After hearing that there was someone who had read out a manifesto stating that there was a ‘new wave’ in Irish cinema my interest was piqued. Who would have the audacity to say that the system as it stands is not the future on foot of the Box Office success of The Guard? Director Mark O’Connor (Between the Canals), fresh from having two films premiere in the Galway Film Fleadh, read this out before one of them. But how does the document stand up? Is his theory on the new wave of Irish film ahead of its time at best or premature and a little pretentious at worst?
The first thing to say is that this is a brave thing to do for a relatively unknown filmmaker. There is no real advantage in some ways to putting yourself out there like this and inviting scorn. The overall message of the manifesto, it seems, is to provoke a reaction and start a discussion as to where our National Cinema is heading. O’Connor is not without confidence (one of his new films is called Stalker: that takes nerve) and one hopes that this doesn’t backfire on him within the industry. In general terms I would not disagree with most of what he says. I think that the availability of cheaper equipment and the use of internet raised funding initiatives have fundamentally changed how films can be made. I think that if a slew of films were made this way what would happen would be relatively in keeping with what happens in other countries. There would be some really bad films (not everyone that can pick up a camera should) but there would also be some bold and challenging ones. There may even be a masterpiece or two in the next few years. I think the keys to the executive bathroom in Ireland’s filmic world have been out of bounds for too many people for too long. Other voices need to be heard if we are to have any hope of growing our cinematic output and reputation in the future.
I am on the record as being a Charlie Casanova fan but I also know I am in a minority. I think O’Connor was to some degree detrimentally divisive by stating that you either liked it (Charlie Casanova) or you didn’t recognise how good it was or indeed understood it. The film is somewhat problematic and while there is every chance its reputation may be enhanced in the next few years it is simply wrong to dismiss critics of the film as people that do not understand it or that are just too used to the Hollywood formula. Let it be called a bad film if needs be. It is every critic’s right to call a film crap if they so choose and the people that did, should be engaged in this debate as much as anyone else. If there is a new wave of Irish film there needs to be inclusivity and support to help it along. Pushing people who ‘don’t get it’ to the side will not help. I think while O’Connor talks of this as the beginning of protest film it is not necessarily to be taken literally. He could be talking about the fact that low budget filmmaking can be more daring and radical because of less financial risk. The manifesto could seem to be a call to arms in this regard.
So will there be a long lasting effect of all of this? O’Connor’s films were warmly received at Galway and there is an optimism that there are other films coming along that could do well. Silence by Pat Collins is in cinemas at the moment and doing quite well. It is a terrific film, well reviewed and seems to have found a niche audience. Citadel and Pilgrim Hill were two other films that were talked about enthusiastically at Galway with the latter singled out for praise by Donald Clarke in the Irish Times. That this film was made for next to nothing would seem to bear out O’Connor’s general point about micro budget filmmaking within the manifesto and it is a point that is worth considering.
There are some interesting films being made here, some with tiny budgets and skeleton crews. If some of these films can get distribution on a regular basis there is cause for some optimism that we can have a National Cinema that can compare to others. And if we can find an audience in the cinemas on a regular basis for films that would not need much to claw back investments it could be a successful future model for our films. But O’Connor has to be careful not to alienate people within the industry too much. There should be room at funding level for micro budget filmmaking but that does not mean that bigger budget filmmaking should be ignored. It is my opinion that the money for bigger budget filmmaking should only come when there is satisfaction that the screenplay is production ready. There have been films made for considerable amounts of money over the last few years that clearly could have benefitted with more work on the script. I will not name names but anyone with an interest in Irish film will know what films they are. I think that there is room for more eclectic and less formal filmmaking at the micro budget level where the risk of investment is less severe. An increase in the amount of low budget films produced here over the next few years would be exciting but perhaps more importantly if they could get distribution and marketing behind them, there may well be an audience for them as well.
I would like to know where people who are involved or indeed just care about our National Cinema stand on this issue. You can leave comments below on this subject and I will answer and debate each one. You can also engage in a discussion on twitter with me (@jaycoyle) if that is your preferred media. I am hoping to interview some people in the Irish film industry to get their thoughts on our cinematic future. Indeed my first interview will be published on this blog very soon. That interview is with the writer of the Irish film manifesto himself, Mark O’Connor. He had some interesting things to say about our cinematic past and future. If you are involved in the film industry in Ireland and you would like to be interviewed, please contact me here or on Twitter and I will get back to you. My aim is to have a broad selection of interviews on my site to see if there is any consensus or vision as to how we see our National Cinema’s future.