Terry George: Oscar honours for the man who made peace with his past
You just couldn’t write the script. Not even Terry George with his creative and fertile imagination could have come up with the scenario 30 years ago — the story of a Belfastman who'd known troubles in his time picking up an Oscar and dedicating his triumph to the peacemakers of Northern Ireland.
For the homeland that a very different George left behind three decades ago was a very different place to the one he’ll return to in the coming days to celebrate his Academy Award win, which will consolidate Northern Ireland’s reputation as a centre of movie-making excellence.
As he picked up his coveted statuette in Los Angeles for the Best Short Movie for The Shore, which was filmed on his doorstep in Co Down, Terry George sent a collective shiver down the spine of Northern Ireland.
With his producer daughter Oorlagh by his side, George said: “Our little film was inspired by the people of Northern Ireland, Protestant and Catholic, who after 30 years of war, sat down, negotiated a peace and proved to the world that the Irish are great talkers,” he said.
Afterwards, George, who was behind no-punches-pulled movies about the Troubles, including In the Name of the Father and Some Mother’s Son, said The Shore, a gentler, poignant and funny film about reconciliation with a Troubles twist, was like a bookend to the earlier works.
And a bookend to his own past, perhaps. For Terry George is a former Republican prisoner who served several years in Long Kesh on an arms charge.
The new Oscar winner went to America in 1981 and lived there as an ‘illegal' because of his time in jail here.
His first writings were about the Troubles and about prison life. But even after his career took off in the States he told friends he wanted to pen something about another side of life at home.
And The Shore was filmed outside the front door of Terry George’s holiday cottage near the village of Killough where he’s returning for a party in the Anchor Bar.
He said he hopes the Oscar will enable him to promote the peace process and tourism.
He added “I hope this is just a reaffirmation that things have changed and that we’re trying to move on.”
It’s anticipated that the success for George, who’s been nominated for Oscars twice before for the screenplays of In the Name of the Father and Hotel Rwanda, will guarantee that wider spin-offs will flow from The Shore.
Northern Ireland Screen are confident it will focus even more attention on the province as a production hub where Game of Thrones — an award- winning American series — tops a list of 29 television dramas and 51 feature films plus 144 short films shot here since 1997.
It's understood that Oorlagh George is involved in talks about making a TV series in Northern Ireland, a joint enterprise with American-based producers which would be hugely helped by the Oscar headlines.
Her father has already shot another movie here, Whole Lotta Sole, about a robbery at a fish market which goes wrong. It's thought it may get its premiere in Belfast later this year.
Tourism officials believe George’s use of Northern Ireland as a backdrop for his movies will attract visitors.
Terry George is clearly passionate about County Down.
“I grew up in Killough. I was in Coney Island every summer and my house is still there. You walk out the front door and the view is amazing. For me, it is a chance to put something back to the area and try to showcase it.”
The area already has a soundtrack of its own which is famous around the world — Van Morrison’s 1990 song Coney Island.
It was re-recorded by Liam Neeson several years later.
And ironically Neeson, who’s also done his bit for the newly re-opened Lyric Theatre in Belfast and the Northern Irish movie business in general, saw The Shore only a few nights ago in the company of Terry George.
Neeson is, of course, just one of an ever-increasing number of Northern Irish actors who are or are becoming household names in the movie world.
Jimmy Nesbitt’s life will never be the same again after the release of the Hobbit, which he’s been filming in New Zealand.
And the stock of two stars of The Shore is also on the rise. Ciaran Hinds has appeared in films ranging from Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy to Harry Potter, and Conleth Hill, currently treading the boards in Uncle Vanya at the Lyric, appeared in a Woody Allen movie Whatever Works.
And then there’s Kenneth Branagh who received an Oscar nomination for My Week with Marilyn, and upcoming stars like Martin McCann, the west Belfastman who’s starred in Spielberg’s The Pacific TV mini-series and Closing the Ring by Richard Attenborough.
But we have friends in high places in Hollywood.
The Queen of the Oscars Meryl Streep is a keen supporter of the new MAC arts centre in Belfast.
And two years ago Robert De Niro gave his backing to the Northern Ireland movie industry at a function in New York during a prestigious film festival he set up.
And a top award in the Tribeca festival was won by a short film written and directed by Belfastman Michael Creagh and produced by Hole in the Wall Gang star Damon Quinn.
Which is where we came in...