Claire Dix

As a film director, Claire Dix works in both fiction and documentary film, going wherever the good stories are.  All of the short fiction that she has directed has won national and international awards. She has been honored by the Irish Playwrights and Screenwriters Guild and was nominated for two Irish Film and Television Awards. Her first feature documentary “Broken Song” premiered at the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival in 2013 where it won the Audience Award and the Michael Dwyer Discovery Award for Directing.

Tara Karajica talks to Claire Dix about feminism and film and her first narrative feature, “Sunlight,” in which she explores the complexity of saying goodbye. This heart-warming, poignant and hilarious ode to the power of friendship and change follows a recovering addict who discovers his beloved mentor is terminally ill. The film premiered at the 2023 Dublin International Film Festival and is now screening in the Europe! Voices of Women in Film program at this year’s Sydney Film Festival.

 

 

 

How did you get into filmmaking?

Claire Dix: Through perseverance and because I’m not driven by making money! I’ve had a bit of a slow meander to be honest. I started making short films with the support of Screen Ireland and a couple of other funding bodies in Ireland that are no longer operating. I kind of drifted into feature documentary for a while because I came across a great story when working with a community television station in Dublin. I always loved fiction film making though. I love working with actors and so, I came back to making fiction in 2017. That year, I had a short film called Take Me Swimming funded, again by Screen Ireland. I made some key creative relationships while making that short film and we continued talking and imagining and we came up with Sunlight.

How did Sunlight come about?

C.D.: Ailbhe Keoghan who wrote Sunlight also wrote Take Me Swimming, a short film I directed in 2017. That film had a similar theme to Sunlight; it was about a man called Thady who has to come to terms with his mother’s advancing dementia. There are also themes in that film about the right to choose the time of your own death and what that means to those you love. After making that short, Ailbhe felt she had more to say and that there was more to explore on these themes. She also came across a story about a woman in the States who called herself an exit guide and who facilitated assisted suicides. We had an early draft where she was being followed by a guard – member of the police –, but then, as the script advanced, it became more Leon’s story. We knew we had Barry Ward from the start and I think he inspired and helped to create Leon so that character kind of took over!

In the film, you depict the complexity of male friendship, which is represented in a deeper and more wholesome way than in usual and in contrast to male toxicity.

C.D.: Well, to be fair, the vast majority of the men I know and am friends with are as far removed from the media’s portrayal of male toxicity as the women I know. So, it wasn’t difficult to believe in the bond that Leon and Iver share. Of course, male toxicity exists, but luckily in my experience this relationship felt easier to believe.

Assisted suicide and drug addiction are also two very heavy topics that are tackled in the film. Can you elaborate on that?

C.D.: Drug addiction is a part of Leon’s backstory. It’s how he meets Iver. Iver is Leon’s sponsor and he helps Leon to kick the habit. It’s also something that is always there on the edge – always a threat to Leon. Assisted suicide is also a big theme in the film. Iver wants to die and has decided to contact a woman called Maria who voluntarily will come and be by your side as you die. Leon finds Iver and can’t accept his wish to exit.

Vulnerability takes center stage here. Can you delve deeper into that?

C.D.: We meet these characters at a vulnerable time in their lives and in their friendship. Iver has decided to die without telling Leon, his carer and close friend. Through the events of the film and by finally facing up to the cowardice of his “sneaking away” as Leon puts it, Iver allows himself to be vulnerable, allows himself to admit to past failings and regrets and is able to say proper goodbyes to the people he loves.

The film’s color scheme reflects the characters’ mood. Can you comment on that?

C.D.: We went for a very earthy, natural look. Most of the film is set in Dublin and in an old inner-city part of Dublin. There’s a lot of color and energy on the streets. This really suits Leon’s character. When we go out into the mountains in Act 3, we change the greys and pops of color in the city for greens and more natural tones. This signifies a shift in the story. Leon and Iver are more at peace. They’re on the same page.

Can you talk about the title?

C.D.: At the start of the film, Iver is choosing to die indoors in the dark. Leon persuades him out of the house and into the daylight in an attempt to change his mind. Finally, Iver does get his wish to exit on his own terms. but this time, he dies with the sun on his face. Ailbhe also said that the film was about bringing the theme of euthanasia out of the darkness and into the light.

What were the challenges of making this film? And, the little victories?

C.D.: It was a challenge to make this film on a micro budget. There were lots of compromises to make because of this all along the way. It was a tricky time to film also because the industry was just getting busy again after being shut down by COVID, so it was very difficult to get crew and difficult to cast the film. However, it all worked out in the end. We ended up working with the most dedicated cast and crew I could imagine.

Are you a feminist? If so, how does it inform your filmmaking?

C.D.: Yes is the short answer. My understanding of feminism is that men and women are equal to each other. I don’t really think about it, to be honest, after that. So, I’m not really sure how it informs my filmmaking. I think Ireland has come a long way and the industry is very conscious of creating equal opportunities for women and Screen Ireland have been great in that way, too.

Do you have a favorite female filmmaker and a favorite film by a female filmmaker?

C.D.: I really love Andrew Arnold, Lynn Ramsey, Dearbhla Walsh and an Irish film artist called Clare Langan.

What are your next projects?

C.D.: Ailbhe, Roisin [Geraghty] and I are in development with a new project called Orange World, which is an adaptation of a short story by a writer called Karen Russell.

 

 

Photo credits: ©Hugh O’Conor.

This interview was conducted in partnership with:

and

Tara Karajica

Tara Karajica is a Belgrade-based film critic and journalist. Her writings have appeared in "Indiewire," "Screen International," "Variety," "Little White Lies" and "Film New Europe," among many other media outlets, including the European Film Academy’s online magazine, "Close-up" and Eurimages. She is a member of the European Film Academy, the Online Film Critics Society and the Alliance of Women Film Journalists as well as the recipient of the 2014 Best Critic Award at the Altcine Action! Film Festival. In September 2016, she founded "Yellow Bread," a magazine dedicated entirely to short films, ranked among the 25 Top Short Film Blogs and Websites on the Planet in 2017. In February 2018, she launched "Fade to Her," a magazine about successful women working in Film and TV and in 2019, she was a member of the Jury of the European Shooting Stars (European Film Promotion). She is currently a programmer for live action shorts at PÖFF Shorts, Head of the Short Film Program and Live Action Shorts programmer at SEEFest and Narrative Features Programmer at the Durban International Film Festival. Tara is a regular at film festivals as a film critic, moderator and/or jury member.

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