It doesn’t seem that long ago the last time I came across a Sunday supplement asking “where has it all gone wrong for Irish film?” or in this case stating “we made fine films once” in the Sunday Times recently. While the statement has the hard core of truth about it, the article is a little short on any meaningful analysis. It is true that since the various triumphs’ of Neil Jordan and Jim Sheridan in the 80’s and 90’s and beyond, no Irish filmmakers since have found it possible to pave a similarly successful path.
There can be a lot of reasons for that and the truth is probably a combination of many. Is it limited talent, lack of scale in our stories as Ted Sheehy suggests or the market place has become very competitive as Birch Hamilton of the Screen Directors Guild claims? Like I said, all of the above are factors, but to truly address the problem, for problem it is, open and honest discourse within the industry and indeed between the industry and the audience is a must. Not for the first time have I come across this statement or similar from other articles.
“The reasons are deep and manifold (for the decline of Irish film) and getting people to talk about them is like interviewing establishment economists in the property boom: (and then the author’s projection of why that might be) they are afraid to admit there is a problem in case the whole edifice collapses.”
When has any problem ever been solved by sticking heads in sand. By and large that’s not a strategy that’s going to give results, particularly because the hard questions will be asked again and again if for no other reason than film-making is a subsidised activity and the hard pressed tax payer is footing the bill. Obfuscation and three card tricks are not going to do it for much longer.
I attended the Irish Playwrights and Screenwriters Guild AGM recently which James Hickey, the new IFB CEO attended by way of introducing himself to writers. He cited the problem of our daily language being English as a serious impediment to box office numbers. This is a problem in English speaking Canada and Australia where a distributor told him he would find it easier to sell the new Irish film “The Guard” than any locally produced films.
There are many problems for sure, but perhaps we should address those things we can do something about. Not a lot can be done about the language we speak or that our films must compete with huge productions with even bigger marketing spend. Like any small fry in any eco system, we’ve got to get smart.
And that comes down to our unique selling point, what is it an Irish film can offer an Irish and indeed worldwide audience that films from no other country can. For me that comes down to relevance. It is in this area that countless filmmakers from around the world found success and it can be done here too. That does not mean to say we can only make art films or kitchen sink dramas, on the contrary stories vested in a time and place, reflecting a snapshot of ourselves, can be told in any genre from black comedy to drama to horror and yes even thriller. (Hidden Agenda – Ken Loach).
The recent box office success of “The Guard” has proven yet again that there is an audience for Irish films. On my way into the local cinema recently I overheard one young woman say to another as she pointed to a poster of “The Guard”….”that one…..the guard, I heard it’s funny! To which the reply from her friend was, “no thanks…..I don’t like Irish films”. Irish film, like everything else in this world is a brand. It takes a long time to build up and can be damaged over time with mediocre offerings to the silver screen Gods.