In a year when the film industry is focused on underrepresentation of women, just three performers have been nominated for best actress at the 2018 Irish Film and Television Awards (film and TV drama). The other domestic acting categories list five performers.
“From Ifta’s point of view, we can only showcase the work that’s being done,” Ainé Moriarty, the cademy’s chief executive, told The Irish Times. “We will do that. And maybe that will put a spotlight on work that need to be done in balancing things out. That can only be a positive thing.”
Aisling Walsh's Maudie, the hugely moving story of Nova Scotian artist Maud Dowley, has secured six nominations in total. It tops the nomination chart. Four films take second place with five mentions each: Mark O'Connor's Cardboard Gangsters, John Butler's Handsome Devil, Martin McDonagh's Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri and Emer Reynolds's The Farthest.
Most awards are open only to Irish talent and Irish films. Current Oscar favourite The London-Irish McDonagh receives mentions in best screenplay and best director. Three Billboards also registers in best international film and, for Frances McDormand, in best international actress, and, for Sam Rockwell, in best international actor.
Three Billboards, Golden Globe winner and Oscar front-runner, cannot be avoided this awards season.
Saoirse Ronan is an inevitable (and surely unbeatable) nominee in the best actress category for Greta Gerwig's Lady Bird, but, when Liam Cunningham and Deirdre O'Kane announced the nominations at the 9 Below bar in St Stephen's Green, eyebrows were raised at the news that just three women were named in that race.
Only two of those were for performances in Irish films: Sarah Bolger in Halal Daddy and Ann Skelly in Kissing Candice. It is one thing for women to be underrepresented in a gender-neutral category such as director. It is another to underperform in a race that is for women alone.
Ifta can, however, vote only on those performances submitted by a film’s producers.
Frank Berry's Michael Inside, Yorgos Lanthimos's The Killing of a Sacred Deer and Pat Collins's Song of Granite join Handsome Devil, Maudie and Cardboard Gangsters in the race for best picture.
Only one of those films scored a nomination in a female Irish acting race: Fionna Hewitt Twamley is mentioned in best supporting for Cardboard Gangsters. Sally Hawkins is nominated in best international actress for Maudie and Nicole Kidman is in the same category for The Killing of a Sacred Deer. (Hawkins, also nominated for The Shape of Water, competes against herself)
"The feeling is it's out there now. It's highlighted," Ms Moriarty said. "This year there weren't enough female leads being written into the scripts. That is something that has to be looked at. It's something I know the Film Board has been looking at."
Ms Moriarty was "not in a position" to say how many eligible submissions there were for lead actress.
“The three that are there are brilliant, brilliant performances. That’s the positive,” she said. “That, we hope, will encourage scriptwriters to write leading female roles. We know from the evidence of last year that they do well at the box office.”
The upcoming ceremony on Thursday, February 15th takes in both film and TV drama. The beardy epic Vikings scored the most nominations here, with six mentions. Game of Thrones and Peaky Blinders each scored five nominations.
"What a fantastic kick-start to the academy's 15th anniversary year with this superb line-up of Irish nominees showcasing the very best of Ireland's creative talent, delivering world-class film and drama across the globe," Aine Moriarty remarked.
This is the 15th year of the awards in their present form.