Irish short films are playing the long game

The Nation Holds Its Breath, a sharp, inventive short set during the 1990 World Cup, kicks off London’s prestigious Raindance film festival

 

Irish people thrive on the success of their fellow citizens. With a wide embrace, we eagerly adopt their achievements as our own, be they droll, rowers from Cork or distinctly unpatriotic 19th-century literary exiles.

And those are just the folks who actually are from Ireland. Like Jack Charlton looking through a sticker album brandishing a big, red marker pen, we also have a knack for establishing which people we want to be Irish, and simply working backwards from there. It’s a testament to this reputation that if I were to name six public figures – Muhammad Ali, Meryl Streep, Barack Obama, Big Bird, Halley’s Comet, the old Channel 4 logo – you’d probably have to Google which three weren’t at some point inducted into the tribe.

But it does make you wonder about those areas where our nation’s talents are underappreciated. Last week’s opening of the Raindance Film Festival in London proved this point by kicking off its 12-day schedule of independent film with The Nation Holds Its Breath, a hilarious Irish short, by award-winning Irish writer and director Kev Cahill, about a young couple whose first child threatens to make its arrival during Ireland’s 1990 World Cup game with Romania. Torn between wanting to observe his child’s birth and join in the spectacle of Ireland reaching a World Cup quarter final, Gainead (Sam Keeley) faces one of the hardest cinematic choices since James Franco weighed up the pros and cons of consciously uncoupling from his elbow.

The film caught the opening- night crowd at Raindance off guard with its sharp, inventive script and wonderful performances from Keeley, Kate Gilmore, and a particularly winning turn as a beautifully unhinged agony aunt by Barbara Brennan.

That the film was chosen to launch one of the world’s most prestigious independent film festivals, and was produced by the Weinstein Company, shows the rude health of the Irish short film industry, making an impact internationally. Lest we forget, it is just seven months since Ireland took home the Oscar for best short film in Stutterer, Ben Cleary’s beautifully poignant drama about a man seeking to overcome his crippling speech impediment so he can win the heart of his online crush.

This was the second short to win the prize in the past 11 years, following Martin McDonagh’s name-making short Six Shooter in 2004.

In animation, Ireland remains particularly strong, with shorts such as Granny O Grimm and Give Up Yer Aul Sins garnering Oscar nods in the past, and this year’s incredible, atmospheric shipwreck caper Geist, from Giant Studios, among the strongest, and most affecting, you’ll see in a while.

With investment, support and public awareness, we can expect great things from this generation of Irish filmmakers. 

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