Screen Ireland searches for its next storyteller-in-chief

Role as head of film, TV and animation agency is more appealing now than in 2011

Stars of Bafta-nominated and Oscar-tipped Irish co-production The Favourite. Photograph: Peter Nicholls/Reuters

Stars of Bafta-nominated and Oscar-tipped Irish co-production The Favourite. Photograph: Peter Nicholls/Reuters

 

“Want to be part of Screen Ireland’s narrative?” reads the job advertisement for one of the most important cultural positions in the State: chief executive of the organisation that also goes by the name Fís Éireann and was until last summer known as the Irish Film Board/Bord Scannán na hÉireann.

As many in the Irish industry were already aware before it was announced this week, James Hickey is moving on from the role at the end of his current term in June 2019, having served a three-year extension to what was initially a five-year gig. Hickey, a lawyer who was previously head of media and entertainment law at Matheson Ormsby Prentice, will be a hard act to follow.

Anyone convinced they can do better should be mindful that he too had “many views about what the film board should or shouldn’t be doing” before he took the gig in 2011. Making them happen is another thing entirely.

The role is more appealing now than it was seven years ago, not least because after years of dispiriting cutbacks, funding of the national development agency for the film, television and animation industry is on the up again. After much lobbying, Screen Ireland is set to be the recipient of the Government’s promise to provide €200 million in funding over the next 10 years.

Its involvement in television drama, reflected in its name change, is also a better-established principle now than it was eight years ago – as it should be. Much of the writing, directing and acting talent once employed solely on the big screen has transferred to the small, encouraged by an explosion of financing from players such as Netflix and Amazon. With a more supportive Government policy, the Irish industry should be able to compete more convincingly for a piece of this and other money.

Over Hickey’s tenure, Screen Ireland/Irish Film Board-backed projects such as Room, Brooklyn, The Breadwinner and current awards magnet The Favourite have garnered critical acclaim.

But the Screen Ireland role is not merely about securing the Irish industry’s place at the international co-production table. It is about giving Irish “narratives” a passport to fly: reflecting recent welcome initiatives within the agency, the job ad seeks a leader “committed to diversity and equality”. The Irish film industry needs, and deserves, more than one type of narrator.

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