As 'Accelerator' screeches into cinemas nationwide, director Vinny Murphy talks to Harry Guerin about the red lights Irish movies need to break.
HG: Given that 'Accelerator' has such a harsh and uncompromising tone, was it difficult to secure funding?
VM: A lot of people told us that it would be impossible to get funding out of the Film Board but from the start they were nothing but supportive. People also said that there was no way the European Script Fund would go for the idea and they did: 'Accelerator' was the first time that all the judges had agreed straight away that a film should get funding. There are a lot of myths going round about what the Film Board will and won't support and people sitting round in pubs, coffee shops and universities giving out about it, but I didn't have a single problem.
Do think that Irish films have let down 'youth'? Be it by ignoring them or in the way they have been depicted?
Absolutely. The depiction of young working class people is something that I find truly baffling. They go into make up and they come out with spots all over them and raggedy clothes. It's insane: the people that go around in raggedy clothes are middle class kids because working class kids wouldn't dream of it.
If you look at college films - and I think things are changing now - there is still an element where people want to make films about either eight-year-olds or 80-year-olds. And I think when there are so many people doing that you have to say to yourself that there is some kind of cop out going on. If somebody doesn't want to make or can't see themselves making a contemporary film that's fine, but when nobody seems to be doing it you've got to ask why.
So I will: why?
I think there's an old notion of film making that younger filmmakers have inherited. The model that's used seems to be more European than American and it's based on 60's and 70's experimental film making - the whole idea that a slow moving film is more genuine or important than one that moves fast. There seems to be a general inability to deal with what is happening at the present time to young people. Most commercial films deal with people of a certain age, young to middle aged, and that seems to be the age group that's not dealt with here.
It's as if we find it easier to face the past than the present, while other countries are the opposite?
I said years ago that there should be a ten-year ban in this country on films set anywhere but the present and then they should go back and have a fresh look at the past. You get kids in college who spend their life in nightclubs having a grand old time in the city and then they're making films about people beating themselves up for having a sexual impulse down the country. I've never had any kind of desire to set anything in the past. (Laughs) Except maybe Celtic warriors going around taking each other's eyes out with slings.
If you look at Dublin or Cork as a cities, with their landscape, language and characters, there is no reason why films along the lines of 'Trainspotting' or 'Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels' could not have been made.
I think one reason is that the theatre tradition is so strong. I think a lot of energy that could go into film has gone into theatre and then when films are made they're quite close to theatre. I also think that there is almost a snobbery when it comes to making commercial films: you're accused of trying to be like Hollywood and that we shouldn't be doing that. There's an arty tradition and there hasn't been time for younger filmmakers to come along and break it up. There also seems to be a lack of ambition to get beyond the low budget idea.
You've created a distinctive look with this film through your use of blue and silver. It's almost as if you have frozen out any warmth from the characters' lives.
The colour scheme was very tight. I think in general Irish films are too warm and I wanted to make it look as modern as possible. Even films made in the city seem to have a feel of the past about them. When you look at the depiction of Dublin on film if it's not set in the past it looks like it. I just wanted to push the idea that we are part of the 21st century.
You've said 'Accelerator' is about a race but it covers issues like social deprivation and masculinity. Have you played those down in interviews?
People who are interested in all that stuff will pick up on it and go and see it anyway. But in terms of getting an audience to go and see a film you say it's flashy, it's got cars in it, good looking young people and it's funny. What I get a kick out of is that people come out the film and they're shocked, they had a completely different idea of what it was going to be about.
I think a lot of Irish people thought it was going to be crap for a start because they think 'ah, they can't make a car chase movie in this country'. I think they expect something much more exploitative: that it will just be a bunch of kids whizzing around in cars with no depth to the story. Another reason people are shocked is that they didn't think they would feel sympathy for the characters. When they say that they do it means a lot to me because that's what the film is about.
But while the ending is downbeat, I can see some people saying that you glorify some of the situations in the film.
The reality of joyriding is that it's exciting. There's no point making a film to pretend that it's not. There's no point making a film that isn't going to speak on that level of engagement and excitement. We had a screening in Belfast and they've a great outreach programme for kids up there. Some of the kids at the film had been joyriders and they said that there was nothing onscreen that wasn't reality. It's not putting a gloss on it. I think the film will help bring joyriding up as an issue. I don't think anyone is going to watch the film and go out and rob a car.
You're currently working on a script for another project, 'Northsider', can you tell me something about it?
It's very hard to talk about because I'm involved in the draft of it: on the one hand I don't like talking about it and on the other I don't know how it's going to turn out anyway. It's about a kid who's a petty criminal but he's also mad into classical music and he ends up going out with this Southside woman who is a cello player. At the moment she gets involved in crime against his wishes.
'Accelerator' opens nationwide on 5 January 2001.