ecently Screen Producers Ireland hosted a discussion panel on the nature of
documentary filmmaking in Ireland and its potential prospects. Most of the panelists, which was made up of producers, distributors and funding bodies, agreed that, in terms of qualitative output, documentary filmmaking in Ireland is in robust health, but that a number of issues exist in the area of funding, distribution, and particularly with Section 481.
The panel came as part of the Irish Film Institute's Documentary Film Festival, an annual event that showcases some of the best of Irish and international documentaries. In this selection where a number of Irish films that could easily go toe to toe with the best from around the world, including the winning film The Man Who Wanted to Fly and Ross Whitaker's Katie Taylor biopic, Katie.
But then as the panelists at this discussion were well aware of we Irish are very good storytellers and documentary is a format in which we have panned quite a lot of gold. The most recent evidence of this was Crossing The Line Films and director Emer Reynolds winning an award from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine before picking up an Emmy for Outstanding Science and Technology Documentary for their feature documentary The Farthest.
On this evidence, and others, we definitely have the content to be world players in the documentary space. And the large internationals streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime are keen for this content, as much as the multitude of international broadcasters, So what's the disconnect between the content and the audience?
Much of it lies in what the panelists could easily identify. There is a lack of joined up thinking between the funding bodies: Screen Ireland, the BAI, and the broadcasters, Screen Ireland has a narrow scope for documentaries, funding projects for cinematic distribution for a total of roughly €1.5m a year. The BAI gives a far larger percentage of its budget to documentaries, but they come with the caveat that a broadcaster be attached. Then the broadcasters are their own story with all feeling the pinch of declining advertising revenues and increased competition.
Where it really becomes a mess is when Section 481 comes into play, or doesn't as the case may be. The qualifying language for documentaries is flowery at best and open to interpretation from all sides. Clarity as to what qualifies and what doesn't is essential so that a project knows where it stands as it starts development. And even more important is clarity around the extension of 481, which is a concern for the entire industry. The tax credit has been a huge boon to the industry, but this unknown after 2020 coupled with the systemic issues of processing applications and the inherent delays are a threat to the entire audiovisual industry.
We can make great docs, we truly can. We just need wisdom and leadership to allow us to bring them to the world.
CinÉireann / Issue 9 5