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NI Screen panel discussion debates the state of the Northern Irish film industry

Is the Northern Irish film industry sliding into recession along with the rest of the economy or will it prove to be credit crunch proof?

Like many phlegmatic financial analysts, the panel of experts convened by QFT to debate the state of Northern Irish film-making balance their enthuasium for the industry and its growth potential with a warning that its future is really ‘too early to tell’.

Daragh Carville, screenwriter of home-grown film Cherrybomb (now in post-production), doubts that there is an industry with a ‘capital I’. The other speakers, Cherrybomb’s directing duo Glenn Leyburn and Lisa Barros D’Sa and producer Mark Huffam are less pessimistic, arguing that it is an ‘exciting time’ at the moment. It’s an adjective that’s frequently repeated: relatively speaking, something is always more exciting than nothing.

Nevertheless, confidence in the industry is high. Belfast has been buzzing with movie-making activity recently. In 2007, Tim Robbins and Bill Murray filmed City of Ember, released last week. Before that Heather Graham was filming on Botanic Avenue. At grassroots level, Queen’s Film Theatre has begun Short Shots, an ongoing screening of locally-produced short films.

But can this level of activity last? Huffam, head of Northern Ireland-based Generator Entertainment, stresses repeatedly the potential swiftness of film growth. Still in its infancy, Generator is working on the proviso that more is merrier, with several productions in the can and more in the pipeline. Huffam believes that the next five years will be crucial for industry development.

He also notes that the key to sustainable growth is a home grown industry, given that Hollywood productions will come and go. NI Screen and their cohorts in the press have, understandably, been going gaga over the spectacle of a big American production in town, but such visits have a limited lifespan. Wherever the tax breaks are, the nomadic studios will follow.

Media-wise, City of Ember is already last week’s news. If there is going to be a real ‘industry’ here, Northern Irish filmmakers are going to have to build it up for themselves.

Leyburn and Barros D’Sa will undoubtedly be a part of that process. Cherrybomb is the story of two Belfast boys chasing the same girl, one played by Harry Potter’s Rupert Grint in a curious coup. The trailer displays a mark of professionalism that’s impressive for a debut feature.

All members of the panel enthuse about the talent and enthusiasm on offer in Northern Ireland. This may be true, but if that talent is left untapped it is all diffuse energy in the end.

The point is to create structures that take advantage of the camcorder-happy postgraduates of the country. According to the panel, NI Screen, with their increasing involvement in the early development of ideas, are doing a good job of this so far.

Carville notes that, at the moment, it feels like an industry is being born, but that at this stage it is unclear whether there is going to be something ‘distinctly Northern Irish’ about it.

Ultimately, this point is neither here nor there. Any identity imposed from above is going to be partial and insufficient. What is important is the quality of the story it tells – not its contribution to any national ‘idea’.

Structures need to be put in place to locate the best storytellers we have, and give them the outlet to tell their stories. Companies like Generator Entertainment and NI Screen have begun building for the future from the bottom up, but whether Northern Irish film-making is entering a bull or a bear market remains uncertain.

Conor Smyth


Original article can be found here at Culture Northern Ireland I October 15, 2008

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