Busan: Irish Helmers Discuss Hollywood Dominance

Directors' panel at Busan puts focus on independent cinema

Five Irish directors invited by Korea’s Busan Intl. Film Festival to discuss their country’s industry ended up talking about the dominance of the U.S. over the international biz.

The quintet – John Butler (“The Stag”), Lance Daly (“Kisses”), Neil Jordan (“Byzantium”), Brendan Muldowney (“Savages”) and Jim Sheridan (“Brothers”) – mostly agreed that success in the American market has always been a big boost to the local box office.

Sheridan held up Jordan’s 1992 “Crying Game” as a prime example. The film had a hard time finding audiences in Ireland and the U.K., but after Harvey Weinstein promoted it effectively in the U.S., it took root on its home turf.

“It’s a one-town industry,” he added hyperbolically. “If a movie doesn’t go on a U.S. screen, it doesn’t feel like a movie.”

Jordan recalled that John Carney’s 2006 Ireland-set “Once” vanished quickly after its local release, only to become a hit following its success in America.

Yank films exert sway over content as much as over distribution. Fielding a question about the influence of Brit pic “The Full Monty” on his “Stag,” Butler said he was more inspired by such U.S. male-bonding stories as “Swingers,” “Diner” and “Sideways” to find a way to say something about Irish men.

Sheridan noted an odd similarity between the Ireland’s and Korea’s film industries. Both thrive in the shadow of a more powerful neighboring biz (the U.K. and Japan, respectively), and both live in a nation divided between north and south.

As for the future, Sheridan fears that the Hollywood juggernaut is destroying its own independent cinema by focusing on tentpole fare that eschews drama in favor of costly visual effects. Citing sentiments recently expressed by Steven Spielberg and George Lucas at a USC confab, he said most movies being made by the majors today are huge, almost dialog-free investments.

The trend is driving more directors to television. Even though “we still have a vibrant industry in Ireland,” he said, many directors interested in drama are moving to the small screen. (Jordan, for instance, created Showtime’s “The Borgias.”)

He added, “We’re all trying to figure out how we can migrate to TV because that seems to be the place where you can still say something.”

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