Scout Mitchell was in attendance at the screening of Innocent Boy, a short film by Cluster Fox Films, which was the winner of the Virgin Media Discovers Short Film Competition.
Coming out top in a competition that judged over 600 aspiring scriptwriters and filmmakers, the expectation for the execution of Innocent Boy was high. Written and directed by John Connors, the short film was announced the winner of Virgin Media Discovers Short Film Competition in August 2019 and had its premiere at this year’s Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival. The Cluster Fox Films production tells the story of Jack, a young deaf traveller boy. Consistently faced with cruelty and discrimination from his peers, he turns to his horse to find solace and escape from a merciless world. In just 12 minutes, Innocent Boy grips its audience with emotional and powerful performances from an all-Traveller cast.
Based on a concept by William Casey, the film is co-owned by actor/director John Connors and producer Tiernan Williams. Connors (Cardboard Gangsters) is widely known for speaking out about the issues and discrimination faced by the traveling community in Ireland. Innocent Boy addresses these subjects head-on. The film depicts the difficulties faced by Travellers in a school environment and the expectations for young women who attempt to embark on unconventional pathways. The storylines are enacted by Jack (Johnny Collins) and his sister (Kayleigh McDonagh). The siblings’ father (Thomas Connors) attempts to do what’s best for both of his children without the help of their mother who has recently passed.
The main focus of the film is on Jack. He is bullied relentlessly by his peers, who beat him on his walk home from school and verbally abuse him in the corridors with disgusting slurs. By turning off his hearing aid he can remain in oblivion. He rides his horse along the beach, the rhythm of the trot does not need sound: it is soothing all on its own. The disconnect between Jack’s two worlds—with and without sound—is captured beautifully. The scenes with the detached sound (kudos to sound designer Nikki Moss) are matched with surreal, bright and eerie colours. This represents the illusion of this peaceful world without the prejudgement of society. As much as physical pain hurts, it’s clear that the pain of words is just as cutting for Jack.
In the Q&A section after the screening, Connors delved in deeper into why it’s so important that films like Innocent Boy get made: “Diversity is a great slogan, but I don’t think there’s enough of it in our industry—there is no diversity [being represented] in class or different types of background… How can we tell different types of stories?”
Innocent Boy is a story that Irish people should already be familiar with. The Traveling community are ten times more likely to experience discrimination than white Irish members of the country’s population. Seeing the reality of this prejudice on the big screen was profound. Innocent Boy is incredibly deserving of this award. Stories like this must continue to enlighten a mainstream audience. As Connors stated: “there’s a lot of interesting perspectives out there. I’ve got an interesting perspective on Ireland and it’s not all rosy, but sometimes there’s hope.”
Innocent Boy screened on 29th February as part of the 2020 Dublin International Film Festival.