By Humphrey Carter
WE would all recognise Irish actor Colm Meaney, whether we remember him from “Star Trek The Next Generation,” “The Commitments,” “The Last of the Mohicans” or “Con Air” and he is most likely to be spotted wandering around Soller than Hollywood nowadays.

Meaney is in the process of setting up a new home near Soller after 22 years of living in Los Angeles and is looking to spend as much time as possible on the island. “We love it here and our baby has just been born here, we've a little ‘Sollerica' as they say,” Meaney said yesterday. “But, this is a very difficult business to plan in, as soon as you decide to turn right, you're forced to turn to the left but we want to spend more time here and I want to work more in Europe.” Meaney has just returned to his Majorcan home from the States where he is promoting his latest film “Layer Cake” which was directed by Matthew Vaughn and is excited about taking part in the short film festival. “I think this is a great island to make films, it's got a lot to offer filmmakers and a good start to developing a film industry is to have a festival like this. “What is more, people shouldn't under value short films - the short film directors and producers in Palma next week, some of them in four to five years time will be making major feature films and if they've had a good experience in Majorca, may come back and present their film or even shoot some of it here. “But, I think Majorca should be working towards having a festival of shorts and features, just like Cannes, Vienna or San Sebastian, then you've got the best of both worlds. “That said, this festival is a great way of sowing the seed for a future film industry on the island. “The climate is great here - the only reason Southern California has a film industry is because of the climate. The weather in New York's no good for films. “Majorca's like Southern California but only closer to the rest of Europe and with so many different locations so close to each other,” Meaney said yesterday. “I'd certainly love to make a film here, it would be perfect - like working from home,” he added. “So, it's important for Majorca to build a good and strong relationship with the film industry.” Being in Europe suits Meaney right now - he says a Scottish guy he knows in the movie business in LA heard he was coming to Majorca and presumed Meaney was taking semi-retirement - far from it.

He simply wants to work with some of the European directors he most admires. “I'm also closer to the rest of the family, they all still live in Ireland and the political climate in the States, both politically and personally is not pleasant right now - people are very depressed and worried about where Bush's far right policies are going to lead and what the consequences will be. “You have to think that only about half the country voted for him, but he's still following his hard right path,” Meaney said.
Nevertheless, Meaney is not turning his back on the States. He has to fly back at the end of next week to start filming a pilot for a new TV series but after that he will be filming for ten weeks in Germany, Croatia and Hungary. “In fact, this year's Oscars were quite encouraging. Despite the millions of dollars spent on promoting films in the States, the judges are no longer swayed by all the commercial juggernauts. Films like “Million Dollar Baby” and “Sideways” would not have got a look in a few years ago, but this year the Academy judges have shown that they are looking at the films seriously, so there's hope for the US industry yet because, as for the rest of the Oscar nominated films, I've seen very few to be honest, they just really do not interest me. “Everyone reaches a certain stage in their life. I've done the commercial movie bit in the States and now there are some particular people I want to work with and they are in Europe. “The more interesting projects and films come from Europe and I prefer the pace. You sit around for hours on the big action blockbusters and can never get any momentum going as a performer, the pace in Europe is much faster and I prefer that.” His CV suggests he is a workaholic, but he denies that - he actually claims he has plenty of time for family, friends and his work.
After studying at the Abbey and Irish National Theatre with Liam Neeson he moved to the stage in London and eventually started picking up small parts in tv series such as “Z Cars”.

In 1982 he decided to make his move to the other side of the pond but continued to work in theatre. “Back in Ireland, neither Liam nor I, or any of us, really considered screen acting, it was not really an option back then,” he says.
However, he landed a small part in “Encounter at Farpoint”, the pilot for “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and in the space of just two episodes as Chief Miles O'Brien he became a household favourite and remained with the show for the next seven years.

Meaney is no “trekkie” he admits that, while making the show, he turned down all the invitations to the Star Trek conventions. “I'd be in a space suit all week, I didn't want to spend my weekends surrounded by people wearing fake ones,” he says.

But he does admire what the series achieved and what it tried to do. “It was a real phenomenon, especially when the Next Generation revived the whole concept. “I think when it first started in the late 60*s when we were fighting the Cold War and facing the threat of nuclear annihilation, Star Trek gave us the notion that there was a future to contemplate and that it was an optimistic future,” he says. “We also went on to deal with some quite serious and contemporary issues such as genetic engineering and the homeless, topics no other prime time show could deal with. I was never really a great fan of the science fiction genre, but it gave us the scope to deal with issues no other series could,” he said.

Since Star Trek, he has become one of the most popular contemporary Irish actors working with the likes of Hugh Grant, John Cusack, John Malkovich and Colin Farrell on tv and the silver screen.

His success he puts down to the sound theatre training, “I think that's the reason why so many Irish actors do so well, it's the extremely good training, we still have a very strong tradition of writing and theatre in Ireland,” he says. “Also nowadays, the world is a much smaller place and young people are much more worldly, they think nothing of flying to LA from Ireland for an audition for example - in our day going to London was the major step.” But, Meaney made the step and has just made another to Majorca.
But why Majorca? “My girlfriend, as she was then, she's now the mother of my child, had been coming here on holiday for ten or 12 years and one day suggested coming over. I really didn't fancy the idea. I was very reluctant. I thought it was all white beaches, high rises and drunken tourists, but she really loved it here and twisted my arm and I'm so glad I came. “I had no idea places like Soller and Deya existed and even Palma, I think it's a lovely city,” he explains. “I've fallen in love with the place and I really think a film industry could and should be developed here. You can't live off package holidays for ever and a film industry would give the local economy a new vehicle but it will need all the help it can get including from the local authorities.”

SHORT FILM FESTIVAL IS ALL READY TO ROLL

PALMA'S second Mallorca Film Academy Planet Europe short film festival kicks off next week with a total of 78 shorts, out of the total 230 entered, from 18 different countries, vying for the grand prize which last year was won by British director Andrea Arnold who went on to win an Oscar for her film “Wasp” just two weeks ago.

Headlining the grand jury this year is leading Irish actor Colm Meaney and award-winning British tv director and pioneer of the “reality show” Simon Davis.

Hollywood acting coach Bernie Hiller, who has coached the likes of Cameron Diaz and Dustin Hoffman will also be holding a workshop during next week's festival.

With names like these and such huge interest from all over Europe, this year the festival has complete backing from the Balearic government and Palma City Council.

The government is supporting the festival for two main reasons, its cultural value and its importance to tourism.
A Balearic Film Commission is being set up to help develop a thriving local film industry and both the government and council consider the festival a perfect vehicle to attract European filmmakers to Majorca and show them what the Balearics has to offer.

The festival starts on Tuesday night and runs until Saturday with films being screened every afternoon and evening at the Auditorium where most of the workshops are also being held.

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