Filmbase, the Temple Bar-based training and facilities resource for the independent film sector, is to enter voluntary liquidation with the loss of 13 jobs following an on-site audit this week.
The organisation, which has acted as a funding hub and support for several generations of filmmakers since its foundation in 1986, made the announcement on Thursday following the investigation by independent auditors appointed by its prime funder, the Arts Council. The audit was initiated in response to delays in the passing on of money to recipients of the Reel Art scheme, which is funded by the Arts Council and administered by Filmbase. The scheme supports documentaries on an artistic theme.
Film director Paul Duane, one of the recipients of this year's Reel Art funding, told The Irish Times he had been informed before Christmas that his application had been successful. He had been surprised at the length of time it had then taken to go to contract in February, which he said had seemed unnecessary.
“It shouldn’t have been as complicated as a Film Board contract; Filmbase were simply administering a grant,” he said.
Mr Duane was supposed to receive the sum of €40,000, representing 50 per cent of the overall grant, by the time filming was scheduled to commence on March 14th. However, he was told by Filmbase that the money would not be forthcoming at that point.
Last week, he informed the Arts Council, which he said “caused alarm bells” to ring in that organisation.
In a statement released on Thursday afternoon, the Arts Council said it became aware of financial difficulties at Filmbase on Monday, March 5th.
“We sought immediately a detailed account from the company on a number of matters and gave the company until Thursday 8th March at 5pm to respond. A satisfactory response was not received.”
The Arts Council appointed independent auditors to further investigate Filmbase’s finances. The auditors arrived on the site in Temple Bar on Tuesday, March 13th and, one day later, the Filmbase board confirmed that it was going into liquidation. All staff have been laid off.
Website shut down
The Filmbase organisation’s website has been shut down and replaced with a single page carrying a statement “from the Filmbase team” announcing the liquidation.
“It is with great sadness that the staff, management and board of Filmbase announce that, after thirty two years of serving the Irish film community, the organisation is coming to a close,” the statement said.
“Filmbase has been fighting for many years against difficult financial circumstances and as a not for profit organisation that fight has always been a tough and challenging one. Debts which had accumulated at the organisation had reached a point where it was unrealistic for Filmbase to continue operations. This is a decision which has been reached with great sadness by all involved and the organisation will now move into voluntary liquidation.”
Filmbase served as a source of funding, a provider of equipment and a conduit of information to developing film-makers. From 1987, it acted as the publisher of Film Ireland magazine, whose editors included Hugh Linehan, now Irish Times arts and culture editor.
It also offered inexpensive editing facilities and equipment hire. Recent projects supported by Filmbase include Mark O'Connor's hugely successful Dublin gangster feature Cardboard Gangsters.
“We are co-operating fully with the Arts Council audit and are working to give them all the information they have requested,” said Filmbase’s director, Alan Fitzpatrick.
The sudden financial crisis came as a shock to most in the film community.
Irish film-maker Lenny Abrahamson, Oscar nominated for Room, was among those who availed of Filmbase's services in the early days.
"It's very sad news that that Filmbase is to close," he told The Irish Times.
“I remember being at what must have been some of the earliest meetings, over three decades ago, and hearing the people who founded the organisation talking about what they wanted to achieve. Back then, at the end of the ’80s in the dark days before the Film Board was reinstated it was really the only place which offered help and support to people who wanted to make films.
“In the years since, and with limited resources, Filmbase has largely lived up to its aims, supporting filmmakers, funding shorts and providing practical film education. I certainly borrowed equipment and used spaces there in the early phases of my career. I’m genuinely very sorry to see it go.”
Filmbase was awarded €250,000 in annual funding last year. When, last year, the Arts Council did not receive an up-to-date set of audited accounts from Filmbase, the Council placed a stop on funding.
Filmbase was, therefore, not able to draw the final 10 per cent, or €25,000, of its 2017 funding, and has not been able to access the €125,000 it was offered for 2018. That offer has now been withdrawn.
"We are particularly concerned that money owed to two artists awarded under our Reel Art Scheme managed by Filmbase has not been paid," the Arts Council's spokesperson said. One of those films is Mr Duane's. The other is a documentary on the Irish engineer Peter Rice by Feargal Ward.
The Irish Film Board was among the organisations expressing surprise. "Since 1986, Filmbase has been a crucial cornerstone of Irish film and has played an important part in Ireland's cultural landscape," James Hickey, CEO of the board, said.
“Filmbase has always been a place of development and nurturing for Irish filmmaking talent, and has provided a launch-pad for the careers of many creatives now working in the sector. We are incredibly sad to learn of today’s news.”