( ENSPIRE Entertainment ) Lead Sponsor of the Oscar Wilde Awards Michael Hackman Commits $100,000 to Support US-Ireland Alliance’s Scholarship Program
ENSPIRE Contributor: Iris Michelsen
The US-Ireland Alliance’s Oscar Wilde Awards honor contributions in the entertainment industry from primarily Irish creatives. The event is a celebration of Irish history, culture, and art, particularly movies and TV. It is a chance for Irish creatives in the film industry to come together and share their stories while honoring the artistic contributions of some of the most outstanding creatives. Among the winners this year were Adam McKay, Jamie Dornan, up-and-coming Irish actor Dónall Ó Héalai, and Kenneth Branagh. This year, for the 16th annual awards ceremony, the event was hosted at the Ebell of Los Angeles. While the event is normally held at J.J. Abrams and Katie McGrath’s Bad Robot production company in Santa Monica, this year the Ebell was chosen as the venue to allow for social distancing.
J.J. Abrams, the evening’s emcee, was given the title of “honorary Irishmen” at the 2010 awards. He referenced his time spent filming in Ireland for the Star Wars movies and also announced that he would film for an HBO series in Northern Ireland in the fall.
Hollywood veteran Mary Steenburgen presented Adam McKay with his Oscar Wilde Award for directing Don’t Look Up. The movie is one of Netflix’s most successful films and has received four Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay. Steenburgen referenced the fun experience she had working with McKay on the film Step Brothers, saying, “I’ve made some films that scholars might respect more but, I’ve never made a film that made people laugh more and that is my joy and my honor”
In his speech, McKay talked about his family ancestry from Northern Ireland and Donegal, and how they were driven out by a mold that infected the peat, forcing them to uproot and move to Nebraska. He also opened up about the Catholic shame, pain, and dysfunction that inspired him to write. He ended his speech by saying, “I just love the Irish people. I’m going back there soon to write another script.”
Reinaldo Marcus Green presented the “Wilde Card” Award to Irish actor Dónall Ó Héalai for the Irish-language film ARRACHT. Green described how as a struggling filmmaker in New York, facing massive student debt, he was close to giving up. However, it was Dónall who encouraged him to keep going. Green said, “I could talk about his accolades and all the things he’s accomplished in his career, but there is so much more to this person, there is so much more to who he is as a man, as a friend, as a collaborator, what he gives to his directors, there’s very few people you meet in this industry who have the heart that this man has.”
When he accepted his award, Ó Héalai talked about his own feelings of hopelessness and wanting to give up acting. But just when he stopped chasing his dream, he was sent the script for ARRACHT, the first ever Irish language film to portray the Famine. He described how, when shooting that film, “the dignity of our ancestors was with us the entire shoot.” He said that the film changed his life. As Green said when presenting the award, “His Irish roots are everything to him, his home country, and what he stands for and the projects he’s a part of, is a testament to who he is as a person.”
Richard Curtis, the writer of classic romantic comedies like Notting Hill, Love Actually, and Four Weddings and a Funeral, presented an award to Jamie Dornan. Dornan, who was born in Belfast, is one of the stars of Branagh’s Belfast and the HBO Max series, The Tourist. Curtis described Dornan as “another genuinely great Irish actor, subtly dangerous, charming, a chameleon.”
Dornan followed with a funny and heartfelt speech that was well-received by the audience. He talked about how he had been offered this award several times before, but had turned it down because he didn’t think he had done enough good work. He remembered how “fourteen years ago, I saw some unbelievably worthy work when they used to show a reel, and I thought one day.” But this year, he was disappointed because, “they didn’t do a f-ing reel.” Dornan spoke emotionally about his family and called working with Kenneth Branagh in Belfast “the greatest honor of my career.” He also stated that he would “endeavor to tell stories from that complicated island as long as I’m allowed to” and that “if you’re lucky enough to be Irish, then you are lucky enough.”
Kenneth Branagh, who also received an award as the director of Belfast, could not attend the event. Branagh recently broke records by becoming the first person nominated in seven Oscar categories. In his speech honoring Branagh, J.J. Abrams said, “There is much talk about the Irish and immigration–some of it forced, some of it chosen. The need to leave Belfast perhaps allowed Ken to become the actor, writer, director he has become. Maybe he was meant to tell this story at this time. Hopefully it will remind everyone, particularly political leaders in London and Stormont, to deliver on the promise of the Good Friday Agreement so that any further immigration from Northern Ireland is a choice and not a necessity.”
Via a taped acceptance, Branagh praised the Oscar Wilde Awards, reminiscing about the time he attended in 2012 to present to writer John Logan. On Belfast, he talked about ways his characters “could see some light through the dark cloud that was the onset of the Troubles.” The light of the cinema was one such light that “threw out all those beams of dreams all the way from Hollywood. Another was the light in the eyes of those incredibly wise warrior women, amazingly embodied by Caitriona Balfe in our film, who would step in front of any obstacles rather than see their family harmed. And, finally, the light that was the songs, the dances, the music, and the jokes. In short, the humanity, and the humor, that is part of the spirit of the Irish people.”
The event’s lead sponsor was Hackman Capital Partners and The MBS Group. Hackman generously committed to sponsoring two of the US-Ireland Alliance’s Mitchell Scholarships, with a gift of $100,000. Executives from several production companies were also in attendance, including the CEO of Screen Ireland and the CEO of Northern Ireland’s Screen, mingling with the attendees and discussing upcoming opportunities. In addition to producers, the awards were well-attended by Irish actors, filmmakers, and screenwriters. The Irish band True Tides and duo Loah & Bantum played music for the guests to enjoy throughout the event and the afterparty.
The Oscar Wilde Awards are an important event for the Irish community within the entertainment industry. They not only celebrate the accomplishments of highly successful Irish creatives, but they offer an opportunity for up-and-coming Irish creatives to mingle with more established creators, to build connections, share advice, and come together to work on new projects.
Check out the US-Ireland Alliance’s website for more images and information about next year’s awards.
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