Interview: Áine Stapleton, director of ‘Medicated Milk’

Áine Stapleton introduces her first feature-length film Medicated Milk, which screens on Thursday, 16th June 2016 at 18.40 at the IFI as part of the Irish Focus Bloomsday Programme.

Medicated Milk is a re-telling of the life Lucia Joyce, daughter of celebrated Irish writer James Joyce. One of the first things I learned about Lucia was her passion for modern dance. She trained in France with Raymond Duncan (brother of Isadora) and performed with a group of female dancers called Les Six de Rythme et Couleur. She created her own choreography and received critical acclaim from the Paris Times. Lucia’s career was cut short due to supposed mental illness but the details around this seem very undefined.

I trained in dance at degree level in London and now work in dance, music and film. My work generally explores autobiography, feminism, inequality and abuse, and is my means to vocalise my opinions on these issues.

Being aware of the importance of art in my own life I wanted to know how Lucia went from a seemingly active, opinionated, energetic and inspired creator, to a young woman who’s talent and means of expression was brought to a sudden halt. Not only did her career choice go unsupported by her family, but not long after it ended she was incarcerated by her brother Giorgio. She then spent the remaining 47 years of her life locked up in psychiatric hospitals.

Researching further I discovered that much of Lucia’s writings, including communication between her and her father, were destroyed by her nephew following her death in 1982. I bought her remaining writings from the University of Texas, researched at The National Archives in London, and retraced her steps in Ireland, Paris and St. Andrews Hospital in England. I quickly became frustrated with the repeated description of Lucia as a crazy young woman who had a strange infatuation with her father. The reality for me seemed that her father had too close a hold over her, and that any mental strain she experienced was brought about by trauma she suffered at the hands of her family and subsequently by the medical profession.

The main drive behind this film was to attempt to give Lucia a voice and to further understand what may have happened to her. The title is taken from one of her dream diary extracts, and the film combines imagery and text from her dreams and biography, filmed at some locations where she spent time during the 1930s. Stories from my own life and my Mother’s are intertwined with Lucia’s to help fill in what I think might be some of the blanks in her life story.

To create Medicated Milk I worked with filmmaker and my good friend José Miguel Jiménez. We travelled around Ireland to film at locations where Lucia spent time, in particular Bray Co. Wicklow. José filmed scenes with me dancing underwater and in the ballroom at the beautiful and haunting Bray Head Inn. Locals that I approached for information about Lucia, or with help for the filming process, were extremely kind and supportive, and the whole experience was very fullfilling and at many times moving.

Although it was the first project José and I worked on together the process was very fluid. We shared a similar vision for the tone of the film, its non-narrative nature, and he was completely open to the challenges that the imagery required, which varied from the cold waters of Kerry in the winter to close-up scenes of animal butchery. His style of cinematography for the film and the dreamlike states it helped to create worked well with the ephemeral narrative presented. We collaborated on the structural narrative of the film in the editing process, shared many of the directorial roles and the whole working period was a pleasure.

The film is accompanied by an electronic soundscore created by Neil O Connor of Somadrone, and is based on classical music that Lucia would have sang, played on piano or heard in the family home.

I began working on Medicated Milk in 2013 when I received some funding and a residency to create a staged dance theatre production with film elements, but quickly into the process I knew I wanted to make a film. I then received further support from Dublin City Council to extend the work to feature-length with José. The whole film was created over two and a half years part-time.

I’ll begin researching a second film this Autumn at the Pinea-Linea De Costa A.I.R residency in Spain. This will go further into my own story and that of my Mother’s, combining them with an exploration into dance and ritual as a means for healing in indigenous cultures and contemporary arts practices.

I can’t let Lucia’s story go yet so I’ll continue to look into it and it may feature again. I’m excited to present Medicated Milk at the IFI and to open up new conversations about Lucia.


Medicated Milk screens on Thursday, 16th June 2016 at 18.40  at the IFI as part of Irish Focus, a focus on new Irish film and filmmakers.

Áine Stapleton and José Miguel Jiménez will participate in a post-screening Q&A.

Tickets are available here or from the IFI Box Office or on 01 679 3477 



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