New Irish famine movie Arracht tipped for monster Oscar success

Korean feature Parasite made history at the start of this year when it became the first foreign language film to win the Best Picture Oscar – and now a new Irish language feature is hoping to follow in its footsteps. James Ward speaks to writer/director Tom Sullivan about famine drama Arracht

Arracht follows fisherman Colman Sharkey (Donall O Healai), who takes a stranger into his home at the behest of a local priest just as the potato blight arrives
James Ward

PARASITE has kicked down the door for foreign films in Hollywood, according to the director of Oscar-tipped Irish language famine film Arracht.

The Korean movie wowed audiences and made history when it scooped four Academy Awards, becoming the first non-English film to win Best Picture in the process.

Writer/director Tom Sullivan, whose feature Arracht has been chosen by the Irish Film and Television Academy (IFTA) as Ireland's candidate for the Best International Film award, believes the Korean film's success has boosted interest in foreign language films.

He said: "Parasite kicked a lot of doors down and got a lot of people who would not have normally considered watching foreign language films to watch them.

"I think, Jesus, wouldn't it be great if people were more open to watching films from all over the world, as opposed to that small pool of American films that most of us, myself included, watch?

"I think you know we can all we can all do it open broadening our horizons a little bit."

Arracht ('Monster') was filmed entirely in Irish on the barren west coast of Connemara.

Set in 1845, on the eve of the great famine, it follows fisherman Colman Sharkey (Donall O Healai), who takes a stranger into his home at the behest of a local priest just as the potato blight arrives that will lead to the death and displacement of millions.

This seminal moment in Irish history has rarely been depicted on the silver screen. Tom Sullivan is all too aware of this, revealing that he was warned by a top Irish director "don't f*** it up."

He said: "I mentioned it to a well known director, who I won't mention now. He's pretty famous and he's an Irish director. I was talking to him one day, I just bumped into him. And I told him what I was doing, that it was a film centred on the famine.

"And his response was 'Oh, risky – don't f*** it up'."

Sullivan continued: "I don't know, I think there's trepidation or fear of trying to tackle something so sacred.

"There's an awful lot that goes unsaid about the famine and I think it's the same with any trauma. I think as a nation we're traumatised.

"I think we're all learning, we're all in therapy now learning to deal with the famine and the films that are going to come out. I think you're gonna see more ways of us dealing with this and talking about it, I think it's time."

Arracht had its world premiere at the 23rd PÖFF Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival in Estonia last November prior to its Irish debut at the Dublin International Film Festival in February. On March 2, Arracht had its British premiere at the Glasgow Film Festival, where it won the Audience Award.

It was due to be released in Irish cinemas on April 3, but has been delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Arracht had its US premiere at the virtual Nashville Film Festival in October.

Selected by a judging panel including acclaimed director Lenny Abrahamson and actor Ciaran Hinds, Arracht will be included in the IFTA Oscar longlist which will then be narrowed down to just five nominees, based on the votes of Academy members and directors.

Despite the odds being against him, Sullivan is grateful for the recognition he has received for his first feature film.

He said: "Either way it's great recognition and it'll ensure that a lot more people see the film."

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