Miffed at the Iftas
The Irish Film and Television Academy knows how to pull in the celebs for its annual awards ceremony, but the academy’s broad definition of Irishness undermines the credibility of the Iftas, argues Donald Clarke
In two days, Mel Gibson, director, actor and professional hyper-Christian, will amble onto the stage of Dublin’s Gaiety Theatre to receive an award for “outstanding contribution to world cinema” from the Irish Film and Television Academy.
In the four years since the Ifta awards were inaugurated, the organisers have done a fine job of bagging attractive celebrities for their red carpet. Vanessa Redgrave, Mischa Barton and Lara Flynn Boyle turned up in previous years and, on Sunday, Rene Russo and Bo Derek will join Mr Gibson at the ceremony. The event, which is broadcast by RTÉ, helps promote the Irish film industry and provides plenty of nice images for the next day’s papers.
But what about the gongs themselves? This time round, as in previous years, there are some surprises among the nominations. Ifta seems very open-minded in its interpretation of the calendar, and exhibits a flexibility in its definition of Irishness that even the FAI might regard as cavalier.
Fans of John Carney’s Oscar-nominated Once may wonder why that film figures nowhere in this year’s event. The short answer is that, following successful festival screenings in 2006, the film was submitted for last year’s awards, was accepted and deemed worthy of only one nomination (for music, which it failed to win).
“Yes, it was very disappointing that Once wasn’t more successful in Ireland through its cinema release and how it did at the Iftas,” Áine Moriarty, chief executive of Ifta, writes in a detailed response to queries from The Ticket.
“Unfortunately, not enough academy members were able to view Once, as the film had not been re- leased and no DVDs could be provided as they were seeking distribution and had various restrictions regarding copyright.”
The confusion concerning what film gets considered in which year is further heightened by a nomination this year for There Will Be Blood. Although the film is not released until a week after the Iftas take place, Daniel Day-Lewis receives a nod for best international actor.
The British Academy of Film and Television Arts (Bafta) and the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (Ampas, the Oscars body) both demand that films receive a commercial release before the Baftas or the Oscars take place. Ifta seems to take a looser approach.
Moriarty explains: “As, in many cases, films receive festival screenings before theatrical release (and, in some cases, do not receive theatrical releases at all . . .) Ifta’s requirement is that, in order to be eligible, a film must screen at a film festival, have a theatrical release, or have aDVD release within the eligible period (December 1st 2006 to December 31st 2007).” This is a very broad admissions policy.
Last year, eyebrows were raised when Ian McKellen picked up a best international actor nomination for his performance in X-Men 3. Ifta seems to be the only organisation in the world to have honoured this particular performance. It’s hard to avoid the suspicion that some actors are being nominated on the basis that they may turn up (McKellen didn’t) and add a bit more class to the red carpet.
“Ifta would strongly disagree with the suspicion suggested by The Irish Times that some nominations are driven by the ‘desire to have a particular celebrity turn up’,” Moriarty says in her response to our written inquiry. “Who is voicing this opinion? It is ridiculous! We are not in the business of nominees being selected purely on the basis of them attending.”
OK, but what – moving to the academy’s notion of Irishness – is Becoming Jane doing among the nominations for best Irish film? The Jane Austen biopic, a co-production of the BBC, was indeed filmed in this country and did involve the participation of the Irish Film Board, but it is set in Hampshire, is written and directed by English talent and features British and American actors in the leading roles.
Moriarty points out that one of several criteria for consideration as an Irish film admits projects whose “principal photography took place fully or partially in Ireland”. By these standards, Saving Private Ryan or Reign of Fire might be considered Irish.
Similar questions arise when we consider some of the actors up for awards over the past few years. Anne-Marie Duff, star of Shameless and The Virgin Queen, has twice been nominated for awards intended for Irish actresses. A glance at her biography suggests that, though of Irish descent, she was born and raised in London.
“To qualify one needs to have been born in the 32 counties or have lived here for a minimum of three consecutive years,” Moriarty counters. “To my knowledge it had been clarified that Anne-Marie Duff lived here in her teens, and therefore qualifies.”
I may take issue with this overly inclusive approach but it is only fair to acknowledge the great amount of work carried out by Moriarty and her colleagues. A version of the Irish Film and Television Academy Awards had been in existence for a few years – one previous ceremony took place in Belfast’s Waterfront Hall – before the current regime took over and set about injecting more glamour into proceedings.
In July 2006, they helped formally re-establish the Irish Film and Television Academy, which, taking its cue from Bafta and Ampas, set out to “drive a range of industry initiatives, encouraging excellence through recognition, education and leadership through industry events/activities”.
Such an organisation can do good work, and a national awards beano remains a desirable entity. The attention the ceremony brings to, say, short films and lower-budget productions is invaluable.
But the myriad of peculiar nominations – the admirably successful Cecelia Ahern, who recently created a sitcom in the US, is hardly a “rising star” any more – does undermine the credibility of the awards.
And for all the commercialism of the Oscars, the American Academy has yet to rename its best actress award after a shampoo company and will, one assumes, resist the temptation to decide that category by a public vote. You can, however, vote online for the Pantene Best International Actress award at the Iftas. Hilary Swank has been nominated for her performance in PS I Love You. Yikes. Come back, Ian McKellen. All is forgiven.
The Irish Film and Television Awards start at 7pm on Sunday in the Gaiety Theatre, Dublin. The ceremony will be broadcast on RTÉ1 from 9.30pm
Reach for the stars: previous guests at the Iftas include (from left) Colm Meaney, David Kelly, Maureen O’Hara, Bono, Neil Jordan
and Sharon Ní Bheoláin