The Problem of Gatekeeping Irish Cinema | Can We Show Something Else?

So another year, so another St. Patrick’s Day, and what is RTE’s choice of Irish film to show on the Saturday night?

Oh Christ, not The Snapper (1993) again… 

The fact is most Irish films don’t get much airplay on telly. You are far more likely to find an obscure, forgotten Irish film on Talking Pictures TV than on Telly Eireann. Even the days are gone when you’d be guaranteed Darby O’Gill and the Little People (1959), Flight of the Doves (1971) or The Fighting Prince of Donegal (1966). You remember that one? No? where the Irish characters had cut-glass accents and were played by the likes of Susan Hampshire and Tubridy-faced Peter McEnery? Only one of those films was actually shot here, but the others were at least Films with Irish Grannies. 

The problem is The Snapper is a film that is no longer seen as ‘gas’ or ‘craic’. The thing is too, unlike The Commitments (1991), it is not particularly remembered elsewhere. I was listening to the British podcast Looks Unfamiliar, where Scouse host Tim Worthington called it ‘the little remembered sequel to The Commitments’, while across the sea, the film is about as well known as The Empire Strikes Back. However, I feel that maybe its appeal is really only limited to Dublin, or perhaps what the Montrose bods think is Dublin, i.e. the people of Carrigstown. 


And of course, the idea of the country’s national film being a COMEDY where a not-quite-teenage mother gets pregnant via rape by her friend’s fifty-something da? 

Where are the seasons of Irish films? Not just new stuff, and old reliables like Ryan’s Daughter (1970) or Michael Collins (1996) or the other Barrytown films, or paddywhackery like the disowned-by-Graham Linehan The Matchmaker (1998) but forgotten stuff or stuff that doesn’t get shown much? Where’s the showings of the work of Pat Murphy, Tom Collins, Thaddeus O’Sullivan, Aisling Walsh, Mary McGuckian, Joe Comerford and Pat O’Connor? Steve Barron’s Rat (2000)? Lesser Neil Jordan like Angel (1982), The Miracle (1991), and even High Spirits (1988)? Hell, I am sure even Taffin (1988) would pull in an audience.

Why not The Dead (1987), a film that feels more appropriate to celebrations of Irish culture? The Ballroom of Romance (1982)? Rawhead Rex (1986) would probably be more suitable to the festivities, attracting pissed-up revellers to laugh at a monster ravaging a pseudo-Glenroe rural Wicklow…

As I said, boiling all of Irish cinema down to a few recent hits and a few US and BBC2 Screen Two co-productions is unfair to us who champion Irish cinema when it is so rigorously gatekept. 

 Then again, I wonder why the charming Anglo-Irish Christmas cartoon special The First Snow of Winter (1998), the last work of Dermot Morgan, and starring the now more popular than ever Miriam ‘Mimzo’ Margolyes as an Irish duck, doesn’t get revived. 

I’ve already written about this syndrome elsewhere, but by rerunning The Snapper and its siblings constantly means one is rewriting the story of Irish film. It’s ironic a few weeks ago BBC Four showed another Screen Two film made in Ireland at around the same time, The Railway Station Man (1992). This was a much more higher profile project, reuniting Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland from Don’t Look Now (1973), and set and filmed in Donegal. But despite having two major stars, this film is vanishingly rare, and though not a great film, being a rather cliched Troubles era romance, I was glad to actually see that it has been released from the archive, while RTE show the same terrible Irish film again and again, rather than give a platform to a slightly less terrible Irish film from the same era. 

Where are the seasons of forgotten Irish films? Even films from ten years ago are forgotten. By rerunning the same select few films (I.e. the work of Sheridan, the bigger Neil Jordan pictures, etc), it creates and gatekeeps an image of Irish cinema as smaller and less unique. Even films by known directors get left out. So many Irish films exist merely now as ex-rental DVDs from Xtravision. And to reduce all that work down to ‘Sharon Curley is pregnant?’ Feels wrong. We have such a surprisingly varied cinema, we should not boil it down to a few overrated films.

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