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Is Irish Film relevant and to who?

Among the many aspects of Irish film, surely one of the more pertinent is relevance – does it have any and to who? Irish audiences have shown their willingness to see Irish films if they can see something of themselves and their unique experience of the world in those films. Take for instance “The Commitments”, domestic audiences loved this film and why – because it reflected our view of ourselves that we are immensely talented, very witty in a self deprecating way and prone to demolish our own aspirations before anyone else gets a chance. In fact it is these very qualities that have been done to death by much lesser films since then, in the belief that a script like Roddy Doyle’s story is easy to write – not the case.

Another Irish film that demonstrated relevance of a different kind was Ken Loach’s “The Wind That Shakes the Barley”. Our history has always proven to be a draw at the home box office, however in addition to this, Loach also cited his desire to comment on America’s tendency to cast itself as the world’s police force, in particular their invasion of Iraq. In making his film, he wished to demonstrate the folly of the imperialistic view of the world saying look, this has happened before and it always ends in a civil war bloodbath. More recent examples of relevance are “Hunger” and “Fifty Dead Men Walking”, both admittedly dealing with the troubles – nothing wrong with that.

The only unique selling point that Irish films can offer a home audience is relevance. While some very good foreign and hollywood films come our way, they can only achieve relevance in a universal fashion. Nothing wrong with that either, but as filmmakers we need to be saying something that is rooted in our Irishness and in that sense, yes we should not simply imitate , but rather fashion our films in whatever genre fits the telling of our stories to comment on and reflect ourselves. Not in a long time has our country been so convulsed by a crisis afflicting tens of thousands of families. Do we not as filmmakers have some comment to make on that?

Irish audiences have told us, albeit in a silent, empty cinema seat kind of way that we are saying nothing they want to hear. Whenever criticism is raised of the tax euros spent to support our domestic industry, our attention is redirected to Europe where we are told that pretty much all EU states support their domestic industry as it would not survive the hollywood juggernaut without it. That is most likely very true, but let’s get back to the question of relevance.

The latest figures I can find for cinema market share of national or domestic films is for 2006 and here are a few examples.

France  – 45%.    Lithuania – 4.1%.     Czech Republic – 29.5%.    Germany – 25.8%.    Spain – 15.4%.    UK – 19%.    Italy – 26.2%    Sweden – 20%.    Ireland 2006 – 1.5%     Ireland 2009 – .3%

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that Irish filmmakers are fast becoming irrelevant to the home audience. When not stated it is always a given that the most essential ingredient in any film, domestic, hollywood or foreign language is story, story and story.

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  1. It is important to define what exactly is Irish Film ? Made in Ireland ? Shot in Ireland ? Produced by Irish Film companies ? Based on Irish Original Material e.g. Roddy’s Doyle ” The Commitments “.

    Also, Irish audiences will actively seek out relevant irish material e.g. Ken Wardrops – ” His and Hers ” ( €100,000 Budget ) – Revenue so far €300,000.

    Other examples – ” Michael Collins “, ” SurfRiders “.

    As you say its all about Story, Story Story but well developed stories or projects.

    • Thanks for your comment Brian.

      What is and is not an Irish film is always a challenging question, looking at IFTA nominations you can see how wide that net can be cast. For the purposes of the above post I think a film that is perceived by the audience to be Irish… Irish.

      The audience don’t really care who wrote or directed a film for the most part or indeed who financed it. For instance, in that vain I would consider John Huston’s “The Dead” to be an Irish film because although filmed in LA by an American director, it’s from a book by James Joyce and several Irish actors are in the cast and most importantly it’s about us at a certain time in our history yet also contains universal themes.

  2. Here’s another way of looking at it, is Hollywood actually American? It’s a global business, it’s long gone past making movies just for the US domestic market.
    Why should any government take a stake in what is a risky business, it will take decades to extract the tax payer from government intervention with Irish banks.
    The other aspect that makes me prefer politics out of the creative film is the gombeen element. Who knows who gets you know what!
    Plus rather than looking at the funding from the top down, look at production from the bottom up, are rates dropping?

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