Before Oscar Came the Wildes

Kenneth Branagh’s ‘Belfast’ was up against stiff opposition in Sunday’s Oscar Awards but nevertheless came away with an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.

Three nights earlier, also in Los Angeles, Branagh’s autobiographical tale and the cast of the movie had a lot more of the room to themselves when Branagh, Adam McKay, Jamie Dornan and Dónall Ó Héalai were all presented with Oscar Wilde Awards.

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The Ebell of Los Angeles was the scene of the US-Ireland Alliance’s 16th annual Oscar Wilde Awards.

Said a release: “The event is normally held at JJ Abrams and Katie McGrath’s Bad Robot production company in Santa Monica. Due to COVID-19 concerns, it was decided to opt for a larger space to allow for more social distancing.”

Abrams, named an “’Honorary Irishman’ at the 2010 awards, emceed the evening and said that he was fortunate enough to shoot some of STAR WARS in Ireland and joked that it was “mostly because Trina Vargo (founder and president of the US-Ireland Alliance) wouldn’t stop threatening me, and so now we’re going to be shooting a series for HBO next fall in Northern Ireland.”

Hollywood veteran Mary Steenburgen was on hand to present Adam McKay with his Oscar Wilde Award. McKay’s “Don’t Look Up,” one of Netflix’s most successful films, had received four Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay.

Added the release: McKay spoke of his family ancestry from Northern Ireland and Donegal and how a mold that infected the peat caused them to move to Nebraska.

McKay now has a home in Ireland and noted the irony in the fact that all his family want to visit him in the place from which their ancestors fled.

“I just love the Irish people. I’m going back there soon to write another script,” he said.

Reinaldo Marcus Green presented the “Wilde Card” Award to Irish actor Dónall Ó Héalai. Green directed “King Richard,” which earned six Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture and ultimately delivered the Best Actor Oscar to Will Smith.

Green spoke of Ó Héalai’s total physical transformation for the Irish-language film “Arracht.” Green also said that when he was a struggling filmmaker in New York, with massive student debt, and he was close to giving up, it was Donall who encouraged him to keep going, telling him he was “so close.”

“I could talk about his accolades and all of 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. His Irish roots of him are everything to him, his home country of him, and what he stands for and the projects he’s a part of, is a testament to who he is as a person. He is an incredible artist and an incredible talent,” Green said.

In accepting is award, Ó Héalai, talked about how he too almost gave up acting, and when he stopped chasing his dream, he was sent the script for “Arracht,” the first ever Irish language film to portray the Famine and how he felt that while shooting that film, “the dignity of our ancestors was with us the entire shoot.” The film changed his life from him.

Richard Curtis, the writer of classic romantic comedies “Notting Hill, “Love Actually,” “Four Weddings and a Funeral” and “Bridget Jones’ Diary” presented to Jamie Dornan.

The Belfast-born Dornan stars in “Belfast” and in the HBO Max series, “The Tourist.”

Continued the release in part: “Dornan’s well-received speech was equal parts funny and poignant. He joked that he would instead have to act out his entire career for the audience, and pulled out a set of handcuffs, saying “I’ll start with something you’re familiar with.”

Dornan was emotional in speaking about his family and his once in a career experience of working with Kenneth Branagh in “Belfast” (which had received seven Oscar nominations in total) describing it as “the greatest honor of my career.”

He said 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.”

Branagh couldn’t attend the Oscar Wildes but his wife Lindsay Brunnock, and several of his family and friends, did attend.

In honoring Branagh, Abrams said that the “Belfast” director had said that he found that the COVID lockdown triggered something in him that reminded him of the fragility of our lives, and he thus felt compelled to revisit that time in his childhood.

Abrams said, “There is a lot of 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 necessity.”

Via a taped acceptance, Branagh recalled what great fun the Oscar Wilde Awards are. He had attended in 2012 to present to writer John Logan. In speaking about “Belfast,” he said there were only a few ways this 9-year-old boy “could see some light through the dark cloud that was the onset of the Troubles.”

One light that was that of “the super bright light coming from the projection booth” at the local cinema that “threw out all those beams of dreams all the way from Hollywood. Another was the light in the eyes of those incredible 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 by her. And, finally, the light that was the songs, the dances, the music, and the jokes. In short, the humanity, and the humour, that is part of the spirit of the Irish people.”

Lead sponsor of this year’s Oscar Wilde Awards was Hackman Capital Partners and The MBS Group. Founder and Chairman Michael Hackman owns numerous studios and recently acquired Irish studios, Troy and Ardmore, and is building a new studio in Greystones, County Wicklow/

Abrams announced from the stage that Hackman generously just committed to sponsoring two of the US-Ireland Alliance’s Mitchell Scholarships with a gift of $100,000.

Also attending the awards gathering were directors Justin Benson, Terry George, and Rick Famuyiwa, along with producers Pat Crowley and Lisa Joy. Actor Elisabeth Shue made an appearance. The guest list included Nicolas Berggruen, CNN’s Donie O’Sullivan, and Lew Wolff, the former owner of the Oakland A’s.

In addition to Hackman Capital/The MBS Group, Screen Ireland and Northern Ireland Screen, other sponsors of the event included Netflix, Samsung, WarnerMedia, and ScreenScene.

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