Irish stars help turn the silver screen green

With Brendan Gleeson securing a Golden Globe nod for the phenomenally successful The Guard, the Irish film scene looks healthier than most other indigenous sectors and the closing credits for this feel-good story show no sign of rolling just yet, writes John Daly

IRELAND’s film industry will begin 2012 on a high note, with actors and productions figuring prominently at the Golden Globe awards in Hollywood on January 15.

The ceremony — seen by many as signposts to Oscar glory four weeks later — has included Brendan Gleeson and Michael Fassbender among the nominees.

Gleeson is listed for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy for his performance in John Michael McDonagh’s The Guard, while Fassbender features in the best dramatic actor category for his role as a sex addict in director Steve McQueen’s Shame.

Albert Nobbs, a film set in the 19th century and produced by Irish company Parallel films, received three nominations — Glenn Close for best dramatic actress; Janet McTeer for best supporting actress; and the theme song, Lay Your Head Down, sung by Sinéad O’Connor, competes for best original song.

With €267 million allocated from the budget, the continued promotion of jobs in the film sector and stimulating tourism with culture and film prog-rammes looks keenly poised for 2012. Almost 50,000 people are employed in the arts sector across Ireland, and Arts Minister Jimmy Deenihan announced an allocation of half the yearly budget to programmes in these areas; a move that would complement the investment in arts infrastructure already in place.

The Arts Council, which supports projects like the Irish Film Institute, The Galway Film Centre and the Darklight Film Festival, is to get €63m in 2012 “to maintain its support to over 50 venues, approximately 200 festivals and 400 arts organisations”.

The capital budget for the Irish Film Board shows a decrease from €16m to €13.1m, but did receive an increase to its administration budget of 4%. Every €1 of IFB investment is estimated to generate €10 in the economy.

A new Irish-Singapore feature film will get a boost from the current round of Irish Film Board funding. Mister John, the first ever Irish-Singapore co-production is directed by Christine Molloy and Joe Lawlor and produced by Samson Films.

Another notable project receiving funding is the Parallel Films production, Byzantium, directed by Neil Jordan, a fantasy feature filming in Dublin.

“The investment by the IFB in Byzantium will ensure that the project can be made in Ireland, bringing with it international investment and ensuring Irish talent are attached to it,” said producer Alan Moloney.

Director Peter McDonald has also received development funding for The Steamroller, co-written with Irish actor Michael McElhatton, who will also star in the project.

Director Jim Sheridan is also developing a re-imagined version of 1992 feature film Into the West, which starred Gabriel Byrne and Ellen Barkin. James Hickey, chief executive of the Irish Film Board, said the board expects the current production investments will result in up to €38m being generated in production activity in the home market in 2012.

European Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou last month announced details of the Creative Europe initiative — a plan to boost the cultural and creative sectors in Europe. The programme intends to support the cultural and creative sectors with a proposed budget of €1.8 billion for 2014-2020 and it is hoped that €900m will be allocated in support of the cinema and audiovisual sector.

The €1.8bn budget represents a 37% increase on current spending level.

In the current media programme Ireland has received almost €8m in direct funding which has gone on to provide support to films such as The Guard and The Runway, and TV programmes such as An t-Éireannach Fáin and Garth and Bev.

The Irish Film Board has also signed a deal with the BBC to co-produce five documentaries over the next 12 months as part of Storyville, a BBC initiative showcasing international documentaries. The films will be financed by both parties, with the Irish Film Board a minority financier. The documentaries will be Britain-led but include Irish talent in key roles in the production, while the BBC in return will be partners on several Irish-led documentaries.

“The last four years have seen a marked increase in the success of feature Irish documentaries — both internationally and at home — with local audiences,” said Alan Maher of the Irish Film Board.

Particularly successful projects include His & Hers, which premiered at the Sundance festival and became a box office hit, as well as Waveriders, Colony, Knuckle and The Pipe.

Mr Maher said: “The industry needs to remain ambitious in terms of growing opportunities for both co-production finance and international opportunities for our key creative talent and we believe that this new partnership with Storyville will achieve both of these aims.”

Two Irish shorts — Peter McDonald’s Pentecost and Terry George’s The Shore — have been selected in the 10 short films advancing in the Live Action Short Oscar race for possible

glory. In all, 107 short films had originally qualified in the category, which has now been whittled down to just 10. The Short Films and Feature Animation Branch of the Academy will select three to five nominees from the 10 titles on the shortlist, with the final selection announced on January 24.

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