From the Archive: Self Distribution

Pyjama Bus CMYK

Pyjama Girls

With self-distribution becoming more widespread, Film Ireland talks to three Irish filmmakers who made the decision to release their own film.

Competition for screens is at an all-time high with more films than ever before being released every week. Economic conditions put pressure on cinemas and films must perform on their first weekend if they hope to stick around. For distributors it makes it harder for them to take a punt on films that might not make an immediate impact. For filmmakers it makes it harder to find a distributor that will take on their film and at the right price. It makes sense then that more filmmakers are looking at the possibility of self-distribution with the advent of the Irish Film Board’s Direct Distribution scheme making it a more attractive proposition.Not every film can be released in this way and, if anything, it seems that documentary might be most suited to self-distribution. Documentary films can gather an audience from the outset of production, making partnerships with interested groups that can help when the time comes to release the film.

The Pipe and Pyjama Girls are two Irish documentaries that have done well having been self-released. So why did they choose to do it?

‘We looked at going with different distributors here but once we saw the terms and conditions we decided that we should do it ourselves as we felt that there was already a community of people interested in the film,’ says Rachel Lysaght, producer of The Pipe. ‘There were a lot of things to take into consideration including ownership of the film and how long the term was going to be. We just felt that rather than giving away all of the rights for a number of years it would be better to retain ownership of the film. We weren’t expecting it to be a huge box-office smash but we felt that a film that addresses these issues and is a David and Goliath story wouldn’t necessarily have a short lifespan and it could be a grower, so we didn’t want to tie up all of the rights with anyone.’

‘I always had that interest in distribution, stemming from a mobile short film channel that I ran for years on Vodafone called Wildlight,’ says Nicky Gogan of Still Films. ‘We went down traditional routes with Pyjama Girls and showed it to the distribution companies that are in Ireland. They liked it but they felt they would have to put too much into it to get a return because of the model they use. That was fine but I really knew there was an audience for the film, so the IFI agreed to put it on for a week and it sold out the whole week. They moved it from Cinema 3 to the much larger Cinema 1 early on in the week and it was a great success. That prompted us to act on the idea of doing something wider with it, so we spoke to access>CINEMA and the Irish Film Board and put together a list of contacts. We weren’t so concerned about rights but it certainly helped us to hold onto more of the profits from the cinema because there were fewer people involved. We try not to give anything away exclusively now. With a previous film we did an exclusive deal with a company for three years and they made a great sale near the beginning but they really have only made one sale, so that was disappointing.’

The Pipe Roadblock CMYK
The Pipe

For The Pipe, the timing of the release in December 2010 proved to be tricky. One of the biggest snowfalls in history covered the country and cinemas all over Ireland shut their doors.

‘The cinemas at that time were taking in a week what they would usually do on a Saturday night. The weather was horrific. That really damaged us but relatively in terms of how all of the other films were doing we did quite well and we were featuring on the box-office charts. Harry Potter was out at the same time though and that’s something we learned along the way. We couldn’t afford a film print so we went with a DCP (digital cinema print) and DCPs can only show on digital screens and they were in some cases being taken up with 3D movies, so if it was a toss-up between playing Harry Potter or a small documentary about a Mayo community, guess which film gets the screen! We did loads of Q&As and we went everywhere. A lot of the people from Westport also came to screenings and I think the audience really appreciate that and if they know a director is coming it’s more of an event and it’s more likely that you’ll get an audience. If those people engage in it then they become your advertisers because it really gets out through word of mouth.’

For the team at Still Films, the networks built up from years of running the Darklight Film Festival was a huge advantage in marketing the film. ‘We went about things in a way that we have been doing for gigs and the Darklight Film Festival in the past, like posting A3 Posters around the place and getting on blogs and also just using the goodwill of our media contacts to help us get the word out,’ says Nicky Gogan. ‘We had essentially three goes at it with the festival release, the IFI release and then the wider release. We used the usuals like Facebook and Twitter and we approached friends who might have big mailing lists. It was a case of managing all of the networks that we’ve built up over the years with the Darklight festival. The cinemas themselves also do their own marketing, which helps as well.’

‘We were working with access>CINEMA so we did a lot of community screenings,’ says Rachel Lysaght. ‘The Pipe had 6000 friends on Facebook and we tapped into specific groups that already existed that we thought would be interested in the story we were telling – human rights, Irish interest, environmental groups, anti-corporate groups. This was our target audience and if it moved beyond that all the better. We did a lot of community screenings. We also set up an area on our website where people could request a screening in their town and people would email us and if there were enough calls for a screening in a certain area we would contact them and find a venue and in some cases we might project it on a wall. Then I negotiated with the cinema owners as to what percentage we would get at the box office and we did the same thing with access>CINEMA. In the case of access>CINEMA, we pretty much screened off DVD and we agreed a minimum or a percentage there. When it came to individual or community screenings we would mostly do a deal with the venue. You might have a screening in a university where there could be eight people there or there could be eighty-eight people there and you’re not going to know until the night of the screening. So we would agree a minimum amount or whatever percentage of the box office. It might be, purely for example, a minimum 100-euro for the screening and 50% of the box office over that. At least then you know you are getting a minimum for the screening and there’s also an incentive there for the person organising the screening to gather an audience and we would also help by providing posters and online marketing and we would do local press.’

Having a group of people already interested in the topic of your film or a film around which you can build an event is key to finding your audience. ‘Each film is different,’ says Gogan, and therefore the approach will differ each time.

‘I think there are certain films that suit self-distribution. I think with Pyjama Girls it suited a slightly more traditional route and we did screen it in quite big cinema chains. With Nightdancers, an upcoming film about dancers in Uganda going to London to take part in a big show, there could be a live dance element to it and we could tour the film with their live dance show. That could generate a bit of buzz for the film by playing to the audience for the film. That could be the core audience and then moving out from that there might be the documentary audience and the arthouse audience. We’ve talked about doing something like that in the UK and then maybe something similar here in Ireland. It would be an event-based release and we would be thinking of alternative venues as well as cinemas for the film. And the director, Emile Dineen, is really up for it too and since we started talking about making the film we’ve been talking about how fun it’s going to be to get it out into the world. We’ve also been thinking about the possibility of doing a day-in-date release because there might be a limited amount of events based around urban centres, so it would be great to have the film available to the audience through VOD. So it’s a matter of tying in the complementary options that are open to you rather than being completely independent.’

Lili Taylor Gerard Hurley CMYK
The Pier

When distributors didn’t go for his film The Pier, Gerard Hurley released his feature-length drama himself in thirteen cinemas in Ireland. ‘I know exactly what my film is. Distributors want big boobs and explosions, they want slick production values and big names. I really had none of the above. I felt a release in Ireland was a possibility and because I’d done it with my previous film in the States on six screens, I felt some confidence that I could release it myself in Ireland. I just got out there and hit the pavement. One of the things I did was make up 400 small film posters and put up those posters myself personally. I drove around from town to town and I met people and I would get into conversations a lot with people and I’d tell them about the film. In the independent world I found that very effective because overall for me the film was very well received.’

Hurley’s plan was to get the film into as many cinemas as possible and he persuaded 13 cinemas to take the film on. ‘My plan was to release it in as many cinemas as possible around Ireland and try to get any media I could to support what I was trying to do. If you stagger the release too much, the national media you do can be lost. You might release the film in Dublin but people will have forgotten about it by the time you get to Cork. It’s really tough trying to get the film into cinemas. It’s a business for them and they want to know what the bottom line is. Some are more sympathetic than others but it’s all about rejection and you get kicked in the balls over and over again but you can’t take it personally.’

Making a connection with your audience on a limited budget is not easy and Hurley found it particularly so because his audience wasn’t the typical cinema-going target market.

‘I wasn’t making the film for the male 15–25 age bracket, the ‘golden horde’. My audience was a lot older. It’s hard to get to them but when you do, they talk to people and help to get the word out. The Irish Film Board were very helpful in supporting the film but you have to have a big budget to go out there and get people’s attention. You need an advertising budget or you need to come up with a creative online campaign. But even getting that right can be as rare as hen’s teeth. Every filmmaker bitches about not having enough money. Even filmmakers with a $10-million budget say, ‘we had very little money’ but I know that if I had another 25k I really could have kicked some ass in Ireland because strategically I worked out that I could have done a certain kind of radio campaign and I think radio is one of the most effective tools for hitting people in rural Ireland.’

All of the filmmakers agree that self-releasing your film is not to be taken lightly. ‘There is a huge learning curve. You can’t say strongly enough that this is a job usually done by someone on a full time basis, so nobody can wander into that territory and expect it to be easy. But I also think that if you really believe in your film, nobody will push it as much as you will. You might not have all the knowledge or connections when you start out but you’ll learn that along the way and hopefully people will see that passion in you and respond.’

 

This article originally appeared in Film Ireland Magazine, Issue 143 in 2012.

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Film Ireland 133 Summer 2010: Spotlight on ‘Pyjama Girls’

pyjama-girls-1

pyjama-girls-1

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.

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DVD Review: Pyjama Girls

DVD-Cover-Pyjama-Girls-480x664

A brief glimpse into a seldom-viewed world, this short documentary by Maya Derrington fluidly oscillates between the hardened roughness of the street and the quiet, tender moments in the intimacy of the home. Around the flats of Ballyfermot in Dublin the pavement is littered with kids of all ages – young boys cause havoc, tormenting passers-by, throwing stones at windows and generally killing time in a grey and dreary landscape. The girls kill time in their own way – loitering around the flats in chattering groups, occupying the back seats of buses and ambling around the department stores in search of their most beloved and revered fashion items – soft, colourful pyjamas to be worn on the streets with pride.

While partly claimed to be a matter of convenience, the pyjamas are a bold statement; they embody a protective shield, an air of indifference, a casual but selective ensemble of shades and textures that attract negative attention from outsiders, attention that the girls seem to proudly wear as the badge of their isolation from society. The pyjamas also acknowledge the close-knit and familial nature of the community in the flats, ‘when you’re in the flats the whole lot of the flats is like your house… so you going down on the block in your pyjamas is like walking around your house … because you know everyone’.

The primary focus of Pyjama Girls is two fifteen-year old girls, best friends Lauren and Tara. Lauren is an intelligent, funny and remarkably self-aware girl, having seen more than her fair share of hardship in her short lifetime. Her drug-addicted mother remains a looming shadow in the documentary, never seen but often spoken about with a calm factuality that is imbued with a mixture of pain, resentment, anger and love. Lauren suffers from outbursts of anger and violence, which she speaks candidly about, though it is clear she retains certain emotions and facts as private. Her quiet but fierce love for her younger sister Danika is poignantly displayed. Danika lives with their great aunt, and remains a heartbreaking reminder of the destruction of their mother’s addiction. Tara, a gentler girl from what appears to be a more stable family background, is a support for Lauren. She looks out for her and offers endless companionship. The two girls keep each other afloat amidst the realities of a turbulent adolescence and provide each other with support in the face of a difficult and unpromising future.

Where this documentary is tragic, it is funny, where it is dismal, it emanates hope. The pyjama girls take pride in their attire, in their difference, yet there is a sense that could things be different for them, they would renounce it. When choices are limited, the power of ownership becomes prized, and these pyjamas are a wholly significant reminder of that. This is an emotive and enthralling documentary that may cause you to look differently at the pyjama-clad the next time you see them around Dublin.

Emma O’Donoghue

Pyjama Girls is available on DVD from 15th November 2011

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Competition: Pyjama Girls

The good people at Still Films have given us 3 copies of the wonderful Pyjama Girls to give to 3 lucky people.

To win yourself a copy, simply email filmireland@gmail.com with ‘Pyjama Girls’ in the subject line and the Film Ireland hat will choose winners by lunchtime on Monday,21st November

‘’A touching, absorbing slice of Dublin life…. had the audience transfixed from beginning to end.’
Film Ireland

Pyjama Girls is now on sale at the Irish Film Institute Film Shop. It will also be available to purchase from Tower Records, Wicklow Street & Easons, the Kilkenny Design Centre and from www.stillfilms.org from Monday, 21st November.

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‘Pyjama Girls’ on DVD

pyjama-girls-1

Pyjama Girls is now on sale at the Irish Film Institute Film Shop. It will also be available to purchase from Tower Records, Wicklow Street & Easons, the Kilkenny Design Centre and from www.stillfilms.org from Monday the 21st November.

To purchase your copy of Pyjama Girls now, please call the IFI Film Shop on 01 679 5727 or email filmshop@irishfilm.ie

Irish teenagers Lauren and Tara navigate the trials of life, dressed all the while in their uniform of rebellion: pyjamas. Balancing tenderness with hilarity, Pyjama Girls tracks the explosive micro-dramas of teenage life against the bleak backdrop of Dublin’s inner city flats.

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Irish documentary ‘Pyjama Girls’ is released on DVD from 15th November exclusively at the IFI, with more retailers to follow.

pyjama-girls

Critically acclaimed Irish documentary Pyjama Girls will be released on DVD in time for Christmas in the IFI Bookshop, Tower Records and online at www.stillfilms.org, launching Still Films Distribution.

Irish production company Still Films are distributing the DVD with support of the Irish Film Board’s new Direct Distribution funding programme, marking the launch of the innovative Still Films Distribution arm. This follows Still Films’ success with the theatrical release of the film in cinemas around the country in 2010. International trends for alternative distribution and the success of independent distributors such as Dogwoof in the UK has allowed Still Films to kick-start their own distribution plans with Pyjama Girls.

Still Films will also be working with Dogwoof in the near future to bring their successful Popup Cinema initiative to Ireland, empowering people to take an active role in exhibiting films in their own communities and providing endless opportunities for alternative distribution.

James Hickey, Chief Executive of Bord Scannán na hÉireann / The Irish Film Board has said; ‘We were delighted to see Pyjama Girls meet with such a positive reaction when it was released in the IFI last year. It is one of many interesting IFB funded feature documentaries telling unusual and compelling Irish stories which have met with much success internationally and in Ireland over the past few years. Hopefully this forthcoming DVD release will give Irish audiences another opportunity to see Pyjama Girls and to enjoy the story of Lauren and Tara.’

With its uncompromising look at the lives of some of Dublin’s most vulnerable young people, Pyjama Girls focuses on 15-year-old Lauren and her best friend Tara. Lauren’s future hangs in the balance as she regularly takes part in street violence with rival teen gangs and faces expulsion from school. Over the course of the film we learn about the challenges that life throws her – from her addict mother to the disruptive world of the flats – and understand the crucial importance of her friendship with Tara.

Director Maya Derrington said, ‘We were overwhelmed by the way Pyjama Girls resonated with audiences across the country and in response to public demand the film will now be widely available in shops. I hope this will be the first of many independent Irish documentary DVD success stories from Still Films Distribution.’

Irish documentary Pyjama Girls is released on DVD from 15th November exclusively at the IFI, with more retailers to follow.

You can view the trailer here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YJIldZb3x2c

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PODCAST INTERVIEW WITH ‘PYJAMA GIRLS’ DIRECTOR MAYA DERRINGTON AND PRODUCER NICKY GOGAN

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.

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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

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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.

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Still Films's ‘Pyjama Girls’ at the IFI

Pyjama Girls, a new Irish documentary by Maya Derrington examining the lives of two of Dublin’s ‘pyjama girls’, returns to the IFI for an exclusive release on the 20th August 2010. A huge hit at the IFI Stranger Than Fiction Festival where it premiered this April, the film sold out three times over with its uncompromising look at the lives of some of Dublin’s most vulnerable young people.

The cinema release of the Pyjama Girls is accompanied by a look at other films from the innovative production company, Still Films. Tickets are available from the IFI Box Office, 01 679 3477 or online at www.ifi.ie

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