots of cherubic Russian children, who were captured in Red Square. They had similar shots of American children, she said, but the lawyers wouldn’t let the footage be used.
What they did work into the film was a rendition of “Do You Hear What I Hear?” Which was kind of funny: A Christmas carol in a Cuban Missile Crisis movie? “It was written about the Cuban Missile Crisis,” the smiling Reynolds said, to our utter astonishment. “The writer of the song, Noel Regney, was walking through the streets of New York and came up with it. It’s perfect isn’t it?” The song was written by Regney and then-wife Gloria Shayne Baker, and does sort of take on a different kind of poignancy when you think, not of a Christmas star, but a nuclear missile “with a tail as big as a kite.”