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New Hibernia Review 8.2 (2004) 24-40
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James Mark Sullivan and the Film Company of Ireland
Maryanne Felter and Daniel Schultz
Film-making in Ireland preceded the work of James Mark Sullivan and the Film Company of Ireland by several years, as Proinsias Ó Conluain has documented.1 Several commentators have noted the origins and contributions of the Film Company of Ireland, but most stop with the idea that the company ceased production with the departure of its originator to the United States in 1920.2 Recent evidence suggests otherwise. Although production ceased when Sullivan left Ireland, the Film Company not only continued to market its films but also established itself in the United States, attempting to do business on into 1922.
In March, 1916, along with Henry M. Fitzgibbon, James Mark Sullivan established the Film Company of Ireland (FCI).3 According to William Feeney, "It had no permanent studio; movies were made on location or in foreign studios.Players were Abbey people and independent actors."4 Inspired by D. W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation, which premiered at New York City's Liberty Theatre on March 3, 1915,Sullivan believed a native Irish film company could go far in presenting the Irish nationalist cause. Considered "the most important native Irish film production company, The Film Company of Ireland was active during the latter half of the 'teens decade."5 According to Martin McLoone, these "highly successful [End Page 24] featurefilms in the period from 1910 to 1920 . . . were consciously devised to help the nationalist cause."6 Unfortunately, the Film Company of Ireland's early works are lost. Headquartered on Sackville Street, the offices, along with three early films and all the paperwork, went up in flames after Easter Monday, 1916, when the rebels took over the General Post Office.This catastrophe did not stop Sullivan and Fitzgibbon: in July, 1916, they premiered O'Neil of the Glens at the Bohemian Theatre. Ever the businessman, Sullivan made sure the premiere was photographed by the Film Company and footage used in subsequent performances, "probably ensuring that audiences returned for a second time in hopes of viewing themselves on screen."7 By October, 1916, the Film Company had made nine short films.8 According to Kevin Rockett,
The Film Company of Ireland was one of the most prolific film-making companies of the early period [of Irish film-making]. In 1916-20 they released more films in Ireland than every other film company or film-maker combined. In early 1916 it made a series of one or two-reel comedies and historical dramas. . . . The films were . . . released to general critical praise.9
Judging from an old Bioscope poster, while it was marketing O'Neill of the Glens, the FCI had plans for seven more "photo-plays":Blarney, The Girl from the Golden Vale, The Upstart, The Treasure Trove, The Bye-Ways of Fate, Willie Reilly and his Colleen Bawn, and The Irish Girl.10 Except for Willie Reilly, these films were either never made or else burned in the Easter Rising.
Such productivity is surprising in light of the fact that Sullivan had been rounded up in the aftermath of the 1916 rebellion and charged with "complicity."11 [End Page 25] Whether he had actually taken part in the Rising itself, or happened to be at work on Sackville Street that Monday, we may never know. His sisters, Ethel O'Neill and Bedella Griffin, were "indignant," saying their brother "could not have been plotting against England."12 Sullivan was, for a time, held at Dublin Castle and transferred to Kilmainham Gaol,and some reports say he was actually transferred to an English prison,13 but letters from his sisters,and pressure from the United States State Department, secured his release.14 But by May 9, 1916, The World reported: "James Mark Sullivan wires that he has been freed."15 Sullivan's allies argued that he was not involved and that his status as an American citizen ensured his release. Especially after the debacle in...