Now in its sixth year, the annual Irish Film & Television Awards (Iftas) focuses on Irish talent working at home and around the world. Irish Film & Television Academy CEO Aine Moriarty says the awards recognise the working lives of Irish people in front of and behind the camera. 'Ireland has a fantastic resource of creative talent and 2008 was another strong year across a very interesting mix of genres and styles. The 960-member Academy is proud to give due recognition and reward to home-grown Irish talent for their creative achievements.'
Taking place at the Burlington Hotel in Dublin on February 14, Moriarty believes the focus and timing of the Iftas work well as a showcase for the Irish industry.
'The great thing is that the Iftas are predominantly focused on Irish talent with only three international award categories,' she says. 'They are focused on putting the international spotlight on Irish actors, writers, directors, and craftspeople and showcasing to the world that the Irish industry, despite being quite small, has a very impressive resource of creative talent.'
Macdara Kelleher, producer of the Ifta-nominated feature Kisses, points out the awards also help to promote local films to the local audience.
'For Kisses to be nominated for seven Iftas alongside films of the quality of Hunger and In Bruges is a great honour for us,' he says. 'The Iftas increase the awareness of Irish film in the public consciousness and help bring them to a wider audience.'
Tamara Anghie, producer of New Boy, which won the Ifta for best short film last year, also points to the Ifta effect: 'Last year's Ifta win certainly contributed to the profile of New Boy, which helped with our success on the international festival circuit, culminating in our being nominated for an Academy Award in the best live-action short film category.'
But if the Iftas are a part of the industry marketing and selling game, like awards everywhere, they are also a vindication of the sheer graft and determination that gets films made and into cinemas, as demonstrated by Tommy Weir, producer of Marian Quinn's Ifta-nominated 32A.
'It was a lot of hard work self-distributing so it's nice to see that pay off with the nominations for best feature, director of photography and costume design,' says Weir.
This year Iftas has introduced a new feature documentary category, named in honour of the great veteran Irish documentary maker, George Morrison, who will also be the recipient of an industry lifetime tribute.
In the international section, every distributor who releases films in Ireland is invited to submit films, actors and actresses for consideration in the awards. The Ifta Academy and jury then shortlist the four nominees in each category. The best international film and best international actor winners are decided by the Academy and jury.
Nominees for the Pantene best international actress category are selected by the Ifta Academy and jury and then the winner is chosen by a public vote. The Academy believes this award particularly captures the Irish public's imagination.
The jury at the Iftas is made up of members of the Academy alongside a mix of international experts, including film-making duo Peter Jackson (on the best film jury) and Fran Walsh (on the best screenplay jury).
Talking about the films on offer this year the couple said: 'Coming from a similar-sized country with limited resources, we know how important it is to protect and preserve cultural identity and that funding is always a struggle. It was a pleasure to see films that transcended the generic rules of Hollywood story-telling and succeeded on their own terms. The Irish film industry has a lot to be proud of.'
Most of the films in this year's nomination list - Hunger, Kisses, Dorothy, The Escapist, 32A - point to the role of co-production in the financing of films being made in Ireland. Hunger, for example, originated in the UK with its UK director and production company, but is considered anIrish film by virtue of its financing which came from the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland and Northern Ireland Screen. It leads the field with eight nominations.
The co-production factor of Kisses, Dorothy, The Escapist and 32A is highlighted by Irish Film Board (IFB) CEO, Simon Perry. 'We encourage Irish producers to co-produce, and support co-productions from other countries in return,' he says. 'It helps that our tax incentive is available in cash on first day of production - with no reduction via discounting, and likely to be worth up to 28% very soon - and Ireland remains the only English-speaking country that belongs to Eurimages.'
Under Perry's stewardship the IFB has been backing local projects that are high on creative aspiration though budgeted at the lower end of the spectrum. Perry uses John Carney's Once, Lenny Abrahamson's Garage, and Lance Daly's Kisses to illustrate the point.
'The IFB is backing film-makers with something original to say and the skill to communicate it widely - directors, writers and producers with a specifically Irish take on the world combined with a canny sense of audiences' taste.'
DUBLIN INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
Capital sees value rise
With a host of high-profile industry guests and a focus on new talent, Dublin's international film festival is gaining an industry role
Now in its seventh edition, the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival (February 12-22) also turns the spotlight on Irish talent. It is hosting the Irish Talent Spotlight Programme in association with the Irish Film Board, which this year showcases the work of Cartoon Saloon and debut feature film-maker Margaret Corkery whose film Eamon is having its world premiere at the festival.
Festival director Grainne Humphreys, who came on board last year, says the festival - which will screen 135 films to over 40,000 people - aims to provide the Irish capital with a prestigious film event. 'It's a mixture of red-carpet galas and international premieres that offer a snapshot of contemporary international cinema. And the festival also provides a launch platform for new Irish titles, alongside a focus on a national cinema (this year, Turkey), archive screenings and outreach events.'
The festival opens at the city's Savoy Cinema with a gala screening of John Patrick Shanley's Oscar-nominated Doubt, the storyline of which will resonate in Ireland, where clerical abuse remains an ongoing issue. It will close with the premiere of The Secret of Kells, a new animated feature film from local company Cartoon Saloon, directed by Tomm Moore and Nora Twomey.
Rather than pay screening fees for films, Humphreys says the festival prefers to bring more than 50 international guests and film-makers to Dublin to discuss their work with audiences, network with Irish film-makers and meet distributors. Guests expected this year include Colin Firth, Liam Neeson, James Nesbitt, Oliver Hirschbiegel, Armando Iannucci, Paulo Sorrentino, John Crowley, Michel Houellebecq, Neil Gaiman, Hugh Hudson, Frederic Raphael, Clive Owen and Cannes veteran Thierry Fremaux, who will be doing a public interview.
Backed financially by the Irish Arts Council and by Jameson, an Irish whiskey brand associated with many film events in recent years, the festival is gradually developing an industry role. This year, it will announce the winner of the inaugural international screenwriting competition, run in conjunction with Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, Ireland.
Festival CEO Joanne O'Hagan believes there is something for everyone at this year's event: 'We are delighted to welcome such a high calibre of industry guests to Dublin. Our ticket price is the same as last year, which is great value in these challenging times. The Dublin audience loves going to the cinema and this year we hope to give them more variety and selection than ever before.'
2009 IFTA NOMINEES
32A Tommy Weir
A Film With Me In It Alan Moloney, Susan Mullen
The Escapist Alan Moloney, Adrian Sturges
Hunger Laura Hastings-Smith, Robin Gutch
Kisses Macdara Kelleher
Lance Daly Kisses
Ian Fitzgibbon A Film With Me In It
Martin McDonagh In Bruges
Declan Recks Eden
RISING STAR AWARD
Sarah Bolger Actress
Lance Daly Writer-director
Michael Fassbender Actor
Enda Walsh Writer
Lance Daly, Kisses
Mark Doherty, A Film With Me In It
Martin McDonagh, In Bruges
Enda Walsh, Hunger
ACTOR IN A LEAD ROLE
Colin Farrell In Bruges
Michael Fassbender Hunger
Brendan Gleeson In Bruges
Dylan Moran A Film With Me In It
ACTRESS IN A LEAD ROLE
Jenn Murray Dorothy
Kelly O'Neill Kisses
Saoirse Ronan City Of Ember
Eileen Walsh Eden
ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Liam Cunningham Hunger
Stuart Graham Hunger
Gerard McSorley Anton
Peter O'Toole Dean Spanley
ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Sarah Bolger The Spiderwick Chronicles
Lesley Conroy Eden
Saoirse Ronan Death Defying Acts
Ger Ryan Dorothy
Dambe - The Mali Project Dearbhla Glynn
Gabriel Byrne: Stories From Home Pat Collins
Saviours Liam Nolan, Ross Whitaker
Seaview Nicky Gogan, Paul Rowley
Waveriders Margo Harkin
BEST INTERNATIONAL FILM
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas
Man On Wire
BEST INTERNATIONAL ACTOR
Casey Affleck Gone Baby Gone
Josh Brolin W
Robert Downey Jr Iron Man
Ralph Fiennes The Duchess
PANTENE BEST INTERNATIONAL ACTRESS AWARD - PEOPLE'S CHOICE*
Angelina Jolie Changeling
Kristin Scott Thomas I've Loved You So Long
Meryl Streep Mamma Mia! The Movie
Emma Thompson Brideshead Revisited
*Nominees selected by the Irish Film & Television Academy members.