Ahead of its screening at this year’s Dublin International Film Festival, filmmaker Nathan Fagan Guimond takes us behind the camera of his short drama Flicker.

‘’Man up!’’ It’s a phrase that nearly every young man has heard uttered at some point in his life. Although the exact wording may differ between cultures and geographical location, the sentiment remains the same: ‘act like a man’. And how does a man act, exactly? A man acts with assertiveness, with strength, with stoic determination. Unaffected by emotion. Never weak, never vulnerable, never in need of help.

It’s staggering to reflect on the impact that this short, seemingly innocuous phrase has had on my life. And on the life of so many of the boys and men I’ve grown up with. Like some insidious seed or embryo, it seems to take root deep in our psyches. It burrows itself into our minds and our bodies. And when it does finally emerge, it tends to express itself in loud, self-destructive and often violent ways.

Irish culture and society has changed massively in a relatively short space of time. In just six short years, we’ve seen the passing of the Marriage Equality Act and, the Repeal of the 8th Amendment banning abortions. The past 40 years has seen an undeniable revolution in social attitudes that has turned Ireland from a conservative Catholic community into an open-minded, incredibly liberal nation.

And yet, despite all this positive change, the statistics surrounding mental health and suicide are eye-opening. According to a 2018 OECD report, some 18.5 per cent of the Irish population was recorded as having a mental health disorder, such as anxiety, bipolar, schizophrenia, depression, or alcohol or drug use. This means Ireland has one of the highest rates of mental health illness in Europe.

The suicide rate in Ireland among young people remains relatively high for the European Union. Not only that, but 80 percent of these suicides among young people are males. 

These problems are compounded by the fact that young Irish men are often reluctant to seek help with their struggles with depression, anxiety and other mental health issues.

It’s against this backdrop and this on-going conversation about Irish masculinity that Flicker was born. For our first short drama, my co-director Luke Daly and I wanted to find a way to explore – in a subtle, realistic and non-moralising way – the damaging impact of this particular conception of ‘masculinity’ on a young man. In other words, we wanted to explore the damage done by that innocuous little phrase: ‘man up’. 

Based partly on our own personal experiences, Luke and myself decided to dramatise the experiences of Danny, a typical twenty-something college student, who becomes the victim of an unprovoked assault in a nightclub toilet. We wanted to explore how Danny and his circle of friends react to this extremely common but psychologically traumatic event. We wanted to explore the ways in which Danny’s own internalised conception of masculinity prevents him from acknowledging the impact of this trauma. In the end, as Danny’s internal crisis reaches its crescendo, he finds himself acting out in an uncharacteristically violent way. 

Alongside this, we also wanted to create a realistic portrait of twenty-something Dublin: the way young people live, the way they speak, the way they relate to and interact with each other. Realism and naturalism were essential to us. We wanted young Irish twenty-somethings – young Irish men in particular – to watch our film and see themselves reflected back in it. 

To achieve this, we assembled a seriously talented cast of up-and-coming young actors: Peter Newington, Seán Doyle, Tony Doyle, Caoimhe Coburn Gray, Megan Bea-Tiernan and Robbie Dunne. 

Of course, there’s nothing new about trauma narratives in cinema. We’re all familiar with cinematic portrayals of traumatised veterans returning from war, of grizzled war reporters battling PTSD, and other well-trodden tropes.

Unusually, however, it’s the more common, everyday traumas that are rarely explored in cinema. What about the woman who’s catcalled on the way home from work? The boy who gets a ‘few little digs’ on the way home from school? The young man who gets assaulted on a night out with friends? 

The psychological impact of trauma is wide-ranging and can occur in all sorts of situations. In many ways, in fact, the traditional cinematic portrayal of the ‘traumatised war survivor’ might be part of the problem. By focusing all representations of trauma to individuals who have survived these extreme forms of trauma, it downplays the experiences of those living with the consequences of more every-day traumas. 

In many ways, this is the point we wanted to get across with Flicker. That all suffering is legitimate and worthy of acknowledgement. 

Although our film is set in Ireland, we believe this story is universal. We sincerely hope our short film resonates with audiences, from many different backgrounds and walks of life.

Flicker screens as part of Shorts #3, at the Light House Cinema on 3rd March at 6:00pm as part of the Dublin International Film Festival (26th February – 8th March 2020)

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