Ever been to Eustace street? To a Dublin native this narrow cobbled street can affectionately be described as one of the more reserved and timid tributaries leading into the heart of Temple Bar. Half way down the road lies the entrance to the Irish Film Institute (IFI), a location that has been home to the centre since 1992. One can choose to head straight through the entrance hall, the long corridor leading you to the main atrium on its infamous film strip floor design, or more discreet and seasoned folk will know they can also subtly arrive at the bohemian back entrance, through the outdoor IFI Cafe Bar. The fact that these personal excursions to the cinema feels both like a distant memory and a tangible, nostalgic yearning at the same time, reminds us that home isn’t a place but a feeling. The IFI seems to be cognisant of just how many of us have become enamoured by its niche charm over the years, and recently has succeeded in bringing its unique atmosphere into Irish homes across the country.
Due to the global shutdown, attendance numbers at cinemas recorded last year were the lowest since records began back in 1928. All businesses have had to adapt their approach and the decimated landscape of the Arts is no different. The film industry in particular is based on the collective power of people, hinging most importantly on those who sit in a darkened room, sharing a collective experience. Thankfully, when COVID reared its head, a video-on-demand platform had been on the roadmap in the IFI for at least a few years and was already in motion to quench the insatiable appetite for content as the world moved online.
UNIQUE FESTIVAL ACTIVITY
IFI @ Home was officially launched in 2020, a landmark launch that would, for the first time increase reach outside of the walls of its famous Eustace street location. The platform’s unique selling points is twofold, according to IFI Press and Marketing Manager Stephen Boylan, the first of which is the festival activity. The IFI is known for its fondness of carefully curated festival programmes, recently showcasing the best of world cinema with French and Asian festival line-ups. Moving this activity online was a challenge, but has become a key attribute of the platform which offers exclusive releases of themed festival content on the site all year around. While many players on the film festival circuit have similarly resorted to the virtual world to air their programmes, such as the Virgin Media International Film Festival which has already started plugging it’s online catalogue ahead of it’s virtual festival in March, these serve only as temporary online haunts for film buffs to peek into during the limited festival run time. Unlike many of its contemporaries, the IFI’s platform is not a fleeting occurence on the circuit calendar, but a permanent home for quality works that reach a greater audience.
The launch coincided with its latest curated festival release, the Reel Art Collection and the team used this as a torch to guide loyal members back to the small intimate venue in their own home. Launching with the Reel Art Collection showed members that the IFI wasn’t simply hopping on the streaming bandwagon. It sets its own schedule and in this way has very much stayed true to its commitment to Irish and international independent films by providing these films with a wider audience reach and greater longevity. The miscellaneous array of Arts Council funded documentaries that constitute the Reel Art Collection benefit from now having a permanent home on the platform, a huge opportunity for similar screenings which previously had fleeting chances of temporary accommodation at Irish film festivals. The reason why the launch was so successful is the same reason why people turn up again and again at the Eustace street establishment; it’s a personalised, tailor-made experience for the Irish audience, ‘the Home of Film in Ireland. In Your Home.’
EXCLUSIVE, THEMED COLLECTIONS
Beyond the festival films, the player is also host to over 90 movies, spanning different genres and decades from the Irish and international realm including new releases, classics, documentaries. Stephen Boylan notes that many of these films ‘aren’t available to stream anywhere else.‘ And unlike the mammoth catalogue releases synonymous with Netflix and Amazon Prime, the IFI is at pains to ensure there is value in its releases. It ensures that its additions are centred around a theme that the audience can relate to and it prides itself on the quality of its themed collections, such as its regular Wild Strawberries and From the Vaults screenings. Just this week the IFI released a new curated collection Growing Pains, a selection of Irish films centred around the theme of coming-of-age which included John Carney’s award-winning Sing Street, The Young Offenders, Kissing Candice and Michael Inside. Outside of the themed releases are classics and new releases that are great library additions to the site, with the IFI team recently adding La La Land, McQueen, Dune, Knives Out, Snowpiercer, Reservoir Dogs, Only God Forgives to its virtual shelves. New releases for the end of January are set to include Brooklyn, Sicario, Requiem for a Dream, Assassins, 76 Days and The Exception.
One struggles to think of many people who look back fondly on pre-pandemic excursions to the sticky, commercial escalator maze of Cineworld in the same way they yearn for the comfort of the IFI. As cinema chains grapple with the absence of superhero tentpoles that generally prop them up they have little else to offer, the IFI upholds its reputation as an institution that is committed to the Arts and the Irish audience. If there is anything positive to come from the pandemic, it most certainly will be the fact that you can no longer say you missed a screening at the IFI last week because now that screening will always be online waiting for you. The IFI has spread its wings and the result is so comfortable and soothing, that this may become a home away from home – just for a little while.
Many thanks to the IFI Press team