Tax credits cannot be the only weapons in the “war of the film set”. The reception and services offered, as well as subsidies, play an important role.
Recently, in fact, Prague and Berlin (as well as Romania and England) lost out to Belfast when Gil Kenan chose to film his fantasy movie, “City of Ember”, starring Bill Murray and Tim Robbins, in the city. According to the Economist, the main reason behind this success is the Paint Hall, the enormous studio built inside the old Harlan & Wolf shipyard (where the Titanic was built).
Just 5 minutes from the city center, this complex can host several productions simultaneously in its four enormous studios which are around 25 meters high and perfectly soundproofed.
These studios were used for 14 weeks to shoot “City of Ember”: it is estimated that the expenditure of the film crew in the territory exceeded 9 million UK pounds (around 12 million Euros).
This is an excellent return on the 800 thousand UK pound investment by Northern Ireland Screen, the government agency that promotes the territory and its locations (in addition to the Paint Hall, the country’s rural locations are in great demand for their tranquility and varied landscapes).
Belfast is a city famous for the bloody fight for independence from Great Britain.
The movie industry has contributed to keeping the memory of this tragic past alive with films like “Hunger”, (winner of the “Camera d’Or” at the last Cannes Film Festival, and first prize at the Sydney Festival), in which Steve McQueen narrates the last days in the life of IRA activist Bobby Sands.
Or “Five Minutes Of Heaven”, a TV movie starring Liam Neeson and James Nesbitt, produced by Big Fish Films and Ruby Films for BBC 2, filming on which began in early June.
This is the story of two men whose lives are torn apart by the conflict that devastated Northern Ireland from the 60s until the peace process began in 1998: Alistair Little, a member of the Ulster protestant movement who kills a young 19 year old Catholic boy, and Joe Griffin, the victim’s brother and a witness to the murder.
There are, however, many movies set in Northern Ireland that tell different stories.
Since 1997 a total of 36 feature films have been made (with Belfast becoming, in some cases, New York, Copenhagen and London).
There are also movies that present a very original approach to the Irish question such as the conflict of identity experienced through cross-dressing in “Breakfast on Pluto”, made in 2005 by Irish director Neil Jordan, who stated that Belfast was a very interesting city in which to make a movie, especially if compared with Dublin, now completely “clogged up with film productions”.
Another point in favor of this Northern Ireland city is the warm reception given by the local community to the actors, who have been won over by the charm of this new, peaceful Belfast: Bill Murray and Tim Robbins can often be found walking around the city and enjoy visiting its pubs and theaters.
Another fan of Belfast is Shirley McLaine, star of “Closing the Ring”, a love story filmed in Ireland, set during the Second World War, directed by Sir Richard Attenborough.