Virgin Media rolls out red carpet for Dublin International Film Festival

Media group seeking to ‘reinvigorate’ festival in first year as title sponsor – Tony Hanway

The Dublin International Film Festival will be red on more than its carpets next month as Virgin Media Ireland begins its first year as title sponsor of an event it wants to help "get its mojo back".

The Liberty Global-owned broadband and pay-TV company's sponsorship will be "more than a logo", according to Virgin Media Ireland chief executive Tony Hanway ahead of Wednesday's launch of the event's programme.

The festival, which runs from February 20th to March 3rd, will open with a gala screening of director John Butler's new film Papi Chulo and will close with Wild Rose, starring Bafta Rising Star nominee Jessie Buckley.

Virgin will also put its name to a mid-festival gala screening of Fighting With My Family, a wrestling-themed comedy drama by Stephen Merchant, while Buckley, Merchant and Butler will be among the creative talent present during 12 days of more than 100 films.


“The festival has gone through a few incarnations, and some years it has had a far higher profile than in others,” Mr Hanway said. “We want it to be a grower. This won’t be a boutique sponsorship, and you will see that reflected in the messaging on the street and on the screen.”

Virgin Media succeeds Audi as the title sponsor, while before the carmaker’s three-year deal, the festival had been supported since its inception by whiskey brand Jameson.

The 2018 festival was hurt by last spring’s severe weather, which led to cancellations of screenings on four of its 10 days. Difficulties in securing big names, meanwhile, led to the festival moving in 2015 to the second half of March – an experiment that was not repeated.

“There is a general feeling that the festival could be reinvigorated. That’s what everybody is working towards. Everybody thinks it could and should be a great event, and some times it has been,” Mr Hanway said.

“Maybe in recent years it has fallen off a little, but the plan is for it to get its mojo back.”

‘Careful’ support

The festival's main funding comes from the Arts Council, while other partners and funders include Screen Ireland, Dublin City Council, the Merrion Hotel, Wide Eye Media and Windmill Lane.

“This was something we were careful about stepping into,” the Virgin Media boss said.

“We don’t really want to be doing the sponsor-a-jersey type thing – the multi-year, multi-million stuff that locks up a lot of your commercial budget. This is a nicer way for us to get into something that is perfectly in tune with what Virgin Media would like to stand for.”

He declined to give a figure on the sponsorship, but said it was “a substantial enough three-year commitment” that “sits very nicely with our ambitions in TV”.

Virgin Media Television, which Virgin acquired in 2015 when it was known as TV3 Group, will show a season of Irish films to coincide with the festival, while the broadcaster is also planning a short film competition in which the prize is a spot on its schedule.

Virgin's association with the film festival comes at a time when tensions have surfaced in the international industry between exhibition-favouring Hollywood studios and big-spending, on-demand platforms such as Netflix.

“The ecosystem has become more complicated and more crowded on the content side. Netflix is only the advance guard. There are a lot more streaming services to come, everybody knows that. But it is not a problem for Virgin Media. We are an aggregator of content and we are happy to sit in the middle of it.”

Mr Hanway, who described himself as a “Light House and IFI cinema-goer” in reference to two Dublin arthouse cinemas, said he remembered people predicting “the end of the motion picture” in the 1970s.

Laura Slattery

Laura Slattery

Laura Slattery is an Irish Times journalist writing about media, advertising and other business topics