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Irish film is having a Hollywood moment - but it needs a lot more money

That’s according to the Irish Film Board, which put out a call to the government for more funding today.

THE IRISH FILM industry is having a big, big year – but it won’t be able to capitalise on its success if it doesn’t get enough funding from the government.

That was the message at today’s launch by the Irish Film Board (IFB), as it outlined the many Irish films set to hit the screens this year.

Irish Film Board 2016 Production Catalogue Lch -13 Source: Naoise Culhane

It lined up directors (Jim Sheridan, Lenny Abrahamson, Paddy Breathnach, Nora Twomey, Juanita Wilson, Rebecca Daly, John Butler), actors (Moe Dunford, Eva Birthistle, Niamh Algar), producers (Ed Guiney, Rebecca O’Flanagan, Martina Niland) and animation studio director Tomm Moore (Cartoon Saloon) at the launch to talk about how important funding – particularly IFB funding – is to them.

There’s a significant buzz around Irish film at the moment. Abrahamson and Breathnach are both hoping that tomorrow’s Oscar nominations will contain a few nods to their films Room and Viva (Room’s lead actor, Brie Lason, won a Golden Globe on Sunday). Meanwhile, the success of directors like Jim Sheridan helped usher in a new era for Irish film.

“The Irish film sector is enjoying absolutely unprecedented success at the minute in relation to Irish films, Irish stories, Irish talent and Irish culture on screens throughout the world,” said the IFB’s CEO James Hickey. “It’s a really exciting point.”

He pointed out that the scale of this success is remarkable when you consider Ireland’s size and population.

Last year started out with Brooklyn’s appearance at the Sundance Film Festival, and this year there’s a record seven Irish films appearing at the festival.

In such a year of success, the fear is that without a funding boost, that success – which is the result of years of work – will dwindle.

Dr Annie Doona, Acting Chair of the IFB said that “the projects that are enjoying international acclaim today have been in the pipeline for a number of years”.

But the Irish Film Board has a problem: in five years’ time we won’t have the same level of success unless our funding for the sector is restored to previous levels.

Funding is down 40% since 2008, from €20m to around €11m currently.

Irish Film Board 2016 Production Catalogue Lch -7 Paddy Breathnach, Treasure Entertainment, Director of Viva; Lenny Abrahamson, Director, Room; and James Hickey, Chief Executive, Irish Film Board Source: Naoise Culhane

“We recognise there was a recession there, but the economy is picking up, things are changing and it’s important and vital for the film board to be shouting about the need for funding,” said Doona.

We have done a huge amount with limited funding, just think what could we do if we had the kind of levels that are equivalent to 2008.

“The message to Government is quite clear: We have done a fantastic job, the industry is thriving, the talent is developing but we really need funding support now to enable more films to be made and Ireland to be greater on the world stage. With more we can do more.”

Needing a Roy Keane

Ireland's first digital film channel launch Director Jim Sheridan Source: PA Archive/Press Association Images

Director Jim Sheridan said that the time is ripe for the IFB to capitalise on the current success.

“Now word of mouth is coming back a little bit, movies are coming back in a different way, you can challenge the studios because they are not making movies, so your chances of getting to the top table are much increased,” he said.

“That’s a kind of moment in history where it will revert again where studios will have all the power – but right now the IFB have a huge chance to take a big slice of the international market, [and] awards.”

He also said that the industry needs its own Roy Keane to champion it.

room pic

That sense of needing to emphasise Ireland’s success relative to its size was also discussed by Abrahamson, who said that during his time on the festival circuit in the United States, he has been asked by people “what’s going on in Ireland? This is really extraordinary”.

“I don’t think we’ve done a good enough job of getting that message out,” said Abrahamson.

Irish Film Board 2016 Production Catalogue Lch -3 Rebecca Daly, Director, Mammal; James Hickey, Chief Executive, Irish Film Board; Niamh Algar, Actress; Eva Birthistle, Brooklyn actress and script writer Source: Naoise Culhane

He added that he feels it is “very easy for the government to be short-termist about it, or ‘everything is pretty great in the film industry so let’s not worry about that, let’s look at where the problems are’”.

But it’s only good in the film industry now because of reasonable levels of funding historically. Then in five or 10 years’ time this will not be happening and we will have let an incredible opportunity go.

He added that funding and vision could “increase the nurturing of the film industry here” and lead to the creation of a “world class creative centre here” both in TV and film.

Where the money goes 

The IFB, along with the BAI, are developing a strategy for the audio visual sector, with a particular focus on training, and developing new talent.

They will also be focusing on the plan for improving gender balance, with Doona saying they are “taking the gender issue very seriously”.

The IFB’s funding is broken down into:

  • 68% for production
  • 14% for development
  • 9% industry support
  • 5% training
  • 4% distribution

Read: “It’s like the tide has come in”: 2016 could be a big Hollywood year for Irish film>

Read: This Irish director has made the most talked-about film of the year>

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