Let me set the scene: November 2006, Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth is about to start in a half-full screening in Cineworld. The narration of this unconventional fairy tale commences and the subtitles begin to appear. Then some random guy shouts at the screen: “Oh, come on! I don’t want to have to read the movie!” Guy walks out of the cinema. Can this event be taken as a microcosm of Ireland’s treatment of foreign cinema?
The Jameson Dublin International Film Festival (JDIFF) was launched a few days back, and as any other year many cinema fans will lay out a plan to watch as many movies as possible at the festival; they know they’ll have no access to some of those at a commercial screening again. The question here should be if Ireland is partly disconnected from European and world cinema. Dublin is one of the cities with the highest attendance per capita in Europe. Are distributors willing to offer varied cinema programming to this numerous audience?
The JDIFF is an opportunity to see Italian, Danish, Brazilian, Romanian, Ethiopian and an endless list of other nationalities represented in the screens all over Dublin. Looking at the IFCO website (www.ifco.ie), for wider releases from March until May we see a very different picture. There are about 40 movies with confirmed dates. From these titles the 75% are films in English, seven of them come from the UK and four from Ireland. Nearly half of the remainder are Japanese animation movies and the other 12.5% are productions from Italy, Argentina or Sweden coming to our screens nearly a year after they have been released in their country of origin.
There are other ways to enjoy foreign film in Dublin. We have the French Film Festival at the IFI, or the premieres organised also in collaboration with the French cultural institute, the Alliance Française. Mood Indigo (2013) by Michel Gondry comes to mind as one of the events that was successfully organised under their auspices. Also, initiatives do exist, such as the film club CineCafé, a collaboration between Instituto Cervantes (the Spanish cultural centre) and the Pearse Public Library, to give the chance to watch cinema in Spanish regularly. Or the Short Shorts from Europe Festival organised by EUNIC (European Union National Institutes for Culture) shown at the IFI and the Cork Film Festival, showcasing the best short films of the year from a wide range of European countries. However these are few and far between and do not benefit from widespread publicity.
The Lighthouse Cinema, mostly dedicated to commercial art movies and international cinema opened in 2008 after a twelve years break, in its new location in Smithfield. After three years, the Lighthouse experienced financial problems that forced their founders to take a new break until 2012 when they reopened its doors again. This third time, the programme included some commercial titles and the cinema has traded successfully since. Why was it impossible for the Lighthouse to survive with solely art and international programming?
And then of course you have the already mentioned IFI, where you may be able to watch a variety of foreign, as not-in-English, movies. A pretty skimpy selection some may think, that combined with Cineworld’s offer can help you approach those more successful titles. But, the IFI brings scarcely a representation of what is in offer in the continent and the timing just doesn’t feel right sometimes. Think about Persepolis (2007), one of those European films of incredible success. The adaptation of the best-selling graphic novel by Marjane Satrapi, won the Jury Prize in Cannes. However, the release date in Ireland was almost a year later than in France.
Last year the screening of The Wind Rises during the Japanese Film Festival at the Lighthouse, was absolutely packed and I wonder if that is a good indicative about the audience in Ireland or at least Dublin being ready to watch foreign films, whether they have to read them or not… Although Japanese animation seems to have a healthy representation in the commercial screenings in Dublin, perhaps due to their having an English dubbed version (as opposed to just a subtitled version) available at the time of its release.
Whether the guy in Pan’s Labyrinth is the ‘man in the street’ or he does not represent the local audience, is that risky for a distributor to follow the trends of other capitals in Europe? Is it so alien to allow for successful titles at International festivals to be shown in Dublin?
The Europa Cinema’s, the international network of the cinemas for the circulation of European films, exists as a distribution channel through the IFI and the Arts Centres throughout the country. So we may not be only talking about a distribution issue. Perhaps the media have a part in this lack of interest in subtitled films being available. Educating the audience is giving them the chance to see and appreciate different productions; this may be the key to a wider access to European and world cinema.