Academic journal article Estudios Irlandeses - Journal of Irish Studies

Being Digital-Irish Cinema and Digital Production

Academic journal article Estudios Irlandeses - Journal of Irish Studies

Being Digital-Irish Cinema and Digital Production

Article excerpt

Within Europe (for which read the European Commission), new technology has long been identified, if admittedly in a somewhat vague fashion, as a potential means of reversing a century of US dominance of global screens. From its inception as a pilot project in 1987, the European Union's MEDIA programme has devoted a significant proportion of its funding to training media professionals in the use of new media production (i.e. digital) technologies to enable them to leapfrog over their US counterparts. It remains a key focus of the current Media 2007 programme which stresses the importance of supporting projects which aid European audiovisual professionals in "adapting their technical skills to digital technologies". (1)

To its credit the EU has also recognised the need to address structural deficiences in European film-making which are less amenable to a "technological fix". However, there remains a remarkable faith in the power of technology to "solve" the problem of European cinema. One study on Spanish cinema published in Convergence identified digital technologies as a universal panacea for that industry:

   Digital technologies offer the opportunity to
   modernise the industry, bringing with it financial
   savings and easier distribution, which in turn offer
   the possibility of not only increasing revenues, but
   also widening the reach of Spanish cinema. (2)

Though somewhat less breathless in its identification of the potential of digital media, Screen Training Ireland has also long been convinced of the critical need for investment in digital training. When the national training body commissioned McIver Consulting in 2000 to report on the future training needs of the industry, the resulting document repeatedly stressed the importance of digital media, going so far as to recommend that Digital Media Sector Training be treated as a stand-alone strand in FAS's operations and recommended devoting a third of all screen-training expenditure to the area:

   FAS/Screen Training Ireland should undertake a
   new initiative to provide the business, creative
   and technical training that individuals and
   companies in the film, television and animation
   sectors need to take advantage of opportunities
   available in new markets for digital media.
   (emphasis in original). (3)

Although the opportunities deriving from the exploitation of digital technologies identified by these institutions relate to digital distribution and exhibition as well as production, it is the manner in which Irish film-makers have adopted digital effects/computer generated imagery which prompts this contribution to this year's review.

In theory, this discussion could have begun several years ago, most notably with the completion of the short film Prey Alone (of which more anon) in 2004. However, since then it has become obvious that there is a cluster of Irish film-makers--James Mather, Stephen St. Ledger, Ruairi Robinson and Nick Ryan--who are deploying CGI in a consistent pattern and with apparently similar objectives. Between them, they have produced and released five or six digital effects-laden short films since 2004 including Prey Alone (2004), Silent City (2006), A Lonely Sky (2006), The German (2008) and Bad Robot (2010). And, appropriately given their digital nature, most are available on Youtube in HD format.

Although all the individuals above have been working in aspects of film and commercials production since the mid-1990s, the founding text of the "movement" is unquestionably the Film Board supported Prey Alone. Anyone who has seen it in the context of a screening of a series of Irish shorts must have been startled by it: the narrative follows an unnamed figure pursued by shadowy elements of the US government, but who persistently evades capture. But though toying with a combination of blockbuster film/computer games conventions, the story is of secondary importance to the stunning visuals. …

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