Art can make us feel proud of who we are – Roddy Doyle

Interviews about the National Campaign for the Arts
25th September 2009
First meeting of the Dublin West Arts Workers, Tuesday 27th October, 7pm at Draíocht
2nd October 2009

Below is the text of Roddy Doyle’s speech which he made at the Theatre Forum/ Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival event for Dublin TDs and Dublin City Councillors which took place on September 24 2009. This event took place in the Gaiety Theatre and was followed by The Manganiyar Seduction. The speech was also printed in the Sunday Independent (Sunday 27 September)

I want to talk about pride. The pride I felt as I watched Conor McPherson’s great play, THE WEIR, and it struck me that its author grew up two miles away from where I’d grown up. Or, more recently, as I sat in Cineworld on Parnell Street, watching Lance Daly’s film, KISSES, surrounded by young Dubliners who could have been extras in the film. In fact, they could have been its stars. As I watched that film, I loved my city, loved its accents and wit, loved the fact that even its ugly corners could be, and had been, made beautiful.

I remember reading a review of THE COMMITMENTS the day after its premiere in Dublin, in 1991. The reviewer suggested that the film’s depiction of Dublin would discourage tourists from visiting the city. I thought at the time that the observation was irrelevant. Now, 18 years later, it just seems stupid. People have come to Dublin and gone away again, thinking that they have visited the birthplace of Soul. The Liffey, somehow, has become the Mississippi. There are even some who think that I am the composer of Mustang Sally. That film has dragged thousands of people to Dublin, and that pleases me. But it’s not the point. Or, it’s not the only point. At the Dublin premiere, Dublin people danced and clapped during the opening credits, before they’d even seen a frame of the film. For the next two hours, they laughed at, and loved, their own accents, their own jokes, their own places and absurdities. They were proud to be from the place that was up there in front of them. I wrote the novel for anyone who wanted to read it but, as I was writing, I was thinking of the people close to me. I’ve been told that the film has been seen by more than a billion people – although the word ‘billion’ seems to have lost meaning recently. It was made for those people, but it stayed very close to the city that inspired it – and that’s why its so popular. And that’s the point.

Dublin needs art, not to attract tourists – or, not simply to attract tourists. It needs art – great writing, theatre, cinema – because art allows us to feel proud, proud of our city, the city that produces the art, and proud of ourselves, the people who make this place a city.

THE COMMITMENTS was made in 1990 and the fact that it was made at all still surprises me. Not one penny of Irish money went into its making. There was no Irish Film Board; there were no tax incentives. There was no one to help with development or locations or preproduction. There was no one to welcome the American producers who brought millions of dollars to the city and employed hundreds of Dubliners during its making. Ask any kid in Sherriff Street; their father or their granny is in THE COMMITMENTS. That’s one of the reasons it still stands out, I think. There was MY LEFT FOOT, there was THE COMMITMENTS, but there was very little else. We’ve come a long way since then. At least, I hope we have.

I grew up in Dublin, therefore I wrote THE WOMAN WHO WALKED INTO DOORS. It’s almost as simple as that. It’s a story about domestic violence, sadly universal. But its language is a love letter to Dublin; it couldn’t come from anywhere else. That’s why, ironically, it became an opera, produced by a Belgian opera company; and a one-woman show, in French, starring an Irish woman, Olwen Foure; and a play, here in Dublin, starring Hilda Fay. The book itself was inspired by a BBC television series, FAMILY, which had a budget of £2,000,000 that was spent almost entirely in Dublin. But it’s almost impossible to plot or track the financial and cultural impact of that one book – the actors, designers, producers, directors, electricians, administrators, lighting designers, carpenters, book sellers – me!

Well-aimed support from the Arts Council, Culture Ireland, the Irish Film Board and from Dublin City Council can have, and does have, an enormous impact – sometimes years later. This week, one reason we feel proud of our city is because we come from the same place as Brendan Gleeson. I’m delighted – and very lucky. Because I saw – I experienced – Brendan acting in a play I wrote called BROWNBREAD. The play was produced by The Passion Machine, with support from the Arts Council, 22 years ago. I wrote it, Brendan acted in it, Paul Mercier directed it. At the risk of sounding arrogant, it was money well spent.

Brendan is also in THE SNAPPER, a film which was made in 1992 and financed entirely by the BBC. There was no Irish Film Board back then, and RTE didn’t do that kind of thing. Again, I hope we’ve come a long way since then. I hope to Christ we have – because we can’t rely on luck or the BBC. There are new Brendan Gleesons, new Paul Merciers, new Roddy Doyles – I’ve no doubt that Dublin is full of them. But they won’t be found unless local film and theatre companies continue to be supported. A look at the credits at the end of THE SNAPPER – a film that was made for less than £1,000,000 – is like the first page of an atlas that plots the career paths of hundreds of Dublin people, actors, designers, technicians, costume designers – through more films, television and theatre work, BAFTA awards, Oscar nominations, Emmys; trainees who have gone on to produce their own work, one-line actors who have become household names. The pages get added every year. But it’s an open book that will be slammed shut, and very quickly, if the support stops.

I recently met a group of young women from the North Wall who were toddlers when THE SNAPPER was made. But they know every scene off by heart. They love the film because it is theirs. They have children of their own now. What Dublin films will they love? What films and plays will make them proud of their city? INTERMISSION, ADAM AND PAUL, and KISSES. But what then? What film made next year, or the year after, will make Dublin people cheer? If the funding and support stop this year there won’t be a film for them. And that, if it happens, should make us all ashamed.

Here in Dublin, we’re proud of our hugeness on the global cultural landscape. And we’re right to be proud – every citizen of Dublin is a part of it. Dublin isn’t bricks. Dublin is people – people talking, living and telling their stories; Dublin is also the people who put those stories on stage, and film, and paper. Dublin is the city of Brendan Gleeson. It’s the city of James Joyce and Mustang Sally. It’s a pride that we know and share. We must protect and feed that pride. And we must hand it on; it isn’t ours to kill.

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