The Irish Film and Television Academy (Ifta) is about to become the latest body to move its awards ceremony onto the virtual space during the era of Covid-19. This Sunday at 10pm, the 2020 Ifta awards for film and TV drama (it's confusing) will be broadcast on Virgin Media One.
This comes in the wake of a reasonably successful online outing for the Primetime Emmys a few weeks ago. The viewing figures were not quite what they were, but footage of Zendaya receiving her gong beside family in the front room went viral. The increasing, merry bewilderment of the Schitt’s Creek team – the first comedy or drama series to win all seven major awards in a single year – was also a sight to behold. These events can work.
Particular pressures assail the Iftas. There was no ceremony in 2019 and, arriving two months from the end of 2020, this current event is also very late in acknowledging last year’s best work.
At any rate, we are eventually getting a bash that will cover the best in domestic film and TV drama that emerged over the previous two calendar years. Lance Daly’s Black ’47, among the best film nominees, had its premiere at the Berlin Film Festival more than two and a half years ago. Nora Twomey’s The Breadwinner, up for best director, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2017. The ceremony feels partly like an exercise in nostalgia (particularly when February 2020 now seems like another century).
The organisers look to have done a decent job in gathering together remote talent to present and receive the elegant statuettes. Martin Scorsese, who was in Dublin for a memorable Ifta master class three years ago, will present best Irish film on Sunday night.
Films up for competition over the two years include Paddy Breathnach’s Rosie, Carmel Winters’s Float Like a Butterfly and Tomás Ó Súilleabháin’s excellent Irish-language feature Arracht. Ó Súilleabháin’s film tops the nomination list with 11 mentions. Rosie, a take on the homeless crisis, scored nine nominations. Lee Cronin’s horror The Hole in the Ground follows with shortlistings in seven categories.
Others expected to appear as presenters include Liam Neeson, Ruth Negga, Pierce Brosnan, Chris O'Dowd and Caitriona Balfe. It seems as if there was scarcely an Irish performer who declined to open up their Zoom (or whatever service they're using) to the good people of the Academy.
Deirdre O’Kane, whose monologues have been a highlight of recent ceremonies, makes a welcome return to hosting duties.
Among the nominees we find the likes of Andrew Scott (for Black Mirror), Jessie Buckley (for Wild Rose and the TV adaptation of The Woman in White), Saoirse Ronan (for Little Women), Brendan Gleeson (for Mr Mercedes) and Cillian Murphy (for Peaky Blinders).
“We are thrilled to bring this amazing group of talented people onto the show virtually from around the world, to celebrate with our 2020 Ifta nominees,” Áine Moriarty, CEO of Ifta, said. “It’s been a difficult year, but it’s so important to acknowledge these achievements and to showcase Ireland’s vibrant filmmaking community and the brilliant work they are delivering to audiences around the world.”
The organisers will, no doubt, be disappointed that Normal People, TV sensation of lockdown, was broadcast too late to qualify for this year's awards. But no national affair would, in 2020, be complete without reference to the adaptation of Sally Rooney's novel. Paul Mescal and Daisy Edgar Jones, stars of the series, will reunite on screen with "a special message and to help showcase this year's Irish nominees". The cast of the Derry Girls will also be on hand to deliver their characteristic brand of ribaldry.
Daisy Ridley, who spent many months shooting Star Wars on Skellig Michael and the Wild Atlantic Way, will be presenting. Michael D Higgins, President of Ireland and famously loyal supporter of the arts, is to give a special presentation on the evening.
Earlier this week, Ifta announced the nominations for the Rising Star Award. The four sets of young finalists are Lee Cronin; Niamh Algar, star of Calm with Horses; Aisling Franciosi, brilliant in the Australian revenge drama The Nightingale, and Andy and Ryan Tohill, directors of Ulster thriller The Dig.
They, like many others participating remotely, will savour the novelty of an online Iftas while hoping for an imminent return to relative normality.