DIFF Award Winners to Date – Discoveries unveiled, Volta awarded

As the Dublin International Film Festival rolls on, they have announced the winners of a number of their awards, as well as officially handed this year’s Volta recipient their dues.

The 21st Dublin International Film Festival today announced the recipients of a selection of their awards: the 5 Lamps Discovery Award, Short Film and Documentary category winners, as well as the Irish Council of Civil Liberties (ICCL) Human Rights Film Award. 

Two-time Oscar nominee Emily Watson received the Festival’s career achievement award, The Volta, presented to her by God’s Creatures co-star Paul Mescal at an intimate event amongst friends, cast members and the creative team.  The Volta Award celebrates the careers of international film makers in recognition of their significant contribution to the world of film.

Over the Festival’s more than two decade history a very important and defining ethos has been the celebration and recognition of both new and established industry talent, the creative lifeblood that assures its future. 

The Festival is thrilled to announce the recipients as follows:

5 Lamps Discovery Award

The Irish film industry has never been busier. Productions both large and small are reaching wider audiences, and there is an abundance of talent working in the film sector today. Celebrating our thriving industry, the 5 Lamps Discovery Awards aim to identify, champion, support and encourage new and emerging talent from both in front and behind the camera, and this year’s jury have selected Laura O’SheaGreg Burrowes and Rory Kerr as recipients of the awards.

The judging panel was comprised of Claire Dunlop, Head of Theatrical Sales & Acquisitions, Eclipse Pictures, Film Producer Cúán Mac Conghail and Alice Black, Cinema Programmer and Head of Film Programming, Element Cinemas. 

Commenting on the winners, the judges said:

“As jury members, we’re thrilled by the breadth of talent and skill on display from this year’s 5 Lamps Discovery Awards nominees.  It was a real privilege to spend time watching and carefully considering the submitted work.  Although our conversation started off discussing how challenging it was to compare the different disciplines, it was clear very quickly that there were in fact three nominees we felt stood out.

Writer/director/actor Laura O’Shea is someone in full control of her craft. The assured direction, pacing and lightness of touch with such a difficult topic in Wednesday’s Child was particularly impressive. It was obvious from Greg Burrowes work as a producer (and sound recordist) that he is on an upward trajectory.  It is evident that he is a committed and skilled Producer who is clearly drawn to good stories and knows how to deliver them.  And our third winner, Rory Kerr delivered animated work that was fresh and deceptively low-fi, a wild and wonderful blend of great technique and strong imagination.” 

Short Film Awards

The Short Film awards, judged by RTÉ Lyric FM’s Aedín Gormley, founder and presenter of Black and Irish, Femi Bankole, founder of Dreamfeel Studios and Llaura McGee Assistant Committee Member UCD Film Society, Eve Carney, went to a diverse selection of titles. 

Sinead O’Loughlin’s Lamb was named as Best Irish Short, with the judges saying  “it stayed with us long after viewing.” They also complimented the “strong performances from Aoife Duffin and Éanna Hardwicke” and the “brilliant suspense and atmospheric tension” of the film.  

Special mention went to Janna Kemperman‘s Shadow, which the judges said was “beautifully shot with excellent storytelling, encapsulating  the humour and sadness that goes hand in hand with grief.” 

The jury also wished to acknowledge Mud Queen, which they called “an interesting take on mental health and a very touching narrative in the son’s experience” and Regular Rabbit, “a fantastic and entertaining example of Irish animation with entertaining narration.” 

Best International Short went to Will you look at meThe jury said it was Amazingly shot from the director’s perspective on a Super 8 camera”, and found it “a raw and honest depiction of the filmmaker’s relationship with his mother post-coming out.” 

Special Mentions went to Blind Spot, a first-person pseudo-documentary told through astounding black-and-white animation. The jury called it “a harrowing true story of seeking justice for those nearly forgotten by society”. The second Special Mention went to On Xerxes’s Throne, an original and gripping dystopian tale surrounding a world where humans cannot physically touch one another, which the jury commended for being “magnificently shot in an industrial background, with minimal but powerful dialogue.”

Documentary Award

The jury for the Documentary section were documentary filmmaker Luke McManus (North Circular), Gillian Cooper, Head of Theatrical at Wildcard Distribution, and Jaie LaPlante, Artistic Director of DOC NYC. 

Best Documentary this year was awarded to Cara Holmes’s Notes from Sheepland, bursting with candid observations of the lipstick-wearing, always swearing, no-nonsense artist and shepherd, Orla Barry. Through her fields, her digital diaries, and the pedigree sheep she cares for, we discover how the art is in the doing. 

The judges said “Stylish, interesting, challenging in its formNotes From Sheeplandis a very well-crafted cinematic documentary. As well as being a clever and creative treatment of its subject, this is a film that brims with freshness and life. The film’s final line “May we live to keep you alive” resonated powerfully with the jury.”

Special Mention was given to Eddie Hutton-Mills and Leah Gordon’s  Kanaval: A People’s History of Haiti in Six Chapters. “A visually powerful and richly beautiful portrait of Haiti and its history through the culture of carnival troupes. They bring joy from their tragic history, and while they mourn it, they also celebrate it with some fantastic music provided by Sons of Kemet.”

ICCL Human Rights Award

Selected by a six-strong jury chaired by disability and LGBTQ+ rights activist Suzy Byrne. Suzy is joined on the panel by activist and academic, Yara Alagha; TV presenter, Claire Brock; activist and founder of Black and Irish, Leon Diop; actor, writer and previous winner of the award, Clare Dunne; and director Emer Reynolds.

The ICCL Human Rights Award was awarded to Fergus Dowd and Joe Lee’s incisive and illuminating documentary 406 Days telling of the heartbreak, courage and rage of the workers involved in the 2020 Debenhams picket. 

Commenting on their choice, the jury said:

406 Days is an incredible testimony to the strength and resilience of a group of mostly female workers in the face of the might of an international company. The women in this film could be our mums, our aunties, our grannies, our sisters. They are proud, hard-working women who gave decades of their lives to their work only to have that taken from them with no warning at the start of the Covid pandemic. Their voices are so rarely heard in our society and our media. This film gives them and their voices a platform and for that the filmmakers deserve congratulation and celebration. Appropriately for the Dublin International Film Festival, 406 Days is a film rooted in Dublin, but also Ireland – and we loved hearing voices from Tralee, Cork, Waterford and Limerick, as well as Dublin. This is a story of accidental activism; of organic revolution; of women who stood out in rain, hail, snow and sunshine, 24 hours a day to defend their rights. It’s a story all of us in Ireland should know and everyone who sees it will be inspired to grab a placard and get out on the street. We are delighted to award the ICCL Human Rights in Film Award to 406 Days and to all the Debenhams workers.” 

406 Days, Dir. Fergus Dowd & Joe Lee

Special mention from the jury went to My Imaginary Country (Mi País Imaginario) who praised it as “a stunning, beautifully made celebration of protest and civil disobedience, which leaves viewers with a sense of hope for the future. Packed with symbolism, this film will inspire anyone who sees it and convince them of the power of protest and solidarity. The interviews are filled with wisdom and in particular the jury was delighted to see that most, if not all, interviewees were women. Similar to 406 DaysMy Imaginary Country is another celebration of female strength and resilience and the jury is delighted to afford it a special commendation as part of the ICCL Human Rights In Film Award 2023.” 

The Volta Award

This year Emily Watson was presented with the Festival’s career achievement award, The Volta at an intimate event amongst friends, cast members and the creative team. 

“Emily Watson is one of the most exciting international actresses that we have seen in many many years. She is in a new film God’s Creatures which opened this year’s Festival and to my mind her performance as Bess in Breaking the Waves is one of the greatest performances ever presented on screen. Between those two films there is a great body of work we as a Festival wanted to recognise”. 

DIFF Festival Director Gráinne Humphreys

On receiving her award presented to her by God’s Creatures co-star Paul Mescal, Emily Watson said:

“This is such an honour. I think of myself very much as a collaborator. You don’t have a long career in film without all the other people in the room. I’ve been front and centre of quite a few Irish movies which is a great privilege when you are an Englishwoman. Working here in Ireland is always so potent for me. In the moment now it feels a little bit overwhelming, very thrilling and joyous.”

Celebrating the careers of individuals who have made a significant contribution to the world of film, the Volta has quickly established itself as one of the highest accolades in Irish film, and its recipients include many of the most accomplished actors, writers and directors of our time, including Al Pacino, Daniel Day-Lewis, Kristin Scott Thomas, Martin Sheen, Paolo Sorrentino, Julie Andrews and Thierry Frémaux.

The 21st anniversary Dublin International Film Festival continues its celebration of Irish and world cinema until March 4th with a packed programme of in cinema screenings, Q&As, industry events alongside a selection of films also available online. www.diff.ie.

As DIFF enters its closing days, with the Audience Awards and Dublin Film Critics Circle Awards still to come, the Surprise Film to be revealed and more films to see from at home and abroad, it’s good to take a moment to celebrate the achievements of rapidly rising stars. A huge congratulations to O’Shea, Burrowes and Kerr for their success, for O’Loughlin for the praise for her own grippingly sinister short, and to all the other award winners and special mentions, with much more to come in the years ahead in the fair city of film and beyond.

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