FILMMAKING can be a precarious business — even if you’re Jim Sheridan. He’s one of our most lauded and loved writers and directors, and film lovers the world over are waiting to see his take on Sebastian Barry’s bestseller, The Secret Scripture.
Sheridan is also waiting to show it to us. The film’s US distributors encountered financial difficulty, leaving the film, starring Rooney Mara and Jack Reynor, in limbo for much of the past year.
“It went into Chapter Eleven which is the equivalent of bankruptcy. It was in there for, like, nine months, and we eventually got it out just last week,” says Sheridan . “It’ll be sold to a new American distribution company in June, hopefully.”
Sheridan says this is a period of huge change in the film industry. “Everything’s breaking into smaller pieces. The internet is such a disruptive force that nobody knows where it leads. Everything’s free — and when everything’s free nothing’s worth anything. You’ve got to find ways of adapting, of changing.
“The studios have decided on these dumb ass big action movies that play big in China and India, and they don’t care whether they’re eradicating their own audience, I think. It’s a weird industry now — they’ve pushed all the dramas on to TV, and everybody talks about the golden age of television. In many ways it is — there are lots of great shows — but it’s at the expense of the golden age of cinema, which has been decimated.”
Sheridan’s frustration is understandable — he simply wants his film to be seen. And he says that following an enormously successful year for the Irish film industry, it’s vital that we build what we have achieved.
With so much transition and financial challenges in the movie business, is the director, who brought us such hits as My Left Foot, In the Name of the Father and In America finding it more difficult to get films made?
“Not really for me because I have a bit of a name, I’m always able to get something moving but at half the budget [compared to before]. I’d be more thinking of people starting out.”
He called on the State to provide more funding so that Irish filmmakers can continue to thrive. “In relation to our overall national budget, what the movies get is miniscule. The rewards are way greater in proportion than what the Government gives.
“Back in the day when I did a deal with a Hollywood studio, they’d allow me to develop stories and I’d have a discretionary fund of three quarters of a million to develop scripts that they didn’t like. Today you could get one per cent of that — they just don’t develop anything.
“So the fact that the Irish Film Board has discretionary development money puts them in a very powerful position. We can continue to be competitive — we’re going to have a much better chance.”
Later this week, Sheridan heads to Schull in West Cork for the Fastnet Film Festival, which opens today. The festival is growing in size and status and is quickly becoming a key event on film lovers’ calendars. Guests this year include Sheridan, director Paddy Breathnach whose film Viva is getting international acclaim, and renowned costume designer Joan Bergin.
“Pauline [Cotter, one of the founders] will rope me in to do a load of things — I’ll probably be opening the local supermarket!” he laughs.
“I go down there to meet people I don’t meet in Dublin, like John Carney and Lenny Abrahamson. It’s a fun, open village, it feels very different to Dublin: contained, big hearted. It’s just easy to be around,” he said of the village’s festival experience.
Sheridan is full of praise for the new generation of Irish filmmakers who stormed the Oscars this year.
“I thought Viva was great, Room and Brooklyn, Sing Street too. I’m not just bullshitting, saying it because I’m trying to be nice to those guys. It was a really exceptional year for Irish film. I think Viva was the least recognised and probably one of the most interesting because it was such an unusual subject matter, Cuba and the transsexual world.
“There’s a quantum leap that can happen. It could happen with the Irish film industry. Hopefully it does. We can push out and change things.”
Sheridan has a number of projects in development, including the semi-autobiographical Sheriff Street, named after the Dublin neighbourhood where he grew up.
He’s also been working on a documentary series about the Sophie Toscan Du Plantier case, the unsolved murder which occurred near Schull in 1996. Sheridan has met former suspect Ian Bailey “quite a few times” as part of the project.
“It’s a documentary about the families of Sophie Du Plantier, Ian Bailey, the whole thing. We’re trying to examine a cold case, figure out what happened... I think it’ll be three or four documentaries. I’m making it with Donal McIntyre, the journalist. He’s making it for the BBC and TV3.”
Sheridan has also enjoyed working with his brother Peter on Meet the Quare Fellow, a play about Brendan Behan, which recently showed at Clontarf’s Viking Theatre.
Revisiting the seafront suburb has him reminiscing about his first ever performance in a play there as a boy.
“My dad did a show which he wrote, produced and directed. He had the good sense to have all the girls in the neighbourhood in bikinis and hula hoop skirts. And he was the king of the island! That was my first appearance on stage in Clontarf.”
His parents were steeped in theatre and very active within the inner city community where he grew up — an area that has recently been rocked by gangland crime.
“I often think of them in relation to what’s happening,” he says.
For now, however, Sheridan has the wild beauty of West Cork to look forward to.
- The Fastnet Film Festival takes place from today to Sunday. For screenings, workshops and programmes, see www.fastnetfilmfestival.com