From today, the Irish Film Institute makes over 1,200 minutes of domestic cinema available to the world.
Drawing on material held in the IFI Irish Film Archive, the IFI Player, a free online service, offers material dating from as far back as 1910. The viewer can enjoy newsreels, travelogues, public information films and privately shot home movies, alongside more commercial material.
No more easily accessible resource exists for enjoying moving images from so large a stretch of Irish history. Ross Keane, IFI director, commented: “The IFI Player is a ground-breaking development for the IFI, as it allows us to fulfil our mission to make our collections from the IFI Irish Film Archive available to a much broader audience base.”
Selecting the material to be digitised was no small challenge for Kasandra O’Connell, head of the archive. There are many more thousands of hours in the vaults. “There were many considerations,” O’Connell told The Irish Times.
“There is a lot of material we don’t hold the rights to. We had to work hard to clear the material. We also wanted to make sure we represented as many parts of the collection as possible. We go from around 1910 right up until the present day. It’s important that people realise the archive is constantly being created.”
The archive draws upon certain key portfolios. The Radharc Collection, comprising work made by the production company established by Father Joe Dunn, gets at endless social and political issues.
The Bord Fáilte Film Collection offers amusing insights into the version of Ireland we wanted to show the world in earlier decades: golf, coach trips, endless shots of tinkling waterfalls.
“If you think Dublin is provincial, forget it,” we hear in the unimaginatively titled Céad Mile Fáilte (over footage of the city in John Hinde Green). “It might be getting broad in the beam with age, but here are all the amenities of a modern city, curiously coupled with the gracious airs of a large provincial town.”
The sources of the footage tell their own story. A sunny film covering John F Kennedy’s visit to Ireland – “Then he went as he came, like a whisper in the dawn,” the narrator poignantly notes, just months before the President’s assassination – is presented by, of all organisations, The Columban Fathers.
“From the early material, I’d mention the earliest known Irish animation by the Horgan brothers from Youghal: The Town Hall Clock” Kasandra O’Connell notes. “They were photographers who became animators. That is from sometime in the 1910s. It’s rudimentary, but it’s the first animation we know of.”
From the more recent material, she recommends that famous (notorious?) Telecom anti-vandalism advertisement featuring a still relatively youthful Bob Geldof.
If you haven’t yet seen Bob bark that “Phone wreckers are idiots” then you know nothing of the national experience.
“You may remember it,” O’Connell laughs. “It features a version of Another Brick in the Wall. After a lot of asking for many years to get it cleared we finally managed it. It’s not that modern. It’s from around the Live Aid era. But it’s brilliant for a lot of different reasons.”
One wonders how the Irish Film Archive and future incarnations of the IFI player will address the present. Until relatively recently, footage of Irish life was rare and precious. Now, everybody with a phone is an amateur documentarist.
"That's true. But as time progresses, the digital material will become special again. Very few people who are creating this content are preserving it. It won't exist. Nobody knows what's going to happen with that." For more, see ifiplayer.ie