The Irish Film & Television Academy (IFTA) has announced that Lebanon-set Feature Documentary "In The Shadow of Beirut" by Irish filmmakers Stephen Gerard Kelly and Garry Keane has been selected as Ireland’s entry for the Oscar® Best International Feature Film category at the upcoming 96th annual Academy Awards.

The film, which is primarily in Arabic, is produced by Brendan J. Byrne and Myriam Sassine. 

To qualify for the Best International Film category, a film must be a feature-length motion picture (over 40 minutes) produced outside the US and its territories with a predominantly (more than 50%) non-English dialogue track.

The film was selected by IFTA’s 2023 Selection Committee, including renowned filmmaker Jim Sheridan ("My Left Foot," "The Field"), Producer Brian Falconer ("Derry Girls," "Ordinary Love"), actress Cathy Belton ("Philomena," "Hidden Assets"), writer/director Frank Berry ("Michael Inside," "Aisha") and media executive Muirne Laffan. 

"In The Shadow of Beirut" is the first film from Irish co-director Stephen Gerard Kelly, who alongside experienced co-director colleague Garry Keane ("Gaza"), crafted this beautiful, yet powerfully honest film.

As Screen International captured it, ‘the shame this film provokes – or should provoke – in collective society, makes it difficult and distressing viewing.’ 

Kelly spent five years living amongst the film’s protagonists in the Sabra and Shatila neighbourhoods on the outskirts of Beirut, a city once described as the Paris of the Middle East, a city now engulfed in economic and political crisis.

Kelly spent the first three years with the central participants of the film before picking up his camera to begin documenting their lives: “In times of celebration and commemoration, people encouraged me to film their lives in happiness and - at times - immense sadness, frustration, even anger.”

"In The Shadow of Beirut" is a searing, cinematic portrait of modern-day Lebanon as seen through the eyes of four families living in the city. Filmed with unique access to these families, the film is marked by a deep intimacy with its subjects and a bold cinematic style. 

The film received its world premiere at the prestigious Doc Edge Festival in New Zealand in June this year where it won three prestigious awards, including Best International Feature Film, which earned it qualification in the Documentary Feature category for the 96th Academy Awards. 

"In The Shadow of Beirut" joins a stellar list of Irish-made films (not in the English language) that have been selected by IFTA’s panel to represent Ireland in the Oscar race over recent years. Last year, the Irish-language feature "An Cailín Ciúin" ("The Quiet Girl") was selected and went on to receive an Oscar Nomination - the first ever Irish language film to achieve this, and the film had enormous success worldwide with global audiences. 

Other previous selections have included "Viva" (Spanish language) which was long-listed; "Song of Granite" (Irish language); "As If I Am Not There" (Serbo-Croatian language); "Arracht" (Irish language); "Gaza" (Arabic language); "Foscadh" (Irish language); and "Kings" (Irish language) among others. 

Financiers for "In the Shadow of Beirut" are Screen Ireland (Ireland’s funding and development agency) and ZDF/Arte. The lead producer is Belfast-based Cyprus Avenue Films ("Gaza," "Bobby Sands: 66 Days"). Production partners include Beirut’s Abbout Productions (Costa Brava, Lebanon), Republic of Ireland-based Real Films ("Gaza"), and Berlin-based Gebrueder Beetz Filmproduktion ("The Cleaners"). Co-producers include Myriam Sassine, Christian Beetz, and Alison Toomey. Executive producers for Hidden Light are Hillary Clinton, Chelsea Clinton, and Siobhan Sinnerton. 

IFTA Academy CEO, Áine Moriarty said: "The Irish Academy is delighted to announce that ‘In The Shadow Of Beirut’ will represent Ireland in the Best International Feature Film category for the 96th Academy Awards.

"This is such an important film for a global audience to connect with. This raw storytelling on screen is delivered with such heart-breaking honesty.

"Stephen has been trusted to bring us up close and personal into the lives of these families, who are full of love as they try to live and survive, with the question of hope and human resilience at its core.” 

Co-director Stephen Gerard Kelly added: “As my first film, words are difficult to describe the emotions I’m feeling right now after just learning ‘In The Shadow of Beirut’ is Ireland’s official selection for International Feature at the Oscars.

"In addition to having already qualified in the Documentary Feature category for the Academy Award, this recognition from Ireland is an immense honour for me personally, and my co-directing partner Garry Keane.

"More importantly, this recognition will continue to keep Lebanon in peoples' minds and hearts, particularly the people in the film, whom I care deeply about." 

Producer Brendan J. Byrne added, “It’s a great honour to secure this coveted recognition from Ireland as the Oscar selection for Best International Feature.

"We’re very proud of this film and the people and stories that it brings to the screen” 

The Oscar® Best International Film contenders will next be shortlisted to 15 international finalists which will then be ultimately shortlisted to the final five Oscar® Nominees in that category. The 96th Academy Awards ceremony (the Oscars) is currently scheduled to take place in Los Angeles, California on Sunday, March 10, 2024.