When “City of Ember” hits movie screens in Atlanta and around the U.S. in October, it will be the most recent product of Belfast, Northern Ireland’s growing film industry to cross the Atlantic.
The underground city in which the film is set was created inside the Paint Hall in Belfast’s Titanic Quarter, a building where parts of the famous ocean liner Titanic were painted before assembly.
This 90-foot-tall building in the former Harland and Wolff shipyard has been renovated by media bureau Northern Ireland Screen into a studio, and is lent to production companies for filming.
The towering edifice provided enough space for Los Angeles-based Walden Media, the company behind the “Chronicles of Narnia” films, to create the science fiction world of “City of Ember.”
American actors Bill Murray and Tim Robbins star in the film and Tom Hanks is producing it, and actors from Northern Ireland took up smaller roles.
Richard Williams, CEO of Northern Ireland Screen, told GlobalAtlanta that the bureau is hoping to lure more high-profile movie projects, but also supports television, animation and short films.
The screen bureau is funded by business promotion association Invest Northern Ireland and the regional government’s Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure.
It offers each of the Paint Hall’s four 16,000-square-foot studio spaces free to film companies that hire a majority of local people as cast and crew.
Mr. Williams said that, given the United Kingdom province’s troubled past, the film bureau is working to raise the region’s profile as well as create jobs.
“There’s a feel-good factor when you see your place up on the big screen,” he said. “We’re subliminally pumping out this message that you can do this here. Film is not a thousand miles away.”
The Paint Hall sits in the middle of Belfast’s Titanic Quarter, which is undergoing massive construction developers hope will make it a modern housing, office and retail center.
Mr. Williams said the advanced technology and design skills that made the area a shipbuilding hub in the early 20th century make the Paint Hall’s location appropriate for a film studio.
“Where once there was shipbuilding, now there is filmmaking,” he said. “It’s gone from riches, to rags, to riches again.”
The Paint Hall is not the only filming location in Northern Ireland. In 2004 Universal Pictures’ “Freeze Frame” was filmed in Crumlin Road Gaol, a former prison under renovation as a tourist attraction. Other movies include scenes from Northern Ireland’s countryside.
Northern Ireland Screen’s most recent critical success was “Hunger,” a locally produced film about Bobby Sands, an imprisoned Irish Republican Army member, who died after refusing to eat for 66 days in protest that he and other republican inmates were not given political prisoner status.
The film is controversial as some claim it idealizes Mr. Sands, but it won the Camera d’Or prize for best film by a first-time director when it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May.
“Hunger” and a number of projects supported by Northern Ireland Screen are art films, but “City of Ember” and several other productions represent growing interest from commercial moviemakers.
Other projects supported by the film bureau include “Buy Borrow Steal,” a romantic comedy starring Heather Graham released in the U.S. earlier this year under the title “Miss Conception.”
“Kings,” a film released in 2007, is based on the play “Kings of the Kilburn High,” examining Irish workers living in London. “Fifty Dead Men Walking” is based on the true story of IRA informant Martin McGartland and is to be released later this year.
Mr. Williams said that taking on projects dealing with Irish history and society are a natural outlet of the island’s filmmakers. “It’s very important to shed light on the bad parts of your history,” he said.