May I remind Senators that the House has agreed already that the Second Stages of items Nos. 2 and 3 will be taken together?
Irish Film Board Bill, 1979: Second Stage.
Because this Bill and the National Film Studios of Ireland Limited Bill both relate to the development of the film industry in Ireland, I propose for the sake of convenience to cover both Bills in this speech.
It may surprise a number of Senators to learn that in Ireland there is a long tradition of film making going back to the early days of this art form. The films of Sydney Olcott and the Film Company of Ireland in the early part of the century are notable examples. In recent years interest in film making here has centred on the shooting of many of the scenes for international feature films and the growth of Irish film making in the documentary and short feature areas. These activities, however, have not resulted in the establishment of what might be regarded as an Irish film industry. Many recommendations, proposals and suggestions have been made over the years for the establishment and development of such an industry. For one reason or another none of these ideas has come to fruition. Notwithstanding our present economic difficulties, the Government, at my suggestion, have agreed that the time is now opportune to provide the framework within which a film industry in Ireland might develop. Needless to say the Government themselves cannot create such an industry but hopefully can provide the necessary encouragement and incentives for those who can.
By the establishment of an Irish film industry I mean not only the making of films in Ireland but also the development of Irish entrepreneurs who will take a leading part in organising the financing and production of films, of producers, directors, scriptwriters, cameramen, lighting technicians, editors, sound recordists, designers, make-up artists, craftsmen, technicians and the various people who together make up a film industry. Such an industry would produce not only short films but feature films for world distribution, both for television and for cinema.
In considering the need for an Irish film industry, account should be taken not only of the factors applicable to industrial development in general, such as creating employment and attracting foreign exchange, but also of a number of major benefits, mainly non-economic, resulting from having films made in Ireland. These benefits include the development of artistic and technological skills, the indirect promotion of tourism, the promotion of cultural values and public relations and providing a potent means of presenting this country, its heritage and its people to the world and of keeping Irish people in touch with their distinctive environment. It is, I think, relevant to point out that Ireland is one of the few European countries which lacks a specific scheme of inducements of one kind or another to encourage the development of film making.
In 1968 the Film Industry Committee, under the chairmanship of Mr. John Heuston, the well-known film director, submitted a report to the then Minister for Industry and Commerce making recommendations for promoting the development of a native film industry in Ireland.
The committee's main recommendations formed the basis of the principal provisions of the Film Industry Bill, 1970, which lapsed in early 1973. The object of that Bill was to set up a board who were to have the function of furthering and encouraging the development of an Irish film industry. The board themselves were not intended to engage in film production but were to have been empowered to make or guarantee loans for film making, subject in certain cases to prescribed financial limits. Following the acquisition of the Ardmore Film Studios by the Government in July 1973 it was decided that the format of the Bill would have to be changed to take account of the new situation. In any event certain sections of the 1970 Bill were contrary to the provisions of the Treaty of Rome.
The Government, in July 1973 authorised the purchase of the land, premises and equipment of the former Ardmore Film Studios International (1972) Limited, Bray, County Wicklow, which were being sold at public auction by the receiver. These assets were purchased through Radio Telefís Éireann on behalf of the then Minister for Industry and Commerce for a total of approximately £450,000, including fees. RTE took over the studios in September 1973 and acted as caretaker-managers on behalf of the Minister for Industry and Commerce pending the establishment of permanent structures to operate the studios.
I understand that the Government believed at that time that the establishment and maintenance of well-equipped film studios operating on commercial lines was an essential prerequisite for the development of a film industry in Ireland in that if the studios were to be closed permanently the emergence of an indigenous film industry producing feature films would become less likely.
On 4 June 1975 the Government approved a proposal by the then Minister for Industry and Commerce to establish a company, to be known as National Film Studios of Ireland Ltd., to take over and operate the studios. The business of NFSI is that of renting studios and other premises — offices, dressing rooms, and so on — and equipment to film producers who are making films in Ireland. The company also make available sets, fittings and furnishings to theatrical producers. In both cases charges are designed to cover the costs of providing these facilities and to yield a profit. Similar facilities are provided on a commercial basis to advertising agents and firms making short commercial films for television or cinema. A major function of NFSI to date has been to persuade film makers, both foreign and Irish, to use their facilities.
Employment on a full-time basis in NFSI is being provided at present for about 60 people. Additional employment during periods of feature film activity has been provided by the company and directly by production companies filming in Ireland. Overall, however, the level of what could be termed significant film making projects attracted to the studios has been disappointing and has fallen far short of what would be necessary to make the operation of the studios viable and capable of ensuring a reasonable continuity of employment for Irish personnel involved in the industry.
One of the main reasons why NFSI are unable to keep the studios operating at full capacity is the company's inability to offer any financial incentives to film makers. This places the studios at a marked disadvantage as almost all the other member states of the European Communities and a number of important third countries offer varied incentives and inducements in respect of film-making. For example, in the United Kingdom the Eady Levy, based on a tax on box office receipts, is designed to attract foreign investment, since the opportunity of obtaining an additional bonus from the levy makes it financially more attractive to produce a film in Britain. In the Federal Republic of Germany and in Denmark, national film institutes provide financial assistance to producers, exhibitors, scriptwriters and assistance in film promotion and distribution. In Canada, the Canadian Film Development Corporation provide financial investments for feature films, loans to producers and training grants.
Excluding the expenses incurred in the purchase of the studios, direct Exchequer grants totalling £1.5 million have been made available to date to cover principally the company's administrative expenses during periods of inactivity. In addition, NFSI have, with ministerial approval, obtained a bank overdraft of £850,000 which has been used mainly for capital development. A significant level of capital expenditure had to be undertaken in order to bring the studios up to the highest international standards, in the absence of which there would have been even greater difficulties in the procurement of business. While the company have had some success in attracting film business since they commenced operations, overall the company's experience illustrates their inability to generate a satisfactory level of business without the availability of some form of financing incentives. This is a point that NFSI made forcefully shortly after it was set up. Again early in 1977 in a proposal to the then Minister for Industry and Commerce, NFSI suggested that the proposed film industry legislation should provide for the establishment of a film financing and distribution company that would be a subsidiary of NFSI.
On taking up office in July 1977 and following a re-appraisal of the overall position of film making in Ireland, including NFSI's failure to generate sufficient business to make their operations viable, I decided to seek independent advice on systems of finance for film making and on possible methods of making the studios viable. I engaged Messrs. A. D. Little Ltd. of London, international consultants, to undertake this task and they reported to me in May 1978. In addition to the consultancy advice, officials of my Department — and indeed I myself — had numerous meetings during 1978, 1979 and 1980 with groups and individuals involved in the film industry here. These groups included the board and management of NFSI, representatives of the trade unions and the Irish Film and Television Guild, the Association of Independent Producers of Ireland, the Arts Council, RTE and a number of independent Irish film makers. These meetings were normally held at the specific request of those involved. The views of the interested groups and individuals were considered in formulating my legislative proposals in consultation with my colleagues in Government.
I have adopted a pragmatic approach to the legislation and to the level of financing involved and have tried to take account of the needs of all interests involved, the NFSI, the independent Irish film makers and the technicians and artists. It is easy to be critical of such proposals depending on where one's own interests lie but I think the time is now opportune for all the people who wish to be involved in the film industry here to work together in order to make the legislation a success. This is a unique opportunity and, because of the many calls on the Exchequer, is likely to be the only opportunity the industry is given. I am sure there is a substantial body of opinion in this country who will feel that the money involved in these proposals could be put to much better use in the national interest. It will be up to those involved in the film industry to prove them wrong.
I shall now deal with the Irish Film Board Bill and then with the national Film Studios of Ireland Limited Bill.
The provisions of the Irish Film Board Bill are set out in the explanatory memorandum which has already been circulated. The Bill provides for the establishment of a board which shall have overall responsibility for the promotion and development of film making in Ireland and for the operation of financial aid schemes designed to further these ends. The board will have considerable flexibility in their operations and in relation to the administration of the fund of £4.1 million. This is a departure from the terms of the 1970 Bill which had the disadvantage of being too rigid and not allowing the board wide enough powers. Subject to such terms and conditions as they think fit, the board may invest in or make a loan, a guarantee or a grant towards the cost of the making of a film in the State. In addition, the board may provide grants for training and provide moneys for general activities in keeping with their general functions. I expect that the main preoccupation of the board will be to get films made here and that the bulk of the finance available to them will go in this way.
I will be looking to the board to adopt a business-like approach to prospective projects and will expect that the potential viability of each project will be a major consideration for assistance being given. Some of the projects will be international feature or television films with good employment and training potential for Irish actors and technicians, while others will be projects by Irish film makers a number of whom have shown themselves in recent years to be capable of producing works of high technical and artistic merit. I should stress, however, that the board will not be in the business of giving gratuitous handouts as this would not be of long-term benefit in an area which, the Government intend, will eventually have to be able to stand on its own feet without State support.
I do not intend at this stage to indicate who might be on the film board. Obviously, particularly dedicated individuals will be required, a number of whom should be able to carry out an objective and critical assessment of both the commercial viability and artistic value of individual projects and be able to read and evaluate scripts. It is my intention that the board would appoint a very small permanent staff and would have available to them, in whatever may be the most appropriate capacity, persons with expert knowledge and experience of the many facets of film making and distribution.
Since the Bills were presented to the Dáil on 26 November 1979, I have received little in the way of concrete reaction, suggestions, proposed amendments, and so on, apart from a joint submission from the Association of Independent Producers Ireland, the Irish Film & Television Guild and the Irish Transport & General Workers' Union. Perhaps on the other hand, I should interpret this as indicating general satisfaction with my proposals.
I would now like to deal with the main points which have been raised in relation to the Irish Film Board Bill: firstly, that the general functions of the board should be extended specifically to include such areas as film distribution and the establishment of a National Film Archive.
I am, of course, aware of the importance of distribution in the context of film making, and I will deal with this in greater detail later. Naturally, the board will have to devote considerable time and energy in considering this whole area. However, I do not think that it is appropriate specifically to spell this out under the proposed functions of the board as it would be rather unfair to commit the board to becoming involved on a statutory basis in this area in advance of giving them an opportunity to consider the matter in more detail. But perhaps more importantly, there might be a temptation for some film makers to subrogate entire responsibility for distribution to the board and to blame them for the possible subsequent commercial failure of the films concerned. There was considerable debate on this issue during the passage of the legislation in the Dáil but I was not convinced that distribution should be specifically included as part of the board's statutory functions.
Again, while I recognise that the establishment of a film archive has merit and that this is another matter which the board will have to consider, I nevertheless feel that there should be no statutory obligation on the board to get involved in this area at the very start.
The establishment of an archive could be fairly expensive and could present certain technical /administrative difficulties and I therefore feel that it would be more prudent to await an in-depth study of this whole question. In my opinion, the main pre-occupation of the film board should be to get films made and if they become too deeply involved at an early stage in ancillary matters, it could have a detrimental impact on their operations. Notwithstanding these remarks, I should say that in the course of the passage of the Film Board Bill through the Dáil, I did introduce an amendment to section 4 (1) at the specific request of certain Deputies. This amendment puts down a marker in the legislation in relation to the establishment of an archive without placing a specific statutory obligation on the board in this regard.
A fundamental criticism that is contained in the joint submission from the AIPI/Irish Film & Television Guild/IT & GWU is that the Film Board Bill does not give expression to what I might refer to as an "Irish dimension" and linked to this is their view that not less than 80 per cent of the fund should be used to assist in the making of films by independent producers whose normal operation and residence are in Ireland.
I should say at this stage that the proposed film legislation has been very carefully drafted in order to avoid possible objections from the Commission of the European Communities on the grounds of discrimination against other member states. As I said earlier, the 1970 Bill had been discriminatory in certain respects as it included restrictions on grounds of nationality. In fact, my Department have successfully secured the Commission's approval of the texts of the two Bills although the Commission has requested full details of the proposed method of operation of the board and the criteria for the provision of assistance as soon as the board are formally established.
Nevertheless, in the course of the passage of the Film Board Bill through the Dáil, I indicated that I was prepared, if the parliamentary draftsman could come up with the appropriate words, to incorporate a non-binding reference in the Bill to give expression to an "Irish dimension". This amendment is now incorporated as section 4 (2) of the Bill and, although I have some misgivings about the need for such a subsection, it does, I hope, indicate that I am prepared to accommodate, in so far as is possible, the views of the independent Irish film makers and that I am adopting a reasonable and open-minded approach to this matter.
I am not prepared to specify how the fund of £4.1 million over four years might be split between films predominantly using the facilities of the studios and film making activities by independent Irish producers. Indeed, it would be dangerous to make such distinctions as the fund is experimental in nature and only experience will show how it may be effectively operated. Furthermeore, it seems to me that it would be improper to impose any statutory obligation on the board to cater for any specific group, and that it is more appropriate to leave it to the discretion of the board to decide which individual projects should be supported.
However, I think it is important to make two points in this regard. Firstly, it seems clear to me that, at least in the short-term, the National Film Studios will require a limited number of international feature films to provide sufficient work for the studios and, secondly, that notwithstanding their worthwhile efforts in recent years, the ability of the majority of independent Irish producers properly to put together, manage and control commercial films with substantially increased budgets is, as yet, unproven.
In relation to section 31 of the Film Board Bill which has been the subject of some public comment, I have already said that the provisions in the Irish Film Board Bill are very broad and give the board very wide discretionary powers in relation to their general functions and the administration of the film financing fund. Indeed, this is deliberate in order to enable the board to operate in an effective and flexible manner. I envisage that the provision enabling me to give directives to the board would only be used very infrequently and in relation to important policy issues. I can confirm to the Seanad that there is absolutely no intention that I would interfere in the day-to-day operations of the board or in the selection or rejection of individual film projects for assistance by the board. In the course of the passage of the Film Board Bill through the Dáil, I incorporated an amendment to section 31 which excludes artistic aspects of a film from ministerial directives under this section. Furthermore, I feel that the members of the Film Board would welcome guidelines from the Minister on the general policy which might be adopted.
It must not be forgotten that the Minister of the day has an obligation to the Oireachtas to ensure that the film financing fund is spent in the best possible interests of the development of the film industry and that, given the very broad provisions in the Bill, the Minister should have the power to rectify any obvious areas where the Board might be departing from a prudent overall policy.
I believe that there have also been expressions of disappointment in some quarters about the level of the fund, that is roughly £1 million a year over four years. We are a small country and the calls on the Exchequer are many and varied. Although the fund may be regarded as low in absolute terms and in relation to film production budgets, it is relevant to point out that in the UK, with a population 19 times our own, the National Film Finance Corporation have operated in a modest way since 1949 on a very small revolving fund. As I said earlier, given the present difficult economic climate and the low priority which the film industry could be regarded as having, the proposed finance is well up to what can be expected. Of course the fund, in addition to encouraging native film making, is also designed to attract international film and television projects either to be made at NFSI or on location in Ireland. A consistent level of international projects would hopefully result in a regular flow of business for the studios which should reduce the existing burden on the Exchequer of keeping NFSI in funds. But perhaps more importantly, such large scale projects could provide regular and valuable employment for many people in Ireland, not only for actors and actresses in major or supporting roles, but for extras, technicians, carpenters, electricians, plasterers and so on, involved in film making.
Such projects also have valuable spinoff benefits in the general servicing area — for example hotels, restaurants and so on — and in the promotion of tourism. They can also be important in trainimg Irish personnel in the basic film techniques. In the light of these benefits I am often surprised at the apparent criticism of international projects as if they were almost a discouragement to the Irish film makers. Surely two or three of this type of project a year, if carefully selected in order to ensure viability, are to be welcomed and could flourish in conjunction with the activities of Irish film makers.
While the obvious ultimate goal would be for Irish directors, producers, script writers and so on, of international calibre to emerge. I think it is unrealistic to expect that this can be accomplished overnight. In any event certain international features will continue to be made in Ireland either because of our natural advantages or because of a particular Irish theme, but special financial incentives will be required in other cases.
As I have said earlier, the board and the film finance fund are also designed to further native film making talent. I accept that it is only if this section of the industry blossoms that we can have a truly Irish film industry making films that reflect the Irish way of life and with Irish themes.
We have seen the emergence of a number of Irish film makers in recent years without direct State support and these people are to be congratulated on their efforts. I know that most of these low budget films would not have been possible, however, without the indirect support of the State through RTE, the Arts Council and other State bodies who have encouraged those involved. I would encourage these bodies, and indeed the major Irish companies and banks in the private sector, to consider supporting by sponsorship native Irish film makers in the years to come. As a result of the efforts of these few film makers, some commentators have suggested that an Irish film industry would develop without direct State support but, I, for one, am aware that, a number of Irish film makers have put a great deal of personal savings and have gone into debt to have these films completed. I expect, therefore that, once established, the Irish Film Board will pay particular attention to this whole area and positively encourage those involved. A cautious approach is needed however; there are limited funds and to expect overnight miracles is foolhardy.
I mentioned before the very important issue of film distribution and this was highlighted in the consultants' report to which I referred earlier. For those involved in the industry, distribution is seen as the key to survival. For no matter how good a film is, if it is not shown, it can never hope to bring a return to the film maker. Distribution is, of course, mainly controlled by the film majors who naturally give preference to their own product as part of their integrated operations. The film board will have to devote a lot of time and energy to this question. From the point of view of assessing individual projects, either international or native, a project for which there are already guaranteed distribution arrangements would have a better chance of receiving assistance from the board than one for which no arrangements had been made.
In the case of Irish film makers who would be more likely to have distribution problems because of inexperience and lack of international standing, the board would try to assist in this area perhaps by setting up a distribution office or making the necessary contacts at home or abroad. In addition, I understand that NFSI and RTE have acquired experience in this field and might also be able to provide assistance. Notwithstanding these remarks I feel I must stress a most important point and this is that there is no easy solution to the distribution problem and those in the industry should not assume that the film board will prove a panacea for all their ills. In the final analysis it is essentially up to the film maker to go as far as he can in relation to negotiating a distribution deal for his own project. Film makers cannot expect the board to provide assistance for the making of a film which will simply be deposited on the board's doorstep for distribution and for which the film maker can blame the board for its possible failure. I feel that another area which needs attention is the distribution opportunities within Ireland for Irish films and I would appeal to Irish distribution companies to be helpful here.
I would now like to turn to the National Film Studios of Ireland Limited Bill. This is a fairly standard piece of legislation and, as set out in the explanatory memorandum which has already been circulated, it is designed to give appropriate statutory backing to NFSI and regularise their position. As I mentioned earlier, the company were set up in 1975 in advance of enabling legislation with a nominal share capital of £1 million which has not been issued to date. This has meant that NFSI have had to borrow the bulk of the funds needed for capital development and the consequential financing charges have been a particularly heavy burden on the company. This burden, together with the inability of the company to attract a regular flow of film making business, has meant that the studios have been a burden on the Exchequer over the past few years. Hopefully the two Bills when enacted will improve the situation considerably by eventually regularising the capital structure of the company and providing incentives for film makers more fully to utilise the excellent facilities at the studios.
I believe that to get NFSI working on a fully profitable basis, the studios must for a few years at least depend heavily on work from international film producers, who will make films here because they can get the kind of facilities they want, and are prepared to pay for these facilities on the normal commercial scale. A steady flow of work from such film makers will provide an income for the studios which should, hopefully, put the company in a profitable position. It should also, and this is no less important, provide invaluable experience and training for Irish people working in the industry.
Although NFSI have been severely criticised in the past, I feel I must pay tribute to the members of the board, and in particular the Chairman, Mr. John Boorman, for their efforts over the past few difficult years. Mr. Boorman has served the Irish film industry very well and through his personal efforts has influenced the making of a number of films here, some of them by himself.
In fact, a feature film with a budget of some $12 million has been completed a few months ago at NFSI. This film — based on the Arthurian legend — was written, produced and directed by John Boorman and provided employment for a large number of Irish workers in the film industry for most of the first half of this year. Most of the post-production work was also carried out at the studios and it is of great significance that this film provided opportunities for young Irish trainees in all departments of the production. Mr. Boorman's international reputation and position have contributed in no small measure to any success that has been accomplished to date by the studios and this country owes him a considerable debt. I only hope that despite his many commitments in the future, he will continue to play a vital role at this important period in the development of the industry.
While developments in the last decade in the film industry seemed to be showing a trend away from studios and concentrating more on location work, the situation seems to be turning in recent years with the trend for films with a higher studio content. In fact, I believe that most studios around the world are quite busy at present because of the present buoyant situation in the film industry. However, it is my personal opinion that the film industry is one that, because of its artistic and technical nature, is not particularly suited to the State sector. The National Film Studios, nevertheless, do constitute a valuable major asset and I believe that they are regarded by people who have worked there as one of the finest of their size in the world.
In conclusion I would like to stress that the overall package of proposals contained in the legislation is experimental in nature and will be reviewed by the Government after an initial period of about three to four years to assess what further role, if any, the State will play in this area. I know that it may be too early, even at that stage, realistically to assess the impact of the board's activities but we could not continue to provide scarce State funds without reviewing their effectiveness and value to the community. As I said before, I regard the present proposals as a great challenge to the nascent film industry in Ireland and I hope they are regarded as a measure of anticipation by the Government of the future prospects of the industry and of their expectation that those who will be involved will justify this act of faith. With that in mind, I would hope that some of the divisions that have existed in the past between the independent film makers and those involved in the studios will be overcome and that everybody will work together in the hope of ultimate success.
I am confident that the Irish Film Board Bill will commend itself to the Seanad and I recommend the Bill for its approval.
May I first of all thank the Minister for his comprehensive statement? On reading the Minister's speech I got a distinct impression of an uncharacteristic tentativeness about this whole project, and possibly unexpressed doubts about it running right through the script which, in the last page, became articulated when he spoke of the venture as being an act of faith. I do not know if that is a good enough criterion on which to ask the Parliament to provide money. From the Minister's uncharacteristically tentative approach I thought that for the purpose of this Bill he might have preferred to be over here to respond to somebody else reading that long and tentative script.
Is the Bill a reaction to the persistent lobbying that appears to have been taking place in this sector for a number of years? There is no shortage of lobby groups. The fact that the Minister went to the trouble of listing all the groups with which he had to contend shows a certain amount of impatience. He listed the board and management of the NFSI, representative trade unions and the Irish Film and Television Guild, the Association of Independent Producers of Ireland, the Arts Council, RTE and a number of independent Irish film makers. It seems that the Minister has been bombarded by lobby interests for a number of years. I get the distinct impression that to get rid of them we now have these two pieces of legislation and that the Minister has not really cleared his mind as to whether or not he wants an Irish film industry, or whether he is totally satisfied that the National Film Studios of Ireland should be allowed to continue or have any real hope of being a viable institution.
Before we embark on setting up a semi-State company and providing taxpayers' money which the straitened Exchequer can ill afford, we should be very clear in our minds as to whether or not we want a film industry and, if so, why. There are a number of criteria against which we can examine whether we need such an industry. The Minister touched on various of these but he did not expand on or analyse them so as to come down positively in favour of one or a combination of these criteria as justifying the venture now proposed in this legislation. He raised some issues that might be reasons for establishing a film industry. He mentioned the question of national prestige. I always feel a little embarrassed when I talk about the State engaging in a particular enterprise for reasons of national prestige. Expressions of that kind are a visible symptom of a national inferiority complex. Do we need, for our national prestige, to have a film industry? Do we have to keep up with the Joneses with regard to the provision of film stars, script writers, producers and so on? Will our authority as a sovereign nation be in any way enhanced, improved or respected in the international community, or will our prestige in any way benefit by having an Irish film industry? Quite frankly I do not think so.
Another criterion touched on by the Minister was the cultural one. Would we in developing a film industry also consequently develop a pool of artistic expertise needed for our artistic fulfilment and for the development of native culture to its fullest extent? I have great doubts about people in this quasi-technological cultural area being capable of contributing significantly to the expansion of our culture. Again, the Minister thought that if this project gets off the ground it would have the effect of bringing examples of Irish culture to other parts of the world.
In his speech, the Minister talks about the benefits, which include the development of artistic and technological skills and the indirect promotion of tourism. That is really groping for arguments. That this Bill will indirectly promote tourism is very marginally possible. The promotion of cultural values and public relations, put together, is an odd combination, because the essence of cultural values is supposed to be integrity, whereas public relations is essentially an exercise in what would be too strong to say conmanship, but it has a strong element of that — providing a potent means of presenting this country, its heritage and its people to the world and keeping Irish people in touch with their distinctive environment. That is a most commendable objective but I suggest most strongly to the Minister that, as a commerical objective, it is a non-starter. If that is going to be one of the reasons for starting the film industry, which he hopes will be commercially viable — and this theme goes through the Minister's speech, warning those who are coming into this scene that they will still have to stand on their own financial feet — I respectfully suggest that commercial viability is not going to be achieved. If the films that we are going to make are to be made for the purpose of presenting this country, its heritage and its people to the world — and I would like to see these things presented — we cannot do it on a commercial basis.
There was much ado recently about the feature film "Strumpet City" which was made by Telefís Éireann, which involved the Ardmore resources. A lot of talk went on about the commercial prospects of that film and we were given the impression that it was a winner from the word "go" and that if it had not already made a vast amount of money — and it was implicit that it had done so — it was about to do so very quickly. We have learned that the making of that film cost in excess of £800,000. So far, all that has been recouped by RTE is £250,000, but there are hopes of selling it to more networks around the world. Again, these are unrealised hopes as of now and I wonder is that film, in the theme it presents — which is necessarily a very interesting and very historic theme for us here — unduly narrow, not having the commerical width of approach to make it a commercial success? I feel that it would not be to the taste of the vast majority of viewers in the English-speaking world.
Technically and artistically, I am sure it is an excellent production. I saw one or two excerpts from it and they were impressive, but I wonder — because of the comparatively limited nature of its appeal — has it any hope of being a commercial success? It does export to the outside world and does fulfil the criterion mentioned by the Minister of being "a potent means of presenting this country, its heritage" and so on, but has it real commercial possibilities?
In having culture as one of the criteria for setting up a film industry, has the Minister fully cleared his mind and realised that that criterion, because of the nature of the crass world in which we live, is incompatible with commercial success?
A third criterion to which the Minister referred is the provision of jobs, and that is fair enough. If the State invests in a commercial enterprise, the one thing we want provided as a result of that investment is jobs. Essentially when the State invests in jobs it should invest in jobs that are wealth-producing. Jobs in the services industry — and the film industry is in that area — do make a contribution to the corpus of wealth in the economy, but not nearly so much as investment in jobs in a primary manufacturing area. To some extent investing in jobs in the film sector is a form of a continuing, on-going subsidy. Even if the film industry realised the Minister's wildest expectations for it, we have had no indication in his speech of what can be the financial return to the Exchequer. If one of the criteria is going to be the provision of jobs, we should have all the other commercial and economic criteria that go with that. However, one cannot complain if the investment is designed to maintain, and possibly increase, employment.
Again, one wonders if the investment, as the Minister hopes, will be self-remunerating and if there will not be continual demands on the Exchequer. I, in common with my other colleagues on the Oireachtas Joint Committee reviewing State-sponsored bodies, was depressed by the financial state of the vast majority of these bodies, their lack of capital, their excessive borrowings and their general commercial weakness and vulnerability. How sensible is it for the Minister to come in here and propose a new industry that has all the hallmarks of going to join the rest of these commercially non-viable bodies particularly which, as I say, will not contribute basically to any increase in the corpus of wealth in this economy?
I wonder how much attention do Governments and Departments pay to the Houses of the Oireachtas. Are we just going through a ritual here every so often — Governments propose and Governments dispose? The last report that I have seen of the Committee of Public Accounts — and this is supposed to be the most important committee in the Oireachtas, a committee which is getting down to the very nitty-gritty of parliamentary and other governmental responsibilities—has a paragraph under the heading "Industry, Commerce and Energy" on the National Film Studios of Ireland. It is worthwhile reading to the House what this committee reported at paragraph 58—it is always a matter of regret that this committee is so far behind but, apparently, it is inescapable in our ministerial procedures:
In the years 1975 to 1977 a total of £613,000 was paid from voted moneys towards the administration and general expenses of the National Film Studios of Ireland Limited, a private company which was set up in 1975 to take over the management of Ardmore Studios and which continued to experience financial difficulties during those years. The Comptroller and Auditor General told the Committee that the accounts of the company for 1977 showed a net loss of £343,000.
It would have been interesting for the House to have heard from the Minister what is the current position with regard to loss or profit. I will continue:
The Accounting Officer, in evidence stated that the losses arose because the Company depends very much upon the amount of business it can procure for the studios by enticing film makers to use them. The extent to which this can be achieved is subject to wide fluctuations.
The Minister did say that there is demand for our studios at the moment and that the business is buoyant. I would be interested to know has that buoyancy overflowed into demand for the Ardmore Studios. Have they a queue of people waiting to take them up? Have they been idle for any time this year or last year or have they been fully utilised? With that information we would be able to pass a harder financial assessment on what is proposed to us. The report goes on:
While in the early stages the company had some success it has found it increasingly difficult to get a sufficient volume of business into the studios, mainly because of the competition from other countries which are able to offer facilities which are equally good if not better than ours.
We would be glad to hear from the Minister whether he agrees with that statement as to where Ardmore ranks in the hierarchy of studio facilities because obviously its ranking is going to be very important with regard to its future prospects. The report continues:
Arising out of studies carried out by a consultant,——
I wonder is that the Mr. Little referred to in the Minister's speech.
——further plans were being considered inter-departmentally with a view to producing additional business for the studio but, while the setting up of the studios and the provision of equipment and fittings was a relatively straightforward exercise, enticing film makers from abroad to use these facilities was a difficult task, because the film business is a very competitive one and most countries seem to be happy to lose, for prestige reasons, very considerable amounts of money on the provision of facilities for film makers.
I wonder can we join in that league of losing for prestige purposes substantial amounts of money for the making of films? I respectfully suggest to this House that we cannot. The Minister in the debate we had on the previous Bill mentioned the situation that he is faced with in regard to one State-sponsored company where the losses for the current year are as great as the investment made in the company; the losses per job are as great as would be the investment made in a commercial company to provide jobs on a permanent basis. We all know and many citizens, to their pain, know that the Exchequer is straitened and that the public finances are in chaos. Yet here we are proposing to engage in a prestige exercise in the making of films where, according to the report of the Committee of Public Accounts, other countries seem to be happy to lose money. Are we digging here a bottomless pit for Irish money? The Minister warned that this industry is going to have to stand on its own feet and that there will be a limit to the support given to it. Nevertheless, once one sets up something like this and once jobs are there it is very difficult for any Minister, when representatives from that industry come in with the baby of unemployment and redundancy in their arms, to refuse more money. It would take a very strong Minister indeed, with a very big majority in the House, to be able to refuse that and, irrespective of how big the majority is, I cannot ever see that being refused. That is why I worry about what we are engaging in here.
I will continue with report:
While losses had been incurred practically every year so far and were likely to be incurred repeatedly in the future, the Accounting Officer expressed the hope that profits might be made in some years.
As I mentioned earlier, we would have liked to have heard from the Minister if the position has changed since the time to which this report refers. Has there been a profit this year or at least a diminishing loss?
The report goes on:
The Accounting Officer also pointed out that, had the proposed legislation been enacted as soon as the company was set up, moneys could have been provided by way of share capital but difficulties had arisen in connection with the legislation mainly because of disagreement among the interested parties as to what the content of the legislation should be.
That statement raises two points. First, I would have to disagree with the committee here who suggest that if equity capital is given everything is all right because if equity capital is given the company then do not have to borrow and consequently do not have to pay interest on the borrowing and their financial position would be that bit better. That implies surrender from the word "go", that we do not expect any return on our equity. I think that if a company gets capital from the State it should be in a position to remunerate that substantially and that it should not mean that it is going to be overall in a more viable financial position. Its balance sheet may look nicer and the equity ratios and so on may be nicer but its requirement to repay the investment does not change whether the capital is equity or borrowed. The implication in that statement, that if they got equity capital the thing would not be as bad, is a fallacy. Investment of equity should also bring with it an obligation and recognition of the obligation that it must be remunerated. The other point made in that last sentence which I quoted is that the legislation was delayed because of disagreement among the interested parties as to what the content of the legislation should be. Obviously those disagreements have not been resolved and obviously one of the inspirations behind this legislation has been the wish of the Minister to get these persistent lobbies off his back; he mentioned a whole list of them in his speech. This legislation is a compromise, patched together to get rid of them.
The report then continued that the Accounting Officer:
also explained to the Committee that the number of people employed by the studios varied considerably, depending on the volume of business. The Department was seriously concerned about the losses in this enterprise, about which there had been a considerable amount of inter-departmental debate and agonising.
The Committee recognises that the business of film making is a rather volatile one but it must express its serious concern at the continuing losses suffered by the National Film Studios of Ireland Limited. It appears to the Committee that public moneys are being spent on keeping alive a business which simply would not survive in the private commercial field. Furthermore, since it is commonly known that studios of this kind throughout the world are closing down what is being done in this case could possibly be regarded as more in the nature of a public relations operation than the creation of a viable industry.
Here one has a committee of the Dáil reporting on the financial viability of a project getting funds from the public and obviously giving it the thumbs down in no uncertain fashion. Is this committee wasting its time? Are we wasting our time if the Government then come in here and propose a Bill that totally ignores the recommendation of this committee of the House and propose to engage and continue on the course of action that has been very categorically condemned by this committee?
The report goes on:
The question which, therefore, concerns the Committee in this case is the extent to which public moneys should continue to be spent on prestige and status and it feels therefore that, because of the grave doubts as to the viability of the National Film Studios of Ireland Limited, a speedy decision must be made as to the future involvement of the State in this enterprise.
Obviously, the committee's views as to whether the State should be involved or not are very clear from what went before that. It would appear that the Minister has now decided to ignore that very explicit condemnation, that very explicit finding of the fact that the future for an Irish film industry is very much a doubtful matter. All the signs are that it will be a bottomless pit into which public money will continue to be poured without any substantial advantage accruing to the nation. At least we can say with regard to the other project mentioned here that it is creating wealth, albeit expensive wealth, but it is wealth created. In this case we are proposing to set up a service industry. It has certain economic merit but it is doubtful indeed when it has to be subsidised.
I wonder if this is a good time to be embarking on a film industry. I understand that with the rate of technological change in the whole television area, with the provision of satellites, soon this whole scene is going to change totally. I wonder if the facilities that we are proposing here are suitable or apt to get in with the technological changes coming in that whole general area. Again, does the world recession that we are suffering from at the moment have any adverse effect on the prospect of a film industry? It would seem that a film industry is precisely the sort of thing that would suffer in a time of economic recession and here are we starting now in the middle of a recession to attempt to get this industry going.
I find throughout the Minister's speech a certain wish to excuse himself in advance. He is putting up warning signs all the time that this is a doubtful project. There is the element of excusing and accusing and it is there right through his speech. At this stage, irrespective of who may be dissappointed and irrespective of how it may be presented as a climb down, and even if the Minister feels that he is going to have to face all these persistent lobbies again and endure it, I would appeal for a re-think on this whole project. I feel it does not have any financial attraction; it does not have any significant cultural attraction for us. So far as national prestige is concerned, I think a criterion like that has to be dismissed with contempt.
The fact that we have these two Bills before us underlines the problems which Irish film making as opposed to, up to now, an Irish film industry, has presented. It has been a great problem to many people engaged in film production, to those interested in the subject and to those in the industry generally, why progress here has been so slow and fitful over so many years. There were many traditional objections raised and excuses presented as to why we had made so little progress in establishing a permanent industry. But many of these have fallen by the way through the passage of time and are contradicted by examples in other countries. There was a time when it was considered that unless one had continuous Californian sunshine then one could just forget the whole question of making films. This point of view is totally contradicted by the films that have been produced in countries that barely have daylight for three or four months of the year, let alone sunshine.
There was also the necessity to have high finance in a world dominated by film moguls. This also is contradicted by examples in other countries. Probably one of the real, acceptable and genuine obstacles that remains out of all these various objections that were raised in the past is the problem of distribution. Some of those problems remain to some extent. Finance and distribution certainly are problems but they are problems to be overcome. I am sorry that I missed the beginning of Senator Cooney's speech but I got the general tone of it. Frankly I was appalled at the philistine tone that underlines practically all his comments. If State involvement in any activity has to be based single-mindedly 100 per cent on the financial return, then I presume by his standards we ought to get rid of the Arts Council and sell our national monuments to whomever will buy them around the world and adopt a totally philistine approach to running our society. I cannot think that is really what he meant and yet that seems to be what he was saying. I hope that does not represent the total opinion from the opposing benches.
The Minister has correctly indicated the necessity for financial viability resulting from the assistance which has been brought to the industry now. Any responsible person would look for and seek to achieve that. But the cultural objectives of this exercise have also been underlined by the Minister in his speech and in the Bill. It seems extraordinary that Senator Cooney's approach flies so much in the face of examples from around the world. I believe that nothing did more to retrieve and, indeed, rehabilitate the standing of Italy in the post-war era than its film industry. It is also interesting to note that whereas many of the films produced in Italy and in many other small countries as well, were very definitely financial successes they were renowned and acknowledged cultural and artistic successes. It is an extraordinary cynical attitude to assume, as it appears to be assumed, that if there has to be a financial criterion at all any question of a cultural dimension or evaluation has to go out the window. I do not think the world is that cynical. I do not think even the world of finance is that cynical. It is quite clear from films produced throughout the whole world that both objectives can be achieved. Admittedly it is also quite clear that both objectives can simultaneously fail to be achieved. But the achievement of financial viability or an acceptable level of financial investment or return with artistic and cultural merit is possible and has been achieved in other countries. Indeed, it has been achieved to some extent in Irish film making and it has been achieved in many other art forms as well.
Let me get back to the problems and circumstances which have really prevented us from developing an Irish film industry. Let us look at our achievements in the arts generally in comparison with other countries. Our writers, novelists, playwrights, short story writers, actors, painters and sculptors have all achieved a standard of merit and a degree of achievement that bear comparison with other countries. If financial acumen and business management were to be the sole criteria as suggested by Senator Cooney, then we have been as successful in those fields as they have been in other countries. So why have we not been able to put the two together, as has been done elsewhere, on a continuing basis with the same degree of success? I only raise the question. I have not got the answer. Nobody seems, over perhaps two generations now, to have been able to find the answer but it is important to recall the question because it is a question that has been fundamental to the whole problem over the years.
It may be that as a nation we are individualistic. Certainly artistic endeavour and the arts generally are a very personal thing, and it may be that the team work, the co-operation, the fusing of skills necessary in film production do not come quite as easily to us as to those in other countries. If this is the case, then it is the responsibility of all engaged in the industry and very much so of the board to be created to see that within the industry writing skills, the directing skills, the whole range of technical skills, lighting and camera work, allied to financial management, financial expertise and distribution expertise are fused once and for all in creating the basis for a continuing vibrant movie industry.
I would like to emphasise again the question of the value to the country. By all means we have to have financial viability in Ireland, investment both from the Government and from the individual participants. We cannot underestimate the tremendous potential for this country from a successful film industry. I referred very briefly to the effect of Italian films and the attitude adopted throughout the world to Italy in the post-war years after the world war and after the Fascist regime. A small country like Sweden has made an immense impact in the film industry. The film industry has added greatly to Sweden's own stature, culturally and otherwise. India, for example, has had a tremendously successful, and artistically successful, industry and India is a country, practically a sub-continent, which has more economic problems, of literacy and grinding poverty, than we are ever likely to find in any country in Europe. Yet they have had the capacity artistically and every other way, including financially, to produce films that have won awards throughout the world and, much more important, audiences around the world, and have reflected very greatly to the benefit of India and the Indian people. There are many other examples, the French film industry and many others. To cast aside that whole potential for this country on the basis that it is a bad time or there is going to be no financial reward seems extraordinarily shallow and extraordinarily philistine in outlook.
In looking towards the development of our film industry and bearing in mind the talents we have had in the arts generally, our film makers and producers will have to be clear, no doubt they are, that success in one form does not automatically translate into success in another form. The success generally of, say, the Irish theatre will not guarantee the success of the Irish cinema, as we know from past history. Any attempt to reproduce Irish theatre at its best in terms of cinema will turn out to be as big a disaster as if we attempted to produce on stage the techniques of film making and the cinema. It is a separate art form; it must be allowed to develop its own character and its own personality and reflect the best of Irish talents in all the different fields in its product.
As to the board and the workings of the board, generally it is known that there has been a lot of debate about how this may work out. The existence of the film studios are a basic and huge asset in developing our film industry. I know that there are some people who do not share that point of view. They will point to countries that have very successful film industries but do not have that type of studio facility. That may be true, and no doubt it is true. But the fact that one has a studio which is equipped with the best of modern equipment and techniques is an advantage that one should not throw aside when one does have it. In the running of the studios they will have to have a cognizance of their responsibility to the whole industry within this context. Their major objective will be to attract foreign productions with all the problems that go with that, of being competitive, of getting them in, of being able to offer facilities which, thankfully, we have and of the necessity in most cases to offer some form of financial inducement. The Bill provides a basis for equipping them to meet that challenge. But in meeting it successfully they will still have to bear in mind the responsibility to the whole industry here by operating a very deliberate and definite policy of engaging right down the line, and indeed up the line, Irish technicians and Irish craftsmen.
One of the great complaints and problems which people have seen in the past is that in all cases when films have been successfully produced in Ireland by foreign producers Irish technicians have not got out of the production the level of experience which they might have got. There have been no Irish directors involved and I do not think there have been any Irish assistant directors involved. The more we build up this talent and the more we give Irish people working in the industry here the experience and the benefit of the experience which can come from working with foreign producers the more we will build up this pool of talent and the more we will be in a position to equip ourselves to keep our own industry going. That is the big benefit of having the studios and being in a position to attract foreign productions. By and large the independent producers, to whom we owe a great deal for their success over the years in very difficult circumstances, are worried about this in so far as they can see the demands for money for big international productions being such that all the financial resources of the board could be swallowed up. In making their decisions and in making their contracts the studios must bear in mind in a very definite and positive way their responsibility to the whole industry. Also the board itself must be conscious first of the contribution which independent producers have already made here with some very successful documentary films and other films and second that if we do not provide the encouragement to the independent film producers to develop and to grow more numerous and larger, then we will not achieve the type of film industry we are talking about in the first place. We have got to make progress on both fronts.
The whole question of independent producers and the making of small films has to be analysed and examined. Some highly successful films have been made on relatively small budgets and, if it should happen that the future of the Irish film industry is going to be in the field of documentary films, we need look no further than the tremendous success over the years of the National Film Board of Canada, what that film board have done in projecting Canada and its recognition throughout the world. They have done it on a basis of financial viability. If we are bogged down with the problems and the obstacles that Senator Cooney mentioned, we should not begin at all, but I do not believe that represents the attitude of anybody engaged in the industry, remotely interested in the industry nor does it reflect the attitude of the public generally to the creation of support of this industry or any other economic or cultural activity. The problem of distribution, to which the Minister referred at some length, is one to which both the board and the independent producers will have to give most of their time in terms of planning for the future. The board will have a huge responsibility because, as the Minister said, if we have not got a distribution system organised, we simply do not have an industry.
This has been one of the real problems of the past and one which will tend to continue in the future but it is also a problem that has been solved in many instances. It is an area where there is great opportunity for co-operation between the board, the national studios and the independent producers, because they all have their own knowledge, experience and contacts. The more we develop the industry at any level, make those contacts and build up our influence, the more we are going to be in a position to work out a distribution system for individual production and, possibly, for the industry generally.
I want to refer to the plight of the Irish language on the question of the artistic potential in establishing our industry on cultural value. There have been many artistically and financially successful films produced in countries where the language of those countries was not spoken on a world-wide basis. Sweden and Italy are examples and the successes of those films in many cases have been brought about by the use of their own languages in those films.
The whole style of direction in many Swedish films has been complemented and enriched by the use of their language and those films shown with sub-titles around the world have been highly successful. It has always been accepted that the use of sub-titles present a barrier and yet a good production has never failed to overcome that barrier. The films to which I referred earlier, the post-war Italian films. Indian, Swedish and French films, were all shown initially with sub-titles and were all successful with world-wide audiences. There is a very valuable opportunity in the use of the Irish language, working in both directions.
Nothing will present our culture more authentically by definition than the use of our language and, as in the films to which I have referred, the very use of what to other people is a foreign language can contribute greatly to its success because it adds another dimension. The use of Irish dialogue with sub-titles is perhaps a compromise but it is a compromise which has worked successfully throughout the world. I hope this is something that can be experimented with more and more by our film makers. I should acknowledge that some of our independent producers have already done it to some limited extent and done it with absolute success from a production and artistic point of view.
The Bill forms the basis for giving the necessary and essential encouragement to the industry at this stage. Senator Cooney says it is not a good time to be making movies. For some people it never was and yet they managed to face up to the problem and produced films successfully from every point of view. There are always problems. If you are looking for circumstances which are perfect, where money is cheap and easily available, where the distribution and scripts are handed to you, you are never going to have a film industry, nor would you have anything else if you were looking for those ingredients. It is essentially an artistic industry and they are the two words that must be taken together. It is an industry which, because of being both industrious and artistic, will thrive in overcoming obstacles. We have now for the first time the opportunity to create a genuine film making community here which can provide the basis of talents going in many directions. To those who are apprehensive that foreign productions may benefit more than Irish productions, I simply say, "give it a chance, be sure you make your input to it in every sense".
There was sufficient debate before the Bills were presented, and while the Bills were being presented, to know that those who are involved in the industry will watch it so carefully that there is a wonderful opportunity now, involving both the studios and, through them, the international producers and our own independent producers, once and for all, to create a genuine Irish film industry and a genuine Irish film community. I am delighted to welcome the Bill.
Tá cathú orm nach raibh mé anseo nuair a bhí an bheirt Seanadóir deireannach ag caint, mar bhí orm freastal ar chruinnú. Aontaím leis an méid atá ráite anois beag ag an Seanadóir Donnelly, is é sin, tábhacht scannáin a dhéanamh trí mheán na Gaeilge. Má táimíd chun ár saol féin a léiriú don saol mór — beidh difríocht tuairimí ann cad is brí len ár saol féin — caithfear áird a thabhairt ar an nGaeilge agus, faoi mar atá ráite ag an Seanadóir chomh maith, cuid de na scannáin ab fhearr a deineadh go dtí seo, cuirim i gcás, scannáin GhaelLinn, scannáin de chuid Louis Marcus nár a bhain díreach le Gael-Linn, is trí mheán na Gaeilge a deineadh iad agus bhí siad ar fheabhas ar fad. Níl aon chúis ar bith nach féidir an Ghaeilge a úsáid as seo amach i gcuid de na scannáin ach go háirithe. Aontaím leis an méid a bhí le rá aige in a thaobh sin.
I want to express my disappointment with the whole spirit of this Bill. The House, I hope, will recognise that I do not express opposition captiously on these matters. I am disappointed with the Minister's statement. It seems to have been thrown at us. It is very interesting to observe the way some Bills are introduced by Ministers in this House in an independent fashion. It is quite obvious that they take the Bill seriously and they take the House seriously. They have been present at the debates in the other House and, perhaps, they have done their homework. They come in here and introduce the Bill with a quite different speech — a refreshingly different emphasis. I am afraid that has not been so in this case.
While the Minister was reading his script I was reading the script on the Second Stage in the Dáil and it is virtually identical. That is not good enough. It is as much as to say that the Minister has not been listening or re-thinking at all since the Bill was introduced on the Second Stage in the Dáil. The only difference is that the two amendments are referred to and they are not all that impressive. The one about the archives is welcome, needless to say, but, essentially, it has nothing intrinsically to do with the Bill. The business of film archives is largely an educational matter. While it is welcome, it is not an earth shaking amendment to the Bill.
The only other concession made to different opinions from the Minister's has been to include a pious reference to the desirability of having regard to the national culture, in the matter of film making generally. It seems to be no more than a pious counsel, because it does not have any teeth and does not compel the board to do anything about this. I regard that as a very unsatisfactory sop.
Apart from being an instance of not bothering to make a fresh speech for the Seanad, the Minister's speech is also extremely condescending. It reminds Senators that there is a long tradition of film making going back to the early days of this art form. He said that may surprise us. Why should that surprise us? We know that. What surprises us is the long tradition of neglect by Governments of the highly important business of film making in Ireland. The Minister says "by establishing an Irish film industry" he means not only the development and so on but also the need to produce feature films for world distribution, both for television and for cinema. This is typical of the vague and woolly nature of the Bill.
If you think about world distribution, you will realise immediately that no one breaks into the world trade of distribution except the large American companies. In the realm of television distribution, the BBC has great difficulty in breaking into the lucrative market in North America. Take a recent example, Louis Marcus's splendid series, "Heritage of Ireland"— the impact of which I have seen when shown on American campuses — that still is awaiting transmission on the public television service in the United States because it has not got a financial backer. There are enormous problems relating to world distribution. Instead of talking about world distribution, we should look more modestly and nearer home for the showing of films we make here. It is one of the illusions and self-deceptions we have about the film industry in Ireland that somehow all we need is another push and we can break into a world market. The problem of distribution is enormous.
The Minister puts all these matters in the context of industrial development. I listened to Senator Donnelly talking about the need to see it as an art industry, a particular kind of industry which is not an industry in the accepted sense. The terms of reference of the Bill are to see film making as almost entirely expressed in terms of industrial production. There is great doubt as to whether the Minister for Industry, Commerce and Tourism is the proper person to be introducing a Bill of this kind. Perhaps we should be talking about the Minister for Education. I agree with criticisms that have been made elsewhere that it is nonsense to talk about a film industry promoting tourism and that kind of thing. That is not the business of the film industry. Neither is it presenting Ireland to the world primarily. The proper business of film making in Ireland is to have an artist's perception of what he is doing presented to his own people in the first instance. That is the proper business of the Irish artist, whether he is a painter, a dramatist or a poet. He is working for himself in the first instance and for his people secondly. He must be formed and must communicate with his own people primarily. It is very interesting that at the moment, happily, we are witnessing a real resurgence of the Irish drama with splendid plays from people like Leonard and Friel. What is significant about these plays — Friel's "Translations" or Leonard's "A Life"— is that they are not concerned with presenting their vision to the outside world at all. They are talking first to their own people, and after that to the world if it wants to listen. In fact the world does listen, because it recognises the authentic nature of productions which are, in the first place, indigenous. In an Irish film industry, its only raison d'être is the presentation of an indigenous vision, and the presentation of that to the domestic people.
The wrong priorities are stated in that regard. The Minister mentioned the employment facilities, or the employment afforded by the National Film Studios of Ireland Limited. Here we come to one of the central objections to the Bill, that whereas its prime concern should be with film making in Ireland, it is talking half the time about facilities being afforded to people who want to make films in Ireland, which is a very different thing. In the process it exaggerates the employment facilities afforded by the NFSI. My information is that precious few of the 60 people mentioned by the Minister have anything to do with film making. Many of them are maintenance staff who might as well be employed in any industry.
The Minister says that the studios are at a marked disadvantage as almost all the other member states of the European Communities and a number of important third countries offer varied incentives and inducements in respect of film making. Maybe they do. Is film making to help independent film producers? The matter of putting a film studio at the centre of affairs is very much out of fashion at the moment. With the exception of Cine Cittá in Italy, the money being poured in to the National Film Studios is not paralleled elsewhere.
The Minister says that the basis of the advice he took in relation to these Bills was the engagement of a firm of consultants, Messrs. A.D. Little, and they reported to him in May 1978. Who were the kind of people the consultants consulted and what was the nature of their report to the Minister?
Later on, the Minister said that he consulted with various groups, including the Irish Film and Television Guild and the Association of Independent Producers. These meetings were normally held at the specific request of those involved. Is that not a curious procedure for a Minister who wants to do his best for the Irish film industry, that he does not go out and seek the opinions of the people whose livelihoods are going to be affected by the measures to be introduced?
I did not hear Senator Cooney but I gather that he was somewhat critical of the moneys being used in this project and that his concern was primarily for the disposal of finances. I understand that, but I take issue with the Minister when he says:
I am sure there is a substantial body of opinion in this country who will feel that the money involved in these proposals could be put to much better use in the national interest.
That is like saying that the money devoted to the building up of a symphony orchestra could be put to much better use in the national interest. It seems to be essentially an anti-intellectual and philistine viewpoint.
The Minister also states:
I should stress, however, that the board will not be in the business of giving gratuitous handouts, as this would not be of long-term benefit in an area which the Government intend will eventually have to be able to stand on its own feet without State support.
I am all for not giving handouts if they are given in the way they have in the past, money poured down the drain in Ardmore, bits of film made here with minimum native employment, no real, not even temporary, utilisation of spending of moneys and no long-term benefits. I deplore spending money on shoring up a film studio and begging, if you like, for foreign producers to come in and use it. On the other hand, I disagree if the Minister means that he has no intention really of putting independent producers on their feet. The serious feature film industry in the world rarely makes a profit. In other words, if we want the kind of film which is authentic and good and reflects ourselves to ourselves and then to the outside world, that will certainly have to be helped at the beginning. I do not think a phrase like gratuitous handout should be used in connection with the aid which society is obliged to make to film producers.
For comic relief in a long statement, the Minister said that since the Bills were first presented he had received little in the way of concrete reaction and so on, apart from a joint submission from the Association of Independent Producers Ireland, the Irish Film and Television Guild and the Irish Transport and General Workers Union. It is exactly like saying there was a meeting on ecumenism in Ballymascanlon which was attended only by representatives from the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of Ireland, the Presbyterian Church and the Methodist Church.
There is also reference to the old chestnut — perhaps it is a relatively new chestnut — that we are prevented from doing certain things because the EEC is watching us. I take this with a grain of salt. The Minister talks about avoiding possible objections from the Commission of the European Communities on the ground of discrimination against other member States. Does he mean in film making, engaging in what is, essentially, an artistic activity about ourselves, that the EEC can object to this? If this is true, it only bears out what I have been saying about our membership of the Community since I came into this House, but I do not think it is true. I think this does not worry other member States in the slightest. We use it conveniently, of course, when we want to for our own sakes.
The Minister says that he is not prepared to specify how the fund of £4.1 million is going to be split between films predominantly using the facilities of the studios and film making activities by independent Irish producers. He should. It is quite true to say that there is nothing in the Bill which prevents the board from using the bulk of the money for the purpose for which, in my opinion, it should be used — helping independent film producers. On the other hand, there is nothing in the Bill to compel the board to do so. If we are really talking about Irish film making and not simply a film industry in Ireland, this is what the bulk of the money in the Bill should be devoted to. The Minister says, rather condescendingly:
Notwithstanding their worthwhile efforts in recent years, the ability of the majority of independent Irish producers to properly put together, manage and control commercial films with substantially increased budgets is, as yet, unproven.
He is saying "our boys cannot really get into the big time, they are not up to it". This question was put for comment to one of our outstanding film producers, Louis Marcus, in a very interesting interview and very relevant to this debate, in a little publication produced by the Irish film and theatre people called IFT News. It is a serious commentary of film making, and in the December 1980 issue, Kevin Rockett interviews Louis Marcus. It is well worth reading for what Marcus has to say on these Bills. Rockett reminds him of what the Minister said, that Irish film makers do not have the knowledge to be able to make the type of commercial features which he says foreign producers could make, and seemed to have made disparaging comments against the Irish independent film makers. Marcus's reply is:
No film makers in the world, outside the United States, have proved themselves able to make the kind of feature films that will crash the American-controlled world distribution market.
It is not a question of our boys not being capable. This is simply a problem faced by far more experienced film producers than the people we have here. It raises the problem of beating the distribution stranglehold of the really big film makers in the United States.
The Minister expresses himself as being surprised at the apparent criticism of international projects as if they were almost a discouragement to the Irish film makers, but are they not? Are not international projects, in the sense of big business film making, fly by night film making in Ardmore under the NFSI, not the real discouragement to Irish film makers? Is there not an obsession with shoring up national film studios, with throwing good money after bad? Has that not a depressing effect on Irish film makers and is it not quite simply a diversion of funds to Ardmore, with a loss to Irish film makers who need these funds very badly?
I also take exception to the Minister's statement that the board and the film finance fund are "also designed" to further native film making talents. They are "also designed", after all these years of the wrong kind of subsidies to the wrong kind of films. There may also be a few crumbs, he says, for our native film makers.
The Minister pays gracious compliments to Mr. John Boorman who, I suspect, has been highly influential in the background shaping to this whole Bill. He said that Mr. John Boorman, the chairman of NFSI, has done great things for the Irish film industry. He has, of course, but the Irish film industry has done good things for Mr. Boorman as well. Ardmore and the NFSI have been good to Mr. Boorman.
Towards the end of his speech the Minister made the following extraordinary statement:
While developments in the last decade in the film industry seemed to be showing a trend away from studios and concentrating more on location work, the situation seems to be turning in recent years with the trend for films with a higher studio content.
Neither the Minister nor I is an expert in this matter but my information is that the whole trend nowadays is towards location film making, that studios are to a large extent obsolete and that this highlights even more the irrelevance of the Ardmore adventure.
I find the Minister's statement very unsatisfactory in many respects. The basic fault, perhaps, is the suggestion that we are talking about an industry rather than encouragement to a cultural activity. Even if we accept the concept of industry, he is encouraging the wrong kind of industry. He is encouraging the use of film facilities by foreign producers and the accidental aspects of film making in Ireland rather than a native film industry. There is a wrong analogy here, too. The ideology of the economy and the multinationals is applied to the film making business. The idea of attracting producers and offering them favourable facilities is a straight application of one of the conventional pieces of wisdom in our economy which still prevails. Alas, like the parent model, we have the same sad results; when the going gets rough and when their business is finished, out they go and leave very little behind them. This is what has been happening with foreign producers, just as it has been happening with multinationals.
I referred a while ago to the IFT News. In that worthwhile little paper I find the information that the season just commencing at the IFT will feature programmes once again from Iceland, New Zealand and Australia. If Iceland, with a population of 230,000, can have an interesting and successful indigenous feature film industry, why cannot we do the same? Icelanders do not bother to try to break into international markets or to get into the American distribution system. They simply concentrate first on their home market and their films are both a critical and a box office success in Iceland. Because of this they are welcome in the wider world of film culture.
Australia, though physically enormous, is a new and small country in the sense of not having a massive film industry. The successful body there are the Australian Film Commission, who guarantee the money to independent film producers. Because they are favoured by the State, business interests take up sponsorship and appear in the credit titles. When money has to be paid back by the film producers the last people to whom they have to pay it are the Australian Film Commission. We might well have taken that for a model instead of throwing good money after bad.
On Committee Stage I will refer to the composition of the film board. I agree with the Minister that there have to be hard-headed businessmen on the film board and there have to be artistic individuals as well. Of course, projects have to be worthwhile, but that does not mean that they have to be commercial in the Hollywood sense. Why not encourage the kind of low budget, indigenous feature, costing — and the sum has been suggested to me by the independent film producers involved — an average £¼ million? We should look for its success in Ireland first and in five or six European countries, which means it should pay for itself; any further distribution would make a handsome profit. Economically speaking, apart from any artistic or cultural considerations, the shrewdest investment for the State would be in native film development rather than the big time American controlled entertainment market which we cannot crash.
It is very significant that at the Sense of Ireland festival last spring, which was by common consent very successful, the film aspect was represented virtually entirely by the work of independent film producers. Not one film produced by the National Film Studios of Ireland since 1975 or before then by the various managements of Ardmore Studios was included in the Sense of Ireland festival for the simple reason that not one of the Ardmore films fell within the category of an indigenous film. If that is not a sufficiently eloquent fact, I do not know what is. Not one film came out of Ardmore which was made in the first instance for an Irish audience. The moral of that surely is that the £4.1 million should be earmarked clearly for the kind of people who did us proud in London last spring.
Finally, I should like to remind the House that the film producers in Ireland are, first and foremost, artists. They are not analogous to industrialists. Of course they are out to make a living but since all of us know who they are — it is invidious to name names — I do not think we can point to any of them and say they have made a fortune out of film making. They are making films for the same reasons that other people paint pictures or write poems. If it is the business of Government, and I believe it is, to extend its patronage to artists — indeed the Taoiseach has more than once pledged himself to that — then we must see the independent film producers of Ireland deserving the patronage of Government and the people, no less than her painters. In a particular way the film makers and film producers and all those associated with them are the quintessential artists of the twentieth century. They are the chroniclers of our time in a very special way, and so they deserve much better treatment than they have got in this cynical and sloppy Bill. They are not only the chroniclers of our time, they should also be essentially the chroniclers of our culture. It is for them and in their interests that we should be considering this Bill, and not for a discredited and obsolete film studio.
I join my colleagues in welcoming this Bill. Senator Cooney referred to the funds which might go into such an industry as going into a bottomless pit. He pointed out that it is, perhaps, the wrong time to get involved in such an industry and felt that, looking at it overall, the future was far from secure. I must confess to finding that approach to this Bill a little bit disappointing from the Leader on the other side of the House. Where is his confidence in our writers and artists? Where is his confidence in the Irish determination to make a success of things, given a chance to do so? I am a bit disappointed at the apparent inferiority complex which he portrays in regard to our ability as a nation to make a success of a film industry. Starting in the fifties, through the sixties and seventies and now at the start of the eighties we have been playing around with getting a film industry started. Let us take the reins off and get moving, because we have been playing with it for too long. We owe it to the pioneers of film making in Ireland and to our youth to give them the encouragement from this House which they need in starting an Irish film industry. We should not in any way hold back that encouragement or vote of confidence in our new industry which is about to be put on a formal and legal footing. While I agree with much that Senator Murphy said, there was a lot with which I did not agree. I would charge him with having spent a lot of time rewriting the wording of the Minister's speech——
I wish I could.
——which points to a great future, perhaps, in film scripts for Senator Murphy in the years ahead.
Or in the Government.
He made a point, as did Senator Cooney that this is a cultural and an artistic activity and we should not put too much pressure on it to break even, to be commercial or in any way to pay its way. I do not understand why we continually have to feel that culture or the arts are in themselves a loss-making activity. There is no inherent reason in the long term why we have to push culture into a little box, leave it aside and say "We all know culture loses money and let us leave it there and forget about it". Of course we agree it is an artistic industry, but this House and the Government should encourage those involved in the industry to make a genuine effort at least to break even and take the responsibility off the shoulders of the taxpayers.
This House should be careful about overdoing the cultural and artistic aspect of this at the expense of saying quite bluntly —"We would ask you to make a genuine effort in your new industry to try, at least, to reach a break even situation". If we do not mention that somehow we will be pulling back on the pressure, and by doing that we could be faced here in a few years time with some Minister saying that it is a cultural activity and they have to report a gigantic loss of £X million and using the excuse that it is a cultural activity and we have to pay for culture.
The same argument is used in the services area, which we are not debating today. That is another argument I would like to dissect on some future occasion. The fact that it is culture or a service does not mean that it necessarily has to cost us the earth in the years ahead.
I also want to mention another aspect of the film industry which has not been touched on. Apart from its artistic value and the commercial nuances and so on, it is also part of an entertainment industry which is, in my view, in need of co-ordinating. I would like to see in the years ahead some form of national entertainment organisation which would put some direction into the way in which the entertainment industry is going in this country. It is an old cliché which has been used a thousand times, that the pop group ABBA from Sweden made more in one or two particular years recently than the Volvo company of that nation. It is no secret that the Beatles, who regrettably have been in the news recently, made a lot more for the United Kingdom in terms of revenue than many of the manufacturing industries in that country. I mention these to highlight the enormous employment potential in the entertainment industry, of which I believe a new film industry to be a part. With the structure of our population, which is greatly youth orientated at present, we have a responsibility to streamline the entertainment industry, and the new film industry would obviously have to take account of that.
Senator Cooney referred to "Strumpet City" as an example of home production and how we manage to sell films abroad. That was the beginning of something which has enormous potential, but it needs to be properly structured. RTE at present are making excellent efforts throughout the world, and particularly in the United States, to sell television films. We should look closely at the establishment of a sales company which might be attached either to the film industry or to RTE itself, but if it is attached to RTE it would certainly require some link with the film industry. We have only scratched the surface of the kind of television material which we can sell abroad, and that is exporting every bit as much as exporting manufactured goods.
Recently I have been watching the history series on BBC and it struck me that we missed a great opportunity for our film industry. Perhaps we should have had an opportunity in years gone by to make such a series ourselves and to sell it abroad and to use it in Ireland as well. I notice a tremendous interest in this series, particularly among young people, and it is a pity that our film makers did not approach it in the past. I hope neither our film industry nor RTE would miss such an opportunity in the future.
I am confident about this Bill because, unlike Senator Cooney, I feel that what our playwrights, actors or our world famous authors have done can be done in the same measure and with the same success and enthusiasm by Irish film writers. We are on the threshold of an exciting new era in the Irish film industry.
With regard to the financial aspect, the sponsorship of films has been mentioned. I agree with the Minister that this type of industry is not suited to the State sector in the long term because of its artistic and cultural ingredient. Obviously the State must be involved at the commencement in order to show the way and the confidence. Assuming that we keep this emphasis and pressure on the film industry at least to break even while carrying out their artistic profession, I can see private institutional investors, private funds and ordinary private enterprise getting involved in the production of films and this would certainly take a lot of weight off the State in the years ahead.
If we are to have a film industry we need to train the film makers of the future so that we have a constant supply of trained technical professional personnel moving into the industry. I am glad that the Minister and the Department have an open-minded approach. There has been too much rancour between individual groups in this lead up to the establishment of an Irish film industry. I hope that these Bills can now bring these groups closer together and start on a proper footing. If we do not, it is the Irish film industry and the Irish people that will suffer, and I would appeal to them to try and make that effort in all our interest.
The key to the success of this film Bill is marketing and distribution. If we do not get out there and sell our television films and full length films throughout the world, then we will not have an industry. That is where the circle has to start. We have all sorts of marketing boards and Córas Tráchtála and I would advise the new board to look seriously at the establishment of a marketing subsidiary. If we are not successful in achieving our markets throughout the world there is no points in making films to lie on the shelf.
Senator Murphy pointed out that it is very difficult to break into the world markets, particularly as the United States distributors have it all tied up. I accept that it is difficult but we have to start somewhere and we should try to break into the American market straight away. All our exports down the years have been hard to sell and it has been a long hard slog to try and sell them to the Americans and others, but we succeeded in great measure in convincing them that the Irish product was successful. I would hope that in no less measure we can get out there and convince the other countries that the product from our film industry is of a high quality and that they should buy it.
I would like to wish this film industry well in its early days. Marketing is the key, and as soon as we achieve some progress in it then we can get down to establishing a proper film industry in Ireland.
The most important feature of the film world is enthusiasm. I am glad the Minister is back and I hope he will not take exception to what I am going to say. I believe that if John Huston as a director, John Boorman as a producer, Maureen O'Hara as an actress or even Barry Fitzgerald — all Irish associated names — were to have seen the Minister in his presentation of this Bill today, they would have given him a very low marking as regards enthusiastic support for the launching of this Bill. The very basis of the movie business is one of enthusiasm and confidence that everything will be right and that the product will be the best product that was ever created. Similarly in the launching of the Irish Film Board and in putting the National Film Studios on a new footing I believe that confidence and enthusiasm for the future are preeminent factors. Perhaps the Minister is not a movie-goer, and that is the important point. If one is an activist in any particular sport or art one can be a real afficionado. If one is not, one can look upon it sometimes as one looks upon abstract art, in a rather dismissive way. I may have misunderstood the Minister. I would have preferred him to have launched this Bill with more enthusiasm.
Whether we recognise it or not, cinema is recognised internationally as an art form. The important question that Ireland has to face is whether Ireland has anything to contribute to this art form. If it has, how does it do so and in what manner? They are the important questions. The launching of a film board is important and having our own film studios is also important, but they are nothing really unless that art form is seen as a true Irish art form. It does not mean in any way that it portrays Irish scenery or does a PR job for the Irish Tourist Board or for any other aspect of Irish life. The Irish character in all his passions and emotions, even eccentricities, must be pre-eminent features in what comes finally on the screen. Earlier speakers referred to Sean O'Casey's plays, and one Senator said that it might not be possible to have the same success on the screen as on the stage. Only an Irishman can bring to the screen, as an Irishman brought to the stage, the characteristics of Ireland and the Irish character. One day we may well have a film which will be screened internationally and confronted with the characters on that screen we will see for the first time something which is on a par with what Sean O'Casey put on the stage. I am confident that that will happen, but it will only happen if an Irishman is behind the camera, an Irishman is in the director's seat and, perhaps, if possible in the producer's armchair. It cannot be left to foreigners to do it because we can only end up with the pseudo characters we have had in the past in the depiction of Irish people.
In launching a film board we are taking an important step. I am in favour of it, but I must express some reservations about the manner in which it is being launched, principally in regard to the amount of funds which it is being given. A figure of £1 million per annum over three or four years is only chicken feed in a business which is renowned internationally for high costs. What an Irish film board will be able to do with £1 million per annum I am not too sure. I hope the people who are given that responsibility will be able to allocate it proportionate to both home product and foreign product. It prompts the question as to whether there is a need at all for Government involvement if the amount of money entrusted is so little. Could the private sector not be approached to come up with moneys of the scale envisaged in this Bill? In most other countries the private sector has very successful film studios and film industries. However, the Minister may have decided to operate a compromise in this case.
In every country today the film industry is very much a high risk business, and there are two facts of life associated with that high risk business. One is the escalating costs which I already mentioned. Recently I read of a film which cost something like $34 million, approximately £20 million — one of the costliest ever — and it has received the thumbs down sign from all the critics.
Another fact of life is the ratio of success to failure. If film studios have one successful film out of ten produced they are doing very well. That single success may well determine whether they act on a profit or loss basis for that year. Film studios such as United Artists or Columbia have had a situation where one success has seen them through one year and has given them a very profitable situation but in the following year they may have loss after loss and find themselves practically in liquidation. So we are entering into a very high risk business with a small sum of money. Perhaps the Minister has decided it is the best way to approach this, to tread very carefully. If so, we will see what happens in three or four years time.
He has given emphasis to the work content and the PR aspect of films produced under the jurisdiction of the Irish Film Board. I believe these are only part of the objectives of an Irish film board or the Irish film studios. The objective should be to inculcate in young Irish people a sense of the art of cinema and to develop the talents they may then find they have in that particular field. It does not mean in any sense an emphasis on Irish scenery or even Irish history. We know of many instances throughout the world of countries that have built up a very reputable film industry and in no case did they depend either on their scenery or their history to show what they had contributed to this art form. It is a question of bringing to the screen characteristics of the race of people who have produced that film. That is what is important. It is not a question of bringing the stage Irishman onto the screen. It is bringing to the screen a sense of genuine Irish passion, emotion and character.
The Minister referred to the problem of film distribution. There is no doubt cartels have always operated in this field, people who have cornered the market, who have been very careful about who gets which films, when they get them and for how long. We had a case in the past couple of years where the Restrictive Practices Commission had some work in this regard and uncovered some very unsavoury details about what went on in this country in regard to the distribution of films. There have been cinemas in provincial areas of Ireland particularly who have had to wait and wait until a film was no longer the big success it had been on first issue.
It is interesting to note here the submission made by the Irish Film and Television Guild that the Film Board should set up a distribution office. They referred to the fact that 30 per cent of the cost of a film has to go on distribution and promotion. That is a very hefty sum to budget for, and it all goes for naught if the film does not end up in the cinemas. Selling a film is just as important as the production, or even more important, because unless the customer sees it there is no point in producing it.
Although the Minister has made some amendments in the Bill I still think there is a certain amount of undue ministerial surveillance. Section 25 deals with the profits that may emanate from films. Hopefully there will be profits. He could well have decided to leave to the judgment and discretion of the people on the Film Board the decision about what to do with any profits. I am quite certain they would plough them all back without having to look over their shoulder at what the Minister might decide should be done with the profits.
Section 31 refers to the Minister giving general directives. He has emphasised that they will not be in regard to the artistic elements of a film. It was good to see that amendment brought into the Bill. However, right through the Bill there is provision for referral back to the Minister in regard to many matters. This could have been left out, particularly in a business in which there is a very small financial commitment initially, whatever happens in the long term. It is a business which depends tremendously on the judgment of the people concerned. The people who will be on the Film Board will be persons with skill, knowledge and experience of the film industry, but more importantly with judgment as to what will be successful on the screen.
There is no doubt the Film Board should help the Ardmore Studios. They have had a very dismal history. Senators are inclined to differ on the point as to whether the trend in the cinema world today is to work in or out of the studios. At the present time with the special effects in the cinema, where there is such a great need for concentrated work and the magnifying of that work to create special effects on the screen such as we saw in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" and "Alien" and all sorts of things, possibly the studios are the "in thing". That is not to say they will continue to be so. Undoubtedly the Film Board should help the studios.
The Irish Film and Television Guild have made an appeal that there should be some levy on admission prices to augment the finances available to the Film Board for investment purposes. One would like to say there should be, but admission prices to anything nowadays seem to be escalating all the time. It is something which will have to be borne in mind, because I have no doubt that the initial investment of £4 million is completely inadequate and will have to be augmented considerably if we are to make a success of Irish film art.
There will be great responsibility on the people given the task of producing and directing films in Ireland because most films are judged on a number of important matters — casting, the screenplay, the script and even the running time of the film. If one of these is wrong the whole film can collapse. It is going to call not only for experience and knowledge but for judgment. I could not anticipate success in the near future in regard to the production of an Irish film which will meet all those criteria. It will only come through time. It will only come through young Irish people being inculcated with a sense of the art form of the cinema, being given the help and encouragement to devote their talents to it. Finally we may produce a film which can stand on a par with what O'Casey produced even though it may not be on the same theme at all. But it will bring to the front that characteristic of the Irish people, and it is only an Irish person who can do that.
Those are the few comments I have to make on this Bill. I welcome it. The funding is completely inadequate. I do not know if the Minister is a film-goer or not. I think that can determine the amount of money he is prepared to put up in this matter. Hopefully it will be a success and if it is a success I have no doubt that further financing will be provided.
I also am very glad to welcome these two Bills. I do not see them as initiating a film industry but as enabling legislation in the promotion, and I hope the co-ordination, of the existing film industry. I am also glad that they have been taken together, because the delay in introducing the legislation has aggravated the competing factions within the industry. Unfortunately there has been too much controversy and disagreement regarding the priority for claims on financing. I hope that the Film Board will be appointed as soon as possible. I share the Minister's concern that all those who are working in the film industry will now make it their objective to see that this legislation works and to see that in the initial stages the finance which is being provided will lead to revolving finance. Once the community see the finance revolving due to the success of the initial film making, it can lead to an encouragement of sponsorship from private enterprise and investment which, in turn, can lead to a return on equity, as someone mentioned, for the State.
Having read the Dáil debates and listened to the Minister's introduction, I take a very different view from Senator Murphy as to the Minister's involvement. I feel he has approached this with a great deal of thoroughness in the advice he has taken, obviously obtaining the maximum information and weighing up the views and ideas of a number of groups with fairness and honesty.
I was at the relaunching of the National Film Studios some years ago when it was expected that legislation would be introduced. This was in the time of another Government and obviously Ardmore was seen by the board and the management in this context. There was a great deal of optimism at the time. However, the company were not capitalised and this meant they had to borrow from the commercial banks to remedy inherited ills. We must remember that the Government subsidies included a great deal of inflated interest rates.
I have visited the studios from time to time. In fact, we held our radio and television awards function there in 1978 and I can speak with personal experience of the enthusiasm and total commitment of Séamus Smith and his staff. Very few companies can boast of such an understanding and good working relationship between chairman and managing director. It is a pity that Members of the Oireachtas do not use to a greater extent the opportunity to visit State bodies before they run into criticism and try to learn some of their problems so that before debating them they will have some experience of all the various aspects of the problems that affect any State body.
In spite of all the drawbacks, the National Film Studios have been instrumental in bringing to the screen 29 cinema and television features, some made wholly and some made partly in Ireland. These films have brought some £10 million in foreign earnings into the Irish economy. Because of the nature of the industry such earnings entail minimum outlay in the importation of equipment and raw materials. Unfortunately, these benefits are not reflected in the annual accounts of the National Film Studios, a disadvantage shared by many other creative institutions which attract wide-scale participation. Another instance is the Dublin Theatre Festival which is in a similar category. From my information, the studios received £1.466 million in Government subsidies over a period of five-and-a-half years which represents approximately only £260,000 per annum. However, leaving aside the benefits to our economy which I have already mentioned, this expenditure is well offset now by the inflated value of one of the most modern and efficient studios in Europe in "a garden of Ireland" setting.
It is interesting to note that when the studios went public they got the support of the unions who played a major role in persuading the Government to purchase them. I think they have been proved right. We heard earlier in the debate that employment has been quite high this year on the filming and shooting of "Knights" where there were 220 Irish technicians, construction crew, actors and drivers employed. In addition, an average of 260 Irish extras were employed for a 15-week period and from this film alone the economy benefited to the tune of some £3½ million.
The ordinary man in the street reading about the conflict between the film studios and the independent film makers does not seem to realise that the film studios have given assistance to many of the independent films that have been made in this country and which have been widely acclaimed abroad. There is Bob Quinn's "Poteen", Kieran Hickey's "Exposure", and Cíarín Scott's award winning film. "Rosc, the Poetry of Vision". With regard to this last mentioned film, I had the privilege of arranging a showing in New York recently for the International Council of the Museum of Modern Art. This film is a classic recording of the highlights of modern international art in the past ten years. In company with ancient treasures, Celtic craftsmanship and the period of the Vikings in Ireland, it cleverly blends the work of ancient and modern together with Irish nature in a fascinating way with music and without commentary. To my view it is a work of art in itself.
The reason I am specially mentioning this film is that it provides an excellent example of what an Irish film producer and director can do when given the opportunities. I mention it in particular having read the criticism in the Dáil debates that the Bill was not going far enough to make the film board responsible for promoting Irish culture or an Irish dimension. Here is a film that has all those qualities, which can be admired internationally, without having terms of reference imposed on the producer. The acclamation in New York was quite overwhelming and as there were numerous requests for further showings I left the film with the Irish Consulate. It brought home to me what has been mentioned in this debate, namely, the difficulty of distribution, because so many people have to see the film before the enthusiasm and demand increases. There is no doubt that CTT and our foreign affairs service can help enormously in getting initial showings, particularly of documentary films, and thus get an opportunity to attract a wider interest.
Although the National Film Studios have had to mark time much has been achieved. I hope the capitalisation now will enable them to progress in the way they have been trying to do, in having incentives to offer film producers, both national and international. We must remember that a film has to be made for an audience. As we have a small population it is very difficult to get a good financial return from only showing the film in this country and that is why we have to look at it from an international aspect.
I remember the classic film of all time made in Ireland which was, of course "The Quiet Man", which I believe ran in Paris for 20 consecutive years in one cinema or another, proving beyond doubt that an audience does not necessarily have to be English-speaking to appreciate the film or, for that matter, Irish speaking. When I saw the film in Paris it was sub-titled.
It was said in the debate that films need not necessarily be dubbed, that they can be shown with the sub-titles if they have the qualities that appeal to the general public. "The Quiet Man" captured the imagination and empathy of the whole world, and that brings to mind an obvious name which I strongly recommend to the Minister for appointment to the film board, and that is Maureen O'Hara. She has had 40 years in every facet of film making all over the world; she has contacts with those who can influence international distribution and she also has a very strong business head. She could bring immediate international standing to the new board. In the past we have been quite remiss at honouring our famous sons and daughters in their lifetime, and I feel that here is an opportunity to honour one of our own who has received so many awards abroad. Indeed I was delighted to see she received one at last in Cork at their recent Film Festival.
I would also like to suggest members from Northern Ireland. I know that on the Arts Council of Northern Ireland there is a film director and a film committee who are offering money subsidies to produce films and who are enthusing the whole community in Northern Ireland to look at film making for the future. I can let the Minister have some names in due course. There is such involvement in the film making up there that I would like to see a member on the Film Board here. I suppose there should be representation from the studios and from the independents. We have Kieran Hickey, an outstanding film maker who has all the qualifications, who has travelled abroad, who knows what the international distributors need in a film coming from Ireland. He has already acknowledged the benefits he has received from CTT in travel grants in enabling him to go to America.
I think his experience would be very valuable to the new Film Board.
We have talked about culture and artistic element, but little has been said about the creativity of making films. This is the key. It is not just culture and art, it is the whole creative, imaginative flair which, quite frankly, I feel is now happening in this country in people who need employment and do not want to live on charity. The opportunity here for these Bills to give the creative population an opportunity to express themselves is unlimited. We can benefit greatly from the output and scale of films to be produced. I hope that the Film Board, with their initial finance will look at the opportunities to provide the revolving finance, and then I think we will have the basis of a very successful film industry in the future.
I just have a few very brief words to say on this Bill. I am very glad so many Senators have spoken on it and have given it such a welcome. Indeed it is customary more often than not in this House that we stand up and we say "I welcome this Bill", Ministers look gratified and we proceed on that basis. I particularly want to say that I welcome this Bill because I get the distinct impression that the Minister does not. I think it is quite important that it be established that some of us do welcome it.
I feel that the tone of the introduction of this Bill was quite different this time from the usual occurrence.
Senator Donnelly addressed some remarks to Senator Cooney, chastising him for a negative approach. I think his remarks might have been more properly addressed to the Minister. It is no wonder that Senator Cooney would take from the Minister's statement such a very negative attitude. What worries me about the way this Bill has been approached is that we are talking about creative people, we are talking about an industry which has certainly a most significant technological input but which also depends totally in the long run on its creative people. If I were involved in trying to get this industry off the ground in Ireland, I must say I would be extremely discouraged by what I have heard today. I would leave the reading of this debate in rather a depressed state, feeling, to quote Patrick Kavanagh — he used the words in a different area —"that something that was struck so foul a blow so early in life had little chance of success".
It seemed to me that the Minister was reluctantly bringing this Bill before us. I did not get the impression that he had much of an opinion either of films or film makers or the possible contribution they could make to Irish society. When I say that, of course, I am aware that at difficult times — and the Minister did stress so often in his statement that times were difficult, money was short and money might be short for the film industry — the arts in general and things in that area suffer. I would only say to the people involved in the film industry, take comfort from that, they are among the people who do suffer when times are hard.
I hope I do not exaggerate the negative qualities of the provisions of this Bill. We had threats thrown out about this being the only opportunity there would be, about how there would be a review to see how things were getting on, and that really there was a very short fuse to the Minister's patience with this industry. In fact, I felt the whole thing was rather in the line of throwing a bone to a dog who was condemned to be put down quite soon anyway. It has been mentioned in the Minister's statement and by several other people that we are almost alone in the EEC countries in not giving major inducements and incentives to film makers. We should stop to think why these other countries see fit to give substantial moneys to film makers, because if we examine the reasons why they do it it is quite clear why we should do it too. In passing, I would like to say that I hope we will not have films like "The Quiet Man" in the next few years while the film industry survives, although I hope it will survive much longer.
The countries which subsidise their film makers heavily have appreciated the potential of film making as part of an enormous media and communications industry which is developing so rapidly in the world that every possible aspect of it must be used to strengthen a country's standing in the world and to establish a country's identity. Never could it be more important for a very small country like this to join in that effort in using this new technology. I see a situation before very long that somebody in Los Angeles or Hong Kong could press a button in their sittingroom and conjure up a film from Ireland about Ireland, that we will not be dependent on having to distribute the films in the way that we think of it now but that we will be part of an enormous technological revolution which has started and will gather impetus. Rather than be reluctant, or penny-pinching, on this matter, we should realise that we may miss a very fast-moving boat indeed, if we do not give positive incentives and much more definite encouragement to this industry.
I had the honour of working as a member of the board of directors of the Abbey Theatre for four years, and it is not easy to work with artistic people, in the field of theatre and in the creative field. That it is not easy should not make us impatient with, or dismissive of them. No really creative person, no genius, is ever easy to live with, or is ever a totally rounded person in every other area. People involved in the creative side of this industry need a lot more consideration than they have got. We have, in the Abbey Theatre, an absolutely superb group of actors who have already demonstrated their abilities in film making, in films like "Strumpet City". I hope that the establishment of this industry will give their talents a far greater range than they have at the moment.
I am very interested in the subject of the National Film Studios because I grew up on the road on which the studios are located. I very much hope that, despite the reluctance displayed in getting this Bill off the ground, this Bill will give the National Film Studios a new lease of life. They are on a par with the very best in the world. They stand up to comparisons with excellent studios in the United States, for example, and give extremely badly needed employment in an area which could be improved beyond all imaginings if we approach this business positively, and if we can, by this debate convey our encouragement to the people who are starting this industry and that we wish them well. I conclude by saying that I welcome these two Bills.
A great variety of points were made. I do not know if it is feasible for me to reply to them all in detail, because of their diversity. It is interesting to contrast the very strong speech made by Senator Cooney after I had introduced the Bill with what was said afterwards, particularly on his own side of the House. I was accused by a number of Senators of a lack of enthusiasm, which some of them described as an uncharacteristic lack of enthusiasm. If I were unenthusiastic in some of what I had to say, I would like to contrast that with the total hostility to the whole idea that is contained in this Bill on the part of Senator Cooney, who is one of the leaders of the Opposition here. It was a very strong speech, well argued and well researched. His use of the quotations from the Committee on Public Accounts was effective and, in many respects, compelling. I assume that that report was signed by a member of the Opposition as chairman of the Committee concerned, Deputy O'Toole. My Department were accused of ignoring the strictures of the Committee of Public Accounts. There are many strong, detailed criticisms which the committee made.
Before I begin to defend myself against those on the same side of the House as Senator Cooney who attacked me from the directly opposite direction in defence of what Senator Cooney said, in criticism of me — that I brought forward these Bills and ignored the Committee of Public Accounts, whose advice could generally be summarised to the effect that we should forget about film studios in this country, certainly at the public expense — it is only right to point out that this particular studio company was never capitalised in the normally commercially accepted sense of the word. As I understand it the money for the original purchase was put up but there appears to have been no injection of equity capital and to have been fairly heavy borrowing.
A further factor that one must take into account is, of course, that there was no system of direct financial incentives in this country, so far as film making was concerned. Everybody here who said that there was none at all, is wrong. There was a very valuable incentive in terms of export tax relief, the benefit of which went to film makers and indeed, to manufacturers of goods. Apart from that there was not available, hitherto, a system whereby direct grants, or loans or equity investments in a film, could be made by a board or fund established for that purpose. We were certainly at a disadvantage in that respect.
Endeavouring to defend myself against the strong criticism of Senator Cooney for having brought in these Bills, I have to do a quick mental switch and defend myself against the criticisms of his colleagues for not having introduced them sooner, or shown greater enthusiasm or optimism in regard to them.
The first thing I would like to say is that I am the first Minister for Industry and Commerce in ten years who has done anything, in legislative terms, about the film industry. It is a little disappointing that, when one does take the plunge into this slightly contentious area — which seems to be made up of a lot of very fractious people — you are immediately rounded on, first by those who think you should have done nothing and then by those who think you should have done a lot more and done it a lot sooner. It is a no-win situation, without question.
The Minister cannot win.
Senator Markey seemed to believe that my commitment, or otherwise to the film industry was in direct proportion or ratio to the number of films which I view every year, and I think he suspects that I never see any. I am happy to be able to tell him that I probably see more films than anyone else in this House at present. In fact, I was trying to work it out, roughly speaking, I calculate that I see about 20 films a year.
Is that all?
Every one of them somewhere between 30,000 and 40,000 feet up and every one of them involuntarily. I do not know if films they show in aeroplanes are the same as those they show on the ground, but if they are, and if the terrestrial films are as bad as those shown in the air, it is easy to understand why the film industry finds itself in difficulties, in this and in other countries. The standard seems to be pretty poor to say the least of it.
That means that the Minister does not go to the movies.
I go involuntarily, because I am unable to sleep and because these films are inflicted on you. You are not allowed to read. Unfortunately, you have no option but to look at them at that stage. It is bad enough when you have to look at one on a particular trip, but when you have to look at three of them your enthusiasm would, quite naturally, wane.
On the question of reported losses and so on encountered by the National Film Studios of Ireland Limited in recent years, there are some conflicting figures in this respect. For that reason, it is better that I set out the actual losses that the studio has incurred in each of the past four years. In the year 1977 £470,566, in 1978 £497,041, in 1979 £523,295 and in 1980 — of course, the year is not yet over — I understand that the estimated loss is about £500,000. It cannot be suggested that these are minor losses which are more than made up for by the amount of business that is generated.
It is worth drawing the attention of Senators to the fact that this year was one of the more successful years, in terms of business, at the studio — almost entirely due to Mr. Boorman's film "Knights" in which there was a very high content of employment of Irish people, thanks to Mr. Boorman and to his generally helpful attitude towards the studio and the country which I referred to in my opening speech. There have been, of course, other films made by Mr. Boorman and, indeed, other films made by other Irish people, including "Cry of the Innocent", where a very high proportion of Irish people was used in its making. There are some producers, certainly, who are willing to give substantial help in this respect.
If it is felt that I am less than enthusiastic about some aspects of this, it is not unnatural that I should be apprehensive, in the light of the kind of losses that have been sustained and in the light of my experience of some trading semi-State companies in recent years and the belief that because the State owns a company it does not really matter tuppence whether it ever succeeds or fails. It is a handy place where people can get permanent jobs without any of the unpleasant commercial constraints that the real world imposes on private sector companies. It would be in the general, overall interest of this country if we could get away from this belief which seems to be so deeply prevalent and if we could get away from a situation of taking it as fact, utterly for granted, that the situation of a company which loses £½ million a year for four consecutive years, when its original assets cost less than £½ million, is no problem and that such a company should be allowed to continue at the expense of the Irish taxpayer for all time. I do not share that view of this or any other State company. They should face up to and be encouraged to face up to commercial reality. In so far as they do not, perhaps I am less enthusiastic. Some people may feel that I should be.
Senator Murphy complained about the similarity between the speech I delivered here and the speech I delivered in the Dáil. I accept that criticism, except that I would put it to him that the main one of these two Bills only passed in the Dáil last evening and there was not very much opportunity to rethink an entirely different approach, as between five or six o'clock last night and 2.30 p.m. today. Senator Murphy pleaded that I should say here and now that it is my opinion that the bulk of the money which is being made available through the Film Board should go to independent film producers. He should contemplate the consequences of his asking me to say that. If I do say it, it means that overnight we close down the National Film Studios of Ireland. In spite of the criticism which I have made, I am not prepared to do that. Senator Murphy and people like him cannot have it both ways.
A number of Senators made the point that the expression of Irish culture and the expression of it abroad in particular, is of paramount importance in regard to films. It is certainly one important factor, but I recall the debate in the Dáil where I was rounded on by Deputy Kelly, who vehemently objected at quite some length to my saying that. To some extent, Senator Cooney is saying much the same today. He talks about the question of the prestige of this country and it betokens in his view — and may well be right — a national inferiority complex to feel that we should be concerned about our prestige, or that we should try to build it up through an economically troubled industry like the film industry.
Senator Murphy expressed himself as being against any of the money proposed in these Bills being spent on foreign productions coming in here. If he is, he knows that the consequences are that we can close down the film studio in the morning.
Senator Brennan quite rightly made the point that the key to much of the success in film making is the whole question of distribution and asked me in that respect to look at the possibility of a marketing board. He also suggested an entertainment industry board to streamline the entertainment industry, and suggested that a sales company attach to RTE and the film industry. I do not disagree with the principle of what he suggests, but wonder if the formation of two further quangos is the right way to go about it. Do we not have enough of this breed at the moment in this country? There is no doubt that distribution and marketing of films is of absolute importance. If you are guaranteed in advance that your film will be shown in 1,000, 1,500 or 2,000 cinemas in the United States, at the very worst you will not lose a lot of money on the making of the film. If your film production company is attached to one of these cartel or multinational operations you have an enormous advantage.
I expressed in my opening speech, and in the Dáil, my unwillingness to tie on to the Film Board statutory obligations to market or distribute films because they will simply have films of varying degrees of talent and varying degrees of commercialisation dumped on their desk. If they fail to sell, they will be blamed for the failure of what would otherwise have been, technically and artistically, a great film. I do not think they should be forced into that position. If they can develop, over the years, some distribution expertise — and I hope that they might be able to do it in conjunction with the film studio and with RTE, and that all three of them might operate together for that purpose — then they may be able to build up a worthwhile network. It is a daunting prospect — and let us remember this — for an Irish State-owned operation to break into a market or a system of distribution which is dominated by multinational companies who have all kinds of incestuous relationships with one another and who have dominated this whole scene for a very long time. I would certainly give them every encouragement because I regard it, as Senator Brennan does, as the key to the success of film making here by Irish people but it would be unfair and unrealistic to expect them to achieve overnight success.
I have not mentioned by name the sort of people one would like to see on this board. Senator Lambert was good enough to make one or two suggestions. The lady to whom he referred would seem to me to be eminently suitable, if she were prepared and available to serve. One of the difficulties I want to avoid in a board of this kind is appointing a representative board where everyone is representing some particular group or action and where everyone sees himself or herself on the board as just fighting for the narrow sectional interests of his or her particular part of the industry. Too many of our boards, in my view, are dominated by people who are there in a representative capacity and whose ability, therefore, to make a positive contribution on a broader plane is very much limited because they are all the time reporting back to their constituents whom, they allegedly represent on particular boards. The more successful type of board, in my experience, is one where individual members are not under heavy daily pressure from sectors in the industry concerned and are able to take a broader and perhaps a longer-term view, and are not answerable to particular groups. That is fairer to board members also, because it gives them a better opportunity to work in a more positive fashion for the greater public interest.
I hope that I have dealt with the main points that have been made, but if the Senators have any further queries which I might have inadvertently overlooked, I would be glad to reply to those on Committee Stage.