Ir­ish an­i­ma­tion hung out to dry?

Rule changes in the Os­cars could make it tough for in­de­pen­dent an­i­mated films such as Song of the Sea to se­cure nom­i­na­tions

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - NEWS - Don­ald Clarke

Even the most fer­vent Os­car fa­natic is prob­a­bly en­joy­ing re­lief from gos­sip about the sea­son’s big­gest awards. But the Academy did make an an­nounce­ment worth at­tend­ing this week.

Sig­nif­i­cant changes have been made in rules ap­ply­ing to two of cat­e­gories: best doc­u­men­tary fea­ture and best an­i­mated fea­ture. The award­ing of the former award to OJ: Made in Amer­ica trig­gered some con­tro­versy this year. There was no ar­gu­ment about the qual­ity of the sub­mis­sion. The ESPN doc­u­men­tary cov­ered the OJ Simp­son case and its con­se­quences with mag­is­te­rial confidence. But surely it was a five-part minis­eries?

Some have ar­gued per­sua­sively that def­i­ni­tions are now so shaky – is an orig­i­nal Net­flix fea­ture TV or cinema? – that it is hardly worth hav­ing the con­ver­sa­tion. The gen­eral feel­ing was that some en­ti­ties are very clearly not movies. Made in Amer­ica may have qual­i­fied by play­ing Sun­dance, but it was def­i­nitely one such beast. It’s telly, pal. The Academy of Mo­tion Picture Arts and Sciences has moved.

“In the doc­u­men­tary cat­e­gories, multi-part or lim­ited se­ries are not el­i­gi­ble for awards con­sid­er­a­tion,” a state­ment read. “The Doc­u­men­tary Branch Ex­ec­u­tive Com­mit­tee will re­solve all ques­tions of el­i­gi­bil­ity and rules.”

That change has been largely well re­ceived. Another an­nounce­ment has trig­gered a great deal more rend­ing of gar­ments. In fu­ture, the nom­i­nees for best an­i­mated fea­ture, rather than be­ing voted on by the an­i­ma­tion branch, will be de­cided by the gen­eral elec­torate. “In­vi­ta­tions to join the nom­i­nat­ing com­mit­tee will be sent to all ac­tive Academy mem­bers, rather than a se­lect craft-based group,” the Academy clar­i­fied. “Vot­ing in the nom­i­na­tions round will now be pref­er­en­tial in­stead of based on a nu­mer­i­cal scor­ing sys­tem.”

This re­ally mat­ters. And it could be a bad thing for the Ir­ish film in­dus­try. Since the cat­ego- ry was in­cepted in 2001, it has proved one of the most in­ter­est­ing and eclec­tic cor­ners of the Academy Awards. Pixar and Dis­ney are much in ev­i­dence, but, in the award’s sec­ond year, top prize went to Spir­ited Away by Hayao Miyazaki. Other nom­i­nees have in­cluded Syl­vain Chomet’s Belleville Ren­dezvous, Miyazaki’s Howl’s Mov­ing Cas­tle, and Isao Taka­hata and Yoshi­aki Nishimura’s The Tale of the Princess Kaguya.

And, of course, Kilkenny’s Car­toon Sa­loon has scored twice: with The Se­cret of Kells and Song of the Sea. Those were re­mark­able achieve­ments for the Ir­ish film in­dus­try. It can­not but have helped that they were chas­ing a se­lect, ed­u­cated elec­torate that ap­pre­ci­ated in­de­pen­dent an­i­ma­tion and un­der­stood how the art worked.

These films’ nom­i­na­tions can­not be at­trib­uted to a dearth

Song of the Sea might well have strug­gled un­der new Academy rules

of main­stream com­pe­ti­tion. In a stun­ning up­set, Song of the Sea and Princess Kaguya got in ahead of the ac­claimed, suc­cess­ful Lego Movie. This year, My Life as a Zuc­chini and The Red Tur­tle beat out Pixar’s (not very good) Find­ing Dory.

There have been sug­ges­tions that the rule change came about be­cause the stu­dios were up­set about smaller, in­de­pen­dent films nudg­ing aside block­busters. It seems in­evitable that call­ing on fewer vot­ers with spe­cial­ist knowl­edge will favour the big beasts over the plucky scrap­pers.

Would Song of the Sea have beaten The Lego Movie to a nom­i­na­tion if ev­ery Academy mem­ber were el­i­gi­ble to vote? The prob­lem is not that such vot­ers will in­evitably pre­fer the Warn­ers flick to the smaller Car­toon Sa­loon re­lease. The prob­lem is that they won’t have seen the film from Kilkenny.

Let’s see what hap­pens with Nora Twomey’s up­com­ing The Bread­win­ner. The Car­toon Sa­loon re­lease – a Cana­dian-Ir­ish-Lux­em­bour­gian pro­duc­tion – is due to­wards the end of the year. Set in Afghanistan, the picture con­cerns a girl forced to dress as a boy so that she can work to sup­port her fam­ily. Ev­ery­one ex­pects it to be in the Os­car con­ver­sa­tion. The fight to be no­ticed may have just got that bit tougher.

Mind you, An­gelina Jolie is pro­ducer. So they might be all right after all.

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