A welcome award
AS A rule, the Academy Award for Best Short Film goes to a relatively young unknown. This year’s winner, Belfast-born Terry George, is something of a veteran, however, with two previous nominations under his belt for his writing, the feature films Hotel Rwanda(which he also directed) and co-writing In the Name of the Father.
In a way, George’s Oscar-winning short, The Shore, with its theme of post-conflict reconciliation, is a coda to some of his earlier work including Some Mother’s Son. And, through the screenplay he co-wrote with Jim Sheridan for In the Name of the Father,George himself represents a link back to the first flush of Irish Oscar successes in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Indeed, there was a time, about 20 years ago, when Irish people became quite blasé about the Oscar-winning triumphs of native film-makers and actors such as Sheridan, Neil Jordan and Brenda Fricker. In retrospect, it can now be seen that the international success of My Left Foot, The Crying Gameand In the Name of the Fatherrepresented an extraordinary blip for a small country with no strong tradition of film-making.
Since then, Oscars have become more scarce but the local film industry has grown in strength and breadth, bolstered by a range of State supports, including section 481 tax incentives, Irish Film Board funding and increased support for independent production from RTÉ and other broadcasters. The number of films and television dramas produced each year has dramatically increased as a result. In parallel, north of the Border, a substantial industry has also grown up, servicing major international productions and smaller local projects.
Film-making has always been a risky and expensive undertaking. But there is a compelling argument for continuing to maintain an environment in which it can flourish. As a small, English-speaking country on the European periphery, Ireland is in particular danger of being submerged under the all-consuming tide of the globalised, homogenised entertainment industry unless it makes space for local voices to be heard. Equally, because of its language and location, this country is well placed to punch above its weight when it comes to attracting inward investment and creating employment in this high-skill, labour-intensive industry. Any coherent national policy on the film industry should therefore take account of both these imperatives. And, as has been noted widely in recent years, creative industries such as film often offer the most promising opportunities at a time of national economic crisis.