Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Culture and the stories we tell ourselves...

Stories We Tell Ourselves is a study undertaken for the UKFC (now folded into the BFI) which examines the Cultural Impact of UK Film 1946-2006. Its authors were invited to Dublin by the Irish Film Board for a panel event Beyond the Box Office which took place in the IFI a week ago. It was intended, I think, as a possible point of departure for a discussion about Irish film culture, a discussion we seem to have assiduously side-stepped for nearly two decades despite the fact that film is an aspect of cultural policy rather than industrial policy.

The first point to reflect on here is that the resolute focus is 'film', not 'cinema'. It's a fundamental distinction because it separates the art form from the social aspect of the audience's initial engagement with it. I worry that there's a subtext here which seeks to downgrade the cultural importance of the cinema audience. Yes, it's undoubtedly true that our film and cinema culture is highly permeable to external cultural forces but that is all the more reason to admit its influence and to challenge it with our own output.

The title of the event itself - Beyond the Box Office - reinforces the film/cinema distinction but it is ambiguous as whether this has to do with cultural legacy, and its measurement, or a concession of the social arena, the cinema, to the output of an other, dominant culture. And it's not suprising, perhaps, that such a debate should be taking place at a time when the cohesive social audience for cinema, and television, is at once breaking down and reshaping itself across national borders, especially in the anglophone world.

Here in Ireland the heavy stress on measurable cost-benefit analysis of state funding and spend in the economy has long been a way to avoid discussing market outcomes, the quality of the films that have been made with public money, and their cultural value. If we are to begin a real discussion of Irish film culture then please let it not be for strategic political reasons.

The UK study was set in motion by the then UKFC Chair, Stewart Till, but we were not told why the study was commissioned. Nor is it readily evident in the study itself. It is a critical question.

Perhaps the answer can be found between the following lines in the study: Films are routinely reviewed and judged according to their commercial performance, and their impact is also assessed by the marketing sector intent on maximising awareness in order to increase revenues. The idea of identifying and measuring cultural impact is relatively new and less well established. To some extent it challenges commercial performance as the sole measure of a film’s success, recognising that films may have many different kinds of impact beyond triggering the willingness to pay to see them. Films may create extraordinary characters, who live in the memories and conversations of people who have seen them on screen, and perhaps even in those of people who have not actually seen them. (p.23)

The point is undoubtedly true, and it is a point worth making but why is it being made? Not, I hope, as a kind of defense of poor contemporary films which deservedly fail at the box office. Moreover, the point's validity hinges upon how one interprets culture, its impact (and how it's measured, over time), and nationality.

Let's face it, the stories we tell ourselves will sometimes try our patience. The inner voice will tell us we've heard this one before, or that the teller of the tale should stop beating around the bush. Sometimes we seek comfort in the familiar. Occasionally the drip of unrewarded time is part of the storyteller's delivery. They may have a discursive style or a particular way in which they form their tales. It comes - usually if not always - to a question of trust that will be answered either with the audience's engagement or disengagement and, by the end, either a sense of reward or of having been let down.

If we are to start a conversation about Irish film culture then we have to start talking about the quality and content of what we produce, and whether our screenwriters, directors and producers are rewarding the trust being placed in them by the Irish people.

Friday, June 17, 2011

A plea for the facts!

Almost a month ago I received the following email -
A protest of taxpaying film workers will be held on Thursday 26th May at the offices of Samson Films who have benefited to the tune of almost €3m this year and have not created one quality job in the film industry in contravention of the Film Regulations.
The protest will then move to the offices of the Irish Film Board at Lord Edward Street. The Irish Film Board is, we believe, the last surviving "quango" of the Fianna Fail, Anglo Irish Bank, Galway Tent brigade and their latest stated aims to "actively pursue" foreign co-production investment in Irish films means the bells are tolling for film jobs in Ireland, as it is there are currently approx 40 crew working in this country since 3 weeks ago, not a single crew member worked in film since mid December.
The Film Regulations, SI 357 clearly lay out the conditions for the application of Section 481 Relief. These conditions have not been met on a single film todate and as the Irish Film Board is peopled by industry professionals and lacks balance or indeed transparency film crews who are Irish taxpayers have been left with no alternative but to try to tackle this situation by means of peaceful protest and political lobbying.

I replied with some questions to try to establish exactly what was being alleged:
1. You say Samson Films have "benefited to the tune of almost €3m this year and have not created one quality job in the film industry in contravention of the Film Regulations". Could you expand on this? Is the amount entirely comprised of S481 funds, and for what particular project(s)? And, how do you believe the company has breached the regulations?
2. When you refer to those crew members who may now be working but have not worked in film since mid-December, are you referring to every category of crew and technician or is it an issue only for craft union workers?
3. In respect of SI 357/2008 and the regulations applying to Section 481 Film Relief, what evidence have you for your contention that "these conditions have not been met on a single film to date"?
4. If you have any other factual info to support your campaign I'd be glad to hear it.

I didn't get a reply although I have since been sent a set of photographs of the picketing in Irishtown and Dublin city centre.

I do not know if there is a legitimate basis for this protest. It could be that the eligible spend on particular projects is actually being delivered in the post-production phase. It may be that the protesting workers are not aware, for instance, that workers from other Member States of the EU share the right to work on Irish productions and their wages are considered eligible spend under the S481 regulations. But who knows, unless the facts are out in the open.

What is something of a paradox, however, is the possibility that eligible spend on wages (and any possible tax return to the Exchequer) could legitimately be taken out of our economy by the people who earn it. It would be useful to know to what extent this is occuring on Irish productions and the effect, if any, that it might have on the cost/benefit analysis of public funding which is undertaken each year.

So, the facts and the money trail, if you please!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Solas Picture Palace back out to tender

The Solas cinema project in Galway has been put back out to tender following various setbacks since the sod was first turned on the site in July 2009. The new tender includes the demolition and reconstruction of a nearby building which, it was claimed, had been damaged during the course of the initial piling for the cinema.

Candidate contractors must first pass a selection procedure before being invited to tender or negotiate. Expressions of interest should be sent by mid-day, July 1st. Invitations to tender will then be issued on (approximately) August 8th.

There are 19 documents associated with the tender on the eTenders website along with further details on qualifying standards and how and where to register an interest in the tender notice.

Title - Construction of Cinema Building, Merchants Road, Galway
Description of the goods or services required - The works will comprise the demolition and re-construction of an existing dwelling on the corner Merchants Road, and the construction of a new four-storey over basement cinema building (total gross floor area approximately 1,150m2) to include 3No. cinemas comprising approximately 330 seats, cafe, bar, bookshop and ancillary facilities together with all associated external works including piled basement and all connections to existing mains services.

from my post about Solas on Jan 19:
The sources of funding I am aware of for the Galway project include, so far -
€2,000,000 ACCESS II (Dept Tourism Culture & Sport, 2007)
€ 1,960,000 Site value, 15 Lr Merchants Rd (Galway City Council, 2009)
€ 750,000 Cultural Cinema Consortium (Film Board/Arts Council, 2005)
€ 650,000 (loan) Western Development Commission, Investment Fund
€ 75,000 Irish Film Board (2007)
€ ?+
€6.5m (approx total)

(i) As of Nov. 2010 Solas had been paid €720,468 in 2009 and €143,642 in 2010 by the Dept. TC&S, presumably as instalments of the €2m ACCESS II capital grant;
(ii) the Arts Council annual accounts for 2008 show capital development grants under the Cultural Cinema heading of €70,000 for Solas Galway Picture Palace and €672,500 for Galway City Council.
(iii) An EC MEDIA Consultation (Oct/Dec 2009) on cinema digitisation states: "For example, in Galway, the local authority invested €2m in the purchase of a site to facilitate the building of a 3 screen arthouse cinema. The Arts Council and the Irish Film Board invested €1.25m; and the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism invested €2m. These investments were for the development of the cinema including fit-out and digital projection equipment."

You Make the Movies

Fresh press release just in about the 'You Make the Movies' campaign that I mentioned in a post on June 3rd.

Thank YOU For Making The Movies!!!
A pro copyright campaign

The Irish Industry Trust for Intellectual Property Awareness would like to say a huge ‘Go raibh mile maith agat’ to the Irish public, who support the film industry and enable great films to be made. In support of the industry and in acknowledgement of the vital contribution of the Irish public, the Trust are launching You Make The Movies, a pro copyright campaign. Copyright issues are one of the most challenging issues for the movie industry today.

Actress and author Amy Huberman is in full support of the campaign, “Illegal downloads and piracy are killing the film industry. If you love the cinema, keep supporting the real industry and pay for the movies that you want to see. Pirated DVD's contribute to criminal cartels involved in pornography, drug dealing and people trafficking and illegal downloads will simply reduce the number of good films it will be possible to make and for you to see as they take money directly from the film makers' pockets. Help us to protect film making in Ireland so we can all enjoy the films we want to see!"

The You Make The Movies campaign, with a media value in excess of €500k, will be rolled out across outdoor, print and online platforms in an initiative to protect the creative rights and livelihoods of those people working in the Irish film industry. The campaign will include trailers paying homage to some of the most famous film moments in cinema history:
Lord of the Rings, The Life of Brian, Sixth Sense, Jerry Maguire, and Jaws. These trailers, directed by Steve Bendelack (League of Gentleman, Little Britain), all feature the line You Make The Movies in acknowledgement of the vital role the public plays in ensuring the continued success of the film and entertainment industry.

Trish Long, Vice President and General Manager of Disney Ireland comments “The campaign is unique in that it involves various sectors of the industry working together to recognise the importance of protecting creative ideas & in helping secure the livelihoods of approx 18,000 people who work in the film & entertainment industry throughout Ireland. We hope that movie & entertainment lovers nationwide will enjoy the campaign & take to heart the message, of which we are absolutely convinced, which is very simply: YOU Make The Movies.

With talent like Michael Fassbender, Neil Jordan, Saoirse Ronan, Colin Farrell and Jim Sheridan renowned on the world stage, the support by the Irish public of the 18,000 people who work in the Irish film industry [incl. exhibition] has a crucial impact, enabling Irish stories and talent to be brought to a global audience.

“The initiative highlights the importance of intellectual property rights in also sustaining the wider Irish film and gaming industry which has a turnover in excess of €700 million” says Tom Byrne, Country Manager-Ireland, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. “The home entertainment side of the business is a key contributor to the total revenue of a film and it directly employs over 2000 people in retail stores around Ireland. We are greatly encouraged by the positive message of this campaign and believe that the Irish public will respond equally positively to that message and think more carefully about the consequences of purchasing illegal content.”

Mark Doherty of The Independent Cinema Association of Ireland, heartily agrees speaking at grass root level. “Your local cinema has been an integral part of the community in Ireland for generations; it employs over eighteen thousand people from Malin Head to Mizen Head. From Dublin Bay to Galway Bay, young and old, from the usher who takes your ticket to the projectionist up in the booth. We all depend on you! Every time you buy a cinema ticket you help to keep our industry alive. Thank You.”

The Irish Industry Trust for Intellectual Property Awareness campaign would like to thank the following for their support: Carlton Screen Advertising, Delta Display, Bravo Outdoor Advertising, Clear Channel, Creative partnership.

The Industry Trust for Intellectual Property Awareness was set up in 2004 to help promote copyright and inform movie and television fans everywhere of its vital importance. Funded by more than thirty member companies, ranging from film studios to retailers, together the Industry Trust is spreading the word about the positive role copyright plays in protecting creative ideas.

To view the ads and video clips, and for more information on the campaign, check out www.youmakethemovies.ie

Guess the quote!!

Have a guess - don't use Google! Who said this and when did they say it? The emphasis (in bold) is mine. I do think it's ironic to be asking to be considered as an industry when the industrial argument is actually less convincing than the cultural argument.

Being part of an art form is regarded as being some nebulous, cloudy, self-sustaining bubble that does not need any help. We point out that we are a cost-efficient, cost-positive industry worth more than €500 million euro and employing in excess of 6,000 people, so we need to be regarded slightly differently. We need to include the word “industry” as well as “art form” when we talk about the arts because it is too easy to dismiss it otherwise.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Classic night out

One of the really interesting aspects of film exhibition that has taken a noticeable turn for the better over the last two years is the growth of specialist or interest group screening nights in diverse venues, mostly in our cities but also around the country.

Shorts, classics, genre titles, undergound and avant garde, experimental, local - small groups of people are gathering to watch and discuss films in a revival of the essentially social quality of cinema. It's something of a renaissance in a particular kind of cinema-going and perhaps it provides the basis for some of what will be discussed at the event outlined in my previous post.

The newest club screening night is the Anti Room Film Club organised by the group of bloggers at the Anti Room prompted by member Megan McGurk who brings a keen, feminist outlook to her film watching.

Every month, we’ll knock heads, select a classic film and invite you all to watch it with us over a drink (sadly, the Anti Room kitty doesn’t extend to buying you all booze, but there may be some treats and prizes). The films will include classics, cult hits, new and old movies, some female-focused, some not. Afterwards, we hope to meet lots of you and have a chat about the film.

Our first film is 1953′s Mogambo, starring Ava Gardner, Clark Gable, Grace Kelly and directed by John Ford. The screenplay was written by John Lee Mahin, based on a play by Wilson Collison. For more background on the film, read Megan’s recent post about it.

The Anti Room Film Club.
Wednesday, July 6th at The Workman’s Club, Wellington Quay, Dublin 2
7.30pm doors open for lights down at 8pm sharp.

'Beyond the Box Office'

Interesting event at the IFI next Monday.

The British Film Institute and Bord Scannán na hÉireann/the Irish Film Board (IFB)


A presentation and debate on the cultural impact of film and its relevance to our lives.

Hosted by the Irish Film Institute

Monday 20th June 2011
3.00 - 5.30: Presentation and Debate
5.30 - 7.00: Drinks Reception

Speakers include:
Pippa Cross - Producer, CrossDay Productions
Ian Christie - Professor of Film and Media History, Birkbeck College, London
John Kelleher - Producer and Former Film Certification Director
Andrew Meehan - Development Executive, IFB
Carol Comley - Head of Strategic Development, British Film Institute
Bertrand Moullier - Senior Consultant, Narval Media
Lenny Abrahamson - Director (Adam & Paul, Garage)

Cinema 3, Irish Film Institute, 6 Eustace Street, Dublin 2
Please note that capacity is limited therefore RSVPs will be based on a first come first served basis. RSVP to marketing@irishfilmboard.ie

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The bubble of self-delusion

I didn't see Fintan O'Toole's documentary on Irish theatre last night but I read his article on the subject in yesterday's Irish Times, here. It's a discussion we should also be having about Irish film.

An excerpt: Apart from anything else, lots of things got better in Irish theatre in the boom years, the variety of forms and companies and the overall standard of production included. It is obvious, nonetheless, that something happened to Irish culture in the era of seemingly endless economic growth. It failed in the most basic way. It was unable to create for Irish people even a vaguely accurate narrative or image of who and where they were.

Mainstream culture ceased to be challenging or confrontational. There were heroic exceptions, but art in general failed to burst the bubble of self-delusion that had such catastrophic long-term consequences.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Film technician minimum rates

These are the minimum rates of pay for film crew agreed between Screen Producers Ireland and the Film & Entertainment section of SIPTU last year. I thought I'd post them here since they are almost impossible to find online. It also sets out the budget levels for 'small', 'medium' and 'large' productions.

Click to enlarge -

Friday, June 3, 2011

Long Weekend - catch up post

Apologies for the absence of new content, I've been busy and my ISP has pointed their service in another direction. This catch-up post is coming to you from the side of a small road in rural Ireland. Oh, and the next time someone rabbits on about 'cloud' computing ask them how they rate Irish ISP infrastructure.

'You make the Movies'
The 'You make the Movies' campaign, a pro-copyright initiative, will be launched on June 8th at the Irish Film Institute in Dublin. It is described as a multi-platform cinema and outdoor campaign with a media value in excess of €500k. An acknowledgement of and a thank you to the public without whose support and backing, great films couldn’t get made. Hence the title of the initiative “You make the movies”. A big thank you from the 18,000 people employed in the Irish Film industry from cinema ushers to film crews to DVD retailers, we couldn’t survive and thrive without public support.
Update: just got word that the launch has been cancelled due to technical issues. More info here
IFI Open Day
The IFI is holding its annual Open Day on June 11. Tickets to a great variety of films will be available on a first-come first served basis. Tickets will become available at 11am on June 11th at the IFI. Tickets will not be available online or by phone. There is a maximum of four tickets per person.
Irish interest includes Tom Hall's Sensation and the new archive acquisition I Can’t... I Can’t.
Arrive early!
Jack Goes Boating (12.30pm)
Labyrinth (12.30pm)
Sunrise (12.30pm)
Life, Above All (2.20pm)
Donnie Darko (2.30pm)
I Can’t... I Can’t (2.30pm)
Pierrot le fou (4.15pm)
Meet the Programmers (4.30pm)
A Night at the Opera (4.40pm)
Cell 211 (4.45pm)
The Honeymoon Killers (6.20 pm)
Who’s Afraid of Virgina Woolf (6.40pm)
Sensation (7.00pm)
Armadillo (9.00pm)
Audience Choice Film (9.10pm)
Cave of Forgotten Dreams (3D) (9.20pm)
Film Board Funding decisions May 27
Project Director Writer Prodn Co. Loan
First Draft Loans
Belinda Elisabeth Gooch €12,000
Fiction Development Loans
Julia Here Sonya Supple Gildea Sonya Supple Gildea Newgrange Pictures €12,000
Fury Neil Jordan Ronan Bennett Littlewave Productions €50,000
The Ones You Do Juanita Wilson Juanita Wilson Octagon Films €50,000
Purgatory Colm McCarthy Colm McCarthy Fantastic Films €30,000
Dark Zone Tom Cosgrove Fantastic Films €10,000
Mister John Christine Molloy & Joe Lawlor Christine Molloy & Joe Lawlor Samson Films €10,000
The Clown Conor McMahon Conor McMahon Fantastic Films €10,000
Objects Of Interest Stephen Burke Stephen Burke Mammoth Films €25,000
Echo Chamber Rupert Wyatt Rupert Wyatt Parallel Film Productions €44,346

Animation Development Loans
Cosmo Jason Tammemagi Jason Tammemagi Monster Animation & Design €34,000

Fiction Feature Films
Devlin Aisling Walsh Kate Gartside & Aisling Walsh Subotica Limited Provisional Offer Of Commitment
Wayfaring Strangers Stephen Bradley Stephen Bradley Treasure Entertainment €600,000

Fiction Creative Co-production
Sean Fabien Suarez & Juliette Sales Fabien Suarez & Juliette Sales Blinder Films €320,000

The Disappearance Ciaran Cassidy Fastnet Films Provision Offer of Commitment
Perverts Guide To Ideology Sophie Fiennes Blinder Films €100,000
Man Versus America Morag Tinto Soho Moon Pictures Provisional Offer Of Commitment
Men At Lunch Sean O'Cualain Sonta Films €50,000
One In Kate O'Callaghan Montrose Media Services €5,000
Deputy Ming Mike Casey & James Finlan Big Yes Productions €15,000
Jimmy Van Damme Ciaran Deeney El Zorrero Films €15,000
The Runner Saeed Taji Farouky Still Films €10,000
The Egg & The Chicken Steve Lock Monford Limited €15,000
A Childish Place Tom Slater Still Films €10,000
Karl Golden's new film, made in the UK, will be premiered at the Edinburgh Film Festival on 23 June. It is being released by Momentum on 2nd September.
Cordil Construction, a major contractor in the West of Ireland, laid off workers on its sites in mid-May, citing cash-flow difficulties on several major public contracts.
Cordil was the lead contractor on the Solas cinema project in Galway which has suffered significant delays over the last year and a half, and which I posted about here some months ago. It has been reported in Galway that Cordil will not now be involved in bringing Solas to completion.
The leading home entertainment chain is currently almost one month into 100 days examinership, approved by the High Court on May 13. Already some branches have been identified for closure and while illegal downloading has been ascribed some of the blame for the company's travails I would imagine that the general retail downturn and upward-only rent reviews are more of an issue given the poor broadband infrastructure in many parts of the country.
It would be interesting to compare the company's profitability on both sides of the border - 45 of its 180 outlets are in Northern Ireland - and control for local factors such as rents, personnel costs, broadband speeds, etcetera.
Copyrights and Wrongs
The ISPs vs Rightsholders debate is moving once more into the policy arena with a review of the issues announced by Richard Bruton, Minister for Jobs, Enterprise & Innovation. Dr Eoin O’Dell of TCD is chairing a copyright review committee details of which are available here. Submissions should be sent to copyrightreview@deti.ie by close of business on Thursday, 30 June 2011.
Lighthouse Latest?
The Light House Cinema & Distribution Company Limited (In Receivership). Expressions of interest are sought in respect of the acquisition of the business and assets of The Light House Cinema Exhibition and Distribution Company Limited (In Receivership) by the Receiver, Mr. Neil Hughes. The Light House Cinema, located at Smithfield, is a four-screen, 600-seat, fully equipped state of the art cinema.
Expressions of interest should be forwarded immediately to the Receiver, Mr. Neil Hughes at neil.hughes@hughesblake.ie or alternatively contact (01)6699999

Mr Hughes was appointed jointly by The Arts Council and the Irish Film Board on April 27 according to Minister Deenihan, answering questions in the Dáil on May 11.