Interview With Paul Rowley

Paul Rowley

This weekend sees the screening of Seaview and the premiere of The Rooms as part of the IFI’s Still Films season. Film Ireland talks to Paul Rowley, co-founder of Still Films, co-director of Seaview and The Rooms.

Tell me about your background and how you came to this point?

I started making experimental films on Super 8 and 16mm about fifteen years ago and got into working in video shortly after that. The films were showing both in film festivals and art galleries. Shortly after that I began to collaborate with American artist David Phillips on shorts and installation works. Nicky Gogan and I had been talking about making films together for years. Finally we did with Seaview in 2007 and set up Still Films then with Maya. These days I’m quite focused on long form films… docs, experimental, and drama. Nicky and I have just finished our first script, and David and I just completed 60 screen installation for LAX airport in LA… so I’m still enjoying working on a wide variety of projects.

Do you see your film and art projects as separate?

No not really. Each project begins with an idea. The concept drives the development and production of the work, so it’s usually quite clear from the start what type of film it’s going to be. Often times, especially with shorter pieces, the films end up simultaneously in a gallery installation and a film festival. I suppose the main differences really are the economic models and the audiences.

What was the background to The Rooms?

My friend Tim Blue and I had been invited to show a selection of films together in Berlin last year. As part of the programme we made a new short film together. It was really condensed and filled with ideas, so we discussed taking that short as a starting point for a feature length work. We were interested in ruins, the traces of human activity that linger in empty buildings. And we also talked a lot about rooms having a consciousness. We liked the idea that instead of us walking into rooms, that rooms actively form themselves around us as we walk. A kind of inversion of subjectivity somehow.

Can you explain what the audience can expect from the film?

It’s incredibly visual, shot on all kinds of film formats in about ten different countries. The locations range from Nazi holiday resorts to luxury hotels in Venice to an abandoned cold war spy station. And the soundtrack complements this visually driven approach, focusing on sound design and music with less emphasis on dialogue. The music was written by American composer Emily Manzo using everything from a prepared piano to bowed marimbas.

Do you prepare different mentally for when you’re approaching projects with more or less narrative?

Well there’s certainly a big difference between writing a script and the more investigative way my experimental films evolve. The Rooms being so modular was built block by block. There was a constant discussion between us while we were filming.

Could it be said that it’s perhaps a project where your art and film work meet?

It’s a film that really sums up a lot of my past work and a lot of Tim’s past work. Part doc, part experimental film, part art installation, part narrative. Quite an interesting hybrid really.

Seaview screens at the IFI on 21st August at 16.40

The Rooms screens at the IFI on 22nd August at 16.40 and will be followed by a Q&A with directors Paul Rowley and Tim Blue

Click here to book tickets.



Nicky Gogan and Maya Derrington

As part of Film Ireland‘s coverage of Still Films week at the IFI, in this podcast Ross Whitaker talks to the makers of the feature documentary Pyjama Girls, director Maya Derrington and producer Nicky Gogan.

Pyjama Girls opens exclusively at the IFI on Friday 2oth August coinciding with the Still Films Season.

The filmmakers discuss their inspiration, funding sources, their festival strategies and the challenges involved in structuring a feature length documentary.

This is a podcast of approximately 31 minutes duration.




Spotlight on 'Pyjama Girls'

Pyjama Girls

Film Ireland talks to Maya Derrington about her debut feature documentary Pyjama Girls

Pyjama Girls is a touching, absorbing slice of Dublin life that has the audience transfixed from beginning to end. Running at a tight 70 minutes, the film draws you into the chaotic life of Dublin 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 of Dublin’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 an item of clothing would 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, Pyjama Girls has plenty to look forward to in the future.

Pyjama Girls is released in the IFI on 20th August


Still Films Week at the IFI

Still Films

Coinciding with the exclusive release of Maya Derrington’s Pyjama Girls, the IFI are set to host a week’s supporting season of work from production company Still Films exploring the evolution of the company from its origins in the Darklight Digital Festival to the innovative and prolific production company it is today.

Alongside Derrington’s acclaimed documentary, the season will feature an exploration of Still Films’ back catalogue, a discussion with its founders, and screenings of The Rooms and Seaview.

Film Ireland brings you online coverage of the week’s events, starting with Spotlight on Pyjama Girls.

Watch this space for further coverage as the season progresses.

Please click here for details of the IFI’s schedule of events.