Actors Nova Farrelly and Siobhan Loscher Still by Enda Bowe
Actors Nova Farrelly and Siobhan Loscher Still by Enda Bowe

Safe As Houses to premiere at 34th Galway Film Fleadh

Galway’s award-winning film director Mia Mullarkey (Cumasc, Mother & Baby, Thrownline) will premiere her short drama, Safe As Houses, at the Academy Qualifying 34th Galway Film Fleadh. It screens as part of the Screen Ireland Shorts programme at 12pm on Saturday, July 9th. The film is written by debut screenwriter Sarah Ahern, and is produced by Claire Mc Cabe of Samson Films (An Encounter, Don’t Go Where I Can’t Find You, Break Us).

Funded by Screen Ireland, Safe As Houses tells the story of Aggie, a woman with Down syndrome living independently in a small community estate. Aggie offers shelter to a young girl, Lucy, when her home life is not so welcoming. As their fun reveals the underlying issue of why Lucy can’t return home, Aggie’s intentions get muddled with neighbour’s preconceptions. So begins a showdown between furious parents and the judging onlookers.

Diversity and community were at the heart of this film production. The lead actors are a 7-year-old girl and a young woman with Down syndrome. This begets a recipe for something gorgeous and unusual. The filmmakers went on a quest to discover a unique and spirited voice from Ireland’s neurodiverse population. For several months, they met drama groups nationwide for people with intellectual disabilities. When they found Dublin actress Siobhan Loscher (Aggie) they fell in love with her humour and enthusiasm. Working with a lead actress with Down syndrome was a new experience for everyone, and Siobhan made it a hugely enriching and unique project. Nova Farrelly (Lucy) is an incredible child actress, utterly natural and capable. The two actresses did stunt workshops, dance workshops, and improv rehearsals together. It was a learning curve for Nova and Siobhan to find a middle ground together, and this emotional undertaking is seen in the film.

Safe As Houses is set in a working-class housing estate in Wicklow. The filmmakers spent time in the community months ahead of filming, bringing locals on the journey with them so they could capture impromptu everyday moments with the neighbours.

I have a brother on the autism spectrum. Growing up I found his otherness eye-opening, as he makes people question their presumptions about him and about themselves. Before film-directing I worked as a behavioural psychologist with autistic children, which led to a fascination around stories with unusual voices. I loved Sarah Ahern’s screenplay for that reason. With Sarah and our producer Claire McCabe we wenton a quest to find Aggie, to discover a unique and spirited voice from the neurodiverse community.

For several months we met drama groups for people with intellectual disabilities, East and West of the country. When we found Siobhan we fell in love with her, her humour and vim. When she read during auditions she brought so much colour, but the giveaway that Siobhan was to play Aggie was when asked if she would dance. Siobhan burst out of her chair and danced her heart out. During the shoot Siobhan brought an endless sense of fun and play which permeated throughout the cast and crew. Working with a lead actress with Down syndrome was a new experience for everyone, and she made it a hugely enriching and unique production.

Mia Mullarkey, Director

“The innocent are so few that two of them seldom meet- when they do meet, their victims lie strewn all round.”

– Elizabeth Bowen, The Death of the Heart 1938

I stumbled across this quote from Elizabeth Bowan at the Museum of Irish Literature. Upon reading, I felt it captured a sense of what we set out to say in SAFE AS HOUSES. Though the story originated from a personal experience of a neurodiverse person I know. The script became something I could investigate on a more universal level. In that the sociopolitical norms that structure this world, aren’t built to withstand the complexity of authenticity. Not when we are bound to categories, and relentlessly asked to take up defences in protection of our own identities.

It’s a challenge every character in this story faces, but no one more so than the pure-hearted Aggie and Lucy. Far be it for kindness and trust to be subverted from a virtue, the chaos of circumstance in SAFE AS HOUSES, demonstrates how perspectives can be skewed. True to the end, it is Aggie and Lucy in their innocence that have the last word: their understanding and friendship will out.

Sarah Ahern, Writer