Northern Irish screenwriters Declan Lawn and Adam Patterson have spoken of their delight after scooping an IFTA award for their dark comedy about so-called punishment beatings in post-conflict Belfast.
The pair picked up the Best Short Film gong for Rough – the third major accolade in less than a year. Last month it won Best International Short Fiction at the prestigious Krakow Film Festival, while in autumn 2020, the short was honoured at the Kerry Film Festival.
Rough, which stars Ryan McParland and Michael Smiley, is a darkly humorous story about Belfast gangsters who pass a death sentence on a dog. This leads the owner to offer himself up to be shot instead,
Speaking from London, where they are currently shooting their first feature movie, Freegard, the screenwriters said they were thrilled that their dark comedy about post-conflict Belfast had resonated so well beyond Northern Ireland.
“Obviously we are delighted and quite surprised at the reception the film is getting,” said Lawn.
“The more people who watch it, the better, and while it’s lovely to have won three awards now, the IFTA is our greatest honour to date. There’s something very special about winning a national award like this one.
“It’s a serious issue we’re dealing with, within a dark comedy, and the fact that the issue has landed in Dublin and people there got it, is huge to us.”
Patterson said: “As a creative, one of the hardest things is to tell a story that reflects your home. It’s so familiar to us, but not to other people.
“Setting it in a post-Troubles legacy society was an added risk but the fact that people are getting it and loving the film, means a lot to us.”
Lawn said that while the film’s ‘punishment attack’ theme was serious, the heart of the tale was more universal - a man’s love for his dog.
“The film is really about something simple, this guy loves his dog and is willing to express that, to change his circumstances,” he said.
“That can be applied to any situation really.”
Patterson added: “The basic building blocks of the story are truth-telling, forgiveness, decency and civility in the face of adversity.
“Rough touches on specific things that are universal and that resonate with many people.
“It’s wrong to simplify divisiveness. We love this place and the people. We can look at the terrible atrocities that have happened here but know that there are so many good, decent people.
“Rough is complex enough to make people think but at its heart is a universal, human story about a man and his dog.”
The pair, who penned the award-winning drama The Salisbury Poisonings, wrap their feature length directorial debut in London next week, then return home to continue writing their next project, the police drama Blue Lights. It is due to start filming in Belfast next January.
“There is a lot of really interesting work coming out of Northern Ireland right now,” said Lawn. “It’s a very strong phase and part of that is down to the crews and the fact there are so many good stories to tell.”
Newry woman Cathy Brady, meanwhile, picked up the Best Director Film Award for her debut feature Wildfire and its lead actress Nika McGuigan, who died of cancer in 2019, aged just 33, was posthumously honoured with the Best Actress Award for her performance.
Filmed on location in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, Wildfire tells the story of a missing woman who returns home, igniting an intense bond with her sister. United they unearth their mother’s past, but the truth has devastating consequences. Wildfire will be released in cinemas in September. Both it and Rough were backed by Northern Ireland Screen.
Accepting the Best Actress Award award on his daughter’s behalf, Irish boxing legend father Barry and his wife Sandra said they were “very, very proud and overwhelmed”.
Her brother Blane said: “Nika’s performance speaks for herself. It is the culmination of years of hard work.
"Nika tirelessly grafted to become the best actor she could be and in Wildfire she found a vehicle that let her express herself artistically like she had never been able to do before.
Derry Girls and Bridgerton star Nicola Coughlan was another big winner on the night. She won the Screen Ireland IFTA Rising Star award, posting on Twitter: “This means the absolute world to me. Thank you so much @IFTA, I’m over the moon.” Coughlan was virtually presented with the award by Star Wars actor Mark Hamill.
The biggest winner on the night was Sally Rooney’s Normal People, which racked up a total of nine awards, including Best Drama. Paul Mescal scooped the Best Actor in a Lead Role gong (Drama), while Lenny Abrahamson won Best Director (Drama).
The Oscar-nominated animated feature Wolfwalkers, from Kilkenny-based studio Cartoon Saloon, won Best Film.