Saturday 3 December 2016

After so many bad movies, we're now entering a golden age of Irish cinema

Published 11/01/2016 | 02:30

Monaghan actress Caitriona Balfe arrives at Golden Globes last night Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Monaghan actress Caitriona Balfe arrives at Golden Globes last night Photo: AFP/Getty Images
IFB chief executive James Hickey
'Room' director Lenny Abrahamson and actress Brie Larson
Michael Fassbender arrives at the Globes Photo: Getty Images

Over the years, some truly God-awful films have been associated with Ireland - 'Boy Eats Girl', 'Finian's Rainbow', 'Happy Ever Afters', 'Leap Year' - I could go on. And on.

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Films like Neil Jordan's 'The Crying Game' and 'My Left Foot' were the exception, not the rule.

But now it seems that we're playing in the big leagues.

This year, we could see the most Irish at the Academy Awards, ever. Saoirse Ronan is tipped for Best Actress, Lenny Abrahamson's 'Room' seems likely to get recognised in the Best Film category, 'Viva' is on the long list for Best Foreign Language, while Michael Fassbender may get a nod for his portrayal of Steve Jobs.

On top of this, Irish movies have premiered at Cannes and Sundance, there have been Iftas and Baftas, record-breaking activity at the box office and Skellig Michael became part of 'Star Wars'.

While the past 12 months have undoubtedly been filled with success stories for the Irish Film Board (IFB), there were set-backs, and the death of chairman Bill O'Herlihy has cast a shadow over the year.

The former RTÉ broadcaster passed away just hours after he strolled up the red carpet at the 2015 Iftas. According to chief executive of the IFB, James Hickey, his death left the board reeling.

"It was a big shock for us," Hickey said.

"It was so sudden - literally overnight. He was there at the Iftas, larger than life - it knocked a certain amount of steam out of us during the year. It was a great, great loss."

Hickey says 2015 was one of the most critically and commercially successful years for Irish film ever.

'Brooklyn' has taken €20m at the US box office, seven Irish films will be screened at this year's acclaimed Sundance film festival, and more and more US and UK production companies are looking to film on our shores.

Hickey is keen to stress that success on this scale doesn't happen overnight. He says after years of careful cultivation, Irish film has come to fruition.

"We have been supporting the likes of Lenny Abrahamson from small-budget ventures right through to potential Oscar-nominated films.

"It has gotten to the stage where people in the Irish industry can do what they want on a world stage. We are showing strength and depth, there is a strong, creatively-driven, talent-based industry here."

According to Hickey, the Irish government now recognises the value - in monetary and cultural terms - of the film industry.

"I think we have got to a turning point where the Government understands that the investment in creative talent is as important as investment in research for sciences," he said.

As far as 2016 is concerned, the IFB has several productions it is confident will capture and captivate critics and audiences - 'Mammal', 'Love and Friendship' starring Chloe Sevigny and Kate Beckinsale; John Carney's highly-anticipated 'Sing Street'; and Jim Sheridan's 'Secret Scripture'.

"We have some very exciting films but we also want to address gender parity in the Irish film industry," Hickey says.

Hollywood stars like Jennifer Lawrence sounded the battle cry and actresses and directors around the world followed suit, highlighting the lack of female voices both in front and behind the camera.

Dr Annie Doona, who has taken over as Acting Chair of the IFB, issued a six-point plan last year to address the issue via funding and grants, training programmes and start up schemes.

"The challenges are always great," Hickey says.

"But we strive to meet them."

Irish Independent

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