The unexpected success of Ulster as a base for film

Morning View
Morning View

The Oscars, which will be held on Sunday night, are 86 years old this year, which is a long time in the relatively short lifespan of film.

This year local interest in the Academy Awards focuses on ‘Boogaloo and Graham’, set in 1970s Belfast, that won best British short film at the BAFTAs and is now shortlisted in the ‘Live Action Short Film’ category.

It might repeat the success of the 2012 Terry George film set in Co Down that won a short film category at the Oscars.

Movies have, since their inception in the early 1900s, been a field in which Britain and Ireland have punched above their weight. Perhaps these small islands have been more influential in that medium than, say, Germany and France for no better reason than the coincidental fact that we speak English and those countries do not. Similarly, British and Irish rock music has influenced popular music far above its numbers.

Since the early days of Hollywood, there have been some Ulster links to movie stardom, from to Errol Flynn (who was Tasmanian but who often described himself as Irish, due to his father working at Queen’s University) to Stephen Boyd to Liam Neeson. The small connection between Northern Ireland and cinema has not ever been much more than would be expected proportionate to our population numbers. Now, however, there is a thriving film industry in the Province.

During the Troubles, there was no prospect of Northern Ireland becoming anything as glamorous as base for films. As the violence receded, Belfast almost became the centre of slick car making (in the form of the De Lorean project) but ring-fencing a single car production plant was easier to establish than finding multiple locations for a film studio.

Since the 1990s the region has been transformed. Game of Thrones is the most notable movie production based in the Province. It is filmed in places from Tollymore to the north Antrim coast, and highlights the attractiveness of Ulster.

The emerging success of film has been unexpected and is perhaps the clearest indication of post Troubles stability.