Éabha Bortolozzo and Jack Kirwan are two young, Irish, multi-award-winning filmmakers. Since meeting in 2014 during their Degree course in IADT Animation, the two have co-directed two short films together as well as working as animators and background artists at Radii Animation, a new and exciting studio in Dublin. Their first film, “The Usual” was well-received and selected to screen worldwide at festivals in Asia, the US and Europe. “Her Song” is their second film and has just only just entered the festival circuit. The pair currently live in Dublin and are pursuing a career in directing animation.
Within the framework of this year’s 16 DAYS 16 FILMS initiative created by Modern Films and the Kering Foundation, a short film competition that platforms female filmmakers and their films, which explore, emote, and educate on forms of violence against women, Tara Karajica talks to Éabha Bortolozzo about her short film, “Her Song,” as well as her thoughts on the short form, women in film today and what she is up to next.
How did you get into filmmaking and what inspires you?
Éabha Bortolozzo: When I was studying animation in College, I worked part-time in a local bar. I was just dropping pints of beer to tables and serving food. It was one day when I was working there that I had an idea for a short film. Growing up, I used to write a lot and loved coming up with stories. This time, though, I was thinking in terms of a short film. I could see visuals and feel the mood I wanted to create. I made this film with my best friend, Jack Kirwan, as our graduation film and since then, have loved using film to tell stories. What inspires me is using animation to explore dark and heavy themes/stories. For me, animation has the potential to be incredibly evocative, creative and magical and can help tell hard stories in a delicate way, allowing the audience to feel the emotion of a story. I am very inspired by Ireland and Irish people. I love the connection of animation and music and I love exploring ways to combine the two artforms.
Can you talk about your short film Her Song?
E.B.: The Banshee has always been intriguing to both myself and Jack. The popular idea of the Banshee is that to hear her cry is a harbinger of death and therefore she is believed to be evil. In our interpretation, she merely warns of death. We see her as a sort of unsung hero who watches and mourns all of Ireland’s tragedies. She cries for those who have died and is empathetic for those who mourn alone. Given the tragedies of the mother and baby homes, she has certainly had much to mourn. To us, the story of a woman in a mother and baby home speaks volumes about the different roles played by women in society at that time. The pressure, mindset and shame of parents who would send away their daughters. The women who were powerless to refuse this banishment. The nuns placed in these roles, with a duty of care, some of whom so readily abused their power. The resultant countless children forced to grow up without knowing their mother’s love. Growing up in a society which has seen the Church’s power diminish dramatically, it is hard for us to fathom the influence they had and the injustices that were carried out against so many Irish women. The Banshee, on the other hand, comes from a time before the Church had dominion over Ireland. She is a pagan force and cannot be confined by modern religion. She was supposedly an old wailing hag who brought nothing but despair. Society shunned her just as they shunned the “fallen women” who became pregnant and locked away. In our story, the Banshee is a source of comfort that helps Peggy, our main character, to manage her loss and grief. She represents the conscience of today’s society and personifies the overwhelming emotions these women’s stories evoke in present-day Ireland. What struck us from all the accounts was the heartbreaking sadness felt by the mothers and how their constant cries were ignored. This story is still continuing today and the survivors are still looking for compensation from the Irish Government.
What is your opinion on women in film today?
E.B.: There seems to be a lot more awareness about the inequality in the film industry today, studios and funders seem to be actively trying to make it more balanced. However, there is still a significant lack of female directors and when I was asked who my favorite female film director was, it was hard to name more than three that are well-known. This, to me, proves that even though there is more awareness around the issue, there is still a lot of work needed to get female filmmakers the opportunities and exposure they need and deserve. When asked who our favorite female film director is, we shouldn’t have to struggle to name three, but be able to discuss the many and know their work.
Who is your favorite female filmmaker and what is your favorite film by a female filmmaker?
E.B.: As I come from animation, my knowledge is more so about female animation directors and for that, it has to be Nora Twomey and Louise Bagnall. Both Irish and both working in Cartoon Saloon. Nora Twomey as a director is incredible. Her use and control over the medium of animation is breathtaking. Her feature film Breadwinner uses animation beautifully to tell the heartbreaking story of a young girl surviving life in Afghanistan in the early 2000s. It is the same reason I love animation so much, to tell hard stories, but with the touch of animation it is more accessible and emotive. Louise Bagnall also does this and her short film Late Afternoon really inspired me. It was the first piece of animation that moved me emotionally as an adult and it made me realize the potential animation has as a storytelling medium. It also showed me how much you can fit into a short film. If well directed, a short film can be even more impactful than a feature. It brought a whole new level of respect for short form animation for me.
What are your next projects?
E.B.: I love making short films and using animation to do so and a big part of that is the creative partnership I have with Jack Kirwan. Making films as co-directors is so enjoyable and we are currently working together on another idea for a short film. We will apply to funding bodies and hopefully get some support in its production. If not, we will keep developing it as making films just makes us so happy. Our experience with Her Song and telling such an important story was so inspiring for us that we will definitely follow this theme and use animation to shed light on issues of inequality in our society.
This interview was conducted within the framework of the 2020 16 DAYS 16 FILMS initiative created by the Kering Foundation and Modern Films.