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BAFTA chief hails the film and TV industry in Northern Ireland

By Margaret Canning

The Belfast-born chief of film and TV organisation BAFTA has said the province's film industry will survive the loss of long-running cable series Game Of Thrones from the province.

Anne Morrison, who is originally from south Belfast, said creatives who have worked on the HBO fantasy drama for seven seasons - while it's been filmed here - will be able to use the experience they've gained on other productions.

Ms Morrison, a former pupil of Richmond Lodge School in south Belfast, worked in the BBC for part of her career. She helped kick-start the filming of flagship BBC dramas in the regions - culminating in the arrival of big BBC productions like cop drama Line Of Duty starring Adrian Dunbar.

Ms Morrison, who is now deputy chairperson of the British Academy for Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) after leading it for two years, will host a panel discussion on the future of TV and film production at next Tuesday's Digital DNA gathering in Belfast.

She said: "A big part of my career was as a controller of network production, which involved bringing both programmes and money to Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland in order to distribute the benefits fo the licence fee more equitably around the UK.

"That push has led to certain programmes being filmed in Northern Ireland such as The Fall and Line Of Duty. From 2006 to 2008 onwards, we've seen a real growth and obviously Game Of Thrones has been massively successful, and has built a critical mass of talent.

"Once, in order to have a senior TV career in anything outside news, you had to move to London. I like to think that nowadays someone equivalent to me who wanted to stay in Northern Ireland at least has a choice."

Ms Morrison left Northern Ireland after her A-levels, studied in Cambridge and joined the BBC as a trainee. She was involved in the filming of dramas in Northern Ireland such as Fairy Tales, modern-day adaptations of traditional stories, including Cinderella starring James Nesbitt.

And the benefits to Northern Ireland were more than just financial. "Whether it's Adrian Dunbar in Line Of Duty or others, there are benefits for actors and local crew. In the beginning some elements of the crew may need to be flown in if someone doesn't know people locally or not enough, but gradually the capability of crews does grow."

The final season of Game Of Thrones will be broadcast on Sky Atlantic over the summer.

And Ms Morrison said filling the void left by Game Of Thrones was "more of a question for Richard Williams" - the chief executive of Northern Ireland Screen.

But she added: "You'd have to hope that there's such a critical mass that it will be taken up by Northern Ireland screenwriters and others creating more of an industry here. A returning series like Game Of Thrones can kick-start things but over time, all of those creative people will be able to generate more creative endeavours."

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