Lucy (Ella Connolly) in Eliot & Me
Chris Lavery shines a light on Eliot & Me, a low-budget Dublin-based children’s film and talks to its director, Fintan Connolly. Eliot & Me screens at the Cinemagic International Film and Television Festival for Young People (4 – 16 October) in Belfast this weekend.
Eliot & Me follows the journey of 10-year old Lucy (Ella Connolly) as she struggles to deal with her parents’ separation. After a lot of persuasion, Lucy convinces her mum to let her get a dog and so Eliot the Yorkshire Terrier who they is rescue from the local dog shelter enters Lucy’s life.
Lucy and Eliot are inseparable and things begin to look up for Lucy as Eliot is there to help her through living without a father who’s absconded to London as well as being a friend she can talk to about the bullies at school.
But Lucy’s world is turned upside down when Eliot goes missing. After some sleuthing, Lucy embarks on a dangerous adventure across the city to find Eliot and bring him home.
Originally commissioned as an hour-long television film for RTÉ to be shown over the Christmas period in 2011, that was where director Fintan Connolly thought the project would end. But that was just the start of a year-long journey for this little film with a big heart.
“There was a festival in the Czech Republic last year that were doing a retrospective of Irish films and they were looking for children’s films particularly,” says Fintan, “so somebody gave them our name – that’s really how the whole festival thing started. We weren’t really expecting the whole festival life. I didn’t even know there was a whole circuit of children’s festivals, but every country seems to have one.”
Over a year later and Eliot & Me has screened at 11 festivals all around the world (Belfast’s Cinemagic Festival this weekend being the 12th) and Ella Connolly’s performance as the beating heart of the story hasn’t gone unnoticed.
After winning the Best Actor award at Dream Fest in Slatina, Romania, she went on to win two more awards at the 12th China International Children’s Film Festival.
But Ella hasn’t let the critical acclaim unsettle her.
“For Ella to win both the Children’s Jury Prize and the Adult Jury Prize was quite something,” Fintan tells me. “She’s very down to earth. It’s kind of like her other life outside of Ireland. She’s just going to school and doing her own thing so she’s quite unfazed by it really.”
Eliot & Me marks a clear departure from Connolly’s previous features. His first film, Flick (2000), dealt with issues relating to drug-dealing. His second, Trouble With Sex (2005), was a film about two people meeting incidentally and embarking on an intense sexual relationship.
Director Fintan Connolly
The main issues dealt with in Eliot & Me are parental separation, kids wanting to have a pet and bullying at school. But it also touches on what Connolly describes as “the dangers [that] might come from the internet” as we learn that Lucy has an online friend called Mike whom she never meets.
“Because the film is really aimed at 8, 9 and 10-year olds, we didn’t want to do anything too over the top and too scary. So the thing with Mike was unresolved but it was just to hint at that this is what a lot of kids are doing now [on the internet], unsupervised.”
While Connolly didn’t want to moralise to the audience, he included the small subplot with Mike to say to children “be careful who you’re talking to and just realise that Mike, who [says he] is 10, could be somebody completely different.”
Even after touring the film extensively on the children’s festival circuit, it seems the work still isn’t over for Fintan and his team. “What’s come out of the work that we’re doing at the moment is there is interest in it being a feature film,” says Connolly. This would mean extending it from its current 56-minute runtime. “We did shoot additional material at the time so it may be that we actually do that in the next couple of months.”
While enjoying the success of Eliot & Me, it’s clear Connolly has also enjoyed being exposed to other children’s films himself while at the festivals: “I’ve seen some very good movies that wouldn’t neccesarily ever make it to your local cinema.”
It’s obvious that Connolly is happy being a part of making children’s films, something that, as he points out, “we don’t really have a tradition of making here.”
After the success of Eliot & Me, here’s hoping Connolly kickstarts that tradition.
Eliot & Me is playing at the Cinemagic International Film and Television Festival for Young People in Belfast on Saturday, 12th October at 2pm followed by a Q&A with director Fintan Connolly, producer Fiona Bergin and actress Ella Connolly.