Ross Whitaker talks to Ken Wardrop about his new documentary feature ‘His and Hers’.
When I meet Ken Wardrop to discuss his new film I find him to be refreshingly honest, unassuming, intelligent and very likeable. He is, indeed, very much like his films.
Until now, Wardrop has made a habit of creating award-winning short documentaries that combine incredibly candid interviews with sumptuous visuals. He’s best known, of course, for Undressing My Mother, the hugely successful short film in which his mother explores her feelings about her body and her relationship with her late husband.
It is not even five years since Undressing My Mother debuted at the Cork Film Festival in 2004 where it screened along with six other films by Wardrop. I remember hearing at the time that the festival had given him a special programme because he had submitted seven films of rare quality. Back then it seemed unusual but having seen most of those films in the meantime, it seems more than justified.
Now, five years on, and several short films later, Wardrop is embarking on a new stage in his filmmaking career with his first feature-length film, His and Hers. For anyone that has seen the bulk of Wardrop’s work to date, the style will be recognisable – Wardrop has taken what he has done before and applied it to the longer form. Like his shorts, the film has a wonderful honesty, a sense of fun and a touch of class.
Produced by Andrew Freedman, His and Hers explores woman’s relationship with man by visiting moments from the lives of 70 female characters. Shot in the hallways, living rooms and kitchens of the Irish midlands, the story moves sequentially from young to old to deliver a unique and touching insight into sharing life’s journey. Where previously Wardrop undressed his mother, now he’s undressing the entire midlands.
I would call it ‘a confident debut’ if I hadn’t met Wardrop to discuss the film. He’s nervous. Who wouldn’t be? It’s only normal to be anxious when you are about to enter the less forgiving world of feature filmmaking. Where a short can hide amongst a programme of peers, a feature must survive on its own. Swim or sink. It would be very surprising if this film doesn’t stay afloat.
‘As a filmmaker, I want to be taking risks. But I want them to be baby risks. So the idea was to try to use my style in the feature format, which I think is a risk in itself because it could be that the short film particularly suits me. I think a short filmmaker who has had success might start to think, “Is this what I’m good at? Why is it that this particular format suits me?”’
‘It’s a new chapter and we want to learn as we go. The film has already far exceeded my expectations. We’ve had a good reaction from the people that have seen it so far. It’s my first feature and a low-budget project, so it’s important to learn from it.’
The film is another tribute to the Catalyst Project in that Wardrop and his producer, Andrew Freedman, had originally tried to make the project through the scheme but decided to go ahead anyway when they weren’t selected for funding.
‘Catalyst brought all of the people together who probably should have been making features but hadn’t for whatever reason and maybe because they didn’t have a specific deadline. It brought all of these people together and gave them a deadline, gave them training and encouragement to just go for it. They were offering 250K and they were open-minded to whatever kind of film you wanted to make.
‘The whole process really got us thinking and, of course, I’m shy about writing drama anyway, and I came up with the idea for <I>His and Hers<I>. And Andrew really pushed me to do it. We were shortlisted and got great feedback and that really put the wind under our wings, so to speak. Then we didn’t get it and we were really disappointed because we thought we’d done a really good pitch.’
After Catalyst, Wardrop and Freedman continued to talk to BSÉ/IFB about possible funding and are very complimentary about the support they received from BSÉ/IFB and production executive Alan Maher. In the end, they decided to go for micro-budget funding and went into production with 100K to make the film.
Because of the success of Wardop’s short films, one imagines that there will be great international interest in his new feature but the director feels that the nature of the film might militate against some festivals taking it on.
‘One of the things about the film is that it’s a very wordy film and that might affect it in terms of international festivals. You can’t escape the fact that there are a lot of Irish people in the film who are speaking incredibly quickly. I was thinking of subtitling the film in English but a lot of the time there would be three lines of subtitles on screen and I was thinking, “nobody can read that fast.”’
His and Hers is yet to have a public screening but it has already received a stamp of approval. Just days before we meet, the film won the SDGI Directors Finders Series, which will provide Wardrop with the opportunity to showcase His and Hers in Los Angeles in front of an invited audience of American distributors, filmmakers, and key industry personnel, with the aim of securing a US distribution deal.
But first, it’s off to Galway, where His and Hers will premiere in July.