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All eyes on the emerald isle

Irish Film & Television Awards 2012

Just one of the four best picture nominees at the Irish Film & TV Awards has been released in Ireland. That highlights both how few Irish movies are made each year, and how hard it is for them to get local distribution.

“The Guard” is already Ireland’s biggest homegrown hit in years, but “Stella Days” and “Charlie Casanova” are still awaiting release, and “Albert Nobbs” has yet to strike a distribution deal.

That makes the IFTA ceremony, which takes place Feb. 11 at Dublin’s Convention Center, all the more significant as a showcase to raise the profile of Irish talent and create demand for Irish films among the local TV viewers.

Distrib Eclipse Pictures is hoping to seize the IFTA spotlight by releasing Thaddeus O’Sullivan’s “Stella Days” three weeks after the ceremony.

“The fact that the IFTAs are televised to a huge audience, and we are guaranteed nine clips during the show,” says producer Jackie Larkin of Newgrange Pictures. “It gives a boost.”

Terry McMahon’s dark thriller “Charlie Casanova” has recently been picked by for the U.K. and Ireland by Studiocanal, but has yet to fix a release date.

The pic, which was self-financed by McMahon won the debut award at the Galway Film Fleadh last summer, but has divided crix with its provocative portrait of a sociopathic yuppie.

McMahon says the IFTA nods represent a vital endorsement. “It’s more than surprising, in fact it’s astounding they are putting their credibility behind this massively divisive film, in a country that’s almost crippled by conservatism.”

Producer Alan Maloney is equally delighted at the IFTA recognition for “Albert Nobbs,” saying, “It’s good as a country to have your own awards.”

One distrib that passed on Rodrigo Garcia’s pic confides the IFTA shortlist made him reconsider the film, and a U.K./Irish deal is now reportedly imminent. But the fact that it has taken so long for “Albert Nobbs” to find a deal in its home territory, despite selling almost everywhere else worldwide, highlights the distribution fault-line that is one of the Irish film industry’s greatest handicaps.

Traditionally, the U.K. and Ireland are treated as a single territory for rights acquisitions, with London-based distribs buying and releasing pics across both countries. But British auds have historically shown little enthusiasm for Irish movies, so U.K. distribs are reluctant to buy them. When they do, any profits from the Irish release are typically swallowed up by the much larger U.K. p&a costs. Irish producers have started exploring the option of keeping the Irish rights and handling their own distribution.

Element launched its own distrib company five years ago, which paid off handsomely with “The Guard.”

Fastnet Films, producer of Rebecca Daly’s “The Other Side of Sleep,” nommed for four IFTAs, is also launching its own distrib arm, Wild Card, which will release Daly’s pic in March.

“In the past there were only two alternatives for Irish distribution, Element and Eclipse, so we thought there was a gap in the market,” says Fastnet’s Morgan Bushe. “We’re capitalizing on the attention for ‘The Other Side of Sleep’ from Cannes and Toronto, and using the IFTAs as a marketing launchpad pad.”

The downside is that this makes it even harder to sell U.K. rights without the potential upside from Ireland. Neither “The Other Side of Sleep” nor “Stella Days” has a U.K. deal.

“The Guard” grossed just $1.3 million in the U.K. via Studiocanal — less than a third of its Irish tally in a territory more than 10 times bigger.

No wonder Irish filmmakers are so keen to support the IFTA ceremony, now in its ninth year. “The Irish Film & TV Awards is Ireland’s showcase to the world of what our small but outstanding film and TV community has to offer,” says IFTA chief exec Aine Moriarty. “The Irish industry consistently delivers world-class standards of work that is watched by a global audience.”

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