By Philip Gray
DUBLIN — The Irish Audiovisual Industry, the cinema, the movies, going to the flicks, call it what you will — things have never been so good in Ireland for film production. The IBEC audio visual federation reports significant growth despite the reduction of section 481 (formerly section 35) tax relief on investment from 100 percent to 80. What all this means is that there will remain plenty of investment, competitive prices for foreign productions to make their films in Ireland, and, more obviously, plenty of home-grown projects, and plenty of jobs for writers, producers, directors, cast and crew.
Indeed, upcoming releases reflect the current good health of the Irish industry. Here’s a look at what’s on the horizon, near and far:
"Dancing at Lughnasa"
Recently completed, the mega-hyped "Dancing at Lughnasa" boasts a stellar cast that features Meryl Streep, Michael Gambon, Sophie Thompson, Brid Brennan and Rhys Ifans, and equally strong production values. It is directed by Pat O’Connor, produced by Noel Pearson and written by Brian Friel (adapted from the hugely successful stage play).
The film is set in rural Ireland in 1936. Europe is about to embark on the madness that is to become World War II. Through that summer, on Europe’s fringe, in Ballybeg, Co. Donegal, five spinster sisters of the Mundy family shelter in their small home with their brother (Michael Gambon), a priest returned from Africa, and Michael, the love child of the youngest sister, Christina. The film is seen through the boy’s eyes.
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Secrets and sorrows begin to appear, shattering what was peace and tranquillity, as Michael’s father, a Welsh man, Gerry Evans, turns up on his way to Spain to fight for Franco in the civil war there.
Streep, who plays the oldest sister, will surely attract the attention of the Motion Picture Academy. "Lughnasa" will have a limited New York release on Nov. 13 in order to qualify for the Oscars.
"Waking Ned Devine"
Also due out soon is "Waking Ned Devine." Here we see two lifelong friends, Jackie and Michael, both skilled at getting into trouble, learn from the city newspaper that the national lottery has been won locally. They conspire to find the winner, figuring that the ticket holder is in their sleepy Irish village of Tulaigh Mor. These smart boys should have no trouble convincing the winner what a good idea sharing the winnings would be.
The film features some great performances and fine comic moments from the cast, which includes Ian Bannen, David Kelly, Susan Lynch, Eileen Dromey and James Nesbitt .
Written and directed by Kirk Jones, "Waking Ned Devine" will be released in New York, Los Angeles and Toronto on Nov. 20.
Meanwhile, a release date of Dec. 18 has been confirmed for the John Boorman film "The General." The is the first of three scheduled films based on slain Dublin crime boss Martin Cahill, who was known The General.
Cahill, played by Brendan Gleeson, is depicted here as both an intelligent rogue who plays the legal system like a violin as well as a violent and dangerous thug.
"The General," a guns and action crime thriller, also features Jon Voight (a favorite of Boorman’s since "Deliverance") as Garda Ned Kenny, the policeman whose job it is to lock up Cahill . A series of japes and robberies provide tremendous entertainment for Cahill and the gang, as well as for the audience, until he falls foul of the paramilitaries.
"The General" was shown in competition in Cannes, winning Boorman the award for Best Direction.
Besides Gleeson and Voight, the film features Angeline Ball, Maria Doyle Kennedy (both from "The Commitments"), Adrian Dunbar ("Hear My Song"), Brenda Fricker ("My Left Foot") and Sean McGinley.
There are many other titles to look out for in the new year, though some will not get a general release. These can be seen at the festivals and there should be no stigma attached to independent cinema or, indeed, short films. Here is a selection from the next generation of Boormans, Jordans, Breathnachs and Sheridans:
"Divorcing Jack" stars David Thewlis playing a journalist for a Belfast evening newspaper who gets thrown into the political turmoil of Northern Ireland after a night of adultery. Cheating on his wife with a beautiful student, he finds that he’s the prime suspect after the student is found dead.
"All Souls Day"
"All Souls Day" is a low-budget story about a mother trying to find out why her daughter drowned seven years earlier. Written and directed by Alan Gilsenan, this 78-minute offering from Yellow Asylum Films shocks and entertains. A revelation.
"Bogwoman" is the story of the political awakening of Maureen, a young, unmarried mother from an island off Donegal who moves to Derry in the late 1950s to marry her boyfriend, Barry. Maureen gets drawn into the new political realities that emerged at the beginning of the Trouble’ in the 1960s.
The 84-minute film is written and directed by Tom Collins and produced by De Facto Film & Video.
"The Last Bus Home"
It’s the end of the 1970s. The pope is coming to Ireland and not everybody is interested, punk rock is at its height and rebellion is for the young. Punk babe Reena escapes convention with the assistance of her grandmother — a rebel from a previous generation. In the deserted streets of her suburb, she tracks down Jessop, a punk guitarist. Their attraction is immediate and, by the time her parents return, renewed from the pope’s blessing, Reena and Jessop have sealed their unholy alliance in other ways.
"The Last Bus Home," by Bandit Films, is written and directed by Johnny Gogan, and produced by Paul Donovan. The soundtrack is by Cathal Coughlan of the Fatima Mansions. The 93-minute film stars Annie Ryan, Brian F. O’Byrne, John Cronin, Donal O’Kelly, Anthony Brophy and Gemma Craven.
"Night Train," starring John Hurt, directed by John Lynch and produced by Tristan Lynch, is shot in Dublin, Venice and on the Orient Express between Paris and Venice. It is a strange film dealing with the recently released ex-con (Hurt) going on the run with the loot before the boss finds him, but not before he has time to fall in love with the spinster whom he lodges with. She too is willing to flee from her drab life and overdomineering mother.
"Ordinary Decent Criminals"
"Ordinary Decent Criminals" is the next of the Martin Cahill/gentleman gangster stories. It stars Kevin Spacey but is not due out until late 1999.
"How to Cheat in the Leaving Certificate"
"How to Cheat in the Leaving Certificate" is a great romp and will be appreciated by anybody anywhere who has had to take a final exam. Here six students mastermind a way to get the exam papers early. There’s a great cameo from Shea Healy, that Eurovision and TV guru, as a security guard. I look forward to
In "Crushproof," formerly known as "Hooligans," a lad is released from prison in Dublin and goes on the run with his old gang. He soon finds out that the gang is not as he remembered it and feels his lifestyle and that of the horse-riding urban cowboys are numbered. Barebacked and roughshod, these cocky young lads are enjoying their last ride. The film is directed by Paul Tickell and stars Darren Healey, Jeff O’Toole, Viviana Verveen and Mark Dunne.
"Lipservice," starring Sean McGinley ("Dancing at Lughnasa") is only 18 minutes long but one of the funniest films you’re likely to see anywhere. Like "How to Cheat in the Leaving Certificate," "Lipservice" too has a go at the Irish education system, dealing with the oral Irish examination. It is directed by Paul Mercier and produced by Fiach McGonghail.
And there’s more
Among the documentaries to keep an eye out for at festivals is "Southpaw," about boxer Francis Barrett of Galway, the first traveler to make it to the Olympics. This film follows Francis as he strives to achieve his goal of winning an Olympic medal for Ireland and represent Ireland in the Olympics .
Also, Conor McCourt, son of actor and author Malachy and nephew of "Angela’s Ashes" author Frank, directed "The McCourts of New York," a touching and often funny recounting of the McCourt brothers’ childhood that includes footage of the boys with their mother, Angela.
Short films worth noting include "Happy Birthday to Me," which was nominated for Palme D’Or in Cannes and winner of best European short in Barcelona, "My Dinner With Oswald," a story about the assassination of JFK reenacted at a dinner party that was directed by Paul Duane, and "Love and Death on Rapid Transit, which introduces a dog called John Wayne.
Also, "The Farmer’s Wife" explores the strange relationship between a young, sophisticated woman and loutish farmer. "Zanzibar," a crime thriller about getting the better of the boss, is directed by Chris Roche. And "Flying Saucer Rock and Roll," which stars Ardal O’Hanlon of "Father Ted" fame, is, as perhaps expected, just mad.