Editorial: Oscar triumph for An Irish Goodbye puts Northern Ireland film industry on the international movie map
IT was a pure Hollywood moment in a magical story that already seemed like something straight out of the movies: as the team responsible for An Irish Goodbye accepted their Academy Award, the world's biggest film stars happily played a supporting role to Belfast actor James Martin by singing him Happy Birthday.
The dark comedy, which follows two previously estranged brothers fulfilling their recently deceased mother's 'bucket list', won the Oscar for best live action short film. The chorus was led by the film's directors, Ross White and Tom Berkeley, and Mr Martin's co-star, Seamus O'Hara. It was the undoubted feel-good highlight of the ceremony.
With their effervescent energy, charisma and talent, the quartet are wonderfully positive ambassadors for Northern Ireland; they gave Hollywood an Irish hello.
The Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles on Oscars night and Elton John's after-show party is a long way from the Babosh drama group in Belvoir where Mr Martin learned his craft, or from Templepatrick, Saintfield and the Sperrins where An Irish Goodbye was filmed.
Mr Martin plans to bring the Oscar to his drama group when he returns home. His is an inspirational story – he has told this newspaper that his ambition is to "just be an actor and be a really good one" – and as the first person with Down's syndrome to win an Academy Award, Mr Martin is a genuine trailblazer.
An Irish Goodbye's Oscar follows the Bafta it won last month. The success is not only a personal triumph for all those involved but potentially a watershed moment for Northern Ireland's burgeoning film and television industry.
This has been building its reputation in recent years, perhaps most notably with the long-running Game of Thrones series. An Irish Goodbye's accomplishments emphasises the depth and breadth of creative talent, both in front of and behind the camera.
As Richard Williams from Northern Ireland Screen, which backed the film with funding, pointed out, it also brings the beauty of our landscape to wider attention. "To win an Oscar is international recognition at the highest possible level," he said.
There are clear economic opportunities in building on the momentum of an Academy Award win so deeply rooted in the north. If power-sharing at Stormont is restored, it is vital that this sector is supported to the fullest extent so that the abundant talent which is undoubtedly found here can reach its full potential – and we can celebrate further movie dreams coming true.