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Filmmakers move to head of the class

Pics, TV are the good news in an otherwise gloomy economy

A fresh wave of Irish filmmaking talent will step into the spotlight at the eighth Irish Film & TV Awards, which takes place Feb. 12 in Dublin.

Of the four nominees for director, three are debutants, including Juanita Wilson, recently named as one of Variety’s 10 Directors to Watch. Her Bosnian-set feature “As If I Am Not There” leads IFTA’s film nominations with six.

Wilson won an IFTA last year for her debut short, “The Door,” which went on the snare an Oscar nomination.

She is joined on the director shortlist by fellow rookies P.J. Dillon for “Rewind” and Ian Power for “The Runaway,” along with sophomore helmer Tom Hall for “Sensation.”

“As If I Am Not There,” “Sensation” and “The Runway” are also competing for the best film award, along with “Swansong: The Story of Occi Byrne” by another first-time writer-director Conor McDermottroe, and “Perrier’s Bounty,” the third feature directed by Ian Fitzgibbon.

“The work has been very strong this year, and the amount of new talent coming through the ranks is notable,” says Aine Moriarty, chief executive of the Irish Film & TV Academy.

“There’s a great confidence building in the industry; it’s adding layer upon layer, year by year. People have cut their teeth on big American productions coming into Ireland, and then gone on to work on their own projects, at a lower budget, of course.”

The IFTA ceremony takes place this year for the first time at Dublin’s striking new Convention Center, and will be broadcast live on Ireland’s main national channel RTE1. Nominees include many of Ireland’s biggest international stars, including Pierce Brosnan (“The Ghost”), Colin Farrell (“The Way Back”), Cillian Murphy (“Inception”), Saoirse Ronan (“The Way Back”) and Sarah Bolger (“The Tudors”).

It’s a rare opportunity for the Irish audience to enjoy some glitz and celebrate some good news, in the midst of the harsh austerity measures that have been forced upon the country in the aftermath of the global banking crisis, which has hit Ireland especially hard.

Yet the Irish production sector has continued to thrive. That’s partly because the government regards film and TV as a key area of potential growth, and has largely protected its public funding from the wider cuts.

“In desperate recessionary times here in Ireland, the workload has been substantial and the quality superb and diverse,” Moriarty says. “At IFTA, we have huge respect for what the industry has achieved against a lot of odds.”

The production company with the most nominations is James Flynn’s Octagon Films, which leads both the film nominations with “As If I Am Not There,” and the TV nominations with “Love/Hate.”

The main focus of the awards is Irish talent, whether working at home or abroad, in film or TV. The three international prizes reveal some quirks of Irish taste, with an unexpected lead actor nod for Russell Crowe in “The Next Three Days,” and the notable absence of “The King’s Speech” from the best film or lead actor lists. The Irish are clearly more resistant than most to the charms of the British royal family.

IFTA’s nominees for international film are “The Social Network,” “Inception,” “Toy Story 3” and “The Prophet.”

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