From tales of nostalgic remembrance to descriptions of enduring rituals, documentarians Jeremiah Cullinane and Bartolomeo Dibendetto have travelled the Emerald Isle collecting narratives for their upcoming film See You at the Pictures!.
which is expected to be completed by the end of this year, paints a picture of Ireland’s surprisingly avid cinema-going
Already known for fuelling the country’s rich literary tradition, James
Joyce, one of the country’s most influential writers, set up Ireland’s first official
venue for showing films, Dublin’s Volta cinema, in 1909. While the Volta has
since closed, today the Irish have the highest per-capita
cinema attendance in the world, according to the most current
international data, compiled by The Economist. Thirty-eight percent of
residents aged 15 to 35 reported going to the movies at least once a month in 2010, and the
year prior saw a total of 28.8 million visits to the movies, impressive for a
population of just 4.5 million.
Cinema appreciation in Ireland can be traced back to the final years of
the 19th Century, when eager Dubliners would gather in the city
centre to watch silent films incorporated into variety shows. Around that time,
the earliest known film footage shot in Ireland, of Dublin’s O’Connell Street
in 1897, was recorded by a cameraman for the French inventors the Lumière
brothers (who invented the device he was using just two years prior). He was
the first of many foreign filmmakers to fall in love with the country.
In 1910, silent filmmaker Sidney Olcott, a Canadian-American of Irish
descent, became the first Hollywood director to shoot an on-location movie when
he travelled to County Kerry to make A Lad from Old Ireland. John Ford, the
Irish-American filmmaker who holds the record for the most Academy Awards for
directing (four), also made several movies about Ireland, starting with a 1935 adaptation of the Liam O’Flaherty novel
The Informer. His best known Irish movie to date, though, is The Quiet Man, a 1952 Oscar-winning film
shot in County Mayo about a retired Irish-American boxer, played by John Wayne,
who returns to the Irish town he was born in.
Later films by foreigners, including Ryan’s Daughter (1970) by
English director David Lean and Barry Lyndon (1975) by American director
Stanley Kubrick, pulled in local talent, exposing international audiences to
Irish actors who were already famous at home. Although these films did very
well abroad, local critics
worried that internationally directed projects drew on stereotypes of Ireland
being primitive yet idyllic and the Irish being short-tempered drunkards.
After Ireland became free from the British in 1922 (when the War of
Independence resulted in the declaration of the Irish Free State), the
government, with the support of the Catholic Church, passed the Censorship of
Film Act. The law restricted native Irish filmmakers who wanted
to wholly portray everyday life in Ireland on an international stage, wrote Roderick
Flynn and Patrick Brereton in the Historical
Dictionary of Irish Cinema. Over the next 50 years, official film censors banned
3,000 Irish-produced movies and cut 10,000 more, according to Kevin Rockett’s
book Irish Film
Censorship. Yet Irish writer
Isaac Eppel still managed to get his influential 1926 narrative film about the
War of Independence, Irish Destiny, made.
It wasn’t until the 1970s that Irish-born filmmakers truly found their
voice. The “first wave” of Irish cinema included directors, like Bob Quinn, Pat
Murphy and Cathal Black, exploring socially conscious themes and avant-garde techniques.
Quinn fought Irish
stereotypes, Murphy told women’s stories from a female perspective and Black
experimented with unusual plotlines and characters.
Eventually, in 1981, the Irish Film Board was founded by the government
to both promote both the national film industry and Ireland as a destination
for on-location shooting. Though the agency disbanded for a period between 1987
and 1993, the government was beginning to understand just how economically
significant moviemaking in Ireland could be. New, industry-friendly tax laws helped
contribute to the growth of the “second wave” of filmmaking, and more movies
were made in the 1990s in Ireland than ever before, setting the stage for the
country’s illustrious filmmaking future.
In 1989, Jim Sheridan’s My Left Foot was an Academy Award winning
film set in and around Dublin based on the autobiography of Christy Brown, an
Irish writer and painter with cerebral palsy who used only his left foot to
type and paint. In 1991, director Alan Parker used a cast of unknown actors in The Commitments, adapting Roddy Doyle’s popular novel about a group
of out-of-work young Dubliners who pool their musical talents and start a soul
band. In 1992, Neil Jordan’s dramatic thriller The Crying Game told the story of IRA members
who take a British hostage. Following these successes, In the Name of the Father starring Daniel
Day-Lewis came out in 1994, Michael Collins starring Liam Neeson in 1996,
and Angela’s Ashes staring
Emily Watson in 1999.
There is no better way to understand how Irish cinema has evolved over
the decades than to experience it today. The Savoy, which primarily shows commercial
movies, is Dublin’s
oldest cinema, dating back to 1929. Classic Irish films and well-reviewed
independent pictures, both local and international, can be seen at Dublin’s Irish Film Institute, which has been very successful in
preserving national film culture – compiling archives of Irish films and
providing public opportunities for arts education. Currently, the IFI is
showing a documentary about John Ford’s
The Quiet Man, 60 years later.
Screen Cinema, which
has been operating since the 1970s, also shows classic movies, as well as Irish
and foreign independents. Upcoming films include a documentary about
the Metropolitan Opera in New York and a live viewing via
satellite of the Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow.
matter what time of year it is, there is bound to be a film festival going on
in some part of the country. This summer, there is the Galway Film Fleadh; in autumn, there’s the Underground Cinema Film Festival in Dublin and the Kerry Film Festival; winter brings the largest feature film fest in Ireland, the Dublin
International Film Festival; and, in the spring, the Belfast Film Festival is one of Northern Ireland’s main
you go to explore the cinematic landscape, know that you are continuing a great
Irish tradition, simply by sitting back, relaxing and enjoying the show.
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