Ireland



INDIGENOUS CINEMA ANDNATIONAL IDENTITY

There was one brief period of indigenous filmmaking during the silent period when the Film Company of Ireland made two well-regarded features, Knocknagow (1918) and Willie Reilly and His Colleen Bawn (1920). Subsequently, except for some semi-amateur films or B-movie quota quickies in the 1930s and government-sponsored informational films in the 1950s, little cinema of any significance was made in Ireland until the mid-1970s. The reasons were mainly economic. Until the 1970s Ireland was a relatively poor country with little capital available for investment in film production. However, there were political and cultural factors as well. The independent Ireland established in 1922 was built on a nationalism that was conservative in politics, Catholic in religion, and almost xenophobic. Because the political and religious establishment regarded the

Jaye Davidson and Stephen Rea in Neil Jordan's The Crying Game (1992).
cinema with suspicion and distaste, it subjected it to the most rigid censorship in Europe until the more liberal 1970s. There also existed a cultural bias against the cinema, which is hardly surprising in a country that celebrates a strong literary and theatrical tradition.

During the early period of Irish independence—from the 1920s to the 1970s—most of the cinematic representations of the country came from the outside. Although some attempts had been made in this period to attract both political and economic interest in filmmaking. The most notable of these were the semi-amateur production The Dawn (Thomas Cooper, 1938) and Guests of the Nation (Denis Johnston), based on Frank O'Connor's short story of the same title. Both the story and film later inspired Neil Jordan's (b. 1950) highly influential The Crying Game (1992). In Northern Ireland in the 1930s actor Richard Hayward attempted to start the film production industry, but there was little economic or political interest, and after a number of small-scale comedies ( The Luck of the Irish [1936] and The Early Bird [1936], indigenous feature filmmaking in Ireland ceased to exist for the next four decades.

During these years, Ireland continued to attract both Hollywood and British productions, and the Irish government established a studio at Bray in County Wicklow to facilitate such inward investment and to encourage further location shooting. The presence of such "outsider" productions inevitably gave rise to aspirations within Ireland itself for a more indigenous form of filmmaking. In the 1960s and 1970s, an increasingly vocal lobby emerged. It was supported in large measure by two influential directors who remained in Ireland after shooting some of their films there: John Huston, an American, and John Boorman, an Englishman. The Irish government finally began to provide very modest state funding for filmmaking in the 1970s and early 1980s. It is hardly surprising that the generation of Irish filmmakers that emerged would respond to both the dominance of cinematic stereotypes from abroad as well as the legacies of the nationalist traditions internally. In other words, the films they produced constituted a radical reassessment of Irish identity. This first wave of indigenous filmmakers included a group of Dublin-born directors—Robert Quinn (b. 1942), Joe Comerford (b. 1949), Pat Murphy, Cathal Black (b. 1952), and Thaddeus O'Sullivan (b. 1947)—who evinced an avant-garde sensibility and whose films were aesthetically as well as politically challenging. Jordan and Jim Sheridan (b. 1949) were more commercial in their approach and quickly established themselves as directors of international standing. Sheridan's My Left Foot (1989) won two acting Academy Awards ® for Daniel Day-Lewis and Brenda Fricker, and Jordan won a Best Original Screenplay Award for The Crying Game , which long remained the most successful Irish film in the United States.

By 1993, the Irish economy was booming and Ireland had become an affluent society, enjoying the fruits of sustained economic growth. The Irish Film Board, set up originally in 1980, was relaunched with improved funding by a government impressed by the international success of Jordan and Sheridan and committed to the cultural development of Irish cinema. A number of tax incentive schemes were implemented to further stimulate indigenous production, as well as to attract large-scale location shooting to Ireland. The result has been the most sustained period of indigenous filmmaking ever in Ireland with over 100 feature films produced since 1993. Ireland also continued to attract international productions to its famed locations. Sometimes these were for Irish-themed films, like Ron Howard's lavish Far and Away (1992) or John Sayles's more modest The Secret of Roan Inish (1994), but often the policy attracted big-budget productions that merely took advantage of the tax concessions and the scenery. For example, Steven Spielberg shot his celebrated Normandy beach scenes for Saving Private Ryan (1998) on the beaches of Wicklow, and in 1995 Mel Gibson took advantage of tax incentives to move the production of Braveheart from Scotland to Ireland.

The younger directors who emerged in the 1990s proved to be much more commercial in their approach than their predecessors of the 1970s and 1980s and as a result often have produced more light-hearted and youth-oriented films. Nonetheless, the nature of Irishness and a number of other themes stand out. For example, a substantial body of films about urban Ireland exists compared with a cinema once dominated by rural imagery. Such films as the contemporary sex comedy About Adam (Gerard Stembridge, 2000), the subversive crime comedy Intermission (John Crowley, 2003), and the controversial lesbian/gay view of contemporary Dublin Goldfish Memory (Elizabeth Gill, 2003) re-imagine urban Ireland very differently from traditional notions and challenge in both an entertaining and intellectual manner the very notion of "cinematic Ireland." Because the Catholic Church in Ireland was rocked by scandals beginning in the 1990s, a number of films have explored the nature of Ireland's Catholic past, especially the dominance of the Catholic Church in mid-twentieth-century Ireland: Hush-A-Bye-Baby (Margo Harkin, 1990), A Love Divided (Sydney Macartney, 1999), and The Magdalene Sisters (Peter Mullan, 2002). A particular brand of Irish coming-of-age film that, read metaphorically is a comment on Irish society emerging from a period of uncertainty, also emerged: The Last of the High Kings (David Keating, 1996) and The Disappearance of Finbar (Sue Clayton, 1996). Finally, both established and emerging Irish filmmakers have attempted to revisit the vexed question of violence in Northern Ireland and to explore the legacy of Ireland's militant nationalism in such films as Jordan's Michael Collins (1996), Sheridan's In the Name of the Father (1993) and The Boxer (1997), and David Caffrey's Divorcing Jack (1998).

Most of these themes, and many more besides, are treated in the most complex film to emerge in the 1990s. Jordan's The Butcher Boy (1997), a film rich in visual imagination that disturbs the audience, subverting the traditional Irish mythologies. At the same time, the complexity and artistic achievement of the film confirm that Irish cinema has emerged from obscurity and assumed a cultural role as significant as the nation's more lauded literary and theatrical traditions.

SEE ALSO Great Britain ; National Cinema

Barton, Ruth. Jim Sheridan: Framing the Nation . Dublin: Liffey, 2002.

Hill, John, Martin McLoone, and Paul Hainsworth, eds. Border Crossing: Film in Ireland, Britain and Europe . Belfast and London: Institute of Irish Studies/British Film Institute, 1994.

MacKillop, James, ed. Contemporary Irish Cinema: From "The Quiet Man" to "Dancing at Lughnasa." Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1999.

McIlroy, Brian. Shooting to Kill: Filmmaking and the "Troubles" in Northern Ireland . London: Flicks, 1998.

McLoone, Martin. Irish Film: The Emergence of a Contemporary Cinema . London: British Film Institute, 2000.

Pettitt, Lance. Screening Ireland: Film and Television Representation . Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2000.

Rockett, Emer, and Kevin Rockett. Neil Jordan: Exploring Boundaries . Dublin: Liffey, 2003.

Rockett, Kevin, ed. The Irish Filmography: Fiction Films, 1986–1996 . Dublin: Red Mountain, 1996.

Rockett, Kevin, and John Hill, eds. National Cinema and Beyond . Dublin: Four Courts, 2004.

Martin McLoone



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