Cork film industry left reeling

Cork Film Centre faces an uncertain future after losing its Arts Council funding, reports Colette Sheridan

Cork film industry left reeling

The director of the Cork Film Centre (CFC), Chris Hurley and his colleagues are working hard towards keeping the facility open “at some level” following the shock announcement from the Arts Council that it is cutting its funding to the centre by 50% this year, with a total withdrawal of funding in 2015.

Last year, the 21-year-old centre saw its funding cut to just €70,000 from a high of €102,000 five years ago. Hurley says that he can see no way around avoiding two redundancies which would see him lose his job, as well as that of Max Le Cain, who is in charge of projects and editing an e-magazine. The other four staff members are on Community Employment Schemes.

The CFC has played an integral role in supporting the local film community by renting out — and sometimes lending — filming equipment as well as providing mentoring and facilities.

“It was pointed out to me that of the 16 Cork films that were screened at the Cork International Film Festival last year, 13 of them gave a credit to the Cork Film Centre,” says Hurley.

The films were shorts. There are a few feature films being made in Cork “below the radar” and the documentary about Joanne O’Riordan, ‘No Limbs, No Limits,’ (directed by O’Riordan’s brother, Steven), was made possible as a result provision of cameras and sound recording equipment from CFC.

Hurley admits that “the film making landscape has changed. You can do a lot more now with a much smaller camera than before, and a laptop. At the same time, on an industry level and in terms of exhibitions of video art, there are very few options in Cork other than the Cork Film Centre.”

The CFC has worked with the arts offices of Cork City Council and Cork County Council to establish the Cork Film Commission, aimed at promoting film and TV productions in the region. It was launched in 2011 but it hasn’t seen production companies flocking to Cork to shoot films.

“It was probably set up at the worst time in terms of the economy, but towards the end of last year, there were much more enquiries than there had been.”

Hurley says that the Arts Council is axing the CFC “because in the current climate, it couldn’t justify having three film resource centres in the country.” The other two centres are the Galway Film Centre (which suffered an Arts Council cut of 40% but will be funded next year), and Film Base in Dublin.

“The Arts Council report put a lot of emphasis on film exhibitions, screenings and audiences. However, we see our remit as being more about the creation of work, be it film or video art. We’re not about audiences, although a lot of the work we do with video artists involves helping out with exhibitions, so indirectly, audiences are coming through. But in the context of the film industry, the Arts Council sees us as superfluous. However, we see working with avant garde experimental film and video artists as being something positive. It’s working with the art of the moving image. I’d hate to see a lack of recognition for that, but it doesn’t seem to be a priority [for the Arts Council].”

Hurley hopes to meet the arts minister, Jimmy Deenihan, TD, to present the CFC’s case. The centre receives some funding from Cork City and County Councils, but has always been primarily dependent on Arts Council funding.

Awarding-winning, Cork-born film-maker, Chris Cullen, will see his first feature film ‘Jesus the Remake’ released in two months time. Through his company, Epic Productions, he is currently working on a second feature film. The Arts Council’s cut to the CFC is “a terrible blow,” he says. “To lose the CFC or to lose an element of it will be hugely detrimental to film makers. There’s a lot happening in Cork at the moment. Local film makers are making names for themselves with their work being accepted by film festivals all over the world.”

Cullen adds that were it not for the CFC, he would not be where he is today. (His short film, ‘Stolen’ won the ‘Made in Cork’ categories in both the Cork International Film Festival and the Indie Cork festival last year.) “It’s very hard to make money from film. But with the CFC, there are great facilities. Everything I’ve done has been done with the centre’s help.”

Kieran Fitzgerald is a director of photography. He directed a documentary about the port of Cork screened at the inaugural Indie Cork festival last year. It was part of a project, ‘Cork, like,’ a filmic portrait of the city involving nine different directors. For Fitzgerald, the CFC has been a life line.

“For someone starting out, the CFC is essential. And it’s still important, even for someone like myself who’s more established. While prices for equipment have come down, they’re still much higher than people can afford. The CFC, as well as renting out equipment, runs fantastic courses. I have no idea why they’ve been cut. There is speculation that the Arts Council wants to centralise everything in Dublin. But that’s not a good idea, considering the distance and the expense.”

Norah Norton curates exhibitions for Cork County Council in the Town Hall Gallery in Macroom. “Increasingly, the exhibitions by established artists have digital components. Without the support of Chris Hurley, both technically and in supplying equipment, I wouldn’t be able to put on these exhibitions in a place like Macroom. My upset is that an awful lot of artists won’t be able to progress their digital work without the support of the CFC.”

Norton has written a letter to the chairperson of the Arts Council, about the CFC cut. She is appealing to her to “look again at this particular organisation as the effect on artists and organisations will be wide-spread and more significant than you may have intended.”

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