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.
Pyjama Girls is available on DVD from 15th November 2011