Ireland's art films, fag ash and all


The Irish films at this year's JDIFF show that works of variety and originality can get to the screen without Hollywood-scale budgets

SPEAKING AT A public conversation in the Irish Film Institute this week at the festival, Simon Perry, chief executive of the Irish Film Board, suggested domestic cinema kicked into gear only with the arrival of Neil Jordan in the early 1980s. "It's incredibly young," he said. "We don't have that tradition of expressing ourselves visually." He went on to make an interesting point about the objectives and challenges facing our film-makers. "We occasionally try to ape genre film-making," Perry mused. "I often say: 'You have to face up to the fact that we are making art films.'"

You can see his point. Working with budgets that would barely cover lavatory paper on a Hollywood movie, Irish film-makers are always going to have troubling delivering the glitz and gloss that characterises mainstream cinema.

That acknowledged, the array of Irish films on display at this year's Jameson Dublin International Film Festival does demonstrate that variety is possible on a shoestring.

The Ireland on Screen panel featured representatives from films that - though unlikely to challenge Iron Man 2 in the box office charts - should appeal to a busy spectrum of demographics.

Conor Horgan's One Hundred Mornings,in which bickering couples fare badly following societal collapse, has the look of a post-apocalyptic fable, but also exhibits old-fashioned theatrical craft in its well-honed, poetically repetitive dialogue.

Kan Wardrop's His & Hers, a deliciously original film, in which women from the midlands discuss the men in their lives, blurs the line between documentary and drama very effectively. Kate McCullough, director of photography on His & Hersand a recent winner at the Sundance Film Festival for her work on the film, was on hand to explain how it was done.

The most surprising Irish film on display this week was, however, Mark O'Connor's Between the Canals. Inner-city Dublin has often been the subject of Irish films, but few previous releases have got so close to the exhaust fumes, car alarms and fag ash. The film is certainly rough and ready, but there is much raw potential on display.

"I have always been interested in Irish cinema," O'Connor said at the event. "But my real influences were films like La Haineand Mean Streets." Also on stage was actor Darren Healy, who bullishly suggested that Brendan Muldowney's Savage, a revenge drama in which he stars, was going to pull in serious numbers of punters to Irish cinemas. The film does certainly demonstrate that, despite Perry's concerns, the bobs and weaves of the contemporary thriller can be achieved without reaching for the fat chequebook.

It is also worth noting domestic cinema's increasing interest in the immigrant experience. The searing, unrelenting Foxes, from Slovakian film-maker Mira Fornay, proves there is more to Irish film than Irish film-makers. The picture, which concerns a girl's horrible experiences pinballing around Dublin's grimmer corners, could have been set in any European city. Indeed, Mira confirmed that it was originally set in Dublin. We are now properly of the world.

Not all the Irish films at JDIFF have been good. But it cannot be denied that the industry is producing a variety of material that would have been inconceivable a few short decades ago. "A friend of mine once said there are two types of Irish film," Horgan said. "Films with priests in them and films without priests in them." Funny, I used to know a guy who said that all Irish films were about "priests falling off bicycles." Happily, those days seem to be gone.