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'Garage' continues an Irish drive

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CANNES -- A year after "The Wind That Shakes the Barley" won the Palme d'Or, Ireland is back in Cannes with Lenny Abrahamson's tragicomedy "Garage," screening today in Directors' Fortnight.

"Garage," Abrahamson's sophomore effort, follows the country's crossover success of the bleak comedy "Adam & Paul" (2004). This time, the action is shifted from urban Dublin to rural Ireland and the lead is Ireland's biggest comedy star, Pat Short, in his first major dramatic role.

Irish film is on a role. For a country of just 4 million, the Emerald Isle is taking on the big boys on the international cinema scene. The Palme d'Or for "Barley" was followed by the surprise success of John Carney's mini-budget "Once," which won this year's audience award at Sundance. Fox Searchlight won the bidding war for the film in the U.S., and Summit Entertainment is selling "Once" worldwide in Cannes.

Ed Guiney, a producer at Element Films, the company behind "Garage" and "Barley," said the current wave of Irish cinema is the fruits of years of work by the Irish Film Board in building up the country's production infrastructure.

"I think what (Irish Film Board CEO) Simon Perry has been doing for some time now is paying off," Guiney said. "Then winning the Palme d'Or really shone a spotlight on the country. People outside the country are again talking about Irish film."

Ireland's system of tax incentives and film subsidies is the envy of Europe and has been most recently copied by Germany in an attempt to model Dublin's success.

"Everyone is looking to do what we've been doing for several years, but we got here first," Irish Film commissioner Naoise Barry said. "I think we've established a reputation and a pool of talent here. We will continue to punch above our weight internationally for some time to come."