As 2016 draws to a close, Northern Ireland Screen is proud to look back on a fantastic year which has seen Northern Ireland and its talent cementing their reputations for excellence within the screen industries.
2016 was a year when Northern Ireland reinforced its position as one of the prime locations in the UK to make quality TV series. The year saw The Frankenstein Chronicles, Line of Duty series 3, Millie Inbetween series 2, My Mother and Other Strangers, The Lodge, Secret Life of Boys, The Secret, The Fall series 3 and of course Game of Thrones season 6 all airing and all made in Northern Ireland. At one point, during the week of the 29th April, Northern Ireland made drama held the 9pm peak viewing slot on three different channels; Monday night Game of Thrones on Sky Atlantic, Thursday night Line of Duty on BBC2 and Friday night The Secret on ITV. The Lodge was the Disney Channel’s highest-rated series launch in the last four years and was the first Disney UK commissioned show to be aired on the Disney Channel in the USA.
The strength of TV production in Northern Ireland was made clear with Line of Duty series 3 and The Secret both nominated in the 2017 Broadcast Awards Best Drama Series category. Earlier in 2016 both productions and The Frankenstein Chronicles contested the Best Drama category at the RTS NI awards with The Secret winning the award. Game of Thrones continued its phenomenal awards success taking home 12 Emmys, which brought its Emmys total to 38, setting a new Emmy record. The show’s crew were also recognised with Game of Thrones winning nine Creative Arts Emmys, with Northern Ireland’s Carla Stronge, Ronan Hill and Pamela Smyth winning awards in three separate categories. There was further recognition for Ronan Hill as he won a third successive Cinema Audio Society (CAS) Award for his work on the show.
It was not just Northern Ireland made TV series that shone bright in 2016. Local filmmakers continued to make an impact on independent film, gaining recognition at awards and international festivals, strengthening Northern Ireland’s reputation as a fertile ground for interesting stories and talented storytellers. The Survivalist’s writer and director Stephen Fingleton built on a successful 2015 by winning the IFTA Rising Star award, The Survivalist was nominated for a further 3 IFTA awards, and was nominated for the BAFTA Outstanding Debut category. This success for Stephen continued with a nomination for the Writers’ Guild Best Screenplay award. Likewise, A Patch of Fog writers John Cairns and Michael McCartney were nominated for the BIFA Best Debut Screenwriter award. On the international stage, The Journey had its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival and also screened at the Toronto International Film Festival. Causeway Pictures’ Hostage to the Devil had its world premiere at the FrightFest Film Festival 2016 and will debut on Netflix in the New Year. Northern Ireland talent and stories on the international stage is set to continue in 2017 with Six Mile Hill Productions’ Bad Day for the Cut having its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival.
2016 saw the animation sector in Northern Ireland becoming a real powerhouse within the UK. SixteenSouth won three major awards, picking up the Prix Jeunesse International award and a British Animation award for Lily’s Driftwood Bay as well as winning the Independent Production Company of the Year at the BAFTA Children’s Awards in November. SixteenSouth’s looks to continue its success in 2017 as Lily’s Driftwood Bay is nominated for Broadcast’s Best Pre-School Programme award. Londonderry/Derry based Dog Ears picked up two awards for its Puffin Rock series at the Kidscreen Awards, winning Best New Series and Best Animated Series. Dog Ears also looks to continue its success with three nominations for Puffin Rock in the 2017 Annie Awards.
2016 also saw Northern Ireland becoming home to gripping documentary. Erica Starling’s Kids in Crisis brought to the national attention the mental health care of children in the UK. The hard hitting documentary was recognised by the RTS Television Journalism Awards where it won the Current Affairs – Home Award. Alleycats TV’s powerful feature documentary Project Children, looking at Northern Ireland children being brought to the USA during the Troubles, won the IFI Doc Fest Awards and ended the year being aired on BBC 2 NI and BBC 4, and is still available to watch on the BBC iPlayer. There was further award recognition for Northern Ireland made factual programmes with The Man Who Shot the Great War being nominated in the Factual Single category at the Celtic Media Festival.
Northern Ireland game developers continued to make strides in establishing a reputation for excellence in the sector with a number of award nominations and a win in 2016. Blackstaff Games was nominated for the New Games IP (Mobile) Develop Award for its game DogBiscuit. This was followed by a further nomination for the BAFTA Children’s Awards for Interactive – Original for the same game, with the category being won by the development team behind the Northern Ireland filmed Secret Life of Boys. Outsider Games’ body hopping musical adventure game, Wailing Heights, was nominated in the Visual Design category at the TIGA Awards. The local game development community received international recognition when Italic Pig won Best Casual Game at the Game Connection Development Awards in Paris for its game stealth forgery game, Mona Lisa.
2016 has also been a bumper year for Northern Ireland Screen’s Digital Film Archive which has grown to hold 124 hours’ worth of material, 50 hours of which have been added as part of the BFI’s Unlocking Film Heritage Project since April 2015. This material has been enjoyed by the public online and at special screenings as part of the BFI’S Rural Britain campaign which culminated with a unique audio visual performance in the Marble Arch Caves in August.
In education, 2016 marked an important milestone in the history of the Moving Image Arts qualification in Northern Ireland. This year marked 10 Years of the MIA A-Level, which has grown from 69 students in 2006 to 709 students in 2016. The course is now offered at GSCE and AS-level with 50 schools now offering Moving Image Arts at GCSE, 100 at AS-Level and 76 at A-Level.
The Ulster Scots Broadcast Fund (USBF) increased the number of hours of Ulster Scots programming to 25 hours in 2016 with Belfast to Congo: A Deadly Mission receiving a RTS NI Award nomination for Best Factual Single. The USBF also supported the Our Innovators website which highlights the Ulster Scots heritage of some of Northern Ireland’s famous inventors. In 2017 the USBF looks forward to further programming but also welcoming the first participants on its new entrant training scheme.
Irish Language Broadcast Fund (ILBF) projects continued to receive recognition with a number of nominations in 2016. Wwoofáil California was nominated in the Young People Category at the Celtic Media Festival. Folk Aduaidh, Sheehy Skeffington and Meon Eile were nominated for TV Series of the Year, Film/Programme of the Year and Website of the Year respectively at the Oireachtas Media Awards. 2016 also saw 12 new Irish language trainees begin placements, the highest number of trainees since the ILBF began. In 2017 the ILBF looks forwarded to the Níos Mó ná Cluiche series which explores the history of the GAA in Ulster.
Richard Williams, Chief Executive of Northern Ireland Screen, said; “2016 has been a fantastic year for the screen industries in Northern Ireland which have grown in reputation and confidence, with the whole breadth of the sector receiving national or international recognition. It is testament to the fact that the screen sector is growing stronger as a whole and is a driving force within Northern Ireland.
“When we launched our 4 year strategy in 2014, Opening Doors, we aimed for a direct spend of £250m in the local economy based on an investment of £42.8m, I am delighted that as we approach the final quarter of the third year of this strategy we are well on our way to achieving this with an estimated £194m Northern Ireland spend to date on an investment of £24m by Northern Ireland Screen.
“These are exciting times and we appreciate that this is the result of tremendous support given to the screen sector here by the Department for the Economy, Invest NI, the Department for Communities and the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.”