IFTA Awards 2023

by Brian Bowe

This year the Irish Film and Television Academy Awards felt like déjà vu – the same faces, just a different ceremony. This has always been the case to some degree due to the event’s position in the awards calendar. However, this year felt like a particularly heavy dose, a sensation which most likely speaks to the massive success Irish talent have garnered throughout award season thus far. We’ve spent months rooting on the likes of Paul Mescal, Richard Baneham and all those involved in The Banshees of Inisherin, An Irish Goodbye and An Cailín Ciúin. In the end, The IFTA Awards 2023 was a triumphant homecoming, a celebration of one of the best years in Irish film.

Kerry Condon

The milestone 20th Anniversary Ceremony took place on May 7th in Dublin’s newly opened Dublin Royal Convention Centre. Nominees were shortlisted across 28 categories by Irish Academy members as well as specialist jury panels of industry experts from around the world.

Unsurprisingly, Martin McDonagh’s brilliant The Banshees of Inisherin had a great evening, winning Best Film, with Brendan Gleeson and Kerry Condon taking the Best Supporting Actor and Actress (Film) gongs respectively. Now a red carpet regular, Gleeson seemed happy to finally reach the finish line of what’s been a whirlwind of a promotional tour. “I’ve never done anything to that degree,” Gleeson, who is currently shooting the sequel to The Joker with Lady Gaga and Joaquin Phoenix, told The Irish Times. “I could have done without that, because I really wanted to be fully engaged in what I was doing on Joker 2. So it was kind of weird. But it was a fantastic celebration of the movie.”

Paul Mescal, who lost out to Gleeson for the Best Supporting award, claimed the Best Lead Actor (Film) prize for his work on the Scottish coming of age drama Aftersun, directed by Charlotte Wells, not bad considering he was up against such talent as Colin Farrell (The Banshees of Inisherin) and Liam Neeson (Marlowe). 

Banshees of Inisherin star Colin Farrell.
Banshees of Inisherin star Colin Farrell.
(credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Veteran actor Bríd Ní Neachtain, too, beat off strong competition, coming out on top over Danielle Galligan (Lakelands) and Zara Devlin (Ann) to take home Best Lead Actress (Film) for her performance as Róise in Róise & Frank: a witty Irish language film about a recently widowed woman who believes that a stray dog embodies the spirit of her late husband Frank.

The Best Original Screenplay category provided the big surprise of the evening, when Frank Berry’s searing drama Aisha beat out bookies’ favourite Martin McDonagh for The Banshees of Inisherin. And if that wasn’t enough, The Raheny man, whose previous film Micahel Inside won Best Film back in 2018, took home the award for Best Director (Film). “We wanted to tell a story about the experience of people coming to Ireland seeking international protection,” Berry said while accepting the prize. “We hope to get people talking about this system that exists in our name. I’d like to dedicate this award to everybody who’s suffered in the direct provision system, currently and in the past.”

Best Lead Actor Paul Mescal
Best Lead Actor Paul Mescal (credit: Wikimedia)

Returning from their Oscar glory, Tom Berkeley and Ross White, directors of An Irish Goodbye, took home Best Live-Action Short Film, becoming the first-ever Irish short to win at the Oscars, BAFTA and an IFTA – an historic achievement! The two directors, along with stars Seamus O’Hara and James Martin, were all smiles on the red carpet prior to the ceremony. “We went to the rugby, the Grand Slam game, and this man couldn’t move for being stopped,” White said, gesturing to Martin. “It has been amazing. The love from the place has been amazing.” 

Another Northern Irish filmmaker, Kathryn Ferguson’s Nothing Compares, a sensitive and compelling study of Sinéad O’Connor’s life and career, won the George Morrison Feature Documentary Award. “As a teenager growing up in Belfast in the ‘90s, Sinead was a guiding light” Ferguson said, clasping her statuette. “Her talent, her authenticity, and her bravery to stand up for what was right was what we desperately needed to witness as young Irish women. She inspired us to be bolder. She’s an icon and we’re very lucky to have her.

Director Martin McDonagh
Director Martin McDonagh
(credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Unlike other screen entertainment award shows, the IFTA ceremony presents the prizes for TV drama and for film on the same night. The Apple TV+ hit Bad Sisters was the big winner, coming away with four awards including Best Drama, Supporting Actress (Drama) for Anne-Marie Duff, and Director (Drama) for Dearbhla Walsh, while co-creator and actress Sharon Horgan won for Best Lead Actress (Drama). Horgan’s star has certainly risen since Bad Sisters came out last summer, but fans of the show will have to wait patiently for over 12 months before they’re given some new episodes to feast on. Speaking about a potential release date of the second series, Horgan said: “Well we start filming in September, but I don’t know when it’s going to come out. I mean, I guess after summer 2024. It takes a while. They take ages to make.”

The comedian Deirdre O’Kane returned as host, welcoming the likes of John C Reilly, Colm Meaney, Andrew Scott and Bob Geldof on stage to present the awards. This year was the first in-person IFTA event since 2018. Since 2020 the ceremony has been a virtual experience. What a year to welcome back this live event, an historic year which saw the Irish industry reach new heights, home and abroad. Long may the success continue.

The 20th Anniversary IFTA Awards are now available to watch on RTÉ Player.