IRELAND: CULTURAL "ISOLATION"?
It’s been a good year for Irish cinema…at least in terms of publicity. First Martin McDonagh’s Six Shooter won the Oscar for Best Short Film; then Ken Loach’s Irish civil war drama The Wind That Shakes the Barley won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, and went on to take €3.7 million at the Irish box office – second only to Pirates of the Caribbean 2 and Casino Royale. On the political front, the Irish Film Board’s budget was increased by 21%, and the scope of the Section 481 tax break scheme was expanded to maintain Ireland’s competitiveness as a location for foreign productions.
Yet none of this has much to do with the state of indigenous filmmaking. Barley is, after all, a Ken Loach film first and an Irish film second, and even then only to a degree. Films that were less ambiguously “Irish” in their conception or production paint a different picture of the year: of the 100 top-grossing films at the Irish box office, only two (Barley and Breakfast on Pluto) were in some respect Irish. The slate of other local films released failed to make any impact—strangely, since almost all were commercially focused genre pieces: from Paul Mercier’s underdog football team comedy, Studs, to Billy O’Brien’s Isolation, a slick monster movie that pulled in a pitiful €33,792.
Is this the result of marketing failure or a case of Irish audiences saying no to imitations of foreign genres? The trends in Irish film over the past 15 years have largely involved moving away from familiar themes of national history and identity—yet the two most successful films of 2006 are ones which engaged directly with these issues, albeit via distinct directorial visions. Despite this, the bulk of Ireland’s output continues to consist of what film critic Tony Keily once called “uncommercial commercial cinema”.
Another recent success story – Once, John Carney’s naturalistic musical set in Dublin, which won the audience award at the 2007 Sundance festival – suggests another way to go: personal and distinctive films that couldn’t be made anywhere else. Yet, despite the ready availability of the means of production, there is no movement of low-budget filmmakers emerging along these lines in Ireland. If anything is to blame for this, it is the stagnant nature of our film culture – and for that reason perhaps the most significant Irish film of 2006 was Fergus Daly’s Experimental Conversations, which draws connections between Irish experimental cinema and its European counterparts. A worthy connection to make since, honestly, at this stage, we need all the outside influence we can get.
Commissioned by and published in Cahiers du Cinema Atlas 2007.
© Text Copyright 2007 by Cahiers du Cinema, reprinted with permission.