Irish Film Institute asks Dublin City Council to help it secure extra space

Museum venue plan has role to play in vibrancy of city’s cultural life, says IFI director

The Irish Film Institute has asked Dublin City Council to help it secure an additional building in the city centre that would house a museum of Irish film, allow it to increase its screening space and boost the cultural life of the city.

In a submission to the draft Dublin city development plan, the IFI said it "has now outgrown its current home" in Temple Bar and is in need of "additional premises in the vicinity".

It is not seeking to leave its existing premises in a refurbished 18th-century Quaker building on Eustace Street, which it has occupied since 1992, but wishes to expand into a second building.

IFI director Ross Keane said the institute's desire to add to its space has been part of its strategy in recent years, but that nothing had come of previous conversations with the city council about finding a site.


“The idea is to get into the development plan and make it a real goal,” he said.

The IFI’s submission comes amid intensifying discussions about a need to revive Dublin city centre in light of high rents, potentially sustained remote working practices and the ongoing strains felt by the broader cultural sector and night-time economy because of the pandemic.

“Dublin has always had a very vibrant cultural life. We don’t want it to become a place that people don’t go anymore,” Mr Keane said.

Its submission to the consultation on the draft plan – one of 69 relating to the plan’s culture chapter – notes an “ever-expanding range of audiences” and “explosion of new films” available to screen, and states that the additional premises, if secured, would feature a museum of Irish film aimed at both tourists and residents.

Film archive

“The IFI is an important part of the cultural fabric of Dublin and we want it to continue to play that important role in a city that’s changing,” said Mr Keane.

The IFI Film Archive, which is kept in climate-controlled vaults at Eustace Street and a Maynooth University extension, has recently been certified under the Heritage Council's Museum Standards Programme of Ireland, paving the way for more of its material – which includes more than 30,000 cans of film dating back as far as 1897 – to be showcased in a new public attraction.

The IFI, a registered charity, was initially a two-screen cinema. A third screen was added in 2009, while the Eustace Street building also houses a meeting room, shop and café and bar area, where old Quaker pews form part of the seating. More than 50 per cent of the films it shows are not shown at other Irish cinemas, it says.

The cinema's current programme includes the 50th anniversary reissue of The Godfather as well as Irish films such as documentary The Dance and psychological thriller Here Before, while it has just completed a retrospective Charlie Chaplin season.

During the “huge challenge” of the last two years – which saw its 2020 box office plunge 69 per cent to €370,638 – the IFI launched three online initiatives: video-on-demand platform IFI@Home, educational programme IFI@Schools and overseas festival portal IFI International.

It received emergency funding from the Arts Council in addition to its annual grant and was one of 123 cinemas across the State to receive stimulus funds through Screen Ireland.

City footfall

But while the Government has permitted 100 per cent capacity in cinemas since January 22nd, removing Covid pass requirements from the same date, the drop in city centre footfall combined with lingering nervousness among some cinemagoers continues to dampen its commercial income.

“We’re certainly not back to pre-pandemic levels and I think it will take some time for normal levels to resume,” Mr Keane said.

“The challenge is that people who were coming in to work in the city were having coffee or lunch at the IFI and that is money we used to invest in our cultural activities,” he said, calling on authorities to place a greater focus on the use of the city to prevent its cultural life from dying.

Laura Slattery

Laura Slattery

Laura Slattery is an Irish Times journalist writing about media, advertising and other business topics