NUI Galway, Ireland | Published: 15 March, 2010
ISSUE 5 | Pages: 203-255 | PDF | DOAJ | https://doi.org/10.24162/EI2010-2486
At the launch of the 2008 annual Irish Film Board Review — complete with flowing wine, a lavish publication and complementary DVD compilation (Irish Talent on Film Vol. V) — CEO Simon Perry, still recalling the success of Once — stated that there had never been a better time for Irish cinema. There had never been so many co-productions in the pipeline, films in development, in production or about to be released. In spite of such ebullience, 2009 didn’t in reality feel like a Golden Age for Irish cinema and we were denied the opportunity to hear the Irish Film Board’s current prognosis of the industry as, in keeping with the new culture of public sector austerity, there was neither launch, publication nor DVD compilation in late 2009. That there is still a Irish Film Board is something of a miracle in itself, for it has been a year of prolonged economic and cultural (not to mention environmental) shocks in Ireland that resulted in unprecedented curtailments of public spending — a situation comparable to the one that brought about the premature disbanding of the first Irish Film Board in 1987. To understand why this action wasn’t repeated involves consideration of a number of factors including changes in the globalization of the culture industry and Ireland’s place in it, the cultural and psychic legacy of the confidence engendered by the Celtic Tiger years, the elaborate and extensive infrastructure (education, training, facilities, equipment) that grew up around the audiovisual and cultural sector during the good times, the international success of Irish cultural producers — in film, music, drama and literature most notably — over the past two decades, and the awareness of the value of an “indigenous” Irish culture in an increasingly multicultural society and open economy. A hugely significant factor however, was how sophisticated the sector itself has become in arguing its own case for sustained state support.
Too late for inclusion in last year’s review was mention of the 2008 PricewaterhouseCoopers report commissioned by The Irish Film Board “to inform a new landmark strategic plan for the audiovisual content production sector” (http://www.filmboard.ie/files/Final%20AudioVisual%20Sector%20Survey%20Report-1.pdf). The report was valuable on many fronts, not least because it refreshed statistics that were well out of date, but especially because it increased the scope of its findings beyond the bald production data of earlier reports to consider the “real economy” of the industry. Thus we discovered that “the sector is valued at over €557.3 million, employs over 6,000 individuals and represents 0.3% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP)”. We also learnt that the sector employs 6,905 individuals and that an estimated 567 companies operate comprising production companies, post-production companies and service providers. There is provocative and real detail in the findings on “freelancers” — a sizable bulk of the industry: that 90% are under the age of 50 and the majority are male, with earnings between €2,500 and €150,000 in 2006 and 2007. Freelancers are “a well educated group with 59% having achieved either a Degree, Master/ Postgraduate Degree or Doctorate/ Post Doctoral Degree — only 2% of freelancers have no formal qualification at all.” For all the emphasis on, and attention garnered by feature film production, the report notes that the area of post-production has experienced the largest growth in recent years — with a sizable proportion of employees earning €35,000 per annum. Here then is objective evidence of the much vaunted “knowledge economy” — the buzz concept at the heart of much recent Government discussions on education and future growth — or the basis of it.
The depth and subtlety of the report was always going to be useful in informing future strategy but as the 2009 progressed it became, literally, vital. In a bid to stop the haemorrhaging of public money in the aftermath of a spectacular collapse in tax receipts, the government appointed economist Colm McCarthy to chair a committee (aka “an Bord Snip Nua”) charged with identifying where savings might be made. The resulting, “McCarthy Report” (published in July 2009 and properly titled “Report of the Special Group on Public Service Numbers and Expenditure Programmes”) was broad-ranging and cold-eyed in its targets. In relation to the IFB it proposed that “… sector-specific agencies such as the Irish Film Board, should be merged within a re-constituted Enterprise Ireland.” It argued that “The discontinuation of Irish Film Board and investment fund” would garner savings of some € 20 millions. The logic of this action was based upon the premise that the IFB was fundamentally an “enterprise activity” — along with organizations such as Bord Iascaigh Mhara, Bord Bia (the fish board and food board respectively) — that “sold” Ireland at home and principally abroad. It was a daft misunderstanding of the board’s activities but nonetheless its argument for consolidation was one being applied across a range of public bodies and “qangos” (quasi non-governmental organizations), which proliferated in time of financial plenty.
The IFB responded, speaking the language of the economists:
The funding provided through BSÉ/IFB attracts additional finance that today supports an increasing level of private sector employment. The growth potential of the audiovisual content industry, as an essential component of the Smart Economy strategy, represents one of the best prospects of employment for young people seeking jobs in the future. For these reasons we believe it is important, in the context of the immediate crisis in the public finances, to ask Government to consider carefully the economic impact and employment consequences of this particular recommendation.
And consider it, the government did. To the surprise and delight of many, McCarthy’s myopic view of the function, significance and indeed economics of indigenous film was quickly rejected by Minister for Arts Sport and Tourism Martin Cullen, who said that “earmarking the Irish Film Board for closure was an ‘horrific approach’”: He had fought to keep the 100 per cent tax exemption last year because it helped to generate a €150 million industry; Both the IFB and “Culture Ireland”, which promotes and advance Irish arts internationally, generated “far, far greater return” for the State than the money put into it in the first place. Elsewhere, far from simply defending the value and importance of the arts to a society at large, Cullen suggested that the cultural sector would become central to Ireland’s future economic policies:
Culture is really at the centre of what we’re going to do going forward . . . It’s the biggest growth area, in spite of the world downturn, that’s going to come over the next 15 years.
In fact, so foregrounded were economic arguments in defence of the film sector that any trace of intrinsic merit seemed a secondary consequence, at best. Even when the IFB seemed to summon “soft” values in defence of its continued existence,
To be taken into consideration also are the consequences for Ireland if it were to become the only developed country in the world producing no films for the cinema, and thereby losing the most powerful tool available for establishing and sustaining its cultural identity abroad . . .
it quickly reassured the Minister for Finance: “Almost one in two US tourists to Ireland now state that their decision to come was triggered by seeing Ireland in the movies.” Never mind that most of those movies were likely made long before the existence of the second film board. The perception of the IFB as primarily an artistic — rather than marketing — institution was bolstered by Neil Jordan in a provocative comment that quickly became a rallying point for the wider arts community: “So many institutions have failed the Irish people . . . the banks, the construction industry, the Church
Myth and Murder in The Daisy Chain
Troubles Cinema: Five Minutes of Heaven & Fifty Dead Men Walking
“Looking at the Stars”: TV3 adapts Lady Windermere’s Fan
Masks and Faces: Identities
Being Digital — Irish cinema and digital production
The Yellow Bittern
Donal Donnelly: An Appreciation
Sketching Success: Brown Bag Films go to the Oscars
Ondine (Neil Jordan, 2009)
The Finite Televisual Narrative: Pure Mule, The Last Weekend
This Sporting Life: Waveriders (Joel Conroy, 2008), Saviours (Liam Nolan and Ross Whitaker, 2007)
Savage Sounds (Brendan Muldowney, 2009)