Cannes Film Festival: Interviewing Writer/Director Jo Southwell

Described as a dark Irish love story, the film is nothing short of captivating, made only more impressive by the fact that it’s actually a proof of concept for a feature film, Deirdre of the Sorrows.

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It’s that time of year again! The Festival de Cannes, or Cannes Film Festival, if you prefer, is here! Films from all over the world are showcased at this prestigious festival, and if you’re as big of a film buff as I am, you’re scouring all the entertainment sites on the latest buzz. And while I am unable to physically attend, this year I am at Cannes in spirit! I have had the pleasure of viewing one of the shorts to be screened at Cannes’ Short Film Corner, titled Deirdre. Described as a dark Irish love story, the film is nothing short of captivating, made only more impressive by the fact that it’s actually a proof of concept for a feature film, Deirdre of the Sorrows. 

I was able to talk to writer/director of this fascinating tale, Jo Southwell. She describes the short as a story “based around a young girl called Deirdre who has been raised by an over zealous religious mother. [It’s] set in rural Ireland in the 1970’s which creates a beautiful and moody back drop for [her] story.” Deirdre manages a gorgeous fluidity by finding the perfect balance between genres. One moment you’re watching a lighthearted coming-of-age film and the next a nail-biting thriller. And to be completely honest, I found myself on the edge of my seat with both atmospheres. The story is inspired by Irish folklore, but Jo had no problem making the story her own.

Photo Source: Aston Productions

“I wanted to create a world that Deirdre could live in now, but to have real authenticity, it needed to be period. So I took it back to my childhood time – [the] 1970’s. With my Irish background and many years spent in Tipperary, the rest of the script just fell into place…On the surface this is a young girl rebelling against her mother. But more deeply it is layered with religion, hope, love, desire and the curiosity Deirdre has for the travelers.”

This is the first proof of concept that I’ve ever watched. Quite frankly, I wasn’t sure what to expect. But in just fifteen minutes, each of the layers that Jo talks about are conveyed. It’s a true testament to her talent both as a storyteller and as a filmmaker. The mix of modern and period, this other-worldly, almost ethereal tone is somehow both joyful and scary. There’s an underlying danger, and you’re not quite sure what it is or where it’s coming from, but there’s no question it’s there. Combined with small but strong moments of romantic and sexual tension, it’s difficult not to be reminded of Romeo and Juliet. And somehow, Deirdre feels darker and even more tragic.

With so many powerful moments in the short, I can only imagine how incredible the feature will be. Actress Tara Fitzgerald, who many of you will recognize as Selyse Baratheon from Game of Thrones, is already attached to the project, set to play Deirdre’s religiously fanatic mother. We already know that it’s an Irish love story with a dark twist, but what else can we expect from the film?

“Set in a time when the Catholic Church was all-powerful in rural Ireland, no one dared to question. No one dared to be different. Until the visiting Romany Travelers came to play. A moving coming of age story set over an 8 year time span. Deirdre has been silenced by fear, pain and her mother’s zealous religious abuse. Can she be saved? Will she fight back? Can Deirdre break the cycle of her life?”

Photo Source: Aston Productions

I was impressed with Deirdre, and by the immense talents of Jo Southwell. She has this fantastic ability to suggest emotions to the audience in the most subtle of ways. It’s beautifully raw. I couldn’t resist asking her for some tips. For all aspiring writers/directors out there, what would she say to us? What advice would she give her younger self?

“The most important thing is to write or direct what you know and love. When you begin your career you must be passionate about the stories you are telling – without that the film will never quite hit the mark. Short films are not always everything we want them to be due to budget but if they can show a glimpse of your potential and the style of film you want to make, then great! I never thought I was a writer – even though I have written 3 children’s books, shorts, feature, etc., so I suppose best advice – believe in your own ideas and make them happen.”

There will be a market screening of Deirdre at the Short Film Corner of the Cannes Film Festival on May 24th at 8:00 PM.

Thanks to Jo Southwell and the ChicArt PR Team, and of course, thanks for reading!

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