The Irish Green Party’s Catherine Martin has a busy brief, having served as the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media since the formation of the current coalition of government in 2020. In could be difficult to deliver successfully on such a broad remit in principle, but luckily the Greens have never been bound by the restraints of principles.
It must be said that Martin has been impressively busy of late in promoting the arts abroad, using the recent high profile successes of the Irish industry to advocate internationally. Last month, Minister Martin, along with Screen Ireland, the IDA, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Tourism Ireland spent the Oscar week in Los Angeles, meeting Hollywood studios and industry officials. The trade mission saw meetings with Sony, Disney and more as Martin and company updated key stakeholders on the growth and evolution of the film sector in Ireland, as well as discussing new opportunities for collaboration and for production. The exciting meetings were part of a busy month for the Minister.
Ahead of the Oscars, Martin was clear about the pride everyone on the island had for our nominees, wishing luck in advance of the ceremony that saw wins for Northern Irish short An Irish Goodbye and in Visual Effects for Dublin’s own Richard Baneham for his work on the Avatar series.
“The scale of the collective achievement of our nominees is something we have never seen before. It gives us a profile in this year’s ceremony that is beyond anything we could have previously have imagined. We have all collectively witnessed this at first hand over the past few days. And we have all seen the value of this for our industry, our tourism, our language and how it has been a boost for the whole country.Catherine Minister, Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media
The role of the Minister covering so much creativity and culutre has the capacity to be greatly enriching to that individual’s interior. To have oversight and insight into the immediate, thriving heart of Irish culture is to be exposed to an extraordinary amount of talent, emotional stories and intelligent ideas. For film alone, it’s an enlightening prospect. The critic Roger Ebert famously described film as like “a machine that generates empathy”, great cinema having the potential to open up the viewer to aspirations, dreams and fears of everyone around us, no matter the divide.
You know, in theory like.
With her fingers of the pulse of Ireland’s cinematic scene, Martin will, theoretically, have seen some acclaimed Irish films of recent years, in addition to the high profile Oscar nominated ones. With a range of minds and messages, the following listicle highlights just some of the Irish productions of the last decade that the Minister will no doubt have watched. We await confirmation from the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media about the Minister’s star ratings of these homegrown hits, but meanwhile, here are 5 Irish films that Catherine Martin T.D. has seen, presumably.
Arracht (2019, Directed by Tomás Ó Súilleabháin)
Ireland, 1845. As the famine progresses, a fisherman unable to protect his family is subsumed by darkness until a helpless little girl saves him from despair.
Dónall Ó Héalaí shines in this dark and hard hitting famine era drama. As the potato blight begins to spread to Connemara, local farmer and fisherman Colmán Sharkey’s family life come unders threat, particularly when the local landlord increases the rent in order to protect his investment. Disaster strikes when Sharkey goes to reason with the landlord, and the man loses everything, slowly clawing back his humanity over harrowing years while trying to protect his young ward Kitty. Physically arresting and emotionally impactful, Arracht remains a worthy watch, although the Minister like any sensible viewer may scoff at the propesterous, potentially dangerous climax which sees agents of the state and the police violently assailing a tenant.
Aisha (2022, Directed by Frank Berry)
While caught for years in Ireland’s immigration system Aisha Osagie develops a close friendship with former prisoner Conor Healy. This friendship soon looks to be short lived as Aisha’s future in Ireland comes under threat.
Frank Berry’s frank exploration of the kafkaesque struggle of life under the Direct Provision system will hit home hard to Martin and her Green Party colleageus. Black Panther’s Letiticia Wright plays the titular Aisha, a Nigerian immigrant worn down and bewildered by Ireland’s complicated and unforgiving system; undermined, neglected, wilfully misunderstood and forced to relive the traumatic circumstances of fleeing her home over and over. Ending Direct Provision was a key element of the Greens 2020 election manifesto, who promised to replace it with a “not-for-profit system based on accommodation provided through existing or new approved housing bodies” and they may eventually even get around to it. Wright’s dutiful, dignified performance is well placed to provoke important questions in viewers including Martin, like for example “would Aisha be happier if she had to pay rent in there?”
Dublin Oldschool (2018, Directed by Dave Tynan)
Over a drug-fuelled weekend in Dublin, Jason reconnects with his estranged brother, a recovering addict living on the streets.
In adapting Emmet Kirwan’s acclaimed play to the big screen, the actor/writer and director Dave Tynan were able to bring the streets of Dublin into the story, albeit a fictionalised one with less homeless people than there are on the actual streets. The heart of the story revolves around Kirwan’s Jason and Ian Lloyd Anderson as his brother Daniel, attempting to reconnect after a chance encounter. Kirwan famously spoke passionately and articulately on politics in Ireland, and how differently he and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar view the country despite their similar educations. Martin and her Green colleagues also would have seen the country differently to Fine Gael, before going into government with them, and a viewing of Dublin Oldschool offers comfort to the Minister and company – it shows us that drug addiction, homelessness and destitution are tough, but they’re nothing that a good rousing rave can’t fix.
Herself (2020, Directed by Phyllida Lloyd)
A young mother escapes her abusive husband and fights back against a broken housing system. She sets out to build her own home and in the process rebuilds her life and re-discovers herself.
Clare Dunne is most recognisable to Irish audiences these days for her work on television, playing Amanda Kinsella in RTÉ’s Kin. She was exceptional earlier though, in Herself, a story about escaping crisis that goes from harrowing to heartening. She plays a young mother striving to escape domestic abuse, coming together with friends and colleagues to build her own home out of her own pocket. The story is genuinely moving, thanks to the performance of Dunne and the way the story shows her resiliance, and the way that a community develops around her and her daughters. Herself is inspiring and aspirational, giving hope to anyone that watches it, even government representatives: even if you were to miss your targets for building new homes year on year, Irish individuals might just solve their housing crises…themselves.
Rosie (2018, Directed by Paddy Breathnach)
The story of a mother trying to protect her family after their landlord sells their rented home and they become homeless.
Empathetic, immersive, incredible – Rosie was Film In Dublin’s choice for the best Irish film of the 2010s and it is also among the films that Catherine Martin may have ever seen. It’s a heartbreaking depiction of a family struggling without a home, Sarah Greene bringing us into her struggle with personal and recognisable emotion. She and Moe Dunford are shown to be more than just anxious and afraid of their circumstances, they’re embarrassed – to not have answers for their children, to be noticed by people they know, to have everyone in every conversation they have to be in an unwilling position of power over them. It reflects the difficult circumstances people are put in every day, in Irish government, while an ungrateful electorate question their record, motivation and sincerity in addressing the Irish housing crisis. Greene and Dunford are put through an emotional ringer, and why wouldn’t they be, they don’t yet know that they may eventually potentially be granted first option to buy the home that they cannot afford and are being evicted from. Would Martin’s rating of the film be tempered by the knowledge that you can’t fix the housing crisis overnight, or would the craft and quality of those in front of and behind the camera hold sway? We await confirmation.
At time of writing, the Minister has not yet responded to requests from Film In Dublin to let us know her reviews of these five films. A representative of the Minister’s office acknowledged receipt of our request and will, probably, get back to us once the Minister has finished setting up her letterboxd account. An update will be provided to this post when Martin unofficially joins our team of reviewers with her thoughts on these fantastic films.
We wait in anticipation for the Minister’s thoughts. These films all hold artful insights of which Catherine Martin TD is assuredly aware. The Green Party film fan will have just as much of an assured, internalised, insightful awareness of the stories of great Irish films as party leader Eamon Ryan has about, anything.