The announcement of Irish film The Quiet Girl’s Oscar nomination for best international film led to understandable joy among its production team, as captured in a video shared on Twitter.
The cinema where they received the news erupted in screams, the audience hugging and throwing their arms up in the air. The camera keeps returning to The Quiet Girl’s young star, Catherine Clinch, before swinging around the room again.
Make no mistake, this was Ireland’s day. The country received 14 nominations. With nine of these, Martin McDonagh’s The Banshees of Inisherin broke the Irish record previously held by Jim Sheridan’s In the Name of the Father (1993) and Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast (2021), with seven nominations each.
Four of the Banshee nominations were for acting: Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Barry Keoghan and Kerry Condon. The remainder were for best picture, best director, best original screenplay, best original score and best film editing.
Paul Mescal came as something of a surprise nomination for best actor for his role as the young father in Charlotte Welles’ Aftersun, ensuring that 25% of the total acting nominees for 2023 were Irish.
In addition, Jonathan Redmond was nominated for best editing on Elvis and Richard Baneham for best visual effects on Avatar: The Way of Water. The black comedy, An Irish Goodbye, was nominated in the best live action short film category.
Perhaps most movingly of all, was the nomination that set the Stella Cinema alight for the Irish language film, The Quiet Girl (An Cailín Ciúin), adapted from the novella by writer Claire Keegan.
The mechanisms of Irish cinema’s success
Ireland has of course had Oscar success before, from My Left Foot (1989) and The Crying Game (1992) to Room (2015) and Brooklyn (2015). Richard Baneham has won in the Best Visual Effects category before for James Cameron’s Avatar (2009).
Kilkenny animation studio Cartoon Saloon might well have considered themselves unlucky not to have picked up a nomination for My Father’s Dragon (2022), having been previously nominated five times, most recently for Wolfwalkers (2020).
Still, this year’s news was exceptional, causing much national joy and pride. International awards are good for the national mood. They don’t just make us, the Irish, feel good about ourselves, but they make other people feel good about us, too.
The Irish government has historically deployed Ireland’s artistic achievements to leverage soft power (obtaining preferred outcomes through attraction rather than coercion or payment) and Irish cinema can, with justification, take its place among our writers, poets, performers and musicians in currying international favour.
The nominations vindicate years of investment for the Irish film industry, much of it via the Section 481 tax incentive, which allows Irish production companies to claim a portion of their spend against corporation tax.
It applies to companies making feature films, television dramas, animation and creative documentaries. It is currently worth up to 32% of eligible Irish expenditure (with a small regional uplift).
According to a recent report, 82% of the expenditure of Irish productions and co-productions can be attributed to Section 481. In 2021 Irish production expenditure for Section 481 productions reached over €500 million (£443 million).
This money is largely responsible for establishing the infrastructure that has produced not just the films, but the technicians whose nominations we are celebrating. But throwing money at creative types alone doesn’t explain Irish cinema’s success.
The case of The Quiet Girl is particularly illuminating. From its launch in 2017 the Cine4 scheme – a program established to make Irish language cinema – targeted an Oscar win.
They may not have expected The Quiet Girl to arrive so quickly, but once they realised what it could achieve they supported it with a massive marketing campaign. The influence of the Irish in Hollywood (most notably actor Pierce Brosnan) was also used to champion the film.
They might have little else in common, but Banshees and The Quiet Girl are the products of a network of influences, a long tradition of acting talent that now moves comfortably between LA and Ireland.
It’s a network of canny producers working hand in glove with new Irish writers and of high profile directors wanting to make Irish films. And all of this alongside a massive financial investment in the infrastructure of filmmaking.
Irish cinema has been set up to win.