Festival Report: Irish Film at the 2013 Busan International Film Festival

| November 18, 2013 | Comments (1)

Busan - Sheridan


Five Irish directors participated in the 2013 Busan International Film Festival’s National Cinema spotlight under the programme “Rogues, Rebels and Romantics: A Season of Irish Cinema.” Leslie Finlay was there to witness the positive reception of Irish cinema from a growing global audience.

Upon exiting the premiere of his film The Stag at the 2013 Busan International Film Festival (BIFF), director John Butler was mobbed by eager fans, almost all of whom were Korean.

“This country is cinema-mad,” Butler said. “Our screening was the best I’d ever experienced; the questions from the audience were all about the movie itself, not budget, not lenses, not distribution… there is obviously a great storytelling culture here.”

Butler was one of five Irish directors to participate in the Korean festival’s National Cinema spotlight under the programme “Rogues, Rebels and Romantics: A Season of Irish Cinema.” Jim Sheridan (In the Name of the Father), Neil Jordan (Michael Collins), Lance Daly (Kisses) and Brendan Muldowney (Love Eternal) rounded out the contingency. The Irish presence at Asia’s largest and most prestigious film festival signals the positive reception of Irish cinema from a growing global audience and shifts in the film industry itself.

This panel of directors celebrated at BIFF personified the dichotomy of the country’s contemporary and classic cinema, as well as the evolution of the Irish story. Industry stalwarts like Jordan and Sheridan played a major role over the past few decades establishing a thematic prominence of the Irish identity in the country’s filmmaking, and through their successes forged significant acknowledgement from Hollywood, which Sheridan calls “a one-town industry” that makes it difficult for filmmakers worldwide to gain footing.

“Only when America brands a movie and says it’s worth seeing, it becomes an international movie,” Sheridan said.

Neil Jordan cited how John Carney’s Once tanked domestically in 2006, only to suddenly become a hit in America, and even more recently succeed in Asia.

Busan - Jordan

The massive growth of international markets outside of America is slated to offer huge opportunities for up-and-coming filmmakers, however. Earlier this year Pirates of the Caribbean producer Jerry Bruckheimer commented that “We can no longer risk making an expensive film with a star who isn’t popular in Asia.” Box office sales in countries like China, Japan and Korea are outpacing those in their Western counterparts year after year and a 2012 research report by Ernst & Young revealed how China is set to dominate the global movie industry by 2020, its growth overtaking Hollywood at about 17% each year.

Brendan Muldowney, whose death-fixated feature Love Eternal is based on a Japanese novel, said that Irish cinema can transition into this supercharged international atmosphere because the country’s emerging filmmakers are progressive, positive thinkers, always developing and experimenting [like with Love Eternal].

“Irish cinema is so young, it’s a constant process of evolution,” he said. This evolution has paced gracefully alongside the growth of the country. “Ireland has changed enormously over the last 20-30 years, and it’s the job of every filmmaker to reflect that,” Muldowney said. “If you want to resonate with an audience, every film you make has to address ‘how is this relevant’.”

Sheridan said this can be difficult because Ireland has such a walled, impregnable history, so it’s up to these rising filmmakers to expand their audience by learning how to see their stories outside their own culture, and tell them in that way.

Lance Daly agreed, echoing the importance of retaining the Irish story while developing the genre and thinking forward.

“The trick to developing Irish cinema is to keep telling stories,” he said. “I’m of a generation tuned into the homogenous, globalized world culture and I’d like to find the Irish ties that feed into that.”

While market opportunities are growing for today’s generation of filmmakers, Sheridan said that each industry advance simplifies the medium, to the point that you can now get almost any film for free online.

“What happened to the music industry seems to be happening to the cinema,” he said, adding that an additional challenge for filmmakers today is a general shift in film production overall – that Hollywood is making big, splashy movies for China, India, Brazil and Russia that don’t focus as much on drama and dialogue – which has migrated to TV. We need to get out of our safety zone,” he said.

Teresa McGrane, head of business affairs at the Irish Film Board, said the relationship with BIFF has been four years in the making, and that in that time the Irish relationship to Korea has changed for the better.

“There are more [Irish] people in Seoul, more direct flights, so there is a local knowledge and curiosity [of Ireland],” she said. “There is a market [in Korea] for Irish films because they can travel; they talk about interesting but universal themes – they’re not overly complicated, but still complex.”

A total of 11 films were selected as a part of the Rogues, Rebels and Romantics programme at BIFF including: In the Name of the Father and In America (Jim Sheridan), The Crying Game and Michael Collins (Neil Jordan), Leo the Last and The General (John Boorman), Once (John Carney), Love Eternal (Brendan Muldowney), Life’s a Breeze (Lance Daly), The Stag (John Bulter) and Garage (Lenny Abrahamson).

Jim Sheridan and Neil Jordan also took part in a hand-printing ceremony (pictured), which annually honours distinguished film professionals for their contributions to world cinema.

Leslie Finlay is a writer from New York City now living in Korea. Her work has been featured in the US and Korea-based publications including The Atlantic, Cinespect and Groove Korea. Contact her at LJF5017@gmail.com

The 18th Busan International Film Festival took place 3 – 12 October 2013



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Category: Exclusives, Featured, Festivals, Uncategorized

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  1. Fiachra says:

    South Korea’s cinema is far better than Ireland’s. This is like sending a Connaught rugby player to New Zealand!

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