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Carmel Winters • Director of Float Like a Butterfly

“Our idea of women needs to include our total capacity for action and leadership”

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- We met up with Carmel Winters as she opened the Cork Film Festival with Float Like a Butterfly, which won the FIPRESCI Discovery Prize at Toronto

Carmel Winters  • Director of Float Like a Butterfly
(© Toma McCullim)

Float Like a Butterfly [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Carmel Winters
film profile
]
opened the 63rd Cork Film Festival on 9 November. We had the chance to meet its director, Carmel Winters, and thoroughly discuss the making of her latest feature.

Cineuropa: Your film focuses on boxing and female emancipation. Why did you decide to explore these themes?
Carmel Winters: Boxing in film is the ultimate metaphor for a personal struggle or a fight for a universal cause. I wrote the script in the early days of Katie Taylor’s rise to world championship and public recognition. I know other female boxers, too, and it fascinates me that they are often gentle, gracious characters out of the ring. Yet obviously, when they step into the ring, they need to access their aggression and capacity to defeat another person. This duality says something compelling about female potential and our capacity to create and destroy. I think that our idea of women needs to grow to include our total capacity for action and leadership. In the film, Frances has to fight not just to assert herself, but also to bring her father back to himself. She knows, better than him, that a man who fights his daughter fights himself. He is fighting his own shadow in that sense. When the film screened at Busan, what heartened me immensely was the number of fathers and daughters who told me how much the film meant to them.

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To what extent did your cast help in making your vision a reality?
Frances is the lead character, so of course it was crucial to find an actor I could entirely trust and believe in to play that role. I found so much more than that in Hazel Doupe. I love the quiet but sure sense of sovereignty she brings to the part. Her talent is luminous; she literally glows in front of the camera as if she had a light source within her. However, I believe that every single person you see on screen contributes uniquely to the spirit of the film. In a movie so intimately concerned with family and relationships, it was essential to do justice to Frances’ extended family. I delighted in the intricate detail that Dara Devaney brought to his part. He added a subtle physical vanity to the part of Michael that is so right, so inspired. And Johnny Collins was a real find! He is a brilliant interpreter. His understanding of what each scene is communicating is quite extraordinary, especially in someone so young. He was only 11 when I cast him and hadn’t acted in a film before, but he was so dexterous and note-perfect in terms of the tone of each scene. When casting other roles, I considered what unique quality each person brought to the film. I wanted the sense of humanity you see on screen to be vivid, varied and rich.

What kinds of artistic challenges did you face in making this movie?
The biggest artistic challenge was probably establishing the precise tone of the film and making sure that was coherent across all departments. Tone includes so many things – who you cast, the colour palette and saturation you use, camera kinetics, music choices, cutting, how you enter and exit the film... Knowing your tone is about knowing what experience you want your audience to have. I know that some directors make these decisions somewhat unconsciously. However, it is a very conscious, considered and intentional process for me, the most crucial part of making the movie.

What are your main sources of inspiration? What films had the biggest influence on the making of your feature?
Growing up as the second youngest of 12 children was the making of me as a filmmaker and playwright. That sense of being alive and observant in a constantly unfolding drama is what fuels my creative process. I experience whatever I observe intensely; if it is happening to you, it is happening to me. That is why I don’t in any way identify with the “them/us” mentality – it is all us to me. Films that resonated with me in one oblique way or another include The Florida Project, Ratcatcher, Festen, Rabbit-Proof FenceThe Salesman [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
Million Dollar BabyBilly ElliotThe Umbrellas of CherbourgOnce Were WarriorsWhalerider and Once [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
. I think I was synthesising a specific tone from very disparate worlds or registers.

Women filmmakers are struggling to emerge in a traditionally male-dominated industry. How is Irish cinema performing in terms of gender equality today?
I think there are real commitments being made, but we have a long way to go to offer audiences a full, imaginative vision of their lived experience and unlived potential. There are extraordinarily talented female directors in Ireland who have been overlooked. We are all the poorer for not hearing their voices and not seeing their vision. The glamorisation of quite toxic masculinity has been enjoying far too much privilege on Irish screens in recent years. I find it boring and desensitising. It is time to see what women see, not just how women see women, but how we see, feel and understand the world.

Do you have any upcoming projects?
I do; I am cooking up an Irish-Korean musical romantic comedy, a TV series about how impoverishing extreme wealth can be, and an Irish western love story.

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