The Dublin International Film Festival, forced online last year, opened Wednesday with stars of the feted Irish-language  “An Cailin Ciuin” (“The Quiet Girl”) taking to the red carpet in the centre of the Irish capital. Twelve-year-old Catherine Clinch, who plays the film’s eponymous quiet girl and grew up only a few kilometers (miles) away in a south Dublin suburb beamed as she spoke with fans and posed for photographs. She told AFP all the attention was “pretty crazy”, adding that acting for the very first time in the film, she had “never expected anything this much”.

The gala screening marks the festival’s return after it moved to online-only events in 2021, when Ireland was under some of  Europe’s longest and strictest coronavirus restrictions. The opening of the festival, which runs until March 6, follows on the heels of what has proven to be, in spite of COVID restrictions, a record-breaking year for Ireland’s screen industries. February figures from Screen Ireland, the national film and television agency, showed a record-breaking 500-million-euro (565-million-dollar) investment in the Irish economy across television, movie and documentary production in 2021, a 40-percent increase on a pre-pandemic record set in 2019.

Irish actress Catherine Clinch poses on the red carpet upon her arrival for the opening ceremony of the Dublin International Film Festival, in Dublin. — AFP photos

The dramatic rise in virtually every sector has been attributed to increased investment from Screen Ireland and the government during the pandemic. International production, which grew by 45 percent in 2019, was driven by projects like Disney’s blockbuster film “Disenchanted”, starring Amy Adams, which was filmed on location in Dublin and Wicklow and scheduled for release this year.

Spending on Irish television drama increased by 40 percent from 2019, bearing such fruits as the ITV/Virgin Media television drama “Holding”, based on the debut novel by talk show host and actor Graham Norton, also due to air later this year. The growth in Irish cinema has made itself felt at awards ceremonies around the world last year, with Screen Ireland-funded film, television and animation projects picking up over 35 major international award nominations, by the agency’s own count.

“An Cailin Ciuin”-part of Ireland’s burgeoning local film scene which grew 52 percent on 2019 — was one of the winners. The feature, which tells the story of a young girl sent to live with foster parents in rural Ireland, won two honors after it premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival earlier this month. “We’re blown away by how the film has been received so far. Just to get into Berlin is a huge achievement. To have won the grand prix in our section was kind of a dream come true,” the film’s Director Colm Bairead told AFP.

“After the two years that we’ve had, it just feels like a total privilege to be able to present our film to a full home audience,” he added. “There’s been so much uncertainty for so long.” “Despite immense challenges, the producers, directors, writers, cast and crew continued creating world-class stories,” Desiree Finnegan, Screen Ireland’s chief executive said in a statement. She added that government support had played an “essential role in the industry’s recovery and subsequent growth, generating a substantial contribution to the economy”. — AFP