THERE was a double celebration for Ballydehob-based film director, Carmel Winters, in Toronto recently.
Her coming-of-age film, Float Like A Butterfly, featuring a character who is a Traveller girl, won the International Federation of Film Critics (FIPRESCI) prize.
Just a few days earlier, Carmel married artist and production designer, Toma McCullim, in Toronto City Hall. A big hooley followed.
Carmel explains that there was a tribute night for the head of the Toronto International Film Festival, Piers Handling, as well as a fundraiser for Share Her Journey, an initiative to support women in film.
“Screen Ireland had invited me and very kindly included my newly married wife when they heard the news. So we had a fantastic wedding bash with the very best of Canadian singers and dancers entertaining us all night... Best wedding party we could have wished for!” she said.
Float Like A Butterfly is about Frances, a girl boxer. The film is set in 1965 and 1972, Carmel explained, “when the travelling way of life was still intact, but also under threat from the State.
“We see the wagons, the tents, the camp-fire suppers and sing-songs. I think it is a very loving, celebratory vision of that world. And we also show what happens when a community is attacked and set against each other.”
Dubliner, Hazel Doupe plays Frances. Finding the actress was fortuitous.
“I held lots of auditions and workshops. When I saw Hazel, I literally had goose bumps. Straight away, I thought of Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver. She is a natural born star.”
Ireland, says Carmel, is a hot-bed of talent.
“Every time you hold an open audition, it is utterly overwhelming. It always guts me that I can’t showcase all the talent I see in the film I am casting. That’s why I have to make lots more!
“I am so proud of the newcomers in this film. Johnny Collins, who plays Frances’ 11-year-old brother, hadn’t acted in a feature film before and he is a true star in-the-making. Neither had Cork-based Rosie Sullivan (acted in a feature film.) She is such a natural born film actress that I wrote the part of Frances’s 14-year-old first cousin specially for her.”
Carmel, who had a year-long residency in the film studies department of UCC some years ago, says she is still in touch with everyone there; “I love them. And the support of the staff and in particular the students I was teaching was absolutely key to getting this film made. I let the students read the script and critique it and they were absolutely wonderful. Their love for it kept me going at a very vulnerable time so huge big heartfelt thanks to them.”
Asked where the story of a female boxer in 1960s Ireland came from, Carmel says: “The character of Frances came to me fully formed with a story she was determined I would tell. She wasn’t like any character I had met in my work before. She was such a noble spirit. A true leader and role model fighting not just the right to be the best she can be herself, but fighting for that right for all of us.”
Frances has a keen sense of justice.
“She has been raised by two very powerful wise women in her mother and grandmother. And she has so much to give to the world. But sometimes, the very people she is fighting for, because of their own injuries and fears for her safety, try to hold her back.
“So Frances has a real struggle to balance her need for freedom with her need to belong. That’s a familiar struggle I think for so many of us. We love our families deeply but sometimes, they are a source of hurt as well. How do we reconcile that in ourselves?”
The character of Frances adulates Mohammad Ali. The title of the film comes from the world champion boxer’s mantra , ‘Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.’
Filmed in West Cork, Carmel describes the movie as “a drama about very real struggles and triumphs but quite romantic and mystical in its visual treatment”.
Carmel says that everyone in Toronto wants to visit West Cork after seeing the film.
“I love West Cork and I put all my favourites places on the screen. I think we really captured the timeless beauty and ancient soul of the place.”
Making a feature film is no mean feat.
“It was an immense labour of love. Seven years of sweat and many tears. That’s why I was so overwhelmed by the love that was shown for the film in Toronto. It would have been so much easier to give up. I’m glad the character of Frances was so tenacious in getting me to fight the good fight.”
Carmel is excited at the prospect of the film being released in Ireland.
“Nothing is in place yet but I hope the response in Toronto will help make that happen.”
It will be screened at Cork Film Festival, which runs from November 9 to 19.
Carmel’s first feature film, was the award-winning Snap. She has also had success in theatre. She studied drama and English at TCD and completed a post graduate degree there in drama studies. She had what she describes as a long incubation period, writing and directing and working part-time in an Irish bar in California before going on to teach creative writing on the prestigious degree course at the University of East Anglia.
Asked what she wants to achieve next in her career, Carmel says she wants to make another film and also a TV series in Cork.
With her talent and determination, Carmel will no doubt deliver.