It’s a huge year for Ireland at the Oscars: from acting to directing to visual effects, Irish films, film-makers and stars have received 14 nominations. A quarter of the acting nominees – Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Kerry Condon, Paul Mescal and Barry Keoghan – are Irish. And The Quiet Girl/An Cailín Ciúin is the first Irish-language film to be nominated for an Oscar. JJ Abrams put it succinctly: “Seven million people on that island and all of them are nominated.”
The director and producer was speaking at the 17th Oscar Wilde awards, an annual party celebrating the work of Irish people in film. It’s hosted by the US-Ireland Alliance, a non-profit that fosters ties between the countries, at Bad Robot in Santa Monica, California – the production company belonging to Abrams and his wife, the producer Katie McGrath.
The event is laid-back, the dress code casual, but there’s no shortage of big names walking the “green carpet” at the start of the night. This year’s Oscar Wilde award winners were Kerry Condon – nominated for the best supporting actress Oscar for her role in The Banshees of Inisherin – as well as the actors Jessie Buckley, who starred in the best-picture nominee Women Talking, and Eve Hewson.
So how did such a small island develop such an outsize presence in the entertainment industry? “I think we are a nation of great storytellers,” said Catherine Martin, Ireland’s minister for tourism, culture, arts, Gaeltacht, sport and media, speaking on the green carpet. “We’re known for our arts, for our culture, for creativity” – not to mention locations that are “second to none”.
Mark Swift, producer of Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, which is nominated for an Oscar for best animated feature film, echoed Martin’s sentiments on storytelling. He recalled visiting his Irish family: “My grandad didn’t have a TV or radio – people would come around, they’d be telling us old ghost stories … they’re just natural entertainers. And this year, it’s all come together.”
The atmosphere was celebratory as attendees drifted from the green carpet into the party. A of crowd of perhaps a few hundred packed on to two patios, where they were served Guinness-battered fish and chips, “not so traditional” Irish lamb stew, and Kerrygold cheeses; desserts included bread-and-butter puddings and Irish whiskey coffees. Meanwhile, the night’s honorees received their awards and took the opportunity to make real speeches, without fear of being played off by an in-house orchestra (instead, there was the Dublin-formed band the Coronas, whose melodic rock took over the patio when the speeches were completed).
Colm Bairéad, director of The Quiet Girl, described making a film in a language that is “a natural and beautiful part of our lives”, despite once believing such a thing was impossible, and he praised his star, Catherine Clinch, “who carried this entire film on her then 11-year-old shoulders”. Hewson joked about her gratitude at inheriting “a beautiful mix of a logical self-confidence and chronic, crippling anxiety” that fosters creativity. Condon captured the night’s jaunty mood as she described, her voice nearly gone after days of pre-Oscar celebrations, her first experiences in the US, watching drug commercials and witnessing cops who were “straight out of Die Hard”. And Buckley reflected on her career and community: “I am Irish and so proud – but really, I’m so proud to be part of this international bunch of curious, wonderful, supernatural aliens I call family.”
That sense of strong ties permeated the evening. Richie Baneham, an Irish visual effects artist nominated for his work on Avatar: The Way of Water, said he’d “been able to be successful here [in Los Angeles] because so many people have come back and forth … All our friends, a lot of people you see here on the carpet, are people that we know and have crossed paths with – all the guys we were in school with are here in writing rooms.”
Carrie Crowley, who stars in The Quiet Girl, agreed: “There’s a really wonderful feeling of comradeship amongst all of us,” she said. “Feels like Team Ireland, you know – the great green wave rolling into Hollywood.”
There are, of course, practical considerations that have helped fuel success. “This particular moment is the result of long-term investment and support and work – work in the industry, support from Screen Ireland and from the government,” said Susan Bergin, chair of Screen Ireland, the national agency funding film and television.
But she didn’t want to call the night a “culmination”: “We’re not resting on our laurels. We’re so proud of this. We want it to last.”