Deirdre Molumby attended IFI Spotlight 2015, a day-long space for in-depth critical engagement with current Irish media culture, which took place on Saturday, 25th April 2015 at the Irish Film Institute in Dublin.
Last weekend marked the Irish Film Institute’s third annual focus on Irish film and television. With guests including filmmakers, critics, academics and enthusiasts, IFI Spotlight 2015 provided a space for analysing the accomplishments of Irish film and television output in the last twelve months, and for discussing what aspects of the industry could be improved.
Ross Keane, director of the IFI, kicked things off by introducing this reflective and engaging event. He explained the wide range of programmes offered by the IFI that support the Irish film industry, including the Irish film archive, a new Irish shorts programme, and Ireland on Sunday, the institute’s monthly showcase for new Irish film. The proceedings were subsequently moderated by Margaret Kelleher, Chairperson of the IFI Board of Directors, who introduced Dr Roddy Flynn of DCU.
Dr Flynn [above] gave the keynote address, which was entitled ‘20 Years a Growing or “The Ailsa to Zonad” of Irish Cinema or “What is Irish Cinema, Literally?”’. Dr Flynn demonstrated how he and fellow academic Tony Tracy were in the process of creating a survey database of feature films funded by the Irish Film Board produced in the last twenty years and trends in their production. Though he emphasised that there was much work still to be done, Dr Flynn had already come across a number of interesting findings. Some of the findings included that directors and screenwriters of the last twenty years were overwhelmingly male (at 81% and 83% respectively), though females dominate other areas of the industry such as costume design and make-up. Interestingly, the Irish film industry has a high number of writer-directors (62%), which is quite unusual by the international standard of having separate directors and screenwriters. Most of the films produced in the last twenty years have been dramas and have been set in Dublin. Other findings included that there are vastly different budgets across Irish feature films and that there have been a great number of international co-productions made in the last two decades.
Dr Flynn was followed by the first panel of the day, which reviewed the Irish film and television output of the year 2014. Sunniva O’Flynn, Head of Irish Film Programming at the IFI, chaired the panel, which included producer and festival director David Rane, Executive Director of Screen Directors Guild Birch Hamilton, animator and Oscar nominee Tomm Moore, and Commissioning Director of TG4 Micheál Ó Meallaigh.
Hamilton observed that the lines between the television and film industries are blurring, and that producers and filmmakers need to look to broader areas of broadcasting, online and digital for assimilation in the future. Birch also stated that she believed there needed to be more of a focus on first-time directors who, having shown talent in their first production, should receive support to make a second. Moore found that the state of the Irish animation industry was very healthy with productions being made specifically for international companies, for example, Doc McStuffins for Disney Junior, while other Irish productions are travelling well abroad, such as Henry Hugglemonster. Penguin, Walker and other publishers have been working with animation companies, and the possibilities for international co-productions could be opened even further, to Asia and South America rather than just Europe. Moore also spoke positively about the first Irish Animation Awards, which were held in Dingle, and about the apprenticeships and collaborative relationships offered by the animation industry in Ireland.
Next, Ó Meallaigh talked about Irish language productions and television drama. For Ó Meallaigh, the greatest challenge TG4 has to face is subtitles, as audiences struggle to listen to dialogue, read text and follow a program at the same time. He also spoke about realistic ways to use the Irish language in a film or TV production, for example, An Bronntanas uses a mix of English and Irish while Corp is Anam is set in a fictional town where only Irish is spoken. Rane then spoke about feature documentary production in Ireland, and found that its current state is very poor. He observed that more funding was going to American, English and German documentary filmmakers than to Irish, and that Irish documentaries were not getting enough international distribution. Rane found that Irish broadcasters were happy to air Irish documentaries but were not putting enough money into them, and agreed with Birch that a reinvestment in talent was sorely needed. After the four industry members spoke, an in-depth discussion was had between the audience members and the panel through Q&As.
After an afternoon break, the IFI Spotlight Soapbox was given to Brian Finnegan [above], editor of GCN and author of The Forced Redundancy Film Club. In the run-up to the Marriage Equality Referendum this May, Finnegan looked at the representation of LGBT issues across the history of Irish film, with a focus on gay protagonists. Looking at a number of texts including A Man of No Importance, 2 by 4, Breakfast on Pluto and Albert Nobbs, Finnegan found that these films, in spite of their representation of queer protagonists, cannot be considered queer or gay texts, as the lead would often be a figure of victimisation, gay sex was portrayed unrealistically or not at all, and that acceptance of identity and sexuality does not occur in the finale of these films. He found that Neil Jordan’s The Crying Game has been the only film to satisfactorily explore these issues.
The second panel was then held. Entitled ‘I’m Not a Fan of Irish Movies’, inspired by the comments of director John Michael McDonagh earlier this year that he did not consider his film Calvary an Irish film and that he did not think Irish films were any good, the panel sought to address these comments as well as to discuss the current state of Irish movies generally. The chai,r Dr Debbie Ging, chair of the MA in Film and Television Studies at DCU, introduced the panel and made some observations of her own, including that Irish cinema has seen a shift away from themes such as motherhood and rural locales to new urban, universal themes. She also noted the vast number of ways to categorise films as Irish including location, origin of director/writer, funding, themes and more.
The panel, which included director Lenny Abrahamson, writer/director Carmel Winters, and Sunday Times chief arts editor Eithne Shortall, all had different and interesting points to make. Abrahamson stated it was vital for filmmakers to avoid the same themes of previous Irish cinemas, and that they need to create films that can be viewed through multiple prisms. Winters celebrated the accomplishments of recent Irish film, particularly given the relatively small size of Ireland, as well as its limited budgets and crew numbers. Shortall observed that McDonagh, and his brother, Martin McDonagh, use a version of Irishness in what they produce, and that Calvary uses Ireland rather than adding to Irish cinema. After the comments, there was a lively Q&A and discussion about these and other topics such as Irish movies in the box office.
Lastly, Margaret Kelleher summarised the day’s proceedings and encouraged the guest speakers to say what they would like to see happen in the industry over the next year.
Deirdre Molumby is an MLitt Film Studies student at TCD
You can listen to all the day’s talks and panels here