Its 10:46 pm
Welcome to “8 Questions With……”
Its been quite a week to say the least for the cheetah and myself. First we got to share the new teaser for “Kill Mode” and just when things couldn’t get more exciting,we landed this interview with Irish film director Aislinn Clarke whose debut film “The Devil’s Doorway” made our “Best of the Year“list last year where it landed in 8th.
Aislinn’s film has been winning awards for the film and for its director all over the world and she has been invited to present and speak on her film as well. Watching her on FB as she catches one plane after another speaks to the power of her vision and insight into some of the horrors that Ireland has suffered at the hands of the Catholic Church from the not so distant past.
Aislinn is the first female writer-director to make a film in Northern Ireland which is no easy task,I can assure you.
Aislinn has both her BA and Master’s in film and while “The Devil’s Doorway” is her debut film,she has filmed a dark tale called “Childer” that the cheetah and I will be reviewing shortly.
This interview represents a huge step forward for me and I’m very grateful that Aislinn agreed to chat with us. I mentioned how hard it was her to make her film in Northern Ireland,a year later and many awards later including several”Best Director” awards,Aislinn still hasn’t even been interviewed in her own home town. Well,their loss is everyone else’s gain as far as I’m concerned. So let’s get to it and enter through the Devil’s Doorway to Aislinn Clarke her 8 Questions…….
Please introduce yourself and share a little of your background.
I’m Aislinn Clarke, a writer-director from Ireland. I’m a film-maker, a theatre director. I’ve made stuff for radio and I’m a lecturer at Queen’s University, Belfast. If it’s a form of story-telling, I’ve done it and I’ll probably do it again.
How did you begin your journey into becoming a director?
My career in film-making began in childhood. My dad loved gadgets and bought a camcorder very early on. We went to visit a local castle one day and I talked him into filming me dangling from a ledge over a huge drop. It was all forced perspective and trick photography and I was perfectly safe, but we were able to bring it home and scare the life out of my mum. I was standing right beside of her, but there was part of her still terrified that something would happen to her baby.
Coming from my background – a girl from a working-class family from the Irish border during the Troubles – it didn’t look there was any chance of me going on to make films and there wasn’t much support, but I didn’t want to do anything else.
What three people influenced you the most professionally?
After seeing her films at university, the Irish experimental film maker, Vivian Dick, inspired my early work – they were self-contained, solitary, chance-based works. At that time, I was also deeply influenced by one of my tutors, Sam Rohdie, whose analysis of film, of composition, and of performance, opened up film for me considerably. However, the biggest influence on my film-making was my father, Johnny Clarke, who died during pre-production on The Devil’s Doorway and to whom the film is dedicated. All this people taught me something about the integrity of film and of the art you’re making, but my dad said it best: “Tell the truth and shame the Devil.” However you’re approaching your work – whether it’s film or my dad’s job as a breadman – you’ve got to come at it with truth and honesty.
What was your first film and what was the experience like for you?
My first films were made when I was a student. They were small, experimental pieces, shot on super 8 film, treated with dye, food colouring, and whatever else I could use to create strange effects. The film had to go to Luxembourg in order to be processed, so it would be weeks before I saw the result of my work. It was all very solitary, heavy focused, which I loved, but, in lots of ways, it is completely different to my experience of making a feature film.
Have you always been a writer and how does one write a screenplay? Was it hard to mix real life horror with movie horror?
I have always been a writer. My first poem was published when I was 18 and then I never wrote another one. I tended to flit from one form to another, but the screenplay is where I feel most at home. I’m a dreamer – I dream up a lot of ideas – and I find the screenplay format is ideal for capturing dreams: it threads together the images, the feelings, and atmosphere that comprise a dream, but structure it into a story. That’s how I approach writing stories: I take my original idea, theme, feeling, or atmosphere, test it against the opposite idea or feeling and find a way to resolve those two things.
Mixing real life horror with movie horror shouldn’t be a challenge. Movie horror has to have some sense of the real to be effective, it merely heightens it, refines it: Tell the truth and shame the Devil.
What inspired you to draw upon the Magdelene laundries for “The Devil’s Doorway”?
What was filming at an actual laundry like and how did the setting affect your writing of the story?
The producer of the film approached me with a paragraph idea of about a film set in an abandoned laundry that he wanted to make. However, the Magdelene laundries were an eerie presence in my life and the lives of most women in Ireland for a long time. I had done research on an unproduced documentary, speaking with lots of people who had experienced the laundries first-hand or had family there. I had personal connections myself. A friend of my mother’s had been put in a laundry when she was 13 and my father used to deliver bread to the local laundry – he hated it there! When I was 17, I had my son, the year after the last laundry closed, so I felt very close to these women and wanted to make a film that spoke to the horrific experience of women in Ireland. I went back to the producer telling I wanted to make the film, but it should be in a functioning laundry, in the heyday of those institutions – the 1960s – and we should point the finger of blame at the right people.
We didn’t actually film in a laundry, although a few such buildings still exist. We filmed in a former linen mill, linen being Belfast’s primary industry during its brief window of prosperity. However, the conditions that the millgirls – the millies, as they’re known – worked through weren’t particularly humane either.
Did you meet any resistance from the Catholic Church about the subject matter?
Not really. The church in Ireland knows what it has done. Its powerful grip has loosened and I think they try not to draw much attention to such controversy. That’s how they’ve avoided ever issuing a meaningful apology – let alone reparations – to the many people whose lives were ruined by the laundries, by the borstals, by deforming operations, and sexual abuse in Ireland.
You became part of history by being the first Irish woman to direct a horror feature film –What are you feelings and emotions knowing this? Have you always love horror?
I’m the first woman in Northern Ireland to direct a horror film, certainly, and I wrote it as well. On the island of Ireland – which comprises Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland – a handful of horror films have been directed by women. Certainly not many. And I am lucky that mine seems to have received a lot of international attention and success. There is a tendency to focus too much on firsts and not on follow-ups, so my main feeling around this is my determination to keep going and to encourage more female film-makers and horror film-making in both parts of Ireland.
I think a huge part of “The Devil’s Doorway” effectiveness was in its casting,how did you go about in getting your cast?
Northern Ireland is a small place with a small acting community. I was familiar with most of the cast from my work in the theatre – either I had worked with them or my husband had. Through a combination of personal connection, casting agents, and emails out of the blue, we got our cast. I think it was their wide range of experience in film and theatre that made their performances so effective. We spent a week in rehearsals and they were able bring visceral, dramatic life to the characters. There was a great sense of camaraderie, we were making an important film that give a metaphorical reality to the horrors these women experienced.
10. You have expressed frustration with how some “critics” who didn’t understand your story and just attacked it instead. Why do you feel there is a disconnect between film directors and critics?
Artists and critics approach the work from completely different positions. The artist begins with an idea that they shape into a complete form, but the finished work always falls short of the idea. The critic begins with the complete article, then tries to work back to the idea. There will always be a distant between them. They are taking part in two different conversations. There is no point in an artist reading the reviews, but there is a tendency among some online commentators to make sure the creator knows their opinion. They will tag the creator in their take, but their take isn’t helpful to the creator, because the film is already made, and the commentators are imagining making film-making decisions under ideal artistic conditions, rather than the actual conditions of film-making.
I agree that some commentators came to the film from an odd perspective. Some felt that the reference to the Satanic offered the Church an excuse, rather than being a blunt accusation directed at the Church, while others – rightly – felt that there was a feminist bias in the film, while not seeing that their gut rejection of that comprised a bias of their own. That said, the vast majority of viewers and commentators have been very enthusiastic and have been able to appreciate the historical nature of the film, the political message, and the artistic decisions.
What was it like working with IFC Midnight in getting “Doorway” released? How did they get involved?
IFC Midnight came onboard very soon after the film was finished, at around the same time that we agreed to have the World Premier at the Seattle International Film Festival. IFC were a pleasure to work with. They care about horror films and they care about the film-makers and they were so important in terms of the films visibility in the US.
(This is Moose,we had to include him)
What is next for you, Aislinn?
The film industry is a dynamic business and it is hard to know when the money in fall in place for the next project. I have several things in development, all of which I’m very excited about: a post-apocalyptic horror about depression; a black magick battle between neighbours; a Irish folk horror; and a TV thriller. However, which will be next is all a matter of timing and the darkside of the industry.
What three films scared you the most growing up?
I saw The Exorcist when I was seven – being a Catholic, it felt very real at the time. I saw Nightmare on Elm Street not long after and it had a lasting impact, especially the bodybag scene. However, nothing there, I think, was quite as terrifying as the Wheelers in Return to Oz.
The cheetah and I are flying in to Belfast to enjoy a Guiness with you and watch your latest movie but we are a day early and you’re our tour guide,where are we going and seeing?
I’m very lucky to live on Ireland’s ragged and Gothic north coast – you might recognise some of it from Game of Thrones.
If we were so fortunate as to get one of our rare sunny days, I would take you and the cheetah along the Victorian-built Coast Road, stopping along the way at Islandmagee, site of the last witch trial in Ireland; the Druid’s Altar; the dramatic Tor Head; the Dark Hedges; the mermaid’s cave below Dunluce Castle and the remains of Dunseverick Castle; the abandoned manor house at Cairndhu and the eccentric house of the hermit artist, Newton Penpraze, at Ballintoy harbour called Bendhu; the Marconi history and the puffins on Rathlin Island; the Giant’s Causeway is there.If you want to see that as we speed past it toward Mussenden Temple, the occult folly of the mad Earl Bishop of Londonderry. It should only take us a few hours and then we can stop of at the Bushmills distillery, if the cheetah drinks.
I like to not only thank Aislinn for taking the time off her VERY busy schedule to chat with me but also making a movie that everyone should see in “The Devil’s Doorway”.
I am sure that Aislinn will continue to be a pioneer and inspiration for other women to rise up and start their own films,be it a horror tale,family drama or wherever their vision takes them. Because of Aislinn,the path has been laid out for future filmmakers and storytellers to follow.
Thank you as always for supporting my blog and the cheetah and I welcome all comments and feedback.