IT’S been a difficult period for Scotland’s arts sector over the past year or so.

Following the collapse of the Centre for the Moving Image, the future of the Edinburgh Filmhouse remains uncertain.

Last month, award-winning Scottish street orchestra Nevis Ensemble was forced to close due to “severe funding challenges”.

There has, of course, been some great success stories alongside this, not least Edinburgh-born Charlotte Wells’s Oscar and Bafta-nominated debut feature Aftersun.

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Nonetheless, Creative Scotland warned of major cuts for arts organisations last month, with the body’s chief executive saying he was “very concerned about the short, medium and long term future” of the sector.

In stark contrast, Ireland, specifically Irish-language film, has reached new heights in recent weeks in no small part thanks to the Cine4 scheme.

One of the driving forces behind the scheme is Scot Alan Esslemont, originally from Braemar, who currently works as the director general of TG4, an Irish-language channel.

What is Cine4 and what does it aim to achieve?

AT its core, the Cine4 development programme aims to champion the Irish language on screen.

It’s a collaborative project which takes in applications for live-action, feature-length film projects with budgets of up to €1.2 million.

Five of these are awarded backing of up to €25,000 with two of these then chosen to be produced.

Esslemont said: “It means that artists know what they’re writing and how much they have to work with so it’s worked really well.”

Have the films found success?

The National:

ARGUABLY the scheme’s biggest success is Colm Bairéad’s An Cailín Ciúin (The Quiet Girl, shown above), which has become the first Irish-language film to pick up an Academy Award nomination for Best International Feature Film.

It follows a withdrawn nine-year-old girl in Ireland in 1981 as she spends the summer on a farm with her distant relatives.

Another film to find success was Arracht (which translates to Monster). It focuses on a fisherman unable to protect his family ahead of the potato famine.

It picked up an Audience Award at the Glasgow Film Festival in 2020.

Busting the subtitle ‘myth’

THE idea of the “one-inch myth” (the height of a subtitle on screen) has plagued films not in the English language for years.

Esslemont explained: “I don’t think it is so much an issue in the wider world, but the UK and US have been placed where people have been hesitant to look beyond films that aren’t created in English.

“Recently I would say people are coming round to it easier than they used to. Scandinavian noir movies have helped with that and I think Netflix is helping as well.”

Incidentally, Netflix’s All Quiet On The Western Front, filmed in German, is among the favourites for the Oscar’s top prize this year.

Championing ‘minority’ languages

CENTRAL to Cine4, though, is that the Irish language itself is at the heart of the projects it produces.

TG4’s role in the scheme is in part providing the expertise on the Irish language on screen given that’s the remit of the station.

“Cinema hasn’t been friendly to minority languages so I think it’s really important that we came together to push through that to make a difference for the language”, Esslemont explained.

He added: “I think it’s important to link status to the language because minority languages fade away because they lack that status.

“As soon as we saw The Quiet Girl we knew there was something very special about it. This project was about how we could get an audience for a minority-language film but it’s been popular and now it’s broken through worldwide.”

Esslemont admits, however, that championing a minority language won’t be an overnight success.

Part of the pride that comes from creating films in Irish is that it services both the Hollywood sector of the film industry while also giving something for people to be proud of back home.

Esslemont explained: “Things are coming together in a really strong way. What people are saying in Ireland is just how proud they are of the whole thing.

“They’re used to Irish actors doing well but they also know The Quiet Girl is something genuine which reflects Ireland and is in our own language. We’ve given local, intellectual property a hand up and the ability to move a little further on.”

He added that he has no doubt The Quiet Girl’s director will find himself in demand following the film’s success.

Should Scotland be doing something similar?

ESSLEMONT previously worked with BBC Alba and, although he admits that Scotland has a rich film history with the likes of Trainspotting and Local Hero, there is some way to go.

“I think what’s key to Ireland is we think for ourselves and we come up with some wonderful literature.”

Central to championing a minority language, as far as Esslemont is concerned, is strong political leadership.

He explained: “It often happens when times are tough that the first things to suffer are the arts. It’s really short-sighted because they’re so important. What we’ve been able to do is really only possible because of political leadership.

“If there’s not then it tends to fade away and in my view, a country is lesser because of that.”