#Interview: Director Karl Callan talks about his short film Repeal
Repealis a short film written and directed by Dublin filmmaker Karl Callan which follows the story of three women and the difficulties they encounter in the face of the current abortion laws in Ireland. The intertwining narratives within the film are all based on real-life testimonies from people who have been directly affected by the Eighth Amendment of the Irish Constitution.
Having seen a rough cut of Repeal, the Abortion Rights Campaign are happy to lend their support to the film and a member of the ARC will give a short talk in the IFI on Saturday 31st March when the film has a private screening at 11am.
The cast includes an ensemble of actors who are all very active in the Irish independent film scene; Maureen O’Connell, Maria Fiorentini , Aidan O’Sullivan, Lynnette Callaghan, Niamh Walsh, Michael O’Kelly, Conor Waldron, and Patrick Bokin. The Director of Photography is Alan Rogers with editing by Karl Callan and Maureen O’Connell. Callan produced the film along with Aaron McEnaney and Sofia Swcka.
Karl Callan is a writer/director and producer from Dublin. After working as an actor on stage for many years he became interested in directing and enrolled in Pulse College where he received a Diploma in Film Production. He has written and directed 3 short films Indigo, Julie, & Repealas well as working as 1st AD and producer on a number of shorts and on the feature film The New Music. Indigo was screened at the Underground Film Festival and Cork Film Festival while Julie is currently on the festival circuit.
GearrScannaincaught up with Karl to probe a little deeper into his motivations for making this film.
This is a potentially controversial topic to tackle in a short film- what was the inspiration behind this film?
I first became interested in the whole abortion rights debate back in 2012 with the passing of Savita Halappanavar. That something like that could still happen here in modern day Ireland was just wrong on so many levels. All I could think at the time was we can never let something like that happen here again ever. As the reality of the referendum actually happening became much more likely I wanted to do my part to help promote this issue. So being a film maker I decided to do the only thing I knew how and that was make a film that really shone a light on the realities of what women here in Ireland are forced to go through on a daily basis. I didn’t want it to be your typical film which is usually made to entertain an audience this was intended to highlight to the audience what the realities of modern day Ireland are for women and to show the importance of the repeal the 8th campaign.
You undertook research for this film with women who had been affected by the 8th Amendment and also with medical professionals- can you tell me more about this?
Initially when I first had the idea to make this I was going to write the script as fiction. I started to write it and within a relatively short amount of time it became clear to me that it wasn’t working. I realised being a thirty-nine year old man who had never experienced anything remotely like this, how could I understand what these women have gone through and write a story that would do them justice. So I scrapped what I had written and started to research stories in articles online and in newspapers and through speaking to people I knew who had been through these situations. I started writing the script again this time basing the stories within the film on the testimonies I was hearing. Once I took that approach the script came together much more naturally. When it came to writing the medical side of these stories I spoke to doctors both in local clinics as well as getting help from a doctor who works in a hospital to get a better understanding of the struggles they are facing. The doctor I spoke to helped me to understand how they deal with situations like the stories highlighted in this film and the moral struggles they face given their hands are tied when it comes to helping these women. I wanted to highlight that in the film the decisions they have to make and how they struggle with it themselves.
What challenges did you face when making “Repeal”? Did you face any resistance to the topic among friends and family ? What about the budget?
To be honest I thought I would have had more resistance but the majority of people I approached about collaborating on the film were happy to come on board and were of the same mindset as I am when it comes to these issues. There were a few people I would have liked to work who were against it but given the nature of the subject that’s to be expected. As for family they have been very supportive of me as a film maker not just on this project but on all my previous projects as well. I’m very fortunate to have had the support I’ve had.
Budget wise I don’t like going the crowd funding route I have tried that approach before but apart from friends and family it’s rare anyone donates. We had a very short amount of time to get this film made as we wanted to be sure it was released prior to the referendum so I financed the film myself. It took a lot of saving and a credit union load to get there but with the amount of work and commitment involved it was never going to be cheap. I’m very happy with the end result though it was worth the financial struggle it took to get the film made.
Who is the film primarily aimed at and what do you hope to achieve with it?
The film is primarily aimed at people who are undecided on which way to vote in the referendum. I wanted to show them the realities of what is happening here in Ireland in 2018 and hopefully sway them towards voting yes. One thing that really bothers me is that some men have this attitude of this is a womans issue it doesn’t affect me. My aim is to highlight that this is an issue that affects everyone both women and men alike. I had a similar situation myself about 15 years ago when a girlfriend of mine became pregnant and wanted to terminate. I made the journey to England with her to get the procedure done. I struggled with it myself initially but as time went on I understood that this was the right decision for her as she had struggled with mental health issues for most of her life. This film really focuses on the mental and physical health of the women who’s stories I’m telling. Ultimately I want to show that this issue affects everyone no matter their gender.
Tell me about the cast and how you went about getting them on board?
I was very fortunate with the cast I had in this project. I spoke to a number of actors for the roles in this film as opposed to the usual auditioning process. As I was shooting this film fly on the wall style I wanted to cast the roles based on the actors personalities as well as their acting abilities. We didn’t really rehearse the scenes prior to shooting them as I wanted the performances to be spontaneous so you will see that while they are playing characters the performances all feel very real. I got to work with some people I had been wanting to work with for some time like Maureen O’Connell and Lynette Callaghan. I had seen Maureen’s film Proclaim and thought it was really well made she is a fantastic film maker. I approached her and fortunately she agreed to come on board for the project. Others I had worked with before like Rebecca Thompson and Patrick Bokin, they had to perform some very intense scenes and I knew I could trust them with the characters they played. There are some fantastic performances in this film and I’m very grateful to the entire cast for really putting themselves out there for this film.
So at the moment its all building up to the release of the film on social media on Friday April 6th, where do you plan to take Repeal after that?
Once we release the film on April 6th I will be really pushing the film on social media from then right up to the referendum. We want this film to be seen by as many people as possible and again to hopefully sway people who may be undecided towards a yes vote. Beyond that I will be submitting it to a number of Irish and international festivals especially focusing on festivals that promote human rights issues. Given the nature of the subject of this film it is very relevant right now but in a few months time it may not be but I still want people to know what went on here and what women here have gone though and to hopefully show how we are progressing as a country beyond the referendum.
Whats next for you now, have you any new work up your sleeve?
Repeal is my third short film. Julie was shot last year and currently on the festival circuit. So, for the next few months I will be promoting both Repeal and Julie. After than I’m going to start writing on my first feature. While I thoroughly enjoy making shorts I want to keep pushing myself to do bigger and better films so making a feature feels like the natural next step. I will also be working as 1st AD on Maureen O’Connell’s new film Meitherhood as well as producing a series currently in development called Lair written by Fiadh Melina. I like to keep myself busy as much as possible so when I’m not working on my own project I’m usually working on someone else’s. Now that Filmbase is gone it’s more important than ever that film makers here in Ireland support each other to get our projects made.
The film will be officially released across social media on Friday 6th April, 2018.
Anyone in the film or media industry who would like to attend the private screening on Easter Saturday should express interest by emailing Karl Callan at firstname.lastname@example.org