The indigenous film industry in Ireland tentatively emerged in the 1970s, but it was not consolidated until two decades later, when government funding arrangements were implemented to support production on a long-term basis. Irish filmmakers produce up to ten feature films per year, as well as dozens of shorts. In this regard, Irish filmmaking resembles that of most other medium-and small-scale European industries in which production is the result of a complex structure of national and transnational (especially wider European) funding initiatives. Like so many other European industries, state support for film production in Ireland is designed to promote an indigenous film industry and to develop a more pluralist film culture in a country in which cinema screens are dominated overwhelmingly by Hollywood films.

The fact that filmmaking in Ireland is a fairly recent phenomenon should not, however, disguise the fact that Ireland and the Irish have maintained a major presence in American and British cinema since its inception. This presence has been manifested in terms of personnel (especially actors and directors), but most specifically in terms of theme, setting, and plot. The relatively high profile of Irish themes and stereotypes in American and British cinema has ensured that the representation of Ireland and the Irish has been a major concern for film studies in Ireland. Two traditions in particular have been identified. On one hand, Ireland has tended to be represented in romantic rural terms with great emphasis placed on its beautiful landscapes and seascapes. This has been the most enduring cinematic tradition and one that has recurred with remarkable consistency over time. John Ford's 1952 romantic comedy The Quiet Man is the screen's most famous and most enduring example of this tendency. The romanticization of Ireland and the Irish landscape is ingrained in the cinematic cultures of both Britain and America and frequently emerges in both nations' film industries, for example, in the British production Waking Ned Devine (1999) or the American The Match Maker (1997). Even Robert Flaherty's historically important documentary Man of Aran (1934), received initially as a realist documentary on the hardships of Irish rural life, later appeared to viewers as overly heroic and romanticized.

Ireland's long and fractious political relationship to Britain has provided the other recurring cinematic view of Ireland—a land of urban violence and sectarian hatreds where a proclivity to violence seems to form part of the Irish character and to have locked the Irish into an endless and meaningless cycle of murder and revenge. Ford again provided one of the early and most enduring examples of this tendency in his expressionist view of a strife-torn Dublin in The Informer (1935). The most celebrated British version of this stricken Ireland is Carol Reed's equally expressionistic Belfast in Odd Man Out (1947). In the 1970s and 1980s, when political violence in Northern Ireland escalated, this image appeared with more regularity, sometimes merely as a plot device in otherwise conventional thrillers, such as Patriot Games (Phillip Noyce, 1992) or The Devil's Own (Alan J. Pakula, 1997).

That indigenous filmmaking developed slowly meant that these two dominant traditions went largely unchallenged in cinematic terms and therefore tended to circulate as markers of a general Irish identity. However, in the twenty-first century these traditional and recurring images of the Irish have marked a point of departure for indigenous filmmakers attempting to forge a recognizably contemporary Irish cinematic identity.

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