Three questions to… Helen Flanagan, director of The Debt

The Debt - Interview with Helen Flanagan - Irish Film Festa

When lovestruck ten year old Daithi falls for his classmate Jessica, he turns to his best friend Penny to help win her heart: The Debt is one of the short films in competition at the 10th Irish Film Festa.

We spoke to the director Helen Flanagan.


How did you come up with the idea for this story about love and friendship between little kids?

The script evolved naturally out of a very basic idea I had about a kid running a tooth fairy scam for cash. As the characters developed, the story took shape around them, and thematically the script became about learning the value of friendship as a child. A lot of the story elements came from my own experience as someone who was not the most socially mobile kid on the playground, so putting a plutonic friendship at the heart of the story was really important.


How did you choose and work with the young actors? Especially referring to Susie Power, whose Penny proves to be a very strong, non-conformist character.

We spent a really long time casting and we were so lucky to get to work with Lee O’Donoghue and Susie Power. They are such fantastic young actors, and both of them were so smart and intuitive about the characters. Both Daithi and Penny are non-conformist characters, but Penny was really personally important for me. I wanted to make sure she was more than just a supporting character, and that she was a real person with a real background and feelings rather than the usual stereotypical “tomboy” character trope. Susie is so smart, she really understood how to get across the subtext in such a naturalistic way. Lee was also so great, he brought so much of his personality to the character.


Where was the film shot?

We shot the film in a small country town called Birr, in Co. Offaly. The film was funded through Film Offaly’s film bursary award. I had been in Birr a few years before and I thought it would be a really great location for the story, so I submitted the script to them for consideration. Birr was a really gorgeous location, the kind of place you could imagine two kids running around and getting into lots of trouble.

Three questions to… Cashell Horgan, director of The Clockmaker’s Dream

The Clockmaker's Dream - Interview with Cashell Horgan - Irish Film Festa

Cashell Horgan is the director of The Clockmaker’s Dream, the fantasy short film in competition at the 10th Irish Film Festa (March 30th – April 2nd, Rome).

A Clockmaker, in an automata world, tries to build the perfect woman to replace his lost wife but finds his creations are proving more difficult than he imagined; he must find a solution before his time runs out and his world stops forever…


The Clockmaker’s Dream‘s visual setting is very peculiar in terms of production and costume design: did you look to any particular artistic references while shaping it?

We did a lot of research in prep for design: the characters are figures simulating living beings, representative of people that may inhabit in a small town, except these are fantastical and more like turn-of-the-century toys.

We looked at the tin toys, dolls and costumes of 19th century design but also traditional masks of northern Europe and photographs of homemade Halloween costumes from the 20’s to 50’s. We wanted a classical setting to fit with Clockwork’s machines and automata. But also have a modern mix to suggest the towns creations have been there for centuries.

The papier-mâché masks have an old world, handmade resonance, and were created by Emma Fisher, an Irish puppeteer, and local art students in Limerick. The costumes were designed and made by Limerick fashion designer Tatsiana Coquerel: her inspiration for the work comes from her passion for dolls, so it fitted well with the concept. In production design, again, we wanted to set in the early 19th century, a Jules Verne world of magic and fantasy.

As for the Clockmaker mask, I was inspired by the Man of la Mancha character, and, from the clay, designer Kamil Krawczak from Order 66 Creatures and Effects made it his own. Everyone took the initial designs and ideas and made it their one personal artistic expression.


Where was the film shot?

The film was shot in various location in Limerick city and at Bunratty Folk Park, a recreational park for tourism: it’s a model of an old Irish town. The buildings in the park were transferred brick by brick and reassembled. The props and furnishing date back to early 1900’s, so it fitted well with the tone and design we wanted. Ger Wallace was production designer, and it involved quite a bit of moving and dressing by John Mac Donnacha with expensive antiques from one location to the next. Getting our hands on clocks proved to be most difficult, and the art department had a demanding and challenging time working with such a low budget.


The film has two lead actors: the masked Clockmaker Joe Mullins acts only through his body and eyes, while the narrator Jared Harris uses only his voice. How did you choose them for their respective roles?

The Clockmaker role demanded an actor with some life experience behind him. We did numerous workshops with the cast and they were so great, but not exactly what I saw in my head. Joe Mullins came in for one of the rehearsals quite close to the shoot date, and when he donned the mask and played out the scene I knew it had to be him: his physical presence, interpretation of the character and expressive eyes sold it. He brought that character to life, made it his own combining elements of mime and theatrical performance for the screen. He had the right amount of reserve in his actions, and range of emotion in his eyes, and postures, that made a believable character. He had that mask on and off set, drinking through a straw and chewing pretzel sticks between long takes. One of the most patient and accommodating actors you could ever wish for, a total pro.

I really admire Jared Harris as an actor, I think his portrayal of professor Moriarty in Sherlock Holmes – A Game of Shadows is not only the best in the all of Sherlock Holmes adaptations to screen but a cinematic gem and his voice as Lord Portley in the fantasy animation The Boxtrolls equally captivating and versatile. The Clockmaker is an off-beat fantasy fairytale it needed a voice that could express the Grimm but also the underlying humours elements in the script. We were lucky that we had a cast and crew screening at the Richard Harris Film Festival, Jared was hosting the Q&As there, and after we screened I simply asked if he would do the narration. Thankfully he agreed, the next week in the recording studio he gave me a range of interpretations and styles of narration, and a good few laughs that for me really completed the film.

I look forward to one day working with both these fine actors and all the cast that made the film. The cast and crew really dedicated themselves and it was their commitment that carried me through a very challenging shoot.


10th Irish Film Festa — Short Films Competition Line-Up

10th Irish Film Festa - Short Films competition Line-Up


The 10th Irish Film Festa, the only Italian film festival completely dedicated to Irish cinema, will take place from March 30th to April 2nd, at the Casa del Cinema in Rome.

The competition section, reserved for short films produced or co-produced in Ireland, comprises 15 works this year, spanning various genres and techniques: three animated shorts (A Coat Made Dark, The Lost Letter and Second to None), a documentary (Seán Hillen, Merging Views), a mockumentary (Starz), a horror (Blight), a thriller (Gridlock), a fantasy (The Clockmaker’s Dream), a humorous and contemporary adaptation of an ancient Gaelic poem (The Court, directed by actor Seán T. Ó Meallaigh who attended the last edition of IFF), a biopic (Two Angry Men), a romantic comedy starring children (The Debt), a formative tale with an LGBT theme (Lily), and three dramas (Homecoming, Pause and Today).

Also of note is the presence of big names among the cast of the selected short films: the protagonist of Gridlock is Moe Dunford (guest at the festival in 2015 with Patrick’s Day by Terry McMahon, and actor in the series Vikings); Gerard McSorley offers an extraordinary performance in Starz, whose co-director, Martin McCann, is himself an actor (as we saw last year in The Survivalist by Stephen Fingleton); Two Angry Men sees Adrian Dunbar in the shoes of the Northern Irish playwright Sam Thompson, and newcomer Michael Shea in those of a theatre director James Ellis (the son of Ellis, Toto, is the director of the short); Jared Harris and Kate Winslet are, respectively, the narrators of The Clockmaker’s Dream and The Lost Letter, directed by the winner of the IFF in 2012 (with The Boy in the Bubble, narrated by Alan Rickman) Kealan O’Rourke.

“The short film competition, which we launched in 2010, becomes more interesting and attracts a greater following each year: both by the filmmakers (this year we received nearly 100 submissions) and the public. Moreover, as the names of the actors appearing in the selected short films attest, this is an area that Irish film industry considers highly important, and in which is reflected the vitality and richness of Irish cinema, ” says artistic director Susanna Pellis.



BLIGHT (2015), Brian Deane
with George Blagden, Alicia Gerrard, Joe Hanley, Marie Ruane, Matthew O’Brien, John Delaney, Tristan Heanue, Donnacha Crowley
A young priest is sent to a remote island off the Irish coast to help protect an estranged fishing community from dark supernatural forces, but nothing is as it seems.

AN CHÚIRT (THE COURT, 2014), Seán T. Ó Meallaigh
with Séamus Hughes, Michelle Beamish, Joanne Ryan
A modern adaptation of the epic Irish poem Cúirt An Mhéan Oíche / The Midnight Court, written in the 1700s by Brian Merriman.

THE CLOCKMAKER’S DREAM (2015), Cashell Horgan
with Joe Mullins, Jared Harris (narrator)
A Clockmaker, in an automata world, tries to build the perfect woman to replace his lost wife but finds his creations are proving more difficult than he imagined; he must find a solution before his time runs out and his world stops forever…

A COAT MADE DARK (2015), Jack O’Shea [animation]
with the voice of Hugh O’Connor, Declan Conlon, Antonia Campbell Hughes
A man follows the orders of a dog to wear a mysterious coat with impossible pockets.

THE DEBT (2015), Helen Flanagan
with Lee O’Donoghue, Susie Power, Eabha Last
When lovestruck ten year old Daithi falls for his classmate Jessica, he turns to his best friend Penny to help win her heart.

GRIDLOCK (2016), Ian Hunt Duffy
with Moe Dunford, Peter Coonan, Steve Wall
When a child go missing during a traffic jam, her distraught father form a search party to find her. But soon everyone is a suspect.

HOMECOMING (2016), Sinéad O’Loughlin
with David Greene, Johanna O’Brien
A young man struggles to find his place in life after returning to Ireland. A familiar face makes him wonder if things are about to change.

LILY (2016), Graham Cantwell
with Clara Harte, Dean Quinn, Leah McNamara, Amy-Joyce Hastings
Lily, a girl with a secret on the cusp of becoming a young woman, is faced with the greatest challenge of her young life.

THE LOST LETTER (2016), Kealan O’Rourke [animation]
with Kate Winslet as the narrator
The tale of a young boy as he prepares his neighbourhood for Christmas.

PAUSE (2016), Niamh Heery
with Janine Hardy
A woman arrives on an island in an altered state to confront her past. As she listens to old family tape recordings her surroundings begin to take on new life.

SEÁN HILLEN, MERGING VIEWS (2016), Paddy Cahill [documentary]
This portrait observes artist Seán Hillen as he creates a beautiful new photomontage – he shares thoughts about his work and recent personal discovery.

SECOND TO NONE (2016), Vincent Gallagher [animation]
A dark comedy about the world’s second oldest man.

STARZ (2016), Kevin Treacy, Martin McCann
with Gerard McSorley, Martin McCann, Michael Smiley, Tierna McGeown, Shane Todd, Laura Webster, Gerard McCabe
A documentary film crew follows hopeless actors agent Dan Cambell as he tries to save his sinking business from another industrial tribunal.

TODAY (2015), Tristan Heanue
with John Connors, Lalor Roddy
A hard hitting drama about a man who wakes up one morning in his car, disorientated, with no recollection of how he ended up parked in the middle of nowhere. The harsh reality soon comes flooding back once he gathers his thoughts.

TWO ANGRY MEN (2016), Toto Ellis
with Adrian Dunbar, Michael Shea, Conleth Hill, Michael Smilie, Julie Dearden, Lalor Roddy, Stefan Dunbar
The battle of James Ellis and Sam Thompson to stage the play Over the Bridge in face of censorship in 1950s Belfast.

Irish Film Festa 2017, submissions for short films competition are open

Irish Film Festa 2017 - Short Films Submissions
The 10th edition of IRISH FILM FESTA, which will take place in March 2017, is now open to submissions for short films from Ireland.

In order to be eligible for IRISH FILM FESTA competition, films must be under 30 minutes in length and produced or co-produced in Ireland.

Accepted categories are Live Action, Documentary, Animation.

Entries must be submitted as an online screener link to or as a DVD to
Associazione Culturale ARCHIMEDIA
via Segesta 16
00179 Roma (Italia)

Deadline is December 20th, 2016. No fee requested.

DVDs sent by post will not be returned.

Out of all the accepted entries, IRISH FILM FESTA will select – at its sole and absolute discretion – a shortlist of films for the competition. IRISH FILM FESTA will notify all the authors of selected films; not-selected applicants won’t be notified.

Within a week after admission, authors of selected film must provide:
a high-definition copy of the film (Digibeta/DCP/DVD/Blu-Ray)
a timecoded dialogue list
a high-resolution still from the film to be used for the festival catalogue

Please note that this is mandatory. If a timecoded dialogue list won’t be provided, the short film will be disqualified from the competition.