Irish Film Biz Walks Slow Growth Track

The Irish film industry is growing, but according to many in the business, not fast enough.

The number of independent filmmakers and companies in the Republic has increased steadily since the Irish Film Board was closed in 1987 and replaced with a system of tax incentives.

While the industry is still far from healthy, more domestic productions than ever are being made.

Even pubcaster RTE, with relatively limited resources, was able to commission in 1989 1.5 million Irish pounds worth of freelance production.

Meanwhile, the Irish Film Center is setting up home in a Quaker meeting house which dates from 1692. Set in the Temple Bar area of Dublin, the city’s equivalent of Greenwich Village, the center will include two cinemas, with seating capacities of 100 and 160, a film archive, educational facilities, a restaurant, a bar and offices to house such organizations as the Federation of Irish Film Societies, the Dublin Film Festival and Filmmakers Ireland.

Ancient complex reborn

The first of its kind in Europe, the center is designed to provide a central base for all aspects of film culture. The project has received grants from the Irish Arts Council totaling 400,000 Irish pounds ($720,000) and grants for more than 600,000 Irish pounds ($1.1 million) from the European Regional Development Fund.

The total cost of refurbishing the ancient complex is expected to top 1.2 million Irish pounds ($2.1 million).

There also is an effort to bring back Ardmore Studios, which lie a few miles south of Dublin.

Ardmore’s history has not always been happy. Since its inception in 1958, it seems to have spent almost as much time in the hands of receivers as in the hands of filmmakers.

However, the studios are now two-thirds owned by Windmill Lane Studios and a third by a state agency, National Development Corp.

“Our hope over the next year,” says managing director Kevin Moriarty, “when TV3 arrangements are finalized, is that we will enter into an arrangement with Windmill Lane so that one of our stages will be used on a full-time basis.”

According to Moriarty, “The difficulty with Ardmore over the years is that it aimed specifically toward the feature film market. It maintained an overhead structure consistent with a very busy feature film studio. We have gone from that to being a four-wall studio, and we bring in crews only when we need them. It’s that sort of approach that makes Ardmore viable now.”

Meanwhile, David Kavanagh, director of the Irish Film Institute, argues for more government support for filmmakers. At the Dublin Chamber of Commerce’s recent conference on the Irish film industry, he declared: “The Irish government should spend 900,000 Irish pounds ($1.6 million) on direct subsidy, 400,000 Irish pounds ($720,000) on international marketing, 150,000 Irish pounds ($270,000) on a film commission, 100,000 Irish pounds ($180,000) on administration – and should not expect it back. They would still be spending a great deal less than they spend on the Abbey Theater every year.”

The Irish Film Board was closed because Prime Minister Charles Haughey decided tax incentives would be more cost-effective than direct subsidies.

The board was established by the national government in 1981 to develop the film industry. Its total allotment amounted to 500,000 Irish pounds annually. During its six years of life, 50 film projects were given grants. The best known film to emerge from those years was Neil Jordan’s “Angel” for which the board put up 20%. The remaining 80% came from Channel 4 in the U.K.

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