Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Film Ireland Galway Edition Editorial

It seems this industry of ours is rarely out of the news. Recent articles in major media both question and justify the continued support for Irish film by the public purse. The relevance and importance of Irish films differs depending what newspaper you pick up and with the economy continuing to struggle the pressure is increasingly on the film community to prove the investment is good value.

The argument put forward so often is that there was a type of Golden Age of Irish film in the early 1990s when films like My Left Foot and The Crying Game were winning Oscars and competing at the very highest level in the worldwide film industry. The same questions are asked time and time again. Where are the new Neil Jordans and Jim Sheridans? Why are filmmakers no longer punching above their weight in the way that actors and authors do? And, what is the point of investing in Irish film if it doesn’t compete at the highest level?

So how can we provide value for money, for this investment that the Irish public, via the goverment, passes to us?

It would be wonderful to turn a profit but that’s difficult in a world where more films than ever are being released and the bulk of the audience veer more towards blockbuster fayre and away from the kind of personal, complex tales that we tell best. And, anyway, even for the most famous filmmakers, profit can be elusive – there is no magic formula and the competition is fierce. Some say we should make bigger films so that we can ‘compete’ but what if they don’t succeed? Bigger failures are not something to aspire to.

All that we can offer financially is that we are doing our best. We will, as much as is humanly possible, sell our films, distribute them, convince people of their worth and return what we can to the pot. And we will push our films to the four corners of the globe in the hope that we can sell some kind of idea of Ireland and hope that somehow this feeds back into the exchequer in tourist dollars.

What can the Film Board do?

They can develop numerous talented, diverse voices that represent the full variety of Irish experience, they can investigate appropriate distribution strategies that give small films a chance of connecting with the right audience and they can seek out international partnerships that bring more money into Irish film and give our films more chance of spreading.

It seems to me that this is exactly what they are doing. At this transitional time in Irish film they deserve some credit for that.

Some of that talent that has come through recently is already punching above its weight, winning awards at major festvals and putting bums on seats in cinemas. Sweeping cuts would stunt the growth of the emerging filmmakers that might just be the next Neil Jordan. It’s easy to forget that The Crying Game was Jordan’s eighth film. Instead of looking backwards, let’s look forward to increasingly skilled filmmakers making more and better films of value and some that turn a profit.

Irish film does its best to represent those who fund it and it seems to me that films like Once, Kisses and His & Hers do that very well. This magazine will launch at on of the world’s great festivals, the Galway Film Fleadh, a traditional birthing place for new Irish films. Keep an eye out, you might just get a glimpse of the future.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Film Ireland Cannes Issue

When One hundred Mornings is shortly released, audiences will no doubt be wowed by the wonderful performances, the stunning photogphy and the subtle direction.

They won’t, for a moment, think about the budget. The film was originated under the Catalyst Scheme and was thus made for limited funds. Yet, it is good enough to stand beside any quality film out there. And it has – at festivals around the world and on release in the United States.

A couple of years ago at an Irish Film Board panel, one of the panellists was asked what had happened to the Micro Budget Scheme. The answer, only partially in jest, was that almost all of the films made here could be considered very low budget, so perhaps there was no need for a specific scheme.

I think we can sometimes get hung up on budgets but when a film like One Hundred Mornings, or His & Hers or The Fading Light comes along, we are reminded that films can be great films regardless of budget.

His & Hers, in particular was a fantastic example. I’ve heard many in the film community marvel at the limited budget and the impressive box office return but when I went to see it in the cinema, I only heard the audience chat about the humour, charm and emotion as they left the theatre.

These films are stand alone works of art and storytelling and I think we in the filmmaking community, in these times more than ever, need to spend our time focussing on our creative vision and making daring, innovative films that surprise and delight audiences.

And when remarkable films come along, let us in the community support them and celebrate them. We should tell our friends and drag them along. If we don’t support these films, then who will? If we don’t support them, then we can’t expect others to support ours!

As the summer approaches, Europe’s greatest film festival looms on the horizon and some wonderful Irish filmmakers will be bringing their films there and we wish them well. In this issue, we have Cannes and Irish filmmaking at the front of our minds.

We talk to Ireland’s Cultural ambassador, Gabriel Byrne, about his visions for Irish film and the upcoming season at MOMA in New York. We have an interview with the legendary French filmmaker Agnes Varda who recently attended the Cork French Film Festival and we look at ways in which Irish and French filmmaking talent have intersected on film projects.

We focus, too, on some emerging creative talent, some of whom will be at Cannes, and some of the many wonderful locations that we have at our fingertips in Ireland.

I hope you enjoy the issue and, as always, keep in touch. If you have something to say, let us know, we have a Sounding Off section after all!