Sounding Off: What’s to Love about Irish Film?

The Crying Game

Ferdia Mac Anna tell us how he tries to fall in love with Irish film – but keeps getting jilted.

Falling for a film is a badge of identity, like wearing a rock t-shirt or supporting a football team or becoming addicted to tv dramas like House or even Battlestar Galactica. It says something about who you are and it offers a point of connection or debate.

Feeling affection for Irish film though – particularly, Irish feature films of the noughties – is a frustrating, fraught business, and usually leads to disappointment. It’s like going on a bad date with someone who seemed engaging but turns out to be arrogant and distant and who rarely opens up to acknowledge your existence. Like attempting to chat up a narcissist. At home afterwards, you wonder why you bothered.

I grew up in the ’70s and ’80s when it was considered uncool to buy Irish bands. I recall Thin Lizzy appearing on Top of the Pops with ‘Whiskey in the Jar’, yet afterwards struggling to fill the National Stadium. Any band or artist who was still here obviously couldn’t be of much use because good ones – Van, Lizzy, Rory – were operating on the world stage. Irish acts could churn out singles, but when it came to the main course – albums – they couldn’t step up.

Something similar seems to be happening with contemporary Irish film. Everyone loves our short films – Yu Ming Is Ainm Dom is a real gem. And animation has become a well-deserved success story.

However, I have yet to meet anyone who admits to liking our movies, let alone loving them. Nowadays, Irish films secure a limited release (if at all) and then vanish to widespread indifference or show up on tv.

Last year, rté shoved some recent releases, including 32a, Kings and Kisses, into late-viewing, graveyard slots over Christmas and New Year. Perhaps the national broadcaster had found a handy way to prevent collatoral damage.

Some cinemagoers adored (or despised) Once, while many indie fans had something positive to offer about I Went Down. However, these films are among the few exceptions. We are a nation of movie critics. We know what we like, and cinema-goers, dvd buyers and renters don’t seem impressed by recent fare.

So why is nobody listening to Irish cinema-lovers or trying to cater for their needs?

In other words, who are Irish movies attempting to woo? Who is the audience? If the evidence indicates that they don’t have an audience at home, then surely there must be punters abroad who adore Irish flicks? With the exception of Once which scored at the us box office as well as on dvd and won an Oscar® for best song, other home-made feature films appear to have either bombed or played festivals.

Years back, I was convinced that Irish films had made a breakthrough on a par with that achieved by Australian cinema following the domestic and worldwide smash of Peter Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock. Jim Sheridan’s debut My Left Foot, Neil Jordan’s commercial breakthrough and Oscar®-winner The Crying Game and the success of Alan Parker’s The Commitments offered an Irish identity and vision that was lively, compelling, original and humourous.

Those filmmakers succeeded, but the jury is still out on the generation of filmmakers that followed as well as a new generation that is on their second or third feature. Somewhere down the line, Irish films lost their audience and with it, a place in the marketplace. Whether indie flick, genre piece or commercial feature, a film still needs to be aimed at an audience. Otherwise, the Film Board is sponsoring films that tick political or artistic boxes or that are being sent out to represent the country at festivals.

No doubt the people at the Irish Film Board are sincere, committed professionals as well as film-lovers. However, I can’t feel anything for many of the movies they commission. The films seem lacking – scripts a couple of drafts short of production readiness, stories half-realized, and characters that are implausible or dull. Much of the storytelling seems driven by dialogue, rather than images.

Perhaps I have contracted ‘IrishFilmBoardItis’, a condition – only partly prompted by having one’s own projects rejected – that views recent movies as either bogged down by political or intellectual correctness or as theatre plays in disguise. Most are simply no craic, and only a masochist would go on a date where the other party is determined to cause suffering.

Unlike our music, literature, theatre or more recently dance, Irish film has failed to achieve a contemporary identity. It is ironic that John Ford’s The Quiet Man for all its paddywhackery, may still shine as our most culturally distinctive and best-loved movie.

Ferdia Mac Anna

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6 Replies to “Sounding Off: What’s to Love about Irish Film?”

  1. I think the real problem with Irish cinema is that it is so caught up with being Irish. While patriotism and a love of one country’s is all well and good, there is no need for it to overshadow the film itself. A film should be great no matter where it is set, and Irish cinema needs more “international” feeling movies that just happen to be set in Ireland.

    The best Irish film I’ve ever seen is In Bruges; but despite it starring two of our biggest actors and directed and written by Irish talent, it isn’t considered to be an Irish movie. What does that tell you?

  2. Some very valid points Ferdia but you neglect to mention recent Irish films like Eden, Nothing Personal, Intermission, Garage, Adam & Paul, In Bruges, A Film With Me In It, Breakfast on Pluto, His & Hers, Saviours etc. All stand up internationally and I’m certain all will stand the test of time. So I feel this piece does such films and film-makers a disservice. Granted some haven’t had huge commercial success but that’s more to do with the audience than the films themselves.

  3. Yikes. Maybe it is ‘IrishFilmBoardItis’.

    I had the pleasure of watching quite a few great Irish films of late… Savage and the Runway both being top of the list with Intermission making it into my top 10 of all time.

    And His and Hers?! Just lovely!

  4. What’s funny is that he expected there to be great Irish cinema! Basically we have a TV film scene pretending to be cinema made by overtrained directors who can only emulate instead of innovate. Don’t think any recent Irish feature film will stand the test of time.

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