Posted on Wednesday 13 November 2013 by Ulster Business
Prior to Cineplex, Michael worked at Canada's largest telecommunications companies including Telus Communications, Bell Media and Astral Media, managing acquisitions from international content providers and studios.
He co-founded and launched the Toronto Irish Film Festival in 2010, promoting the work of Irish filmmakers to Canadian audiences.
Ulster Business caught up with him to find out how he hopes to help Northern Ireland as part of NI Connections.
Where's home for you?
I currently live in Toronto, Canada, having emigrated here from Belfast in the summer of 1992. At that time, I had two brothers living here and so, thankfully, the process of emigration and sponsoring was quite painless. Certainly, in recent times, the entire procedure seems to have gotten more complicated, so I'm grateful that I made the move when I did.
In researching the Irish community in 2010, prior to launching the Toronto Irish Film Festival (TIRFF), I learned that it is almost 250,000 strong and the fourth largest ethnic demographic in the Greater Toronto area. Those are, obviously, big numbers and reflective of historical ties between Ireland and Canada.
What's the best things about living and working where you do?
Well, I can say without any doubt, that the worst thing about Toronto is the winter season. There are some years that are great, temperatures stay moderate and snow fall is minimal. However, for the most part, winter can be long and cold. To balance that, life in Toronto is extremely exciting.
The demographic make-up of the city has changed in the 21 years that I've lived here and, I believe, for the better. Pick any country and you'll find it – its culture, its food and its music are all here at your fingertips. Just two hours north of the city is beautiful cottage country where you can access rural life and amazing landscapes during all four seasons.
Working here has also been very exciting – I've been fortunate to work on projects of national and international scope, attended some world-class events and travelled to some amazing countries throughout my career.
What's your connection to Northern Ireland?
I was born and raised in Belfast and lived there until I was 24. It does seem like a lifetime ago and I'm getting close to that tipping point of being in Canada just as long, and longer, as I lived in Northern Ireland. However, I've never forgotten where I grew up and remain a proud Co. Antrim man. My parents and brothers all live in Ireland.
Why did you get involved with NI Connections?
I was fortunate to be invited to a NI Connections event early in 2013, just after the latest edition of the Toronto Irish Film Festival. It didn't take long to realise that I was the single representative from the entertainment/media sector and that there was a clear opportunity to promote Northern Ireland outside of the industrial, medical and academic sectors.
To that end, in September 2013 during the Toronto International Film Festival, TIRFF hosted a reception bringing together Canadian directors, producers and distributors with organisations like NI Connections, Northern Ireland Screen, Invest NI and the Northern Ireland Bureau. Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster spoke brilliantly about Canadian content creators viewing Northern Ireland in a new way.
What's the perception of Northern Ireland where you live?
I'd have to say that the general impression of Northern Ireland aligns with the historical viewpoint that it is a country with a very unique, politically troubled, past. Additionally, I think most people I have met over the years have a hard time comprehending the intrinsic differences between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
During my earlier days in Canada, when my accent was undoubtedly stronger, I would get asked a lot about the history of the country, which I am glad has been replaced with new discussions focused on rebuilding, not only the community of Northern Ireland, but the brand.
How do you rate the quality of the film work coming from the island of Ireland?
We should all feel very proud that the quality of work being delivered by Irish filmmakers, from both north and south of the border, is world-class. As a culture, storytelling is in our blood so it makes sense that we can create amazing films. I've screened thousands of films throughout my career, and I've seen it all. So, I am pleasantly reminded every year, as I work my way through TIRFF submissions, that the Irish sensibility for compelling stories, interesting characters and impressive production values, are second-to-none.