24 July 2024 The Irish Film & Television Network
’99 - A Year in Irish Film
23 Dec 1999 :
12 months and a lot of grieving later and the Irish Film Industry gets to see out the Millennium intact. Nicky Fennell glances back to see how it all panned out.

Perhaps the easiest way to sum up the past year is to acknowledge the fact that in this, the inaugural year of the Irish Film and Television Awards, the panel had to trawl back over the last three years in order to fill all the awards categories. Let’s face it, how many Irish features from the last year are going to appear in the multitudinous ‘best of’ columns that are going to flood our printed press over the next fortnight. Any suggestions? And this in a country which, according to Jan Battles in last week’s Sunday Times has the highest level of movie-goers in Europe.

But the intention of this article isn’t to slag off Irish films (except maybe for “Agnes Browne”). In many respects 1999 has been a fine year for the industry. In much the same way that the Irish football team will be the better for not qualifying for the European Cup or the World Cup (Portugal and Holland? getoutahere) because they won’t have to suffer the indignity of serious hammerings from real teams, so the industry has had a good year in that it’s finally stepped back from the heady production days of “Braveheart” summers and started to get its own shop in order.

That’s not to say that there wasn’t some interesting stuff released in ’99. Paul Tickell’s “Crushproof”, Nichola Bruce’s “I Could Read the Sky” (OK, technically not Irish but try telling that to an American), Syd Macartney’s “A Love Divided”, John Lynch’s “Night Train”, Conor McPherson’s “Saltwater” and Britain’s latest adoptee Damien O’Donnell proving he can do it on the world stage with “East is East”.

On the short’s front we had Kirsten Sheriden’s Short Cut, “The Case of Majella McGinty” (which won the Cork Film Festival), Enda Walshe’s (of the soon to be filmed “Disco Pigs” fame) “Not a Bad Christmas”, Orla Walsh’s “Blessed Fruit”, Barry Dignam’s “Dream Kitchen” and Audrey O’Reilly’s “In Loving Memory” which has the distinction of being the first Short Cut selected for Clermont Ferrand festival in France.

And despite all the whining, there was plenty of production going on throughout the year; Thaddeus O’Sullivan shot the third ‘general’ adaptation, “Ordinary Decent Criminal” with Kevin Spacey, Pat Murphy finally got “Nora” up and running with Ewan McGregor, Bob Hughes brought us the highly anticipated “St Patrick - An Irish Legend”, Gerry Stembridge wrapped “All About Adam”, John McKenzie did “Though The Sky May Fall”, Vinnie Murphy did “Accelerator”, Hell’s Kitchen did “The Borstal Boy” and “The Laughing Suicide Club”, Samson did “The Most Fertile Man in the World” and “The Rat” Eoin Moore shot “Connemara” in Connemara, Declan Lowney shot “Thanks For the Memories” with George Wendt and Amanda Donaghue, and Indi Films finally got Kevin Liddy’s “Country” in the can. Roddy’s bringing us “When Brendan Met Trudy”, Concorde Teo shot “The Club” with Jonathan Pryce and “The Doorway” with Roy Scheider (I think they’re cutting costs by limiting the syllables in their titles)….And that’s not mentioning all the TV work and animation that went on. You could add another eight films to the above list if it wasn’t for the Isle of Man’s ‘attractive’ tax concessions, which brings me to the more problematic aspects of the current state of the industry; 481 and distribution. Distribution is a serious problem. I’m not arguing that dodgy films should be foisted on us, but it would be nice to get the opportunity to see some of the above mentioned films get a run that lasts longer then a week. In terms of shorts, to the best of my knowledge, Ronan Gallagher’s derivative “Underworld” was the only short that got a mainstream release in ’99…could we not sort something out there please ? I’m fed up of not being able to get to see shorts at our film festivals because they’re either sold out (read all available seating has been given to cast and crew) or they’re on so early my hangover won’t face up to it and I have to wait 8 months for RTE to schedule them. But let’s face it, it’s been ten years since “My Left Foot” began the boom in earnest. The time for excuses is over. Ten years is a long enough apprenticeship anywhere, yet in the main the majority of Irish releases are still sub-standard. Where’s the Irish equivalent of Lynn Ramsey’s “Ratcatcher” or Vincent Gallo’s “Buffalo 66”, low budget, well-scripted, well cast pieces of genuinely entertaining cinema that you wouldn’t be embarrassed to recommend to your friends? Perhaps some of the above-mentioned will deliver in 2000 - those who are canny enough to understand that in order to make a film you need to have lived a life and have something worthwhile to say.

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