Young filmmakers Matthew Roche and Elliot Milofsky are putting out interesting short films at a fast pace, through their production company Extra Extra. Their latest short, Philomela is the story of a woman who experiences a break-in to her home and is forced to keep the intruder. Though Mela attempts to persuade the guards, her parents and others of the injustice, her words go unheard and the psychological toll on her hits hard. Blunt and stark, it nevertheless makes its point very clearly. It isn’t difficult to figure out the political subtext of Roche and Milofsky’s film, this week in particular. Film In Dublin spoke with Matthew Roche about the thinking behind the short.
Film In Dublin: This is a short with a clear political message, what was your process in developing the story in order to make this point through this allegorical story?
Matthew Roche: Well, we got the first shadows of an idea from an ethics paper that we had been researching about choice in relation to abortion. This was a Judith J. Thompson essay called “On Defence of Abortion” and in it she goes through many cases like the Society of Music Lovers and the People seeds (really interesting and worth looking at!). Our idea was nestled in a tiny paragraph about an intruder and we thought it would shape out to be quite powerful if we ran with the idea. The first draft was not ideal and really just went wild with unneeded symbolism that just clouded the message. For example, the intruder was originally hit with a map to symbolise the morning after pill (m.a.p.). Sure this was a nice hidden “easter egg” but everything that took away from the message needed to be trimmed down. We had to walk a very fine line in this between safe and controversial. Anything that personifies the foetus (no matter how passive) is already a big risk to take. This was where the majority of our thought went into. We had to work with two parallel stories: the story of the intruder and the story of an unwanted pregnancy. Both of these had to come across as realistic or it would leave us open to valid attack.
FID: How did the experience on set compare to other films you have worked on?
MR: The most hectic 14 hours of my life. We only finished the script a week before we had scheduled to shoot and we had one day to get every single shot we needed. Honestly, I think I’ve been put off pesto pasta for life with the amount of takes we had to do of that scene. Every single member of cast and crew was working on a volunteer basis so the atmosphere was absolutely wonderful. Everyone believed in the cause and wanted to make this to the best of their ability. Our lead actress is from England and this was her way of getting involved since she can’t vote. Any small problems (such as the fact that I broke our last frame getting comically tangled up in fishing line) was quickly dismissed and a solution was shot out.
FID: What is the main thing you hope viewers take from this short?
MR: Originally, we wanted this short to act as a Trojan Horse. The idea was that people would watch without knowing it’s attached to the repeal movement so they can watch without bias. When they see the VOTE YES at the end, they can then filter through the emotions they felt and the views they currently hold on the referendum. This did not pan out. The fact that mostly people from the REPEAL campaign are spreading it made it so that this isn’t possible. If viewers can take away the isolation/dread that someone who is refused choice feels than that is all I can hope for. We tried to make discomfort and the feeling of dread the most prominent thing. If we can get people to empathise with the women trapped in harrowing situations, it has done it’s job.
FID: Do you think it’s important for developing filmmakers to consider political issues in their work? How has that helped you to date in the shorts that you have made?
MR: Absolutely! Filmmakers have the option to present political issues in a different way and sometimes this can get through to people more than facts and arguing (of course these are still very much important!) It’s always tricky to know when you’re ready to deal with politics in a short. Especially with the abortion debate, we weren’t sure if we were ready to tackle such a divisive issue with our experience. However, I’ve changed my view on this now. I think that no matter the level of filmmaker, putting hard work into something you care about and have something to say on WILL yield good results. Don’t be scared to put yourself out their with these controversial issues. A unique view will add to the discourse and show new perspectives!
FID: Why, for both you and Elliot is it important to vote to repeal the 8th amendment this Friday?
MR: I want this to pass for a safer Ireland. I’ve read so many harrowing accounts laced with fear and isolation. I don’t want people to suffer alone without help. I don’t want people to feel like they can’t ask for help when they are at their lowest, when they are at their most vulnerable. Abortions will still happen in Ireland even if the No side wins. This referendum has brought so much to light and to have it all swept back under the rug again would absolutely horrifying. I want Ireland to be fairer and the only way to achieve change is to repeal the 8th Amendment.
More thoughts from Matthew about Philomela are available here.