Sick of the Oscars before they have even started? Dermot O’Rourke sits down with the producer of the Oscar-nominated Pentecost, Eimear O’Kane, and finds that all is not lost at film’s most overhyped accolades
It’s that time of year again, when the most coveted of self-congratulatory back slaps from Hollywood are upon us once more. This year’s Oscars promises to have more small golden men, gushing actresses in expensive dresses, and dubious decisions that we’ve all grown to care a little less about each year. It would be a little too easy to moan in yet another Oscar-bashing article entitled ‘Oscar the Grouch’. It would also be too easy to write the article about how the Academy never seem to award the movies or filmmakers that actually deserve recognition and to seethe about how they have made serious errors of omission in every category this year. It would be especially too easy to write the article about how the Academy is largely ignorant of films with dialogue that is not in ‘American’ or how they inexplicably left Senna out of the ‘Best Documentary’ category.
This is not one such an article because, in fact, the Oscars often have quite a good effect on the film industry. Yes, there are serious errors when it comes to actually awarding deserving films but, in general, the notion that they are quite so coveted by film studios means that the studios try to produce films worthy of this perceived accolade. With films aimed at the Oscars, the studios take a few risks and make films that demand a little more from their audience. Not only does winning an Oscar allow them to stick the golden sticker on the DVD to sell a few more units, it also helps writers, directors and actors draw in bigger audiences for future films. The Oscars give Hollywood a good reason to produce films that, in a time of box office fodder and safe-bet 3D comic book adaptations, would otherwise not be made at all. Would the challenging The Tree of Life have been picked up by 20th Century Fox without pitching it as potential Oscar material? Or the black and white silent film The Artist?
The benefit of the Oscars is nowhere more apparent than in the film industry in Ireland. The success of the Irish film industry abroad can be partly attributed to the recognition of Irish films, in particular short films, at the Oscars. In the past ten years, eight Irish short films have been nominated at the Oscars, and this year the Northern Irish film The Shore, and producer Eimear O’Kane’s Pentecost make up two of the five nominations for Live Action Short Film.
Pentecost is a comedy about a football fanatic altar boy who receives a three-month ban from football after knocking over a priest during mass, and was funded through the Irish Film Board Signatures short film scheme. Oscar recognition for Pentecost this year, and numerous Irish films in previous years, has allowed the quality of the Irish national cinema (and by extension the Irish film industry), which would have gone largely unnoticed by the mainstream, to be exposed not only to national audiences, but also to international markets.
For people involved in the making of these short films, nomination at the Oscars also provides an excellent platform to make the transition to feature films with budgets to rival US films. “It is not an easy task to get a feature film off the ground,” O’Kane explains. “It is a huge learning curve trying to make a feature film for €100,000,” a very small budget for a full length feature.
More than any other benefit, the Oscars also provides a huge networking opportunity for Irish filmmakers, allowing them to establish future Irish projects with possibilities of co-productions and funding from abroad; both of which have become increasingly important for our small, largely homegrown, industry. “There are a lot of opportunities for producers … to get co-productions off the ground and that seems to be the way forward, certainly for a lot of Irish producers, that’s how they’re going about it because it is difficult to raise all the money in this country.”
There is a question that still remains, however: why have Irish short films been so prolific at the Oscars in recent years? With relatively small resources, when compared to the USA or the UK, the funding bodies in Ireland, in particular the Irish Film Board, have opted to back films that serve as cultural products of Ireland, and in doing so, have create a national film canon that has excited the members of the Academy.
However, as O’Kane points out, there is no “magic formula” for producing Oscar-worthy films, and certainly not at the consistent rate Ireland has being doing in recent years. She concludes that Ireland’s current status at the Oscars is “reminding people of Irish peoples’ skills for storytelling and that we do have stories to tell.” And the Oscars, for one, are most definitely listening.