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Documentary Makers Ride the Celtic Tiger

By Betsy McLane

When the central government of a nation state chooses to spend money to subsidize independent documentary screenings, it’s clear that its economy is booming. Such is the joyful case with the first Doclands film festival and market held in Dublin, Ireland.

The much-vaunted Celtic Tiger has delivered energy, color and a shiny patina of hipness to the Temple Bar area of Dublin, home to the National Film Theatre and headquarters to Doclands. Unprecedented growth has undoubtedly created its own pressures: Traffic in Dublin seems at gridlock, except that there is no grid. As with every economic upturn, some traditions are lost and some people are left behind, and in Ireland there is inevitably the shadow of “the Troubles.” Documentary makers, however, known worldwide to be able to ferret out money even in bad times, have obviously benefited from the boom. There is high-quality production and a wealth of stories and ideas from makers both new and seasoned.

The market catalogue announced 40 production companies and 15 broadcasters/ distributors in attendance. The producers included young makers like Ross Murray and Michael Lennon, who have shot a first project, need completion money, have three more good ideas in development and are brand new to the documentary world. There were also veterans like Independent Pictures, in business since 1978 producing many multi-part series for BBC Northern Ireland, and RTE (Irish National Television).

In between was a fascinating spectrum of documentary talent, keen on creating product with wide marketability that expresses an Irish perspective. Individuals like Dearbhla Glynn and Michael Clyne are ready to storm the television barricades with varying mixtures of passion and business sense. Among the revelations at the market was the work of Loopline Film, made vivid in the person of Sé Merry Doyle, a man making films that live up to the poetic promise of his name. Singled out at the festival’s opening night ceremonies for his contributions to the beautiful The Travellers of Ireland, Doyle also plays a major role in creating Loopline gems such as Alive Alive O!, an exploration of the lives of street vendors in Dublin that transcends local politics to touch the deeper humanity inherent in great documentary.

Broadcasters, distributors and counselors present at the market included the ever-knowledgeable Bettina Hatami of Discovery Cannel, Tue Steen-Mueller of the EDN, Steve Seidenberg of Câfé Productions, Lion Television, RTE, Oregon Public Broadcasting and US Independents. There were also a limited number of product and service exhibitors. The meetings were very informal, held in a small câfé adjacent to the exhibits and a few steps from the Film Centre. Although there was some initial confusion in getting reps together with producers, the helpfulness and goodwill of market organizers ION prevailed, and most people connected.

The Irish market, because of its small size, obviously is never going to play a huge role in world sales. What the country has to offer to documentary audiences and programmers is much the same as the great gifts it has given to literature and music. There are talented, passionate, highly articulate individuals—both artists and businesspeople—who bring their special storytelling sensibilities to the documentary. The Irish government, the corporate sponsors and ION are all to be congratulated for bringing these groups together and promoting their voices to the rest of the world.


Betsy A. McLane, Ph.D., is Director Emeritus of the International Documentary Association.