Culture Shock: The Irish film industry needs belief, strategy, and . . . action

Just as with the rest of the economy, there has never been a coherent long-term Government strategy for developing an indigenous industry

Band substance: Diarmuid Noyes and Killian Scott in ‘Good Vibrations’, which made some impact on the Irish box office in 2013; none of the films in the top 10 was Irish

Band substance: Diarmuid Noyes and Killian Scott in ‘Good Vibrations’, which made some impact on the Irish box office in 2013; none of the films in the top 10 was Irish

Sat, Mar 15, 2014, 01:00

While we’re celebrating Irish culture this weekend, it might be worth pondering the extent to which it actually exists. There are of course rich, vibrant and distinctive Irish artistic activities. But a culture, arguably, is less about the creation of art than it is about its reception. It’s about the existence of an audience. It’s a space in which the things that artists do are understood, reacted to, spoken about, criticised. Does Ireland have a cultural sphere, a public discourse, that operates on its own terms? As with everything Irish, the answer is yes and no.

It’s obvious enough in some areas that, alongside the highly globalised cultural market in which we consume the latest products of Hollywood and HBO, there is a local market. The books we buy, the TV we watch, the plays we attend, the music we listen to, the visual art we appreciate: all have a significant indigenous flavour.

But there are also areas in which an Irish culture in this sense barely exists. If, for example, you were to look at Ireland through the lens of the movies we actually attend you’d struggle to convince yourself that it is a separate place at all.

Take a look at box-office returns for cinemas in 2013. In Denmark the top-selling movie was The Hobbit : The Desolation of Smaug . But a close second was Kvinden i buret ( The Keeper of Lost Causes ), a thriller in Danish written, directed, shot and acted by Danes and financed by Danish money. Going through the cast and crew, I couldn’t find a single name that does not seem Danish until I came to the Hamburg Studio Strings, who played the (Danish-composed) score.

And this is no one-hit wonder. Next on the box-office list is Jagten ( The Hunt ), the Thomas Vinterberg drama that went on to get an Oscar nomination. Also in the top 10 are Alle f or En 2 , Min Søsters Børn i Afrika , and Spies & Glistrup . Half of the top 10 movies that Danes went to see in cinemas last year were made in Danish by Danish directors and technicians, starring Danish actors.

This is, admittedly, exceptional: the Danes have done a superb job of creating an indigenous TV and film industry. But in most of the smaller countries in Europe it is normal for at least some local films to trouble the box office. In 2013 in the Czech Republic, three of the top eight films were local; in Sweden two of the top five; in Croatia two of the top five; in Belgium three of the top seven; in Hungary one of the top three; in Norway two of the top seven; and in the Netherlands two of the top seven.

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