Quiet by name, but quite some fame. Colm Bairéad’s Irish-language coming-of-age film “An Cailín Ciúin” (“The Quiet Girl”) bowed at the Berlinale earlier this year and has been an unstoppable force on the festival and awards circuit. It won top prizes at the Berlin, Dublin and Taipei film festivals and swept the Irish Film and Television Awards. The film opened theatrically across Ireland and the U.K. mid-May and such is the power of its storytelling that it has cinema dates booked through early September, and will represent Ireland in the Oscars’ international feature category. Nell Roddy, co-founder of Ireland’s Break Out Films, which distributed the film in the country, and Jake Garriock, head of distribution strategy and group publicity at U.K. distributor Curzon, share the film’s journey with Variety.
Nell Roddy (Ireland Distribution)
When director Colm Bairéad and producer Cleona Ní Chrualaoi first screened “An Cailín Ciúin” (“The Quiet Girl”) to myself and my business partner Robert McCann Finn in the middle of the pandemic in 2021, we were completely floored by its searing beauty, emotional depth and heartfelt honesty.
We founded Break Out Pictures to acquire titles that often need a bespoke theatrical release and, from the outset, we really believed audiences would embrace it just as much as we did. After some initial meetings with Colm and Cleona discussing our overall vision and passion for the film and broad release plans, we acquired it for both Ireland and the U.K. “An Cailín Ciúin” was Break Out’s second Irish-language film (we released our first Irish-language feature “Arracht” in fall 2021), which we had acquired via the new Cine4 scheme. (Cine4 is a new initiative from a TG4, Screen Ireland and BAI partnership, to develop original feature films in the Irish language.)
Shortly after our acquisition, “An Cailín Ciúin” made history as the first Irish-language feature selected for the Berlinale where it won the Grand Prix of the Generation Kplus international jury, which created quite the media storm in Ireland. There was plenty of U.K. distribution interest following Berlin but ultimately, we decided to partner with Curzon Film as we’ve always admired their work, ethos and passion for cinema.
Following Berlin, we secured opening night at the Dublin International Film Festival, another historical first for an Irish-language film to open the festival. It went on to win the audience award and early reviews were phenomenal, with five stars across the board — a sign of international press reactions to come. The Curzon and Break Out teams worked very closely in the following weeks creating all marketing materials and deciding on overall strategy.
Release dates are always tricky to choose, especially post-pandemic with the theatrical calendar in flux, but we felt we should move quickly and open pre-Cannes and capitalize on all the recent festival buzz/awards and media profile. After much discussion, we decided we would open in Ireland with previews on May 12 and in the U.K. on May 13. We always felt that if we could find some space to grow an audience, reactions would be overwhelmingly positive and word of mouth would be very strong.
The cinematic visual beauty of the film and the emotional pull of the main character Cáit was central to our positioning of the film and, in tandem with Curzon, we created a suite of engaging marketing assets to position the film as a must-see theatrical experience. In the weeks leading up to its Irish release there was further good news for the film as it won seven Irish Film and TV awards, an incredible feat for any film but unheard of for a debut feature.
With the support of Screen Ireland for the Irish release, and co-ordinating the release with Curzon in the U.K., we increased the cinema footprint. Meanwhile, to maintain the momentum from the festivals and build word of mouth we held a number of talker screenings pre-release focusing on key media, influencers, literary groups and Irish-language speakers. The reactions following the screenings were overwhelmingly positive and gave us further confidence to open on just under 100 cinemas across both countries, the widest release ever for a film in the Irish language.
Given the scale of the cinema footprint, which included a high number of multiplex sites, we used a targeted grassroots campaign to leverage a more traditional marketing campaign that included a robust digital campaign, outdoor, print etc. The opening weekend weather was warm and sunny and the box office was slightly softer than we would have liked, but in a highly unusual trend, midweek figures were higher and this continued with an increase in box office in weekend 2. The support of the exhibition sector was crucial at this juncture to hold our cinema footprint and allow the audience to grow.
Anecdotally, we saw from social media reactions that “An Cailín Ciúin” was really engaging with a cross-generational audience and that for many people it was their first time in years that they had ventured back out to the cinema. The film quite quickly became what Break Out and Curzon had hoped it would — a film of discovery and a cultural event that was not to be missed.
Releasing “An Cailín Ciúin” has been an incredibly collaborative and rewarding experience with both the filmmakers and Curzon Film, along with the overwhelming support of both Screen Ireland and Tg4 who backed the film from the beginning. Currently the box office is just shy of €900,000 ($918,000) — the previous record for an Irish-language film was “Arracht” on €160,000 — and is now in its 12th week in cinemas with further bookings in place, a phenomenal result for an independent film. The successful release in Ireland and the U.K. has helped open new opportunities for international territories and hopefully now, it is only a matter of time that the rest of the world will get to see Colm’s quiet masterpiece.
Jake Garriock (U.K. Distribution)
Our director of program and distribution sales, Damian Spandley, met with Break Out Pictures in Berlin and was tipped off about the film. Seeing it there, he quickly alerted our acquisitions team who instantly fell in love, as did the rest of our team. It was an interesting proposition because even though the film is contained and intimate it has a real cinematic feel. It was a competitive situation and when we met with Colm and Cleona, and Nell and Robert from Break Out Pictures to discuss ideas for the release, I think our passion for the film was obvious.
There were a number of what we euphemistically call in the business ‘distribution challenges’ — first-time director, no big-name cast, not in the English language. But it also perfectly captures a moment in time in Irish history/culture, so we felt confident it would connect with Irish audiences and the many people with an Irish connection across the U.K. Once you have a committed group of people willing to act as cheerleaders for a film, you have a chance to bring in an even wider audience. So much of the success of the film, certainly in the U.K., has been a result of the amplifying effects of organic social media and word of mouth.
The distribution agreement was unusual, too. Break Out Pictures were already attached for Ireland. Curzon usually takes all rights for U.K. and Ireland but in this instance, it felt like a logical split. “The Quiet Girl” was clearly going to be a different proposition in the U.K. than in Ireland. When working through the logistics it was decided Break Out Pictures would look after theatrical for the entire island of Ireland. For the U.K. side, we wanted to release ‘date and date’ with Curzon Home Cinema, which for us is the best roll-out for arthouse and specialist titles. But across Ireland, there was an opportunity to take the film wider into multiplex sites.
Initially, we toyed with the idea of release a couple of weeks after the Irish release, to allow the buzz and news of the expected opening weekend box office result to travel across the Irish Sea. But eventually, it was decided the cumulative effect of reviews, advertising and social media all running at the same time outweighed the benefits of such a plan.
One of the strengths we brought to the table was experience in creating marketing materials which elevate a specialist film and make it accessible to a wider audience. “The Quiet Girl” offered an interesting challenge because of its subtlety and its reserved central character. The emotion of the piece accrues through quietly moving moments and unspoken feelings. Our marketing team and trailer house HelloMozart, working with Break Out and the filmmakers, created something which captured the emotional arc of the film without breaking the spell of the film’s simplicity.
Another advantage we were able to leverage for the film was our close contacts with the U.K. critics. We looked after the release in-house and encouraged key critics to come to early screenings of the film. At this point the film had launched at Berlin, Dublin and Glasgow, and had a bounty of IFTA nominations, so we weren’t without ammunition but we have also cultivated trust with critics to be able to introduce a film like “The Quiet Girl.” It was very encouraging to see the critics get behind the film.
Colm and Cleona Ní Chrualaoi came to London on May 3 and 4 and we organized a special preview screening at Curzon Bloomsbury. Fiona Shaw was kind enough to host and there was a collective effort to bring in London-based Irish tastemakers. It was at this screening we realized we might have something special — as the credits rolled there was audible sniffling and drying of the eyes. The questions that followed were a mixture of Irish voices and those without a connection to Ireland. So we had a sense the film connected and the campaign was already working.
We opened in 29 sites in the U.K. (excluding Northern Ireland) and the film exceed our already confident expectations. It was actually at the widest point of release in the U.K. on June 10, and numerous sites have brought it back during the run. It is continuing to be booked into its fourth month on release. It played our Curzon Bloomsbury venue for an astonishing nine weeks and it has been the best performer so far this year on Curzon Home Cinema.
With awards season later in the year, we will be gearing up again to work on the film. Hopefully, “The Quiet Girl” will connect with voters in the same way it has with audiences.
Variety’s “Inside the Release” lifts the curtain on successful international film releases, with the key architects of a movie’s distribution detailing the strategy, campaign and execution that went into making their film generate buzz and land at the box office.