IRELAND HAS found a new creative confidence in itself, says filmmaker Mark Cousins who is set to release a new chapter in his 'The Story of Film' series later this month.
'The Story of Film: A New Generation' sees the Northern Irish-Scottish man examine the past ten years of cinema, ranging from new technological advancements to innovations in documentary making, featuring films, directors and writers from across the world including India, Iran and Romania.
The film, coming in at a runtime of 160 minutes, follows on from his 15-hour 'The Story of Film: An Odyssey', an inquiry into the state of moviemaking in the 20th century, which at the time of its release in 2011 played at major film festivals worldwide and has been viewed as influential on the industry as a whole.
Speaking to the Irish Post about this film, which features some works such as Lenny Abrahamson's 'Frank' and Irish animation company Cartoon Saloon's 'Song of the Sea', Cousins said he believes Irish cinema is at the highest point it has ever been.
"If you look into the past Irish cinema has underperformed," he said. "We were so great at writing and music that cinema didn't really poke it's head up until relatively recently.
"You can now see Irish cinema over-achieving in the fields of acting, directing and animation. So something has happened, there's now a creative confidence in the fact that Ireland has jumped from the 19th century to the 21st century in terms of new tolerances with the marriage equality referendum and women's abortion rights.
"There has been a change in the sense of who we could be, and we have a bigger sense of ourselves in the past decade or so which has filtered into our cinema."
The idea to examine the past decade of cinema in the form of a film was one he originally said "never again" to.
"The Odyssey took a long time, I think it was four years," he explained. "I was tired after it, but you forget what it's like. It's like a woman giving birth who said she wouldn’t have another child - you sort of forget the pain.
"The publisher of my book 'The Story of Film' asked me to update it, and when I did I realised that a lot has happened in the last ten years. There have been lots of technology changes - cameras have gotten smaller, CGI has gotten better, all that sort of stuff.
"Society has changed as well with Me Too, Black Live Matter and a series of liberation movements that have addressed the imbalances in the film industry and broader society. That means there are new types of films being made by a much broader range of people than ever before, and certainly ten years ago."
That broad range of films is what Cousins explores in 'A New Generation', with no genre or country being too high-brow nor too mainstream to be discussed.
The first comparison comes in the form of ‘Joker’ and ‘Frozen’, with the themes of release and escape being found in Elsa's infamous solo 'Let It Go' and Joaquin Phoenix's scene where he dances down the steps of a stairs near a New York subway.
Other films include blockbusters such as 'Deadpool', 'Propaganda' (a documentary that pretends to have been made in North Korea about Western propaganda) and Beyoncé's 2016 audio-visual album 'Lemonade' which examines the experiences of the African-American community.
One may think that the planning required for an examination of almost 100 films would be extensive, but Cousins opts for a rather practical method.
"I've got a pretty good visual memory and I remember individual scenes easily, so when it came then to the planning of the picture, what I did was tear up little bits of paper and write the names of the film and a scene on them and then spread them around on my carpet," he said.
"It's quite low-tech! After that you start to notice connections, like how I put Joker and Frozen together. One is very adult and one is child-like, and yet they have something in common."
A detailed paper-edit is then undertaken, before Cousins' editor Timo Langer comes on board.
"We're a very small team which means we can work fast and efficiently, and even though this is quite a long film, it didn't take very long to edit. We didn't have ten bosses telling us that we need a bit of George Clooney or someone else thrown in there."
He hadn't seen all the films featured in 'A New Generation' and part of the pleasure in making it was filling in gaps in his knowledge.
"The gaps are what keep me going. I'm not so interested in what I do know, but what I don't know. Ignorance is your best friend, in other words.
"The main thing that I take away is that great films happen everywhere," Cousins continued. "They happen in Hollywood, in Bollywood, in London and in Dublin and Cork and Belfast.
"If you only watch Hollywood movies - and I'm not snobby about those at all - then you're not going to find the full richness of films that is out there. Films that I am currently seeing that I think are the best are coming from Romania, Latvia, Iran and the Philippines.
"You have to have a peripheral vision and not be so Euro-centric. Lots of people from Britain and Ireland only speak English, which is a limitation but its important to look beyond your limitations."
Cousins continued to say the distinction between niche and mainstream entertainment is blurring constantly.
"People who think they only like mainstream entertainment would likely be really switched on by films from other countries and in other languages," he said.
"Looking at the huge success of 'Parasite' for example, a Korean film that has opened doors to other Korean films, you would almost question the idea of 'mainstream'.
"There is of course the question of how you slide people over from watching Marvel films towards Bollywood or Arab cinema, and that's partly my job or the job of people with a voice - we're all pathfinders to other types of film."
Streaming services are increasing the exposure of previously under-appreciated genres and creators, with the example of Egyptian filmmaker Youssef Chahine coming to Cousins' mind.
"He was daring and he made films about sexuality in the Arab world. I interviewed and put him in the Story of Film, and a few years ago Netflix bought all his films and put them on the service, and that changed things a lot.
"Loads of people have discovered his work, so that would be the most obvious way of exposing people to new films because Netflix is in so many homes now."
Overall, he is optimistic about the future of cinema
"'Niche' films can and will deliver big moments of joy and fear and sadness and all those emotions that we want from mainstream cinema."
Mark Cousins’ The Story of Film: A New Generation is in cinemas and on demand from 17 December. Tickets & Info: https://www.the-story-of-film.com