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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson





Building façade in Cannes, France

What IFTA

Television viewers in Ireland got something to assuage their withdrawal symptoms from awards show addiction. The Irish Film & Television Awards were held at Dublin’s Burlington Hotel on Saturday night.

The ceremony was notable for the extent to which it embraced all the trappings of Hollywood-centered awards extravaganzas, to wit:

  • The obligatory non-stop-quipping celebrity host, who has a one-liner for every presenter and every situation. This chore was handled by James Nesbitt, who was the first among equals in an ensemble cast for several seasons of the British comedy/drama Cold Feet, as well as appearing in films like Bloody Sunday, The Most Fertile Man in Ireland and Waking Ned Devine. Most of his jokes seemed to be aimed at Colm Meany, who beat him out for an award last year. His best line, which kind of fell flat, was on the occasion of an Irish language award, when he said he didn’t know any Irish since “I’m from Antrim.” He also showed chutzpah in praising the broadcast’s host when he himself won an award for the TV series Murphy’s Law.

  • The obligatory few notes of ceremonial sounding music that gets played over and over each time a winner is announced as well as when the winner finishes his or her speech. This bit of music got repeated so often that I dreaded hearing it. It was all the weirder because, as far as I could tell, there wasn’t actually an orchestra in the Burlie.

  • The obligatory acceptance speeches which amount to a laundry list of thanking executives who can help the winner find more work as well as his or her agent and a few close friends and family. The most disappointing speech was that of director Neil Jordan, who received a lifetime achievement award. The moment had great momentum after a stirring introduction by three actors who had worked with Jordan (Stephen Rea, Aidan Quinn, and Ralph Fiennes) intercut with shots of a clearly moved Jordan listening in the audience. This was followed by a spectacular montage of Jordan’s work, which was brilliant in how it brought together all of the wonderful work he has done over the years (The Crying Game, Interview with the Vampire, Michael Collins, The End of the Affair, etc. etc.). So it was a bit of a letdown when Jordan basically gave the same laundry list speech that most everyone else gives.

    I guess RTÉ (the Irish national broadcaster) were so intent on making this just like the Academy Awards that, out of habit, they filmed the ceremony, then edited it down to a reasonable time frame (an hour) and showed it the next night. It’s as though Irish TV viewers are so used to seeing awards programs this way that it didn’t even occur to RTÉ to broadcast it live. This way they could skip the boring technical awards and just concentrate on the winning films, TV programs and actors. Because movies were being honored, it was kind of like the Oscars. But since TV shows were also being honored, it was also kind of like the Emmys. But since the audience were all sitting around at tables instead of in auditorium seats, it was kind of like the Golden Globes. Anyway, it was a nice change of pace that, instead of like Hollywood awards shows where everyone seems to be high on cocaine, at the IFTA ceremony everyone merely seemed to have a few too many pints on them.

    Because the television awards included news programs and because at least one of the major films honored was based on the true life of an Irish journalist, there was a fair amount of reality-versus-fiction weirdness. Like when Bernie Guerin, the mother of slain reporter Veronica Guerin, accepted the Best Film award on behalf of Hollywood director Joel Schumacher for the movie Veronica Guerin. Or when the republic’s two most prominent news anchors traded lame jokes before announcing an award. Or when TV journalist Miriam O’Callaghan picked up the TV Personality of the Year award and gave a speech that sounded as though she had won for Best Actress. O’Callaghan’s presence at the podium was particularly strange since she had had a (very funny) cameo in the zany comedy Spin the Bottle, which itself was nominated for a surprising number of awards, particularly considering that, as far as I’ve noticed, it’s never actually been released. Anyway, the evening resolved at least one of my long-burning curiosities. O’Callaghan wore a low-cut dress to the ceremony, so I could finally confirm that those really are her shoulders and not just massive shoulder pads under her suit.

    Another weird thing about the IFTAs was that some of the awards were voted by a jury and some were voted “by the audience.” I don’t know how the audience vote was conducted, but for the record I spend a fair amount of time in Irish cinemas and I have never been asked to vote for any of these awards. But then I’m not Irish and maybe that’s why I wasn’t asked. Anyway, the audience awards were somewhat predictable. In addition to voting Veronica Guerin the best movie, the “audience” gave the best actor award to Colin Farrell (who, as far as I could tell, wasn’t actually there) for his role in the Irish drama SWAT. Okay, SWAT wasn’t exactly an Irish drama, but hey, it was the Irish audience voting, and they like Colin. In a twist that can only happen when the boorish audience is ignored and a qualified jury is charged with making the decisions, Farrell lost the best actor award to a much lesser known thespian named Andrew Scott, who starred in a much lower profile movie called Dead Bodies.

    In another touch that echoes the Academy Awards, throughout the evening the camera kept looking at a constantly smiling and laughing Bono (of U2 fame), the same way we always seem to get reaction shots of Jack Nicholson at the Oscars. I’m not sure why Bono was there, except that he has excellent connections. If he actually got up and said something, it must have been edited out. Come to think of it, that may be the real reason RTÉ didn’t broadcast the ceremony real-time. Maybe they were afraid that Bono would use the F word like he did at the Golden Globes, which threw the Federal Communications Commission into a tizzy. (In the end, as I understand it, the FCC ruled that Bono wasn’t in trouble because he used the F word as an adjective and not as a verb.) But, no, that couldn’t be it, since Irish TV isn’t quite as uptight as American TV about these things. In fact, I heard Bono using the F word with no problem on The Late Late Show (an Irish TV institution that is a strange cross between Jay Leno and Larry King) just the week before. The occasion was a tribute to Irish director Jim Sheridan on the release of his new film, In America.

    -S.L., 6 November 2003


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