This month we had the pleasure of talking to Kerry native Áine Moriarty, founder and Chief Executive of the Irish Film & Television Academy (IFTA). Holding an impressive CV, not only has Áine produced 17 IFTA Awards Ceremonies, she is also a founding member of the Film Academies Network of Europe, lecturing annually also at the Digital MEDIA Business School in Spain for five years. She also founded the IFTN Network in 1995 and previous to that managed Film Ireland Magazine for 3 years.
Speaking about her childhood and her life growing up in Kerry she told us
“I was born in 1965 and grew up in Killorglin town where there’s a fantastic community of creative, artistic and musical people. I’m from a large family, one of eleven children. My father Seán Moriarty was a school teacher and he and my mother Mary had a small shop when we were small and ran a little farm outside town. I had a great childhood growing up full of music, art and storytelling. I went to the Carnegie school, which is now called the ISK in Killorglin. I started my first summer job at thirteen in a local store and later, joined the Killorglin Pantomime Group under the renowned directorship of Declan Mangan, and spent the first couple of years in the chorus line before getting the part of the Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz, and then Cinderella. I got a place at the Crawford College of Art & Design in Cork, but postponed taking it up as we had started a Rock Band called ‘ACE’, myself and my friends Donal Moroney, Susan O’Shea (O’Connor), Tom O’ Sullivan and the Jones brothers Mark & Noel from Killorglin and later Mike Galvin from Killarney. We worked hard at it for a couple of years. We wrote and recorded our own music and gigged all around Ireland and toured France. We got a few stints on RTÉ television but ultimately we never got to the next level as there were just too many great bands around at the time”.
For anyone starting a career in any industry it can be a daunting experience but Áine showed a level of determination and tenacity that would ensure her success. Ensuring her positon in the business world she told us
“I moved to Dublin and studied Graphic Design and got a job in product design. I got married in 1990 and then took up an Art teaching job. My friend Ger Nolan got a job in Filmbase at the new Irish film Centre which opened up in Temple Bar in 1992, and through her I discovered there was a small vibrant filmmaking community establishing in Ireland and I just knew I wanted in too. She told me about a job vacancy in their ‘Film Ireland’ magazine and I jumped at it. Temple Bar was the newly redeveloped trendy quarter in Dublin and I loved it. At the weekends I went to the new IFC cinema and also joined Filmbase’s filmmaking courses, learning a bit about the process and getting to know people in the business. In a short time, I became the sales manager of Film Ireland where I was focused on promoting the film companies and industry services. Then in 1995, the year after my first son was born, I decided to start my own company called IFTN (Irish film & TV Network) showcasing and promoting the film and television industry. The internet was a new phenomenon at the time and I was convinced that this was how we could showcase Ireland to the world at large and expand the industry”.
Making one’s mark and garnering position in a world where women’s rights, gender quotas and equal pay are still a relevant topic of discussion, I asked Áine on her experience of working in a male dominated industry and if she encountered negativity whilst founding the IFTA’s to which she said
“Yes, it was male dominated at the time, but having grown up with so many brothers gave me a bit of a thick skin when it came to standing my ground with men at all levels within the business, so I never felt at any stage that I couldn’t deliver the same, if not more than my male counterparts. Regarding the IFTA’s, we got huge support and positivity from the industry and the business but of course, as you’d expect, a few journalists questioned whether Ireland was big enough to have a film Awards with a red carpet and Stars etc. It didn’t deter us and we stayed focussed and we rallied the troops and delivered.”
As CEO of the IFTA’S and a sitting member of the Kerry International Film Festival, Áine’s position in the film and television industry is influential in bringing production to Ireland and more specifically, Kerry. She told us
“I’m passionate about helping to develop film and the film industry in Kerry and I’m delighted to be part of the Kerry county council’s ‘Film in Kerry Steering Group’ chaired by Moira Murell and with other powerhouses such as Kate Kennelly and Siobhán O’Sullivan who is the Kerry film development officer. The filmmaking industry in Ireland has become an important business for the Irish economy, and Kerry is so well placed to attract a slice of that filmmaking business into the country. We have stunning scenery here in Kerry and a wealth of creative talent in the county and we need to ensure that they have every opportunity to grow and succeed internationally. We’ve already got off to a good start with the movie ‘Joy Ride’ filmed in Kerry, starring Oscar winner Olivia Colman and directed by IFTA winner Eimer Reynolds and written by our very own Kerry woman Ailbhe Keogan. I’m delighted also be an active Board member of the ‘Kerry International Film Festival’ alongside Ailbhe and Grace O’Donnell and Aileen Garvey, as this festival is a very important platform for Kerry to engage with filmmakers from around the world and bring their attention to Kerry”.
When we think of awards ceremonies it evokes images of glamour, red carpets and A-list celebrities. But never would we consider the work it takes to achieve a flawless night of celebration. Asking Áine about her personal highlights of the IFTA’s she said
“For me there have been so many highlights through the years connected with reaching each milestone of growth along the way. Our Academy Learning programme allows young filmmaker’s attend our Masterclasses and Discussions with leading international professionals and a highlight for me was having Martin Scorsese with us in Dublin to do and IFTA Masterclass. With regards to the Awards over the past 18 years, the big highlight is delivering the big one, the IFTA Lifetime Achievement Award to the very worthy recipients. We have now honoured 23 industry veterans for their lifetime body of work and achievement in the industry. People like Maureen O’Hara, John Boorman, David Kelly, Fionnula Flanagan, Liam Neeson, Gabriel Byrne, Gay Byrne, Niall Tóibín, Nuala Moiselle, Brendan O’Carroll, George Morrison and Ros Hubbard for example. Some of them have passed away since then so we are delighted to have given them that recognition from their peers and from their home industry”.
It is almost impossible to talk to anyone in any industry without mentioning the last 18 months. The global pandemic has affected everyone on personal and economic levels never before seen on such a large scale in our modern world. Awards ceremonies are no exception, in times when we were made to stay apart there would be no red carpet mingling or sold out auditoriums, so how did Áine navigate these challenges?
“Like every other business we found it so hard initially but then we got our heads down and started doing our weekly Learning & Mentoring programme of masterclasses, panel discussions up online in our Academy Hub, using Zoom as our platform for hosting the events. We have 1,260 Academy members, and most of them were at home as production had shut down, so they were so relieved to have the IFTA Academy Learning events to distract them from the pandemic and the outside world. We reached out to professionals within our peer Academies in the US and elsewhere to share their knowledge and expertise with our members during the pandemic, and they embraced the opportunity – it was so inspiring. When we launched the virtual IFTA ceremony it was just fantastic, the positive feedback was extraordinary, everyone really got behind it. We invited international stars to present an award virtually and they all got stuck in and really enjoyed doing it too. Like so many other industries, we all had to work harder and rally together to raise people’s spirits during the intense lockdown”.
With unpredictable lockdowns, the ever changing landscape of cinema and film production is evolving fast with streaming options becoming the norm. I asked Áine her view on this to which she said
“I suppose the big challenge here is for the Cinemas in the long-term and that whole communal experience of watching a film on the big screen in a dark auditorium. Cinema is no longer the crucial component for a Film to be a commercial success and to reach mass audiences. Netflix, Amazon Prime and Disney have broken that mould and the studios are now investing a lion’s share of their spend on the pay-per-view and the streaming platforms. Ultimately, that is good news for Ireland, as the big players are all looking for diverse content; films, dramas, documentaries; animation etc. and Ireland is so well-placed to service a key slice of this market and can access multiple international funding partners to deliver this, we just need to ensure we have the infrastructure in place and studio space to deliver this”.
With such an accomplished career it is hard to imagine that there is nothing Áine does that does not turn to gold! Rounding up our conversation, I asked Áine about her future goals in her business and personal life to which she told me
“With the Academy, we are coming towards our 20th Anniversary, which is exciting, with our Member’s Hub, Learning events and award ceremonies, and we have built up an extensive Archive of footage, images, letters and communications which means there is now a strong legacy for future creative generations to draw from and be inspired. That is a good feeling. In my personal life my children are grown up now and no longer living at home, so my husband and I have more free time to explore the next chapter of our lives together, which is also exciting. After this Pandemic, I’m sure like everyone else, our health is always in focus as we don’t know what’s around the corner and we have to be grateful for every day. I spent a lot of time during the lockdown at home in Kerry working remotely and got to have quality time with my mum too, who is 87. I also have my Kerry accent back now which I love. I’m convinced that Kerry and the Reeks district is the most captivating and beautiful part of the world. Although I’m now back to the office in Dublin, I’m determined to get home to Kerry as many weekends as possible and to work remotely when I can”.
Whatever the future holds for Áine, she can be proud of her achievements thus far. Putting Kerry on a global map in a highly competitive industry, making waves and opening doors for women in the world of business, she has demonstrated that with the right attitude and determination, just about anything can be achieved.