Intermission hit the Euros 2m milestone for BVI at Irish cinemas on Wednesdaynight, adding to the lustre of 2003 as a landmark year at the local box officefor films made in Ireland.

With several strong titles yet to be released in the final quarterIrish-made films have already reached a combined gross of Euros 7m this year.The results have given added impetus to the campaign to persuade the governmentto retain the tax break for film production.

Whereas many other territories have seen a slump in admissionsover the summer months, Irish audience numbers have remained stable.

This is largely because of the performance of the JoelSchumacher-directed biopic Veronica Guerin, starring Cate Blanchett, which was the top grossing filmin Ireland so far this year.

That film was a major contributor to 17% growth in admissionsduring August, despite it being the hottest on record. Opening on July 11, Guerin held strongly right through August andSeptember, grossing Euros 3.8m up to last weekend.

Guerin'sBVI stable mate Intermission, which opened on August 29, has kept a top three position eversince, reaching Euros 2,012,286 on Wednesday night from 42 sites. Figures forSeptember should show similar growth to those already recorded for August.

Commenting on the success of local films this year Joan Egan,chair, Screen Producers Ireland (SPI) and executive director, TyroneProductions, said, "It's encouraging that Irish people are still eagercinema-goers. We continue to have the highest admission levels per capita inEurope."

"However," she warned, "the growth of the Irish film industry inrecent years has played a major role in creating this interest and momentum,and unless the government realises that film production in this country cannotbe sustained without a tax incentive, this momentum will cease rapidly andquality Irish films become a thing of the past.

"I urge the government to continue to support our indigenous filmindustry, the proof is there that Irish people have an appetite for Irishproduced films."

Brendan McCaul, vice-president and general manager of BVI(Ireland), the distributor of Veronica Guerin and Intermission, also chimed in support of tax breaks,the first representative from the distribution side of the Irish film businessto argue publicly for their retention.

Said McCaul: "The quality of Irish films has improved enormouslyin the last couple of years. There is such a huge pool of talented, skilled andexperienced people working in the Irish film industry now, that I believe we'veonly seen the tip of the iceberg. Without a tax incentive to assist home-grownproductions, however, the golden era of Irish film may have already come andgone, which would be a terrible shame."

Speaking for the largest locally owned exhibition chain, the WardAnderson Group, Ronan Glennane said, "The Irish box office has managed tohold its own this year, and this is largely due to the wealth and quality ofIrish made films which have attracted huge audiences.

"It proves that there is a high demand from Irish people for Irishfilms. The knock on affects of the loss of the tax incentive will be felt notjust by Irish producers and directors, but by the exhibition and distributionsectors also."

Local films to be released before the end of the year include AislingWalsh's award-winning Song For A Raggy Boy, due on October 17 from Abbey Films, Jim Sheridan's InAmerica, due on October31 from Fox, the raucous local TV spin-off Spin The Bottle, due on November 28 from BVI, and Mystics, a gentle comedy due on December 12from Momentum.

Irish-made films released to date in 2003
Title DistributorGross
Veronica Guerin* Buena Vista 3,802,800
Intermission* Buena Vista 2,012,286
Evelyn Pathe 462,215
The Actors Eclipse 246,575
The Magdalene Sisters~ Eclipse 229,909
The Good ThiefEclipse 206,595
Dead Bodies Buena Vista 103,413
Goldfish Memory* Eclipse 72,424

TOTAL 7,136,217
* Still on release
~ figures for 2003 only