Monday, August 10, 2009

Abolishing the Irish Film Board

Bord Snip has suggested abolishing the Film Board. I have a vested interest, yes, but I still feel that it is possible to put forward a pretty objective argument in favour of maintaining it.

I'll write about this more in the future but some of the reasons for keeping it are:

1. I think it brings in more money than it spends - tourists, jobs, foreign productions etc

2. In the long term, I feel that some of the young filmmakers breaking through now will go on to bigger things, which will lead to a stronger industry that provides more and more jobs.

3. It's important to our identity at home and abroad. Who are we? Who do we want to be? Do we want to live in a country shorn of all culture?

4. It doesn't actually cost us that much.

5. I went to Bruges recently. It was fantastic (not a shithole at all, Colin). Never would have gone if I hadn't seen the film. Lots of the locals have noticed a big increase of tourists since the film. My point is, movies make people go to countries and more than ever we need people to come to ours.

Anyway, here's an article from this weeks Sunday Tribune by Ferdia MacAnna - a wise and massively cultured head if ever there was one:

Ferdia MacAnna - "Abolishing the Irish Film Board would be a backward step and deeply impact on an industry that needs more time to find its identity"

Recently, a funny, quite scathing short film appeared on YouTube. Entitled 'Irish Film Board Parody', the clip roundly lampoons the Irish Film Board and its policies. It accuses the IFB of making plotless, meandering films about Dublin that contain tons of dialogue.

The parody savages the board's perceived obsession with winning awards at meaningless festivals such as 'The Backslapping Festival', 'The Vaingloria Festival' and 'The Milk Festival' (all obviously imaginary).

However, as George Bernard Shaw noted, "truth is the funniest joke of all". Anyone who has been turned down for film funding or who just doesn't like recent Irish movies may find much to savour in the 2.28 minutes of vitriol, at the end of which comes the following disclaimer:
"This video has been produced by a disgruntled Film Board rejectee and therefore all his opinions valid or otherwise can safely be discounted out of hand because he's just bitter".

At the moment the Irish Film Board has much more to worry about than some talented begrudger having a tilt on YouTube. The recent Bord Snip report recommends the abolition of the board, the winding-up of its investment funds and the transfer of its funds to Enterprise Ireland. If Bord Snip has its way, then the government will save about €19m and Ireland will lose a film board.

But the IFB is fighting back. Two weeks ago, it released a strong, passionate statement quoting a recent survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers that valued Ireland's audiovisual industry at over half a billion euro per annum and indicated that it "offers permanent employment to over 6,000 people". The statement warns of the cultural consequences for the image of Ireland abroad should we abolish our film board:
"The projection of an image of a country, its people and its way of life onto the screens of the world pays direct dividends in terms of inward investment, trade in goods and services, and tourism. Almost one in two US tourists to Ireland now state that their decision to come was triggered by seeing Ireland in the movies."

Hang on. Let's rewind. "Almost" half of North American visitors to these shores come because of the portrayal of Ireland in movies? Says who? And which movies 'triggered' the decision? US releases for Irish films such as Once or Intermission? Or Americans who loved The Quiet Man or Darby O'Gill and the Little People and come seeking an Ireland that may only have existed in Hollywood? It couldn't have been Martin McDonagh's brilliant In Bruges (2007) which was set almost entirely in Belgium and apparently boosted tourism in Bruges by up to 20%.

Why don't more people know about this statistic? This country needs all the help it can get. If Irish movies can positively influence tourism, then surely we would be foolish to mess with the present system for the sake of a measly €20m.

Last week I emailed the IFB to find out the answers to these questions. I was surprised to receive no reply. So I followed up with a phone message. Again, no reply. Perhaps the person concerned was on holiday or maybe the board does not enter into discussions about its statements.

Or perhaps, it was more personal. After all, the present board has rejected two of my movie projects, possibly on the grounds that any feature film made by myself would be likely to put tourists off ever coming to this country.

Or maybe the IFB suspects that I am responsible for the YouTube parody. I am flattered but I swear I had nothing to do with it.

The whole business made me think about Irish cinema, and why a seemingly productive industry is now under threat.

Like most Irish people, I love movies. I still regularly go to the cinema and buy or rent DVDs. And I feel guilty for rarely getting much of a thrill out of Irish movies. We have excellent directors, crews and actors. But I can't recall the last time I got excited about going to see an Irish film. Irish films, by and large, seem to be aimed at the arthouse rather than a wide audience. If there were any recent Irish flicks aimed at children for example, then they didn't register with me or my kids. Ditto with regard to comedies or romcoms. In Bruges, my favourite comedy-thriller, didn't appear to have major IFB involvement.

We have talented writers, but often our movies seem more like visualised theatre plays – lots of talking heads and dialogue and not enough visual storytelling (maybe the IFB parody is spot on, after all). Richard Curtis, writer of the smash hit Four Weddings and a Funeral, has stated that it took over 14 drafts to get the screenplay right. Screenwriting is difficult and it needs time plus a lot of faith, as well as a bigger financial investment than perhaps the IFB is financially equipped to give.

Creating movies is expensive and time-consuming. I have no doubt that the IFB is doing a sincere and worthwhile job, though its recent output seems more appreciated abroad than at home. As a IFB rejectee, I should rejoice in its present difficulties. However, I believe that abolishing the present set-up would be a backward step and deeply impact on an industry that needs more time to find its identity, as well as an audience.

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