The TV premiere of Pyjama Girls takes place on RTÉ 1 at 10:15pm on Tuesday, 13th March. Ross Whitaker talked to director Maya Derrington shortly before its screening at the 2010 Stranger Than Fiction Festival. This article originally appeared as the spotlight article in Film Ireland summer 2010, issue 133.
This year’s Stranger Than Fiction festival had a new slot (moving from June to April) and a new festival programmer in Niall MacPherson. The line-up for the festival was as good as it has ever been, boasting impressive titles like Last Train Home, American: The Bill Hicks Story, Fred Wiseman’s La Danse and Chris Rock’s Good Hair.
While the attendance of incoming international filmmakers was greatly restricted by the volcanic ash cloud, Mother Nature had no such impact on audience figures and there were impressive crowds throughout the festival.
Over the weekend, long lines regularly snaked through the IFI, proving that there’s very much still an appetite for high quality documentaries. The most popular film of the festival was undoubtedly Pyjama Girls, the thrice sold-out directorial debut of Still Films’ Maya Derrington.
Pyjama Girls is a touching, absorbing slice ofDublin life that had the audience transfixed from beginning to end. Running at a tight 70 minutes, the film draws you into the chaotic life ofDublin teenager and habitual pyjama-wearer Lauren.
Over the course of the film we learn about the challenges that life throws at Lauren – from her addict mother to the disruptive world of the flats – and understand the crucial importance of her friendship with her more grounded best friend Tara. Balancing tenderness with hilarity, Pyjama Girls tracks the explosive micro-dramas of teenage life against the bleak backdrop ofDublin’s inner city flats.
The film has been described as an observational documentary and the strongest scenes are those that capture the tension and love in conversations between Lauren and her immediate family members. One scene in which Lauren has her fingernails painted by her little sister is worth the admission price alone.
These observational scenes are interspersed with more stylised interview-based expositional vignettes that retrospectively tell the story of Lauren’s young life. These scenes bring us closer to Lauren and give us insight into her behaviour and temperament.
Derrington decided to make the film when she spotted some young girls on the street in pyjamas and was shocked by the sight.
‘I was inspired to make the film because of my own surprise and fascination with the daytime pyjama phenomenon. I asked myself why would an item of clothing bring out such shock in me because I’d usually be quite laid-back about clothing. Then I noticed that people all over the city were getting riled by the topic.’
‘The vitriol it provokes reminds me of the response to punk. I wanted to explore on screen the intensity of being a female teenager: the everyday dramas and the depths that are hidden behind the clothes and the posturing.’
Derrington used the setting of the flats and the pyjamas themselves as visual inspiration when approaching the film.
‘There were two things in my mind as I began, one was the bright softness of the pyjamas as a metaphor for female teenage life and against that the harsh lines of the flats. I was really struck by the architecture of the area which combined brutality and community, so I wanted the place to be very present within the film.’
The project was funded by the Irish Film Board under the micro-budget scheme, which completely funds films up to a total budget of 100k. The film was a big undertaking that took up two years of Derrington’s life and the budget was therefore understandably tight.
‘We put it forward for funding as a low-budget project because we just wanted to get on with it,’ says producer Nicky Gogan. ‘We had pitched it to a few broadcasters at the Sheffield Documentary Film Festival and although people seemed interested in it, we felt that if we wanted to make the film that Maya imagined we might need funders who were a little more open and flexible to what it might become. We kept it low-key, often it was just Maya and ap Sinead Ni Bhroin that made up the crew, and that suited the observational approach.’
‘One of the descriptive terms we used throughout preproduction was ‘micro-dramas’, adds Derrington. ‘We wanted to find the micro-dramas of female teenage lives and I think that term in itself would be enough to terrify a lot of commissioning editors. That along with the term ‘observational, because any observational work creates big challenges for commissioning editors because you can’t guarantee what will happen.’
One of the great challenges of making an observational film can be finding an ending and Derrington admits that she had some sleepless nights wondering where the film would end.
‘I have to admit that I didn’t think I had an ending. The girls we were following kept joking that they were going to get themselves arrested to give us an ending. It was in the edit that we found the ending. It says something about the open-ended nature of life.’
Judging by the response to the film at the Stranger Than Fiction festival, the film has plenty to look forward to in the future.