ADIFF 2017 Irish Film Review: Tomato Red



Cathy Butler takes a look at Juanita Wilson’s Tomato Red, which screened at this year’ s Audi Dublin International Film Festival and is on release from 3rd March.

Sammy Barlach is released from prison, with apparently nowhere to return to. As he bounces around unforgiving, disenfranchised, remote Midwest America, he chances upon brother and sister Jamalee and Jason Merridew. Living in a trailer in the nearby town of Venus Holler, the siblings attempt to taste a better life by breaking into the homes of the wealthy, making themselves comfortable, and maybe stealing their clothes. Sammy is pleased to find a friendly face, and sets up home with the Merridews in Venus Holler.

Jason and Jamalee dream of breaking out of the deprivation they have been born into, while their more pragmatic mother Bev works as a prostitute from the house across the way. Jamalee wants what the owners of the houses she breaks into have, but just stops short of meaningful attempts to better her situation. Sammy, in love with Jamalee but spurned by her, seeks solace in her mother, and becomes quite comfortable with the domestic situation. However, his impulsive nature and his blind love for Jamalee are the undoing of any possibility of a comfortable life for him, and cause him to set out on a sharp downward spiral.

The film is entwined around two core acts of violence, which are given spare treatment, allowing their full impact to come across. The cast are given the space to make the most of each scene, which they do ably. They are captured along the way by Piers McGrail’s captivating cinematography, along with the vast and expansive scenery.

You could view the film as a social issues piece, or ignore that altogether and look at it as a tragic love story. The classism of the ostensibly “well-to-do” in this film is blatant and shocking, with the characters being called white trash to their faces, amongst other disparagements. Jamalee wants the life they have, but continues to trespass, steal, or cause a scene at a country club. Sammy, on the other hand, seems together enough to not re-offend, and clearly wants a settled, quiet life. His feelings for Jamalee, however, ultimately bring him back into that world that he could have potentially escaped.

This is where the tragic love story kicks in; had he not been so besotted with Jamalee, it’s possible Sammy’s life could have gone a significantly better direction. Or maybe it wouldn’t have. Perhaps Tomato Red is both the social realist piece and the tragic romance.


Tomato Red screened on Saturday, 25th Feb 2017 at 8:45pm at the Light House Cinema as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival. 

Tomato Red is released 3rd March 2017



‘Tomato Red’ @ IFI + Q&A with Director Juanita Wilson

Following its sold-out premiere screening at this year’s Audi Dublin International Film Festival, Tomato Red opens at The Irish Film Institute on Friday, March 3rd. Director Juanita Wilson will attend the opening night screening at 20.15, which will then be followed by a Q&A.

Oscar-nominated Irish director Juanita Wilson’s (As If I’m Not There) second feature is an adaptation of Daniel Woodrell’s 1998 ‘country noir’ novel. Woodrell’s work has previously been brought to the big screen by Ang Lee with Ride with the Devil (1999) and Debra Granik with Winter’s Bone (2010).

Paroled from prison, Sammy (Jake Weary) tries to put a new life together in the Ozarks. He falls in with Jamalee Merridew (Julia Garner, Grandma), who wants nothing more than to escape her family, particularly her mother Bev (Anna Friel), and the unavoidable reputation of the Merridew name in order to make it in Hollywood. Despite his initial doubts, Sammy comes to share her dreams of a better future before tragedy befalls the Merridews, and a terrible choice must be made.

Tickets for the screening of Tomato Red + Q&A are now on sale from and the IFI Box Office – 01-6793477.


Interview: Juanita Wilson

How did you learn to write screenplays?

I didn’t have any formal training as such but Screen Training Ireland ran some really good training courses and workshops, and they were absolutely fantastic. I learnt a lot from that but it was very daunting too. That was when I was writing the feature, but in terms of The DoorThe Door kind of wrote itself based on the testimony.

How did the testimony help you?

It’s a very short testimony, a few pages, and once I worked out a structure for it, starting at the end then revealing what happens, it came together as a series of vignettes or memories. It’s as if the man, Nikolai, is trying to recollect what happened to him and make sense of it. They’re like separate moments that he’s just remembered, key moments of what happened.

Instinctively, I guessed that a lot of the drama should happen offscreen, for example, the scene with the doctor where he’s obviously going to tell them that their daughter is very sick, it seemed better that he didn’t say anything. I learnt through trying to write that scene that really you can say everything you need if you just set the circumstances up right and then let the audience join the dots. I was lucky with the actors because their faces said so much, more than any words could. This project was quite unique in terms of how it came together.

You had a background in producing, what made you want to write and direct a short?

I actually started off in fine art, in sculpture, and I’ve always been interested in the idea behind something and in communicating that idea. I was always interested in the creative end of things and I’ve always written bits and pieces, scraps of things. When it came to film, myself and James Flynn, my partner, set up a company to make films but we weren’t really concerned whether we were producers or what. It wasn’t that I wanted to be a producer; I just started off that way. It was a fascinating way to learn about the industry because you see every aspect of filmmaking. It was a very valuable experience. I was honoured to produce H3 and Inside I’m Dancing but, as a producer, I found that it was hard to get the creative fulfilment I wanted so I just felt it was time to try and do it myself and be more involved.

Had you any other short-film ideas that you were considering before The Door?

Yes, I’d written something very different which was fictional but I’d been reading short stories all the time, looking for something, always trying to work out what would be a good one to do. It was only when I found The Door that I really felt, okay, this deserves to be made. It was strong enough for me to ask other people to be involved. I felt the subject was important and that gave me great strength. It brought the right team behind me.

The Door

How did you find Voices from Chernobyl?

I was reading the Guardian book reviews and it was reviewing the book. There was one little excerpt about Nikolai stealing the door and driving it on the back of his motorbike through the forest at night, and, as an image, I thought, ‘Wow! That’s amazing and it’s a true story.’ I thought it was very Gogolesque, so I immediately rang them up and ordered the book. As I read it, I just thought, ‘Wow!’ We bought the rights to that story. It just stayed in my mind and once that happens it just takes on a life of its own.

Had you any problem getting the rights?

No, Svetlana [Alexeivich] had the rights to the book but we haven’t been able to get hold of Nikolai. We tried in both Kiev and Belarus but he seems to have just disappeared. I really hope some day we’ll find him.

How did you go about adapting it?

The main thing was the structure because if you reveal what it’s all about at the beginning then it loses its point, so the idea was to keep the reveal until the end. I love the idea of playing with the audience a little bit, you know, set it up so that they don’t know whether this person is a burglar, insane or what, then let them see just enough to wonder what’s going on. They have to work it out, then they realise, oh, something terrible happened to this man. It makes it a much more active experience for the audience. I think in a way that’s what gives it emotion; it comes at you sideways. A lot of people say to me, ‘I didn’t realise it was about Chernobyl until the end.’ I think that’s great because at the end of the day it’s really about loss.

Was that the theme? Loss?

Yes, and also about reclaiming human dignity, which is all you can do when you’ve lost everything else. I think the idea of a ritual is reclaiming something so that, even if you lose the most precious thing in life, you determine the manner in which it will be dealt with, and, for Nikolai, that was within his own family tradition with the door. It gave him a sense of peace that he’d buried his daughter in the manner that was correct for him.

How did you come up with what I call the ‘running man’ opening?

That came about when we saw Pripyat in the snow on the Internet. We knew we just had to go there. We waited about six months to get permission then went to have a look and it’s just the way the city is, it speaks so much, long streets, big buildings, the dereliction, the Ferris wheel and abandoned fairground, the child and lost childhood, everything about that was perfect. We walked and walked around the city and very quickly said we’ll use this shot, this angle, whatever. You see man being a victim of his environment, this huge structure and this little man lost within it looking for somewhere. The idea just works. We were lucky to go to Pripyat; without that we would’ve had to use the apartment. It wouldn’t have had the same impact.

How many drafts did it take?

Really only one or two, with some tweaks; nothing changed significantly. In the last version I added in the evacuation scene or made it a little bit bigger. We did get feedback from an editor friend of ours, and a couple of other people, but it just felt right. With your first project, I guess it’s important to follow what feels right to you emotionally and visually.

Did your experience as a producer help you when you were writing?

One thing, when you see a script being shot and then see what gets edited and what gets used, it helps you understand what’s not needed. I think if you get to the point where you can see in advance – I won’t need this, I won’t need that – then that’s when you really understand the craft.

One of the things that struck me about The Door and As If I Am Not There is how you have a knack of being able to say so much using just images and pictures with absolutely minimal dialogue. In The Door, for example, there are only 25 lines of dialogue in some 17 minutes of film. The main character, Nikolai, barely says 100 words yet it’s so powerful, the emotions it conveys.

Yes, I think both subjects are quite strong and sad, people in desperate situations, so you probably don’t need to talk your way through them in that sense. It’d be different if they were sitting in a café or something. I do think we rely way too much on exposition and it makes you very impatient, you know, when someone tells you something, then shows you, it gets very annoying. Exposition is to be avoided wherever possible. Assume the audience will know and work out what they need to work out because, by and large, they can.

I think it’s always interesting as an exercise to take out the dialogue in your scenes, just take it all out then see what bits you really need. If you’ve written all the reactions and thought processes well, then you’ll find you probably don’t need half the dialogue. You’ll find the story will tell itself. Just put back in the bits you really do still need. Dialogue takes much longer to hear than you ever think. When you write it you think it’s okay but if you’re actually waiting with a camera for someone to speak you find yourself asking, do I really need so many words. It’s important to learn economy of words.

Had you any other titles in mind other than The Door?

Probably, but I just liked The Door because it’s so symbolic and strong and it doesn’t give away anything emotionally or story wise. It’s a bit deadpan but it just seemed to the point. It’s about the door but obviously, at the end, it’s not.

Were there any unforeseen difficulties or anything that with hindsight you’d like to have added in or changed?

No, I don’t think so. Sometimes I wonder should I have done this or that, but it’s in terms of staging, camera movement and that kind of thing, not in terms of the beats of the story. You could fiddle away forever but then you wonder would you change the emotional dynamic if you did this or that.

Because it’s a deeply personal true story were you ever tempted to fictionalise it to make it easier to shoot somewhere else?

No, not really, not with this one, but I could understand that you might need to in some situations, especially with some victim stories where people are still struggling emotionally to come to terms with things. You might need to dramatise it to make things more active.

How did you deal with the ethics of telling such an emotionally challenging true story, respecting what people went through?

It’s a great honour to be entrusted with that kind of material and a great responsibility as well. You’re kind of blessed and cursed if you have good source material because you really want to deliver something that is of the same standard and impact as the book, but you also have to think long and hard. Are you doing justice to this person? Are you portraying them correctly, their situation and reactions?

I love the idea that I’m like a torch shining a light on something I believe is important and, through illuminating it, other people can see it and make up their own minds. You’re part of a process that starts with the real person and then, through someone like Svetlana or Slavenka – author of As If I Am Not There – they manage to bring it all together, and then I do my little thing and an audience can see it.

It’s nice to be a part of a process of communication like that but it is something you really wrestle with. You have the pressures of dramatic storytelling and you have to respect your audience as well. You can’t just document the truth; you also have to present something that works in the format you’re choosing to tell the story in. It’s something you grapple with all the time.

As If I Am Not There

The usual rule of thumb is a page a minute but you managed to make a 17-minute film from a five-page script. That’s quite unusual.

I know, the producers were a bit worried. I think it’s the fact that one line can suggest so much. When we went there, the land and the people were so visually and emotionally beautiful, and with all they’ve been through, there’s something very poetic, very romantic and very tragic about it.

Did you always want to direct or was there a point when you said, you know, I’d prefer to let some else do this?

I guess it always feels like the safer option to hand it over to somebody else, but, at the same time, I just felt so personally involved with it and my whole motivation was to make something myself. The hard thing is you’re actually trying to convince people that you’re going to do something that you don’t know you can do yourself, and that is terrifying. You’ve nothing to fall back on but it’s a great adventure. When I found the team that I was lucky enough to find a lot of those doubts were dispelled and their belief, skills and experience carried me through.

What advice would you give to any writer who’s thinking of directing?

First of all to make absolutely sure that they really, really love their material and that they know it really well, so that any actor, any member of the creative team, can ask them any question and they can answer and give a reason why this happens or that happens. It’s your only job. Everything else someone will help you with, but if you don’t know your material you’re not in a position to try and direct it. It’s your responsibility.

The other thing, I think it’s critical to get the right team, to get people who see the project the way you do, that you complement one another and have the right approach, because if there’s a mismatch it’ll make it difficult for everybody and the work will suffer. Find likeminded people who you trust and who boost each other’s confidence.

What about a director who’s thinking of writing his own material?

If you’re strong visually or story wise then it should be reflected in the script but I think it’s really important to learn as much as you can. Get advice, training, help, whatever, even read Syd Field. It was the first thing I did years ago and while it’s very formulaic in some ways, it has the basis of everything in it. It’s good to learn as much as you can, you can reject or turn it on its head later but it’s important to learn a bit about it first.

For me, in terms of scripts, structure is the most important thing; it’s the backbone of everything. I think if you get the structure right you can forgive having too much dialogue, too little dialogue, too much whatever, but if the structure’s all over the place, no matter how great the scenes or dialogue, if the pace is all over the place and there’s no clarity, the audience will get impatient. I would say to anybody who’s writing, structure is the thing.

How do you look for ideas? What attracts you to certain things?

I trawl really widely. I spend a lot of time in bookshops – I guess that’s one of my primary sources – or scouring the papers for interesting ideas or stories. I suppose what I’m always looking for is a kind of human dilemma, you know where you would say, what would I do in that situation, or imagine if you were here and all this happened, how would I survive, what would I do? Something that has an emotional impact for me, something I connect to. Does this feel real? Is it something I can relate to? Is it strong enough?

Have you ever written anything in another format?

I wrote a novella, for my own amusement, and also some short stories. Short story is an amazing format. I love it. I think it requires rigour and craft to be able to write something like that and not overwrite it. Short films are exactly the same but I think a short film should work more like a poem, present an idea and leave you thinking about it. I think a really powerful short film should provoke thought rather than just tell you a story so that when you leave the cinema you have questions in your head. If you can do that you’ve done your job well.

With the Oscar® nomination, Variety in Hollywood naming you one of its ten directors to watch in 2011 and the impact of your first feature, As If I Am Not There, what are your plans for the future?

It’s really heartening to get that recognition but, at the end of the day, you’re only really ever as good as your next script. If they – people in LA – like your script they’ll talk to you, if they don’t they won’t. But it’s always helpful to get the recognition. At the moment I’m adapting a book by an American author, Daniel Woodrell, called The Ones You Do. It’s deliberately completely different from what I’ve done before. I’ve also just bought the rights to four short stories by a young Peruvian writer, set in Lima, about people struggling on a day-to-day basis with quite big decisions. My plan is to weave them together somehow but I don’t know if it’ll work yet.

Patrick Nash

This is an edited version of an exclusive interview with Juanita Wilson from, Short Films: Writing the Screenplay by Patrick Nash, published by Creative Essentials, price £14.99

Short Films cover


Juanita Wilson’s ‘As If I Am Not There’ announced as Ireland’s submission for the Foreign Language category for the 2012 Academy Awards®

As If I Am Not THere

The Irish Film & Television Academy (IFTA) has today announced that Ireland’s submission for the Foreign Language category for the 2012 Academy Awards is Juanita Wilson’s As If I Am Not There.

Each year, the American Academy invites countries outside of the US to submit one eligible film to represent that country. Key eligibility is that the film must be made in any language other than English. It is an exciting category that opens up opportunities to showcase some of the world’s finest productions to the US and other markets.

The Irish Film & Television Academy is the official organisation responsible for Ireland’s submission for this category, and this year Ireland will have a very strong submission with the moving and beautiful film As If I Am Not There, the feature debut from Irish writer/director Juanita Wilson. Set in the Balkans, developed and produced by Octagon Films in Bray and shot primarily in the Serbo-Croatian language, the creative control and talent behind the film is Irish (including writer/director Juanita Wilson, producer James Flynn, DP Tim Fleming, editor Nathan Nugent, etc).

Most recently, As If I Am Not There has been included in the Official Selection List for the European Film Awards. The film won three top Awards at the IFTA Ceremony earlier this year – Best Film, Best Director and Best Script, and was nominated in a further five categories. A few days after the IFTAs, it was nominated  in the category of ‘The Most Valuable Film of The Year’ at the Cinema For Peace Gala at the 2011 Berlinale. Since then, As If I Am Not There has won awards at a number of high profile festivals throughout the world including prestigious U.S festivals for independent feature films.

Juanita Wilson was previously nominated for an Academy Award in 2010 for her live action short film The Door. In January 2011 at a ceremony at the Palm Springs Film Festival where As If I Am Not There was screened, Wilson was selected amongst Variety’s Top Ten Directors to Watch. This followed the premiere of As If I Am Not There at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2010 which garnered a rave review in Variety magazine at the time. Wilson was the only woman on the list of named directors.

Speaking about the Selection, As If I Am Not There writer/director Juanita Wilson said: ‘It’s great to have my work recognised in this way and a tribute to my team.’

The submission of As If I Am Not There was approved by an independent selection committee comprised of Members of the Irish Academy.

The 84th Annual Academy Awards® will be held on 26th February, 2012. Nominations will be announced during the fourth week of January.

Over 60 countries submit to this category every year.


Click here for Film Ireland’s interview with Director Juanita Wilson.


The's Friday at the movies: Juanita Wilson's 'The Door'

Niamh Creely talks to filmmaker Juanita Wilson about her Oscar®-nominated short The Door, which explores the legacy of Chernobyl, and finds out just how helpful the nomination has been for her debut feature As If I’m Not There.


Niamh: The Door had a very impressive festival life. Was there a point when you realised it was really taking off?

 Juanita: Yes. Well, The Door kind of started slowly. It got mentioned in Galway. And then it won an award in Cork. The first festival that it won Best Short in was Foyle, which was fantastic. And literally on the same day, it won Best Short in Bilbao. That was kind of, ‘wow, okay!’ In two parts of the world at the same time, with a programme of international shorts, and it’s won! Every award after that was an absolute bonus, but particularly the Academy nomination, the access to the audiences in the States and the feedback from there as well.


How do you go about qualifying as a short for the Oscars®?

Well there’s two ways you can go about it. One is to win one of the Academy-affiliated festivals. As it happens both Bilbao and Foyle are affiliated. Winning at either of those would have qualified The Door to be on the shortlist, which I think is about 70 films. And from there the Academy select the 10 and then they select the 5. But you can also screen it in LA for a couple of days in some cinema and I think that will qualify the film.


So the nomination really opened up the American audience for you?

Well, I’ve watched this film now kind of in different parts of the world with people who speak different languages. I watched it in Macedonia, in this tiny little town called Strumica. The people there couldn’t speak English or Russian they couldn’t understand the dialogue or the subtitles. But the feedback afterwards was incredible. It also won Best Director at the Grand D’Or festival in Poland, which I would say is steeped in the European tradition of cinema. So then to be able to go to America, LA, the home of Hollywood, and get the feedback we got there was amazing. Perhaps it’s the lack of dialogue that makes it universal.


I’d assume it was also useful from a professional point of view.

Yes, because you have a track record. But then, to be honest, in this business you’re always starting off from your next project. No matter what you’ve done before, it’s the next one that people have to be interested in. But I would hope it means you are knocking on a half-open door.


So what was the hardest thing, then, about going from a short to a feature?

The Door was a very good preparation, because we were very ambitious. We shot on 35 mm, used professional actors, travelled out to those locations. To be honest, the team that I had on The Door were so fantastic that to have them again made it so much easier. Both Tim Fleming, my dop, and Nathan Nugent, the editor, are such a wonderful support and team. But the main thing about shooting the feature is there’s just… so much more. You need more locations, more cast – quality control is harder because you don’t have as much time or as much money. You have to make hard choices along the way. And because it’s a longer piece of work, you have to make sure that it can sustain itself. I mean, I think the short film is a wonderful thing in its own right. It’s a lovely, lovely medium.


So would you see shorts as artworks in themselves or as stepping stones?

I would happily do shorts for the rest of my life. And a lot of the material I come across would only work as shorts. With a feature, they’re more expensive, so you have to tailor yourself a little more to the market. A short gives you more freedom.


Do you feel you’re kind of expected to do a feature, then?

No, I suppose it’s a natural progression. The reason I ended up doing As If I’m Not There is that we commissioned it nearly ten years ago with a view to producing it. I just loved the book, the story. We tried to get directors and actually commissioned a writer but things didn’t work out. So eventually I decided I’d have a go at writing a draft myself. Then from there, after I made The Door, there was nobody lined up to direct it, so it looked like I could have a go myself. I was really thrilled.


What in particular attracted you to the material?

The book is so compelling and it feels true. It’s written by a Croatian journalist, Slavenka Drakulic. It’s the experiences of one young woman. She watches what goes on but it’s not really telling you how to feel, it’s just telling you what happens. Most importantly, even though it’s very hard-hitting and quite difficult, it’s structured in such a way that at the end it’s positive. You’re not just asking an audience to sit through something very bleak, saying, ‘well, this is life.’


And then of course you were casting, rehearsing and directing in another language.

Yes. The casting was really interesting. We went originally to Minsk for The Door, totally on spec, with no money, no funding, no nothing. The first two actors, more or less the first morning, were Igor and Juliet – they didn’t know each other. I called them back that night and we did a kind of an improvisation. We muddled through a whole story, a whole scenario. It was absolutely incredible, in this tiny little hotel room in the middle of Minsk. It was quite moving that they trusted it so much. I continued casting and went to Kiev – just in case. But I always came back to those two. When we met up in Kiev to shoot the film more than a year later, we didn’t need to go back over anything. They knew who they were. And it really helped, particularly for me as a first-time director, to have had that access to them.


And the casting for As If…?

Oh my goodness. We did a tour of the Balkan region looking for a young actress who was strong enough, yet vulnerable. We looked everywhere and it came to the weekend before we started prep. On the Friday I saw a picture of this young girl from the part of Macedonia that we happened to be shooting in. There was something about her that I liked, even just from the photo. As soon as I saw her on the screen, I knew. She had a huge screen presence. So I threw her in the deep end and got her to read some of the scenes for Samira, the main character. Over the space of five or six scenes, she went through a whole character arc. She came in looking like a young girl and then by the end of it she had grown into a woman. Up to that point I would have always tried to bring together the actor Fedja Stukan with any of the potential actresses, because I wanted to make sure they had good chemistry. But with Natasha I felt she was so right we didn’t have to do that. She has to carry the whole film and she was only 19 or 20 when we cast her, so it was very daunting for her. But she did a fantastic job. She’s a real talent.


So would you have been working through English?

Natasha spoke some English, but Fedja Stukan had very little. So we had an interpreter. It was always good to have an interpreter because sometimes there are nuances. The hardest part was when you had a lot of extras. Then you’re trying to go through the ADs, who are then going through an interpreter… That was a bit challenging at times. But it’s funny. Even though I personally wouldn’t know exactly what the actors were saying, I would know what the line should be, just from their body language and from the kind of tone and the delivery. I would feel reasonably confident that that’s the right performance. There was a lot of pressure at one point to do it in English, to cast maybe an American actress, because it would give you access to a much wider audience. But then it becomes something else. I mean, it’s not true to say it’s 100% authentic in the sense that it’s 100% from the Balkans. But at least I am endeavouring for it to be authentic to its own culture. I had a full-time person with me, who was coaching them in the accent because a lot of the actors were from Macedonia, which has a different language to Bosnia. So not only was Natasha acting for the first time, she had to act in a language that wasn’t her own, in the right accent.


Wow. So there were lots of extra layers going on there.

Yes, there were. But we kind of muddled through. I think naivety is a good thing at times!

You worked with Tim Fleming on The Door and again on this feature. How did your working relationship begin?

I had been looking for material to do a short for a couple of years, but more importantly, I had been looking for a team. James Flynn told me I had to meet Tim Fleming. I had seen Small Engine Repair that he shot and I was very impressed. As soon as we met we were just on the same wavelength. It was the first time I actually felt I could make the film. With a DOP and director, you both need to trust each other’s instincts. Having somebody you can bounce things off, especially as a first-time director, or that you can ask stupid questions or whatever, without feeling judged, mattered just as much as his talent in terms of the visual images and things like that. That was really important when we went down to Macedonia. The pressure was huge but he really guarded our vision of the film. It was great to be able to say even something stupid like, ‘does that hair look right?’ When somebody is so on board, it allows you to think out loud.

Did you find there were any different editing challenges, going from a short to a feature?

The Door ended up coming together fairly easily. We shot all the set ups and we more or less used all the set ups. Working with Nathan on both The Door and As If… has been fantastic, absolutely effortless. Everything can be discussed. Everything can be thrown out. It’s very open.


And for As If… Sorry, is it As If I’m Not There or As If I Am Not There?

The book is called As If I Am Not There. But if you have any ideas for a good film title let me know!


No, I like it! It stuck in my head anyway… So did you have any issues with that edit?

Well , the script was fairly pared down. But even still, when we got to putting it on screen, we were pretty ruthless. I hope some of the actors won’t be too unhappy… At the end of the day what really matters is the pacing — the pacing and structure. Nothing really should affect them. If the pace is wrong, you can’t ask an audience to sit through something, no matter how wonderful you think it is. It’s not meant to be an endurance test. We always wanted it to be as short and swift as possible and to move at the right point. And to try our best to not be sentimental.


Do you think that edit has changed the way you’ll approach scripts in the future?

You hope you’ve learned something. I certainly kept diaries and wrote as many notes as I could to try and teach myself something! But I guess what you learn is that less is more, always, always. And that just being simple is best.


So how did you start out in filmmaking?

James Flynn was responsible for both films happening. He made me take that first script out from under my bed and kept applying to the Film Board even when I had lost hope, and put me on the plane and really believed in it and pushed it. I had initially gone to art college and then studied journalism. I was always interested in true stories. Then I started developing scripts with James and kind of became a producer not knowing what that meant. I thought I was a filmmaker, I didn’t realise there are all these boxes, and once you get into one it’s very hard to get out. So we jointly produced two films. But at the end of that I felt that creatively the producer gets so little fulfilment. So I thought I’d try and direct. But I was scared I might fall very publicly flat on my face! It was a bit scary to be honest, especially because it ended up being a Short Cut IFB/BSÉ-funded scheme. You can’t really hide, then.


But you went ahead and did it anyway.

Yeah. It’s a cliché, but if you’re passionate about something, you can’t let yourself be put off. Because there are so many people who will knock you. Or the indifference itself will numb you. You just have to remember that there are other people who will respond to that passion, you know.


So do you have any particular strategy at this point, for launching the film itself?

I don’t know what festivals we will make. It’s a little bit of pot luck. And of course, you submit and you may or may not get in. In some ways there’s no point in having a strategy, because it’s out of your hands. It would be great if it got a little bit of notice. But it’s a hard subject. I’m not fooling myself that there’s going to be queues of people at the box office. But I’m hoping because it’s an important story that people will come and see it.

This article originally appeared in Film Ireland issue 133 Summer 2010.


Another slap on the back for The Guard in Sarajevo

The Guard has received the highest score ever recorded at the Sarajevo Film Festival, which took place 22–30 July. The film, one of the biggest Irish successes of recent years, won the Audience Award at the 17th Sarajevo Film Festival

And in other good news for Irish film, animator David O’Reilly’s short film The External World was also selected for screening at the Sarajevo festival and director Juanita Wilson (The Door, As If I Am Not There) was awarded the prestigious Katrin Cartlidge foundation bursary.


DVD: As If I Am Not There


As If I'm Not There


DIR/WRI: Juanita Wilson • PRO: James Flynn, Nathalie Lichtenthaeler, Karen Richards • DOP: Tim Fleming • ED: Nathan Nugent • DES: Bujar Muca • Cast: Natasa Petrovic, Stellan Skarsgård, Miraj Grbic

Based on Croatian Slavenka Drakulic’s novel, Juanita Wilson’s As If I Am Not There is an unforgettable and powerful film shedding light on the atrocities committed in former Yugoslavia. Natasha Petrovic plays Samira, who is teaching in a rural village when a gang of soldiers arrive who shoot all the men, and take the women away to a prison camp. Here the soldiers systematically rape and subject the women to horrific humiliation and torture. Samira adopts her own measures in order to survive.

It is a distinctive debut feature from Wilson, whose skill behind the camera is obvious as the film unfolds. Employing sparse dialogue, Wilson uses the camera patiently in a way that affects a mood of visceral tension riddled with a chronic sense of dread. By focusing on one woman’s story, Wilson’s brave directorial debut presents the depressing reality of war – the pain and suffering it inflicts on innocent people. As If I Am Not There is both a story that needs to be told and a film that needs to be seen.


Steven Galvin


As If I Am Not There is released on DVD on 1st June 2011


  • Format: PAL
  • Region: Region 2
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Classification: 18
  • Studio: Element Pictures
  • DVD Release Date: 01 June 2011
  • Run Time: 106 minutes



Win a copy of Juanita Wilson’s 'As If I Am Not There'



Film Ireland has 3 DVD copies of Juanita Wilson’s stunning feature debut, As If I Am Not There, to give away.

For a chance to win a copy of the multi-award winning film, please like us on facebook and follow us on twitter (if you don’t already) and answer the following question.

What was the name of Juanita Wilson’s short film that was nominated for an Oscar® in 2010?

Was it:

A) The Window
B) The Door
C) The Mantlepiece

Please email filmireland@gmail before Monday, 4th July for a chance to win a copy of As If I Am Not There.

As If I Am Not There is released on DVD on 1st July.