The award for worst pastiche of awards shows goes to . . .

The Iftas once again reaffirmed a very important truth about Ireland: we don’t do showbiz

Big fish, small pond: Colin Farrell on the red carpet at the Iftas on Sunday. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Big fish, small pond: Colin Farrell on the red carpet at the Iftas on Sunday. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Sat, Apr 12, 2014, 01:00

Last Saturday evening, by the time the Irish Film & Television Awards (Iftas) went not very quietly into the night, we had confirmation of something we should already have known. It is a lesson handed down by years of previous Iftas, by the bombast of the now defunct Meteor music awards, by the repeat offenders who populate Ireland’s wan showbiz pages, and by an ever-growing heap of padded Late Late Show s.

The lesson is this: Ireland does not do show business. It is not capable of Hollywood glamour. This country might be wedged between the cultural giants of the US and the UK, but that doesn’t mean Ireland can order stilts and hope it will reach their heights.

Well before last Saturday’s broadcast the Iftas did not exactly have a stellar reputation. It was known as a bottom-numbing event, preceded by the faux glamour of a red carpet, which peaked when the one genuine international celebrity in the room would get an award for being available.

So it was with no doubt noble intent that Irish Film & Television Academy decided to jazz things up a bit. But instead of being standalone awards for the film and television industry, the evening became a pastiche of bigger, globally famous events. Which would perhaps be less of a problem if those shows weren’t themselves already bloated and tedious.

The name gives you a hint – that “academy” nonsense – and the music that accompanies each award follows through on the promise. It is the sort of sonorous swelling of strings that you cannot hear without imagining a pirouetting statuette. Except it comes with an Irish tinge. The intent is laid out immediately. And the weakness.

So the Iftas’ most recent attempt to extend that idea for a couple of hours. The opening montage of trussed-up local celebrities, the riffing hosts and the interspersed best-film trailers preceded by autocue- fed flattery resulted only in a weak mimicry of the real thing. Even when it attempted to riff on the Oscars’ selfie, its shouted desperation obliterated any hope of satire.

Meanwhile, minute by minute, TV watchers heard the audience chatter grow louder. Organisers say it was due to a technical fault, but it amplified the silliness of the exercise.

It is not as if Irish film and television, especially in recent years, do not deserve their self-congratulatory evening. But it is pointless trying to run them through with the notion of a star-filled Academy Awards, because low wattage will never light a big room.

This problem is not new. The Meteor music awards used to be a local impersonation of the MTV awards, a small scene pumped with filler. Eventually, it fell away and Meteor moved to support the Choice Prize, an award originally set up as a credible alternative. The Choice was clear in its focus, confident, and accompanied by an annual event appropriate in its scale. That alternative became the gold standard.

The music scene is very different from that of film and television, so it wouldn’t be as simple to give the Iftas a challenge that comes from somewhere other than its own paranoia about TV ratings.

Even though it is inspired by Britain’s Mercury prize, however, the Choice is a reminder that Irish “showbiz” events – yes, even independent Irish music is on that spectrum – are best when they use their own materials wisely.

With Irish television this doesn’t just go for award ceremonies but also applies to celebrity reality formats and chatshows, in which the smallness of this country becomes exposed when someone attempts to stretch it to an imported format.

Which is why genuine success tends to be found in utterly Irish varieties of the sort that no other country would even consider copying, formats that at first seem not just unworkable but also ludicrous. You can say a lot of things about The Rose of Tralee , for example, but you can’t accuse it of cherrypicking from any country’s programmes.

It is a ballgown-and-
tuxedo television event that somehow exists on the same spectrum as Miss World – much as the Iftas are on the same spectrum as the Oscars – but is increasingly isolated. This has led to cycles of evolution and near extinction, but for now The Rose of Tralee sits in the schedules in bulletproof evening wear: loved by many, loved ironically by many others.

So how can a show such as the Iftas work? By being a show like the Iftas, not a show like lots of American ones. By making it from Irish parts but not using a Los Angeles blueprint.

shegarty@irishtimes.com
@shanehegarty

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