It has been said that modern cinema should serve as a medium for nations and peoples to tell stories about themselves. Until recent times that was certainly true of film-making in Ireland where a majority of domestically produced movies favoured Irish tales for Irish audiences. During the cinematic “Golden Age” of the 1980s and ’90s the sterling efforts of the then Bord Scannán na hÉireann (BSÉ) contributed to such quintessentially Irish films as “The Outcasts” (1982), “Anne Devlin” (1984), “Eat the Peach” (1986) and “Reefer and the Model” (1988). A brief government-dictated hiatus from 1987 to 1993 was followed by the BSÉ’s restoration and the funding of movies like “Trojan Eddie” (1996) or “The Last September” (1999), to name just a few. Of course there were other more collaborative and international efforts aimed at overseas markets during this era which also yielded several worthwhile projects.
However the primary purpose of the state-funded agency now known as the Irish Film Board (IFB) was to support a domestic Irish movie industry, employing and encouraging homegrown talents and creativity here in Ireland. Unfortunately that function seems to have been somewhat lost in recent years as the IFB has moved towards facilitating the use of the island as a generic backdrop for foreign movie and television productions. Domestic films, whether set locally or with links to this country, have become far rarer, the opposite of what one might expect given the remarkable changes in video and audio technology that we have witnessed over the last two decades. This situation has been aggravated by the more questionable funding decisions made by the IFB since the early 2000s, a controversial subject that the Phoenix Magazine, the satirical current affairs publication, has charted in some alarming detail.
“A FILM ABOUT a serial killer, set in a small snowy town in the American midwest, might not seem like your ‘typical’ Irish movie. But Irish directors and producers are proving that as we move into 2017, there doesn’t need to be anything typical or stereotypical about the work they produce.
Take I Am Not A Serial Killer, the aforementioned film – out this weekend – directed by Corkman Billy O’Brien and starring veteran actor Christopher Lloyd alongside Max Records, the fantastically named teenager whose breakthrough role was in the big screen adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are.
Filmed in Minnesota as the winter set in, and with a budget of just $1.45 million, it’s based on the young adult novel of the same name by Dan Wells.
So far, so not Irish, a fact that’s not lost on the team behind it.
“I’ve met people in different countries like Sweden and so on, where this film would never have gotten off the ground if we had been [for example] Swedish,” says O’Brien…
“Because they’d have said no, it has to be a Swedish story – so you know that’s why we’re really grateful that they were supporting it the whole way.”
The ‘they’ are the Irish Film Board, who part-financed the film…”
And that, in a nutshell, is the problem with the IFB. Irish audiences want to see Irish stories, films that illustrate their lives and their country, their past and their present, because such things are so damnably rare. Claims that local movie-goers disdain homegrown productions in favour of purely American or British releases or co-productions are not borne out by the popularity or box office returns of such films as “The Wind That Shakes The Barley” (2006). The Irish want to see themselves on the silver screen, free of the negative or stereotypical characterisations imagined or crafted by others. That is the purpose of the IFB and the public monies it manages. To make Irish stories…