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Irish Postgraduate Film Research Seminar 2003

The first Irish Postgraduate Film Research Seminar, an initiative of Dr Kevin Rockett, Trinity College Dublin, and Professor John Hill, University of Ulster, Coleraine, took place at Trinity College on 11 - 12 April 2003. Professor Tom Gunning of the University of Chicago gave the inaugural keynote address to the Seminar and eighteen postgraduate students presented papers. A selection of the conference proceedings was published in Kevin Rockett and John Hill, editors, National Cinema and Beyond, Studies in Irish Film 1, Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2004. Both the Seminar and publication were supported by the Higher Education Authority's North South Programme for Collaborative Research, 2003 - 06.

Cover of publication

Kevin Rockett and John Hill, editors, National Cinema and Beyond, Studies in Irish Film 1, Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2004.


INTRODUCTION by John Hill & Kevin Rockett (republished below)


Tom Gunning, 'Waking and faking: Ireland and cinema astray'.

Denis Condon, 'Filming the story of Ireland: the yoking together of historical drama and contemporary newsreel in silent Irish films'. .

Emilie Pine, 'The great escape?: The Islandman (1938)'. .

Barry Monahan, 'A frayed collaboration: Emmet Dalton and the Abbey Theatre adaptations at Ardmore Studios, 1957-60'. .

Maeve Connolly, 'From no wave to national cinema: the cultural landscape of Vivienne Dick's early films (1978-85)'. .


Ellen E. Sweeney, '"Pigs!": polluting bodies and knowledge in Neil Jordan's The Butcher Boy'.

Joseph Moser, 'Fighting within the rules: masculinity in the films of Jim Sheridan

Margaret O'Neill, 'Memory and mapping in Bloody Sunday.

Dervila Layden, 'Imagining the future: post-Troubles comic fiction'.

Danijela Kulezic-Wilson, 'The musicality of film rhythm'.

Sarah Neely, 'Cultural ventriloquism: the voice-over in film adaptations of contemporary Irish and Scottish literature'.

Diog O'Connell, 'A formalist analysis of contemporary Irish film: Disco Pigs and Accelerator'.

Jonathan Murray, 'Convents or cowboys? Millennial Scottish and Irish film industries and imaginaries in The Magdalene Sisters'.



INTRODUCTION by John Hill & Kevin Rockett

Film Studies, more particularly Media Studies, emerged as a degree subject in the late 1970s at the University of Ulster at Coleraine, and in the Republic of Ireland in the early 1980s at Dublin City University (though colleges such as the National College of Art and Design, Dublin offered film studies courses from the late 1970s). Film Studies as a specialist activity was not established until 1992 when University College Dublin introduced an MA in Film Studies, while Dublin City University introduced an MA in Film and Television Studies. In 2003, Trinity College Dublin established the first undergraduate degree programme in Film Studies in the Republic of Ireland. Additionally, many of the colleges which have developed as Institutes of Technology, most especially the National Film School at Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology, offer specialist undergraduate film-making degree courses, though digital video production courses are more common in such colleges. The National Film School has also introduced an MA in Scriptwriting as has the National University of Ireland, Galway, which, like University College, Cork, also offers inter-departmental film courses. Queen's University, Belfast, has also developed an undergraduate film studies course in recent years. Other institutions where the academic and practical are offered include Dublin Institute of Technology and Colaiste Dulaigh, Dublin, though there are many other venues for training. This healthy institutional environment for both the academic study of cinema and for the training of film-makers and industry technicians would appear to suggest that film education and training in Ireland is in good shape. This is not entirely the case, however, particularly in relation to published research.

Until the 1980s, film scholarship focusing on the history of Irish cinema as well as on the representation of the Irish in film was virtually non-existent. Certainly, there had been work by a few amateur historians/archivists and collectors of cinema memorabilia but little attempt had been made to chronicle systematically Irish film history or analyse critically film representations of the Irish. It was this gap that Cinema and Ireland (London, 1987), written by these two authors and Luke Gibbons, partly sought to fill. This has encouraged further work on Irish cinema and recent studies such as Martin McLoone's Irish Film: The Emergence of a Contemporary Cinema (London, 2000) and Lance Pettitt's Screening Ireland (Manchester, 2000) have successfully built upon the concerns of the earlier book and expanded its focus. A number of other publications, such as Cork University Press' 'Ireland into Film' series, have also encouraged critical discussions of Irish films (albeit within the confines of a traditional focus on adaptations of literary and dramatic works). More popular writing on film, often industry-related, has been sustained by Film Ireland and the now-defunct Film West. However, it is only recently that a more academic journal, the annual Film and Film Culture (published by Waterford Institute of Technology) has appeared. However, while the academic study of Irish cinema has clearly grown, and produced work of some distinction, the study of Irish film remains under-developed by comparison with other European cinemas and still lacks a solid infrastructure of original research.

This is partly to do with the fragile position occupied by postgraduate research study into Irish film. While there has been a growth of undergraduate and Master's courses in film and other media within Ireland, this has not been matched by a similar growth of activity at doctoral level. The first PhD on Irish cinema was awarded as recently as 1989 and since then there have been relatively few completed research degrees in this area. The reasons for this are complex and include general factors such as the attraction of the Irish jobs market in the 1990s and the comparatively poor rewards of a career in academia However, it also has to do with the specific academic standing of Film Studies in Ireland and the profile of research into Irish film, in comparison with other areas of Irish culture (especially drama and literature).

It was in response to these concerns that the Irish Postgraduate Film Research Seminar was conceived. The ambition was to provide a supportive environment for postgraduate researchers in film to come together to exchange ideas and discuss methodological issues. In this way, it was also hoped that the event would assist the training and career advancement of young film scholars and help raise the profile of Irish Film Studies more generally The Seminar held its inaugural event at Trinity College Dublin on 10-11 April 2003. Invitations were issued to current and recent postgraduates in Ireland and elsewhere (if working on an Irish topic). In all, nineteen papers by students from Ireland, North and South, Scotland, France, Italy, and the USA were presented. Revised and edited versions of twelve of these are published here (Two papers from research students at the University of Ulster are not included as they have already been accepted by academic journals.) We also include Tom Gunning's opening address to the conference. The event is planned to alternate between Trinity College and the University of Ulster at Coleraine, and the second conference was held in April 2004 at the Portrush campus, the proceedings of which will be published in 2005.

The Irish Postgraduate Film Research Seminar, as well as postgraduate film studies in Ireland more generally, received an important boost when Film Studies at the School of Drama, Trinity College and the School of Media and Performing Arts, University of Ulster, Coleraine (our host departments) awarded substantial support in 2003 by the Higher Education Authority under its North South Programme for Collaborative Research. The HEA is not only providing resources during 2003-6 for the continuation of the Seminar but also the publication of its proceedings and the holding of specialist film methodology workshops. It is also funding three full-time postgraduate film research students - two of whom are based at Trinity College, and one at Ulster. This award has provided a timely impetus to postgraduate Film Studies at both institutions and, more generally, demonstrated a commitment at a national level to the discipline within Ireland.


In supporting Irish postgraduate research, it has been an ambition of the Seminar to support and encourage original historical research and new approaches to the study and analysis of Irish film. The work that is presented here may be seen to fall into these categories. Much of it involves research on Irish film history while other work involves the investigation of Irish - and other national - films through novel critical perspectives. The first section is devoted to essays on Irish film history. It is appropriate that the distinguished film scholar Tom Gunning leads off this section. He has pioneered an approach to film history that has involved the critical rescue of neglected film traditions and the re-conceptualization of their significance.

In 'Waking and faking: Ireland and cinema astray', Gunning continues his argument that early cinema began not with a desire to tell stories, nor with a pedagogic or political purpose, but rather with a 'poetics', or 'vocabulary of illusions and transformations'. He also emphasizes how the history of cinema, including the histories of national cinemas, must be understood in terms of their international scope and function. This, he argues, is particularly true of Irish cinema which he identifies as a 'diasporic cinema' that 'spread around the world with Irish immigration, enriching especially the cinema industries of Great Britain and Hollywood'. In a suggestive - and possibly provocative - conclusion, he suggests how the 'trickery' of early cinema and the Irish diasporic imagination may be seen to coalesce in Hollis Frampton's experimental film Murphy's Wake.

Although Gunning identifies how a 'cinema of attractions' historically preceded forms of narrative fiction and documentary in film it is, as he suggests, these forms that have played a key role in sustaining national cinemas, and the national imaginaries manifest through them. A central concern of Irish film history has therefore been the exploration of the ways in which Irish drama and documentary have historically sustained, and later challenged, myths of Irish nationhood. A number of articles pursue this theme across different periods. In 'Filming the story of Ireland: the yoking together of historical drama and contemporary newsreel in silent Irish films', Denis Condon shows how films such as Ireland a Nation (1914-20) and In the Days of St Patrick/Aimsir Padraig (1920) contributed to the formation of an Irish national imaginary at a critical stage of the struggle for national liberation. By employing a composite aesthetic, combining historical drama and contemporary newsreel, Condon suggests how these films fashioned images of the nation that corresponded to popular forms of nationalism during this period.

In 'The great escape?: The Islandman (1938)', Emilie Pine focuses on a critically neglected film of the 1930s and explores how it addresses contemporary ideological anxieties. In particular, she examines the 'tension between tradition and modernity' to be found in the film as well as Irish culture more generally. Despite the film's apparent indebtedness to nationalist myths of the west of Ireland, Pine argues that the film should not be read as advocating a retreat from modernity but rather a reconciliation of the traditional and the modern, the rural and the urban.

A similar tension between tradition and modernity is also identified by Barry Monahan in his essay on the collaboration between Emmet Dalton, the Abbey Theatre and Ardmore Studios. Based on original research into the written records, Monahan identifies both the interpersonal and broader ideological conflicts responsible for the demise of this project. Thus while Monahan reveals the internal problems confronted by those involved, he also argues that the project faltered due to the unresolved tension between cultural liberalism and conservative nationalism characteristic of the late 1950s and early 1960s.

In the final essay in this section, 'From no wave to national cinema: the cultural landscape of Vivienne Dick's early films (1978-85)', Maeve Connolly challenges the pre-eminence given to feature-length drama and documentary in histories of national cinema, and of Irish cinema in particular. By focusing on the work of the avant-garde film-maker Vivienne Dick, she seeks to reinstate the importance of an understanding of apparently 'marginal' cinemas for an understanding of 'national' cinema histories and the analysis of the cinema's relationship to national identity. Echoing Gunning's interest in an 'Irish diasporic cinema', she traces the trajectory of Dick's work from her involvement in the New York 'no wave' through to her more recent film work in Ireland. For Connolly, Dick's work exists on the 'margins' of both 'avant-garde practice' and 'national cinema', exemplifying a postmodern film practice in which the local and the international, the rural and the urban, the traditional and the modern may be seen to intersect.


The second section of the book focuses on more recent films and the formal and representational issues to which these give rise. A number of the essays focus on the 'Troubles' in Northern Ireland and the films that have emerged in the wake of the ceasefires of 1994. Whereas earlier work on 'Troubles' movies has analyzed the ways in which representations of the conflicts in the North have conformed to particular dramatic and ideological patterns, these essays explore the ways in which more recent films have sought to address the traumas of the past and contribute to the 'winning of the peace'. Joseph Moser's essay 'Fighting within the rules: masculinity in the films of Jim Sheridan' explores this theme through a discussion of the representation of masculinity in The Field (1990), In the Name of the Father (1993) and The Boxer (1997). Whereas The Field is seen to demonstrate the tragic consequences of a destructive and violent masculinity, Moser argues that In the Name of the Father and The Boxer provide alternative models of masculinity, in which the apparently weak, and peaceful, are revealed to be the genuinely strong.

In her essay 'Imagining the future: post-Troubles comic fiction', Dervila Layden looks to comedy as the means through which the traumas of the past may be confronted and overcome. Taking Eureka Street (1999) and Wild about Harry (2000) as her examples, Layden suggests how comedy permits the creation of a Utopian space in which old political ideologies are suspended and new forms of sociality become possible. The issue of trauma, and the memory of it, is also central to Margaret O'Neill's discussion of the cinematic representation of one of the most traumatic events in the history of the 'Troubles': 'Bloody Sunday'. Taking Paul Greengrass's Bloody Sunday (2002) as her primary focus, O'Neill investigates the links between memory, trauma and narrativization, suggesting how the film may be read as a struggle between two 'ways of knowing': the organised order represented by maps and the traumatic 'crying out' of popular memory.

Although not concerned with the North, Ellen Sweeney's essay on Neil Jordan's The Butcher Boy (1997) focuses on similar issues. Like O'Neill, Sweeney argues that the film not only deals with the memory of trauma - in this case the maltreatment and sexual abuse of children in the Irish industrial school system - but that the traces of trauma are themselves embodied in the film's formal strategies and the ways in which the boundaries between the 'inside' and the 'outside' are dissolved. The Butcher Boy also figures in Sarah Neely's discussion of the voice-over in recent Irish and Scottish films, one of a number of essays to focus on formal issues. In her essay on Disco Pigs (1999) and Accelerator (2001), Diog O'Connell employs the narratological method of David Bordwell and Edward Branigan to analyse the differences in approach to character in the two films. In this context, O'Connell argues for a less parochial Irish cinema in favour of one capable of addressing more universal concerns. In 'The musicality of film rhythm', Danijela Kulezic-Wilson argues for the value of the concept of 'rhythm' in understanding the aesthetics of film. Film rhythm (and its 'musicality'), she argues, should be understood in visual as well as aural terms. Using examples from Darren Aronofsky's Requiem for a Dream (2000) and Andrei Tarkovsky's Mirror (1974), she indicates how the aesthetics of the shot and the cut may in turn be linked to concepts of external and internal rhythm. Kulezic-Wilson is one of a number of researchers located in Ireland working on film topics that are not themselves specifically related to Ireland. This was also so of some other papers presented at the original conference which do not appear in this volume. It is, of course, important for Irish film scholarship that it is not confined to Irish topics just as Irish Film Studies benefits from the researches of those outside of Ireland. Two of the papers, in this regard, grew out of work on Scottish cinema and represent a growth of interest in comparative studies, particularly in the context of the 'Celtic fringe'.

In her essay 'Cultural ventriloquism: the voice-over in film adaptations of contemporary Irish and Scottish literature', Sarah Neely examines the 'prevalent use of the voice-over in Irish and Scottish cinema', arguing that it is not simply the product of literary adaptation but represents a means whereby 'marginalized cultures' may 'subvert the dominant forms of Hollywood'. In his essay, 'Convents or cowboys? Millennial Scottish and Irish film industries and imaginaries in The Magdalene, Sisters', Jonathan Murray also explores parallel between Scottish and Irish cinema, taking as his focus the Irish-Scottish hybrid The Magdalene Sisters (2001). He explicitly addresses an issue running through many of the contributions: the role of national cinema in an era of growing globalization. Murray is sceptical of discourses which seek to defend the 'purity' of national film cultures against external Hollywood influence, or simplistically counterpose European 'art' to Hollywood 'mart' cinema. Rather, he suggests the value of a critical dialogue between Scottish and Irish films and Hollywood, a process which he sees exemplified in the way in which The Magdalene Sisters both works with and against Hollywood genre conventions.


Although representing work in progress, the papers presented here successfully indicate some of the directions new research on Irish cinema is taking. Historical research continues to be of critical importance, filling the gaps of earlier work and charting the connections between film and other aspects of social life. Clearly, however, there is scope for more work of this kind. There is, for example, relatively little work done on patterns of cinema-going in Ireland (particularly outside of Dublin) and the reception of both Irish and non-Irish films within Ireland. The history of cinema exhibition and distribution also remains to be written.

Understandably, given the relative ease and low cost of textual analysis, much recent research focuses on contemporary films. Linked to a history of debates concerning the representation of the Irish on screen, this work adds to our under landing of ways in which 'Irishness' continues to function as a key signifier within contemporary cinema. While much of this work inevitably deals with issues of 'national identity', there has also been an increased growth of work on other forms of cultural identification (related to gender, sexuality, ethnicity and region) within Ireland. In this way, the identification of new kinds of questions about Irish cinema has helped to open up new ways of conceptualizing and researching the formal and representational strategies employed by Irish films. At its worst this can simply involve the wheeling out of 'high theory' within a local context; at its best, however, it can involve a genuine dialogue between general theory and local experience which benefits both. As the work of the Irish Postgraduate Film Research Seminar proceeds, it is hoped that it will contribute to the support and development of both new forms of empirical enquiry into the history of Irish cinema as well as theoretically-informed critical reflections upon this history and the films which it has produced.

Contact: | Last updated: Aug 14 2019.