World Cinema Benefits from Film Resurgence in Ireland

Actors, directors and artisans are all included in the new wave of Irish talent

Star Wars Film Production Ireland
Courtesy of Disney

Ireland’s creative resurgence is benefiting not only the local film industry, but also world cinema at large.

One result of this cultural ferment is the plethora of talent heading to Hollywood, even as Irish film and television continue to thrive.

Hollywood studios are happy to benefit from the country’s tax incentive, announced last year. Now standing at 32%, with all Irish spending eligible, it has attracted multiple projects. TV shows such as “Vikings,” “Penny Dreadful” and “Ripper Street” have all shot their most recent seasons in Ireland.

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” (pictured above, in production) also lensed scenes on the Emerald Isle, with the same team making a return trip for “Episode VIII.”

Feature films, whether shot or set in Ireland, have geared up as well. Among them: last year’s “Brooklyn,” which received multiple Oscar nominations, and dark comedy “The Lobster,” a Cannes buzz generator, which utilized the country for its entire shoot.

At the same time, Hollywood is attracting Irish talent working both before and behind the cameras.

Oscar nominee Michael Fassbender (“Steve Jobs”) is one of the most successful Irish actors to transition to Hollywood, landing major roles over the past few years. And nobody knows more about carefully picking their projects than Colin Farrell, who has worked with Steven Spielberg, Robert Towne, Terrence Malick, Oliver Stone, Woody Allen and Michael Mann, while also collaborating with Irish directors Martin McDonagh and John Crowley.

Saoirse Ronan, the star of Crowley’s “Brooklyn,” has gracefully made the move to adult lead, after impressing in a string of eclectic projects. And Domhnall Gleeson, son of Irish acting icon Brendan Gleeson, recently appeared in numerous high-profile releases, including “Ex-Machina,” “Brooklyn,” “The Revenant” and the latest “Star Wars” extravaganza.

“I’m very proud of ‘Brooklyn,’ ” Gleeson says. “There was a lot of care given to its development, which is something to keep in mind with future work.”

Ireland has also produced no small share of directorial talent.

For example, Lenny Abrahamson, Oscar-nommed for “Room,” has become a hot property. The helmer is passionate about the challenging project. “I read the book and was bowled over by it,” he says. “It’s a universal story and it’s intensely emotional. I’m looking for smart stories like this to tell.”

Director John Carney (“Once,” “Begin Again,” “Sing Street”) has worked in both the Irish indie world and in Hollywood, and is upbeat about the filmmaking scene in Ireland. “I’m excited if it gives people jobs,” he says. “Ireland is more like a city. It’s tiny. And it’s hard to sustain an industry. Thankfully, we have state subsidy. (I hope) interest in Irish filmmakers will help to sustain (it).”

Crowley, a theater vet with considerable feature experience, speaks highly of the support system set in place by the Irish Film Board. “Suddenly, there’s this great creative spotlight on Irish storytellers who are telling very confident stories, and it’s the result of a healthy funding situation.”

One of Ireland’s most provocative indie filmmakers is Terry McMahon, who debuted with the polarizing “Charlie Casanova” before releasing the award winning mental-health drama “Patrick’s Day,” starring Moe Dunford, and which is getting U.S. distribution in March, with Alchemy and BrinkVision handling VOD and DVD, respectively.

“The thing about Irish independent film is that there’s something raw and very real to the stories,” Dunford says. “I find myself more emotionally invested in them.”

McMahon based portions of “Patrick’s Day” on real-life experiences. “I worked in a psychiatric hospital as an orderly and got to see the almost invisible line separating human beauty and ugliness, and how often that line can be crossed without malice or forethought when love is treated as a disease,” he says. “And I needed to convey this cinematically.”

In 2016, Ireland had the biggest representation for a country its size at Sundance, with the “The Lobster” becoming an instant sensation. Other entries included “Mammal,” “Love & Friendship,” “The Land of the Enlightened,” “Viva” and “A Coat Made Dark,” while Cartoon Saloon’s “Song of the Sea” received a 2014 Oscar nomination for animated feature, proving that a local, independently produced item can swim in Pixar-dominated waters.

And last but not least among the players in the Irish renaissance: artisans. Some of the most exciting cinematographers call Ireland home, with Oscar nominee Seamus McGarvey (“Anna Karenina,” Tom Ford’s upcoming “Nocturnal Animals”) leading the pack.

“I grew up in Armagh, Northern Ireland, where sagas and storytelling were integral to my real world,” McGarvey says. “I suppose that this tradition is very much a part of what I love doing as a cinematographer.”

Other high-profile lensers include Brendan Galvin (“Immortals”), Declan Quinn (“Rachel Getting Married”), Robbie Ryan (“Philomena”), and rising star Michael Lavelle (“Patrick’s Day,” “Cardboard Gangsters”).