By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN – Wicklow-based John Boorman has received the Best Director award at the Cannes Film Festival for his controversial faction film “The General,” about Martin Cahill, one of country’s most infamous gangsters.
Cahill was gunned down by the IRA as he drove from his South Dublin home in August 1994. The film hints that there was Garda collusion in the murder.
Boorman has defended criticism that the film appears to glamorize Cahill and his crimes, saying that it is told from his point of view.
This year’s Cannes Festival marked a first for Ireland, with two films up for awards for the first time ever.
“The General” was chosen from more than 800 entries and a cut-price short film, “Happy Birthday to Me,” with a tiny budget of _7,000, failed to get an award, but director Martin Mahon said it was tribute enough just to have been selected.
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“It was an extraordinary surprise and a great honor,” he said. “It was the first film from the Republic ever selected. It was selected out of thousands. I was blown away to have received the honor.”
The last Irish movie to be selected for Cannes was Pat O’Connor’s “Cal,” in 1984.
The director of the films “Deliverance,” “Excalibur” and “Hope and Glory,” among others, Boorman won the same prize at Cannes in 1970 for “Leo the Last”.
Boorman, who dedicated his prize to the people of Ireland, filmed the _7.4 million movie in black and white.
To applause, he told the 51st festival audience that he was thrilled by the vote of the Irish nation for peace.
Arts Minister Sile de Valera congratulated Boorman and said the award would have important consequences for the film industry as a whole in Ireland.
“The General” features Hollywood star John Voight as a fictional Garda Inspector obsessed with catching Cahill, who is played by Irish actor Brendan Gleeson.
During his heyday, Cahill was responsible for a major Dublin jewelry heist, the theft of the Beit paintings and the kidnapping of former National Irish Bank chairman Jim Lacey and his family, which netted him _243,000, but the gang missed a _7 million-plus hoard in the bank vaults.
He also severely injured a Garda forensic scientist by putting a bomb in his car, and crucified a criminal accomplice.