Film office calls for strategy to harness Donegal’s movie-making potential

DONEGAL Film Office has called for a coherent strategy to stop the county’s movie-making talent from “shipping out”.

Speaking at a recent coffee morning aimed at bringing local creatives together, Film Office head Aideen Doherty said Donegal was becoming increasingly popular with the screen industry.

But a sharper focus is needed if that wave of optimism is to be properly harnessed.


Ms Doherty said, “After Wicklow and Dublin we are probably bringing more production than any other county in the country. And that is because our reputation is such that we can deliver.

“We have crew, we have locations, we have services, we have accommodation, we can turn things around quickly and we can respond appropriately. The county sells itself.

“We already have a number of festivals, Ballyliffin and Rathmullan being two of them and the Regional Cultural Centre will be putting together a festival in the middle of 2023. The Celtic Media Festival is also coming to Donegal in 2023.

“The sector is really thriving but part of the difficulty is that it is very sporadic and very isolating for the people within it. There isn’t the driver to drive on development and to drive opportunity within the county.”

Evidence of how Donegal’s star has risen in recent years can be found in viking fantasy The Northman which was partially shot here.

It has grossed almost €70 million since being released. Star Wars – The Last Jedi, scenes for which were shot in Inishowen, has raked in multiples of that at €1.2 billion.

In the Land of Saints and Sinners starring Liam Neeson, God’s Creatures with Paul Mescal and Emily Watson and Obituary which is currently shooting in Ballyshannon are further proof that the industry is looking to the north west.


But as things stand Donegal is more like a “service industry”, Aideen Doherty said.

“We are servicing film and we are servicing the sector but we aren’t creating work within the county.

“We don’t have our own intellectual property, we aren’t supporting our directors, producers and writers and we need to start to do that.”

The head of the Film Office said the frustration was that Donegal was turning out great talent. To find work though that talent was having to move away.

Ms Doherty said the goal should be to sustain it here.

“Atlantic Technological University is creating amazing talent annually through its animation course, their digital media course, their design course and all those young people are looking to stay now.

“We can say to young people you are living in the most incredible part of the world, we are right on the edge of Europe.

“The opportunity here is what we make it and I always say get away in your twenties but come back in your thirties. And being back in your thirties and knowing there is something to come back to is something that we as a sector need to be doing.

“We have some very famous people in Donegal doing incredible work under the radar and if we can just connect everybody, that is really what it is about.”

The networking event in the RCC was organised by Donegal Film Office and National Talent Academies for Film and Television.

National Talent Academies aims to address and support educational skills gaps in the screen sector while also driving more Irish talent into the industry.

Talent Development Executive Eibh Collins said more and more directors and film makers are seeking out Donegal and not just for its beauty but also because of the community.

“Donegal is an important place in the film community and location-wise it is definitely growing.

“When you look around you here today, there is a such a diversity in that you have people who run film festivals, you have Donegal Film Office, there are actors, directors, writers, sparks, cameramen. We could make a film out of everyone in this room and it would be fantastic.

“Donegal is definitely a hotspot and it is continuing to grow for the location but also for the Film Office which goes above and beyond for people to actually live here, work here and make the productions affordable. Things like giving up their office so there is rental space for the productions to come in, that is the sort of hands-on hospitality you won’t get in other places.

“You have had the likes of Paul Mescal and Liam Neeson here and they are going off saying ‘I have this new film shot in Donegal’. You just don’t have that in other places. The west in general is getting better but Donegal is definitely continuing to grow.”

Connectivity, or lack of it, has long been seen as a barrier to Donegal’s growth. But according to Eibh Collins, pictured left, the film industry is warming to the challenge simply because it wants to be here.

“Connectivity is a problem in loads of places. For example getting to Galway is awkward because they don’t have an airport any more.

“But once you have enough reasons – hospitality is a reason, lovely locations, community, crew that is ready to work – if you have something to sell, then people will buy it.”

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