Virtually every US special effects-based blockbuster movie is made in the UK. Ireland’s record nine Oscar nominations is a chance, if taken, to have its own industry
That’s to paraphrase the late Colin Welland’s jubilant response to Chariots of Fire’s Oscar success in 1982, ‘The British are coming’, a tongue in cheek reference to Paul Revere.
Despite the fact that another British movie, Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi won the following year, Mr. Welland’s light hearted display tended to be derided as hubris for many years after as people pointed to the relatively low British profile at the Oscars.
So the really quite exciting news this week that Irish films garnered nine Oscar nominations is quite infectious, without losing perspective.
The record nine Oscar nominations, include an unprecedented two films in the running for Best Picture. Room, directed by Lenny Abrahamson, and Brooklyn, directed by John Crowley. Abrahamson is also shortlisted for Best Director. Both were part funded by Ireland’s Film Board.
Irish actors Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs) and Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn) are nominated for Best Actor and Best Actress. For Saoirse, who’s on Broadway at the moment, it’s her second nomination, the first was for Best Supporting Actress in 2008 for Atonement.
Brie Larson, was also nominated for her performance Room.
Saoirse, 21, said the fact the Irish movie and TV industry is starting to be recognised was especially gratifying: “Things are starting to bubble now. Film makers are becoming a little bit braver and they feel they can make the stories they want a little bit more because of the likes of Brooklyn and Room hopefully doing so well and to be a part of that shift and to actually see it happen is really really exciting”. She described Brooklyn as the most personal and toughest movie she had made.
“When we made Brooklyn, we had no idea of what was to come. This has all been a dream.
“To see how the film has been embraced has been heartwarming. Thank you so very much to the Academy — you are a group of people I respect greatly and to be recognised by you means so much,” she said.
Donhnall Gleeson, who starred with Saoirse in Brooklyn and has been seen by record numbers of cinema goers as one of the baddies in the latest Star Wars movie, and who is also in the Oscar-nominated The Revenant, said no actress was better deserving than Saoirse Ronan. “Lenny nominated for director and Room nominated for Best Film and Michael (Fassbender) nominated. It’s just amazing,” said the London-based actor.
Room director, Lenny Abrahamson said he was in shock for quite some time after the announcement he’s been nominated for Best Director. “Nobody was predicting that I’d be there. A lot of people thought I’d done a really good job and maybe should be but nobody thought that I would be.
“Not in our wildest dreams did we think we’d get four nominations.
“I thought about it in the way that a little boy imagines scoring a winning penalty in a World Cup final, in that it’s one of these fun things to imagine. I had convinced my family and friends to relax and not get too excited.”
He was quick to warn that without support for the industry the success could be short lived.
“This is the bearing of fruit after proper support for the filmmaking community over a number of years but it’s such a fabulously fragile business that we could lose all the gains.
“It’s very easy to say we’ll knock another 10 per cent off the film board’s budget but that’s very shortsighted. People will just get disheartened. You won’t notice it this year or next year, but you will notice it in five or ten years’ time.”
Room author Emma Donoghue, nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay for her script of her own bestselling novel (alongside English writer Nick ‘High Fidelity’ Hornby who adapted Colm Tóibín’s Brooklyn) told RTE radio she was more excited to hear Lenny’s name called out than her own. She said it brought tears to her eyes to hear his name among the big five.
Asked if she’d ever daydreamed about winning an Oscar, she said: “I’ve always had Oscar fantasies but they’re purely in the category of how to get yourself to sleep with some totally unrealistic dream but they’ve never overlapped with my real life before.”
Michael Fassbender, nominated for Best Actor for Steve Jobs was previously Oscar nominated in 2014 for Best Supporting Actor in Steve McQueen’s Twelve Years a Slave.
Live Action short Stutterer, directed and written by Benjamin Cleary, from Rathmines but financed and shot the film in London (with a British and Spanish cast), is also nominated. “I served chicken burgers in a pop-up restaurant in Hackney to get cash to make the film. I raised the rest of the money, which totalled around 5,000, by subletting my room and kipping on friends’ couches.”
He said: “Its sheer madness. I’m in total shock. The word Oscar was so alien, we never thought about it.” The film was accepted into festivals around the world and won nine awards including best foreign film at LA Shorts Fest but “unfortunately we didn’t pick up the actual award because we were too broke to fly over there.”
He was confident he could get a “few quid together” to fly to Los Angeles to attend the Academy Awards ceremony in the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood on 28 February.
Brooklyn director John Crowley – who established himself as a stage director in London working with people like Martin McDonagh – echoed the need to fund the industry and to take a long-term view.
“Moments like this don’t just pop up, there are whole lives of work behind it.
“You cannot make films without that kind of infrastructure. It’s about careful investment that has gone on quietly and unheralded for years and suddenly then things begin to flower,” he said.
President Michael D. Higgins, who as Ireland’s Arts Minister reestablished the Irish Film Board with annual funding that reached 20m at its peak, and who took a deep personal interest in the industry, said: “This year’s Oscars shortlist is a remarkable testimony of the vitality and diversity of the talent available to the Irish film industry.
“Ireland has an accomplished film community, making us an attractive location. The Irish people are getting a great return from the investment in film in terms of first-class, highly skilled jobs and an enhanced international reputation.