The Santa Barbara Film Festival’s Outstanding Performer of the Year Award will be given to two people this year, both of whom have links to Irish films, Brie Larson for her outstanding leading turn Room and Carlow native Saoirse Ronan for her pitch-perfect central performance in Brooklyn.

[quote title=”Roger Durling – Festival Director”]This is an incredible year for emerging talent to take center stage and showcase their abilities. We’ve long been following the careers of Brie and Saoirse and their recent roles as empowered young women transcend time, place and circumstance.[/quote]

Receiving this award bodes well for further acclaim later in the awards season as all but one of the previous recipients went on to an Oscar nomination, with 6 of those winning. Those include Steve Carell (Foxcatcher), Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine), Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook), Viola Davis (The Help), James Franco (127 Hours), and Colin Firth (The King’s Speech).

Brooklyn tells the profoundly moving story of Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan), a young Irish immigrant navigating her way through 1950s Brooklyn. Lured by the promise of America, Eilis departs Ireland and the comfort of her mother’s home for the shores of New York City. The initial shackles of homesickness quickly diminish as a fresh romance sweeps Eilis into the intoxicating charm of love. But soon, her new vivacity is disrupted by her past, and she must choose between two countries and the lives that exist within. The film is directed by John Crowley from a screenplay by Nick Hornby based on the novel by Colm Tóibín and stars Ronan, Domhnall Gleeson and Emory Cohen, with Jim Broadbent and Julie Walters.

Ronan is best known for her starring role in the feature film Atonement, directed by Joe Wright, for which she received an Oscar nomination as well as Golden Globe and BAFTA nominations for her critically acclaimed performance.  Other film credits include Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, Joe Wright’s Hanna, Peter Weir’s The Way Back, Neil Jordan’s Byzantium, and Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones.  She recently completed production on the film adaption of Anton Chekov’s The Seagull, directed by Michael Mayer and co-starring Annette Bening. In 2016 she will make her Broadway stage debut as Abigail Williams in Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” alongside Ben Wishaw, Sophie Okonedo and Tavi Gevinson.

Directed by Dubliner Lenny Abrahamson, Room is based on Emma O’Donoghue’s best-selling novel, which is told from the perspective of a five-year-old boy, Jack, who is being held captive in a small room along with his mother. To him the room is his world, but his mother knows different having been held there for 7 years.

This is the second award for Room at the festival, with young star Jacob Tremblay being honoured with a Virtusos Award, alongside Elizabeth Banks (Love & Mercy), Paul Dano (Youth, Love & Mercy), and Joel Edgerton (Black Mass).

The Santa Barbara International Film Festival tries to shines a light on independent and ethnic film-makers. The 31st edition takes place from February 3rd to 13th, 2016.

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