Let’s talk about… Ireland at the Oscars

Record 14 Oscar nominations bodes well for the future of Irish cinema

Until very recently, the last time I’d thought about Clare Keegan’s 2010 novella ‘Foster’ was probably when hurriedly trying to scribble out a comparative studies essay about it during the English Leaving Cert exam. I remember quite enjoying the story when we’d read it for class and everything, but had essentially almost forgotten about it in the time since. That is until recently, when the novella’s movie adaption, ‘An Cailin Ciuin’, was released.

On paper, it wouldn’t have been overly cynical to expect a film like ‘An Cailin Ciuin’ to receive little fanfare upon release. A product of the Cine4 development (a partnership between TG4, Screen Ireland, and the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland), An Cailin Ciuin is an Irish language film, and this factor, coupled with the general fact that Irish entertainment media too often ends up the underdog against bigger industries (in the US, etc.), could easily have led this film to slip under the radar. However, as it turns out, this has not been the case at all.

An Cailin Ciuin has had an overwhelmingly positive reception, both at home and abroad. After nabbing the main prize at the Irish Film and Television Awards (IFTAs) and receiving international praise at various festivals, the movie’s most major accolade came last week, when the adaptation received an Oscar nomination for Best International Feature Film. In obtaining this nomination, An Cailin Cuiun has made history, becoming the first Irish language film to ever be nominated for an Oscar. And yet, while this feat alone would constitute a true milestone for Irish cinema, the nominations didn’t stop there.

We managed to secure a record fourteen nominations this year, with a host of Irish talent being represented across all sectors of the movie-making industry, from cast members to production. Notably, nine nominations went to the black comedy ‘The Banshees of Inisherin’ alone, which in addition to being shortlisted for Best Picture, Original Screenplay, Film Editing, Director, and Original Score, also saw four of its main actors (Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Kerry Condon and Barry Keoghan) receive nominations. In addition to them, Paul Mescal, who shot to fame after appearing in the adaptation of Sally Rooney’s ‘Normal People’, has become the fifth Irish actor to be nominated this year, up for Best Actor for his performance in the British-made ‘Aftersun’.

Irish talent has by no means been a stranger to Oscar recognition over the years, but the string of nominations for 2023 truly is a landmark achievement. It’s the most Irish actors we’ve ever had shortlisted in one year, the most across the categories too. But perhaps even more remarkable than either of those feats is An Cailin Ciuin’s aforementioned achievement of being the first ever Irish language film to be Oscar-nominated.

Given the Oscars’ reputation as the so-called authority on all things film-related, An Cailin Ciuin’s nomination directly serves to legitimise Irish language media on an international level, and bolster potential for future Irish language productions (and domestic productions in general). ‘An Cailin Ciuin’ could easily spark a new era for Ireland’s film industry, and its reception speaks to how well Irish language media could potentially be received abroad – as Parasite director Bong Joon-ho told the audience at the 2020 Golden Globes, “Once you overcome the 1-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films”. We often lament that the Gaeilge is dying out, but this film’s achievement should serve to show the opposite.

Increasingly lately, we are seeing Ireland reach new heights of success in the realm of television, film and the arts. Only a few months ago, I wrote about the success of shows like ‘Derry Girls’ and ‘Normal People’, and how Ireland is continuing to make strides in this industry. We have a long history of excelling in the arts and have been investing more and more resources into them lately (spending 40% more on feature films, documentaries, animation and TV drama between 2019 and 2021, according to Screen Ireland), and it’s paying off – not just in Oscar nominations, but in increases in international viewership, and our continued success in niche genres like horror and animation.

It’s brilliant to see Irish talent enjoying such major success on the international scene, but hopefully this is just the beginning. Oscars’ viewership has famously been dwindling the past few years, but no doubt when the time comes many of us will be tuning in to support all the Irish involved – and while nominations alone are a huge accomplishment, just maybe (perhaps with a bit of the ‘luck of the Irish’?) we’ll even see some award winners too!