Short Film ‘Refuge’ Wins at Scottish Independent Film Festival

Refuge Short Film

Refuge Short Film

Whackala’s short film Refuge has picked up two awards at the Scottish Independent Film Festival. The award for Best Director went to Leticia Agudo, while the title of Best Cinematography went to their long-time collaborator Jaro Waldeck.

Shot on location in Spain and starring Irish actor Tommy Harris and former asylum seeker Cletus Fonony, Refuge follows Ruairí, lost and alone in a foreign city, given help and shelter from an unlikely source. He struggles to understand the situation of his helper, Lawrence, who reflects the real stories of thousands who throw themselves to uncertainty in the Mediterranean. Two young men, worlds apart, are equals for one night.

Refuge has also screened at festivals around the world, including Foyle, Alcine, Chicago Irish and Brest.

See the trailer for Refuge here:




Leticia Agudo: Director/Co-Writer of ‘Refuge’


Leticia Agudo: Director/Co-Writer of ‘Refuge’

Image: Jaro Waldeck


Leticia Agudo talks to Film Ireland about her film Refuge, which tells the story of a young Irish man in an unfamiliar European city who gets help and refuge from an illegal immigrant, a young man like himself. For one night, they’re equals.


The realities of the current refugee struggle are documented and fictionalised in different ways. The normal view is: THEY want something/everything from the US – help, food, asylum, money, protection, jobs. It is a one-sided relationship, normally “they” are not considered to have anything to offer.

In a very simple and mundane way, even, I wanted to turn this idea on its head; what if the “European” needed help from “the refugee”? What if the resources and facilities we take for granted as we move through the world with ease – backpacking in Thailand, long weekend in Marrakesh, getaway in Barcelona – are stripped away and we haven’t bothered to learn the language, the ways, the place, even in a country within our own “safe zone”? That shift in perspective is what Refuge explores.


Directing approach

Given my experience directing documentary, I wanted to enrich the film with the actors’ real-life experiences over a given dramatic scenario, using the background of Seville, passersby and everyday life to insert our little “drama” into. Bobby [Moloney, co-writer] and I wrote a scenario with a brief description of each scene, to work the build-up and structure in the story. I then worked with the actors on location so they would improvise the lines, approaching every situation through their own perspectives. I had the idea to cast the “refugee” from someone who had lived through a similar experience. The South of Spain has had a constant stream of people coming from North Africa for decades, and so I enlisted the help of the refugee integration society Fundación Sevilla Acoge to find someone who would like to take part.



For the Irish cast, we held two casting workshops where I gave the actors parallel scenarios to those in the script to improvise on. I never use the actual script or ask for prepared monologues for casting, as I’m looking for how an actor interprets character and situation, how they react to other actors and take direction. From the first audition, Cork native Tommy Harris reacted with the energy and the innocence I was looking for in the character. For the character of the illegal immigrant, I gave Sevilla Acoge a profile (age, English speaking, similar experience). Cletus Fonony had a great contrast between a very strong presence and a delicate manner, which would flip audiences’ expectations. He liked the idea of embodying the character; he wouldn’t have wanted to take part in a documentary about his exact story, but he liked the idea of drawing from his experience as someone else.


Beg-borrow-and-steal production

Going back to film in my native city of Seville, we had my family and friends’ support and resources for this no-budget short, sleeping in their spare rooms and getting the occasional home-cooked meal. We were a tiny crew of 4: producer Paul McGrath (also sound recordist and extra), co-writer and associate producer Bobby Moloney (+ camera assistant and extra), DOP Jaro Waldeck and myself (also playing a cameo). We walked every inch of Seville, scouting out locations and testing shots. We basically test shot 80% of the film in the three days prior to Tommy’s arrival, as sequences like the robbery and chase were tricky and finding the perfect location for the first encounter between the characters and the “refuge” took some time. We put poor Tommy to work as soon as he got off the plane, running through busy Seville streets and even getting stopped by locals reacting to what they thought were real-life situations! We never disguised the fact that we were filming, but Jaro’s discreet DSLR rig and Paul’s clip mics, meant we could be fast and unobtrusive in our environment. On the other hand, Seville people are very reactive towards crime and they’re very fast on their feet stopping and chasing culprits!

Actors Cletus and Tommy didn’t meet until the evening before they had to work together, so in the process of making the film, they got to know each other and their backgrounds, and explore those first awkward moments of nascent friendships in and around the film. They were both extremely adaptable and intelligent, reacting naturally to situations and filming conditions. I’m happy to say it was a great collaborative production, an intense and very enjoyable experience.



Because of its history, Seville’s architecture is a mixture between East and West, with strong Arabic influence in the buildings and the culture. This added to the layers and the relativity of cultural and national identity, which is one of the themes that interest me as a writer and director. In relation to visuals, the autumn and early spring are the best times in the city light-wise, when the pinks and the oranges highlight the buildings’ own reds and oranges. It’s a city of visual contrasts, where the streets are always full of people strolling, eating, drinking, as in the rest of the Mediterranean.



It was dis-proportionally long for a fiction, in relation to the amount shot and the intended length of the film. Bobby and I edited the film, dividing in two and it took a while for Paul and us to be happy with the structure and, for me, with the rhythm, which is crucial for a short film. This was slow moving but it had to work, like any short, like a piece of music. Paul did a incredible job with After Effects in things as radical as removing one of the actors from a shot because we were flagging his presence too much. Bobby also did an incredible job of editing and sweetening the sound, and for the grading, we returned to our favourite, Eugene McCrystal, with whom we had worked before.

Finding the right music was also more challenging than I expected. At pre-production, I really wanted to use a song that Antonio López was making for Sevilla Acoge about immigrants, and after talking to him, he had the idea to compose a new song based on the themes of the film, which he sang in Spanish. I decided to go with very little music in the end, to counterpoint certain moments, which we sourced from the West One Music group.

Even after I thought we were picture locked, after sage advice from a shorts programmer, we cut another 3 minutes off the film, including two beautiful shots of the Irish character enjoying the city of Seville, which were two of my darlings, but they didn’t do anything else to the film.

I’m interested to see how an Irish audience reacts to the subject matter and to the style of the film. Roll on IndieCork and Kerry!


Refuge screens at IndieCork in Programme 3 of the Irish shorts programme @ 12.00pm on Saturday, 14th October.


Refuge will also screen at the Kerry Film Festival in the RECALL short programme @ 4pm on 20th October and at the Brest European Short Film Festival, where it is the sole Irish representative screening in competition, on the 8th and 9th of November.


IFI Ireland on Sunday Interview: Leticia Agudo, director of ‘City Wild’

City Wild-0


When Whackala began a crowd-funding campaign in 2011 to raise money to make City Wild the company set out to produce a short film. Since then City Wild has evolved to become a feature documentary. Steven Galvin caught up with Leticia Agudo, who co-directed the film with Paul McGrath, to find out more about Whackala’s first feature-length documentary, which shines a light on the people who live and work in Dublin’s Phoenix Park.

The film screens this weekend as part of Ireland on Sunday, the IFI’s monthly showcase for new Irish film.

Most people who have spent time in the Phoenix Park have at one time or another wondered in true Through The Keyhole-style ‘who could live in a house like this’. Leticia Agudo and Paul McGrath asked themselves the same question and decided to make a documentary that would provide some answers. As Leticia tells me, ‘Both Paul and I love the Phoenix Park, and, being nosy filmmakers – let’s call it curious, it’s more professional – we each, at separate times, saw people coming out or going into a couple of the lodges, and then we got really curious about who they were and what life inside the park was like. Before that, Paul thought the lodges were empty and used for storage, so it was a great surprise. I personally love documentary because you can get right into a world and close to people you normally wouldn’t, and this was one of those instances where we both really wanted to find out more. From the start, we liked the angle of it being “a bit of the country in the middle of the city”, as some of the characters refer to it.”

The park is home to 40 families or households, mostly park staff, past and present, whose lives and stories are intertwined with those of the park. For the documentary, Leticia and John looked for people who, aside from having interesting stories, contrasted each other in their experiences and personalities. The people involved are the essence of the documentary and their findings inform the film enormously, in content and style, providing a rich insight into the Park’s history. One of them was Brendan Costello, a retired ranger from Strabane, who, according to Leticia, “aside from being incredibly open and generous with his stories and knowledge from the start, had reels of Super 8 footage of his family and events in the park, mostly during the ‘70s. We loved it and wanted as much as we could use in the film; it showed the private and public nature of their lives in the park, which was interesting, they had been part of some of the biggest historical events in the country.”

Brendan also helped in getting others on board. “There was one person who was very reticent from the start even though he was one of the first people we met, but we kept at him, because we were won over by his life story and his humbleness; in his case, and also in the case of others, Brendan, whom we got very close to, interceded in our favour; he trusted us from the start and saw the good in what we were doing and was the best ambassador of the project amongst other residents. Paul and I normally end up being quite close to some of the people we film; we made three good new friends from the park who we see regularly.”

As a result the film balances the personal stories of the residents, the day-to-day running of the park, as well as its history. Something that Leticia admits was difficult to achieve. “It was a very lengthy edit. I got carried away with the personal stories in the first cut and Paul looked at it and said: “where’s the park?” Finding the narrative took going back and forth between structures on paper and the edit. I came up with the opening very early on and we both liked it; except, we eventually added images of the park waking up too, as Paul thought the park itself had to be another character in the film throughout, so he kept tabs on me, since I would quite happily have made the whole film about the people and their stories. Our loose large structure was: the past, the present and the future of the park, represented by the characters that dominated each section: retired staff first, then the active staff and, finally, Terry, the deer keeper and aspiring park resident, representing the future and hopes for the park.”

Leticia herself took on the difficult job of editing down the 60 to 70 hours of their own footage. “Both Paul and I like constructing documentaries  that use no voiceover or guiding texts, although that makes the edit a lot harder; we have to find all the content from what the contributors say and make it make sense with what images and music it’s juxtaposed against, since I also prefer contrasting, rather than illustrating a point. It’s a challenge, but when a sequence, or even a moment, works, it’s a real pleasure.”

The film is set to screen at the IFI and as Leticia insists her 3 plans for the film are:“Get it seen, get it seen, get it seen! I’m still applying to a couple of international festivals, but it’s not really a festival film; we’ve gotten great feedback from a previewing audience of over 50 year olds, some of the initial funders of the film, who really engage with it and its characters, and we’re really happy targeting the documentary at them. We entered into a contract for broadcast with RTÉ in 2012 but they want a younger, lighter and more current approach, so I’m also editing that version at the moment, which is, essentially, a different film. It took us a long time to detach ourselves from the slow reflective film that it turned into, and that we’re quite happy with.”

Steven Galvin


City Wild screens on Sunday, 19th January 2014 at 13.00 as part of the IFI’s Ireland on Sunday monthly showcase for new Irish film.

Directors Leticia Agudo and Paul McGrath will participate in a post-screening Q&A.

Tickets for City Wild are available now from the IFI Box Office on 01 679 3477 or online at




City Wild



Leticia Agudo concludes her adventures in how to get a short film made using crowdfunding.

We passed the middle point on the crowdfunding campaign – and the production – and the filming is going well, we’re enjoying ourselves running behind the fawning crew at the park, meeting more great subjects and liking what’s coming out of the DSLRs, but are we getting those crowds to fund the project? Well, there’s an unnerving lull, two or three days without any funds going in, and that’s a lot, considering we need €110 a day minimum for the 45 days we have set ourselves to reach the $7,000 target. We’re obviously falling behind.

We know there are still specific people who want to support it but haven’t yet, but as regards the wider public, the announcements in Facebook and Twitter seemed to be getting a lot of thumbs up and nice comments but no incomings. Did we misjudge how much the wider public would be interested in a story about park rangers, and, worse still, the international public that has no blood or friendship ties?

From the comments and responses we’re getting, we know people think it’s a good idea and that there’s a strong connection to the park, if not yet to the characters. However, those people are, at most, contacts twice removed, rather than complete strangers. Repeated emails to the general media are not delivering any results. We underestimated how long it takes to get responses and how much happens in the summer: every festival under the sun, every event, charity run, gardening fair and clothe swap party, and we’re also feeling the toll of running the campaign at the same time as the production.

I’m trying to build a sense of mild suspense here, you know, like they do in those house renovation or building TV programs – will they or will they not save their falling property, will this be a pastiche piece of expensive rubbish or will they create a masterpiece? But, some of you may already know – we haven’t exactly kept it quiet – that we’ve raised 101.94% of our target. So how did we get a happy ending? We think what did the trick best was one-to-one nagging: individual emails and private messages to a few hundred contacts.

We tried other tactics, but we don’t really know whether they worked or not in deciding people: from having researched other popular projects, Paul wanted to offer a sale: perk upgrades on most categories. That was a good reason to email again, even those unwelcome group emails that a lot of people understandably ignore and some ask to REMOVE FROM LIST.

Whether this had any impact, the ‘we have one week left, for god’s sake, help!’ part of our emails probably did, as a lot of people that wanted to contribute but had forgotten were gently ‘reminded’ into action. Also, as I mentioned in the previous entry, a member of the cast had joined our fundraising team the good old-fashioned way: phoning all his contacts one by one, pitching the idea, getting the cash directly from them, and transferring it online himself. That got around one big obstacle, but I’ll get to that.

City Wild behind-the-scenes Louise Byrne

Behind the-scenes at City Wild  (PIC: Louise Byrne)

So the finances started to pick up again, and after disappearing from IndieGoGo’s POPULAR section for a couple of weeks, we started to creep back in trough the last pages. With one week to go, we thought we might just make it to $6000 instead, and that wouldn’t be bad, but we kept pushing, until the last night was upon us … (sorry, can’t resist it)

At this point I have to explain that with IndieGoGo, unlike with other platforms, whatever money we’d raise we’d keep –minus a 9% if we didn’t make our target as supposed to 4% if we did.

So, it’s Saturday night, barely 7 hours to the end of the campaign, and we’re just under $70 short of our target. Tired and unwilling to get up before 7am to see whether more people had funded during the night, we took a practical decision: $70 were a lot less than 9% of almost 7 thousand, so we put it in ourselves. We had the first good sleep in days and were also surprised by extra money in the pot in the morning.

I’ve mentioned one thing that worked, but what didn’t and what advice can I give you:

1. First is to decide whether to go with a national or one of the huge international funding platforms, and I’ve given you the first subtle clue there: ‘huge’. New Irish funding platform Fund it has a few active projects each month, IndieGoGo and Kickstarter have thousands. Fund it staff push their projects individually while selection for the larger platforms’ Featured, Projects of the Week, etc is done by algorithms, at least with IndieGoGo.

2. If you still want to go with them you should coldly analyse the international potential of your project and be realistic: IndieGoGo and Kickstarter are US based, they still have a majority of US users and funders and they have to relate to the project. If your idea and presentation are too local, it won’t work. We thought we’d pitched ours in a way people everywhere could relate, but who knows, we might have raffled a few feathers by competing with Central Park and all of London’s city parks! Some other people might have thought that a film about an unknown urban park is a pedestrian idea, and then you can’t exactly through in a car chase in there.

3. One of the main reasons we chose IndieGoGo is the fact that we’d keep most of the money we made, as I mentioned earlier. The principle with Kickstarter, for example, is that you should budget exactly what you need to make your project, and if you don’t raise it, you can’t physically make it or not enough people have believed in it for it to be made. But, really, with independent filmmaking, you always have to under budget and anything you get will be useful; the rest, you’ll do it yourself for free, ask for favours and loans, so of course, you can make your project with 6 instead of 7 grand!

4. Say you chose IndieGoGo as we did, how do you make their users aware of your campaign? Aside from an attractive idea and presentation, getting into that exclusive Featured section will do it no harm, because unlike the Popular section, once you’re on it, you remain on it. If it’s not down to human selection, but to algorithms – we know because we asked the humans – how do you get the right numbers in the right concentration to trigger the program? The key here is that all sharing, tweeting and online shouting you do, that you use the buttons underneath the pitch video WHILE being signed into the site; even for visitors, we gathered this was crucial, otherwise all this activity won’t register.

5. For that reason, and also to widen the number of potential funders, have a good number of people in your campaign – at least 4 or 5 – who can share, update, tweet the hell out of your campaign page and encourage people to sign in and share it as much as possible, whether giving money or not.

6. Crucially: don’t rely on general and group messages and emails: get personal!

7. Moving away from specific platform tactics: pick the slowest time of the year events wise, if you want to attract wider attention. January to March maybe? Timing is very important; we launched when Fund it launched nationally and attracted a lot of press and attention for being the first Irish funding platform, so retrospectively, we may have had an easier time of it if we’d gone with them.

8. If the same people who are managing your campaign are also shooting the film, for your sake, don’t do both at the same time. The idea behind us going for that particular option was to film and upload short sequences to keep funders updated and attract more people to the project. Not a bad plan, except that, unless you’re being aided by substantial amounts of Berocca, it’s exhausting.

9. Large amounts of money first might put more modest funders off, because they don’t want to appear stingy, no matter how many times you say that every donation obviously counts, so make that point clear from the beginning.

10. Lastly: the internet funding conundrum: in the US having a credit card is probably more necessary than having use of all your limbs, but it’s not the case in Europe. Here sometimes the people with money and credit cards, aren’t so confident or trusting buying things online or even with interactive platforms, and the younger crowds, don’t have that much spare cash or credit cards. We did predict this and made a how-to-video in English and Spanish, but a few people that wanted to help here just didn’t have credit cards or the time to look for an alternative. So this is one for national funding platforms: make it possible to pay with Laser cards!

So here are just a few of the things we found out. We were always confident in the idea and campaign and that people would relate to the project. We are, in fact, still receiving contributions and enquiries about it, so we have made it possible by adding a PayPal button to the film’s website: If you hear about this late and want to take part, you will still get the same perks.

One of the most important things that crowdfunding can do for independent films is that the all sought-after marketing that you normally don’t have much money, time or energy to put into has already started. If people have supported the idea they’ll want to see the result. Also, you’ll be much more inclined to keep the audience in mind throughout the production, because you really don’t want to disappoint those 120-odd funders!

Opening it up to the public and having to take more time with the filming has also meant that we’re achieving more depth with the subject and that what started as a 12-minute short could be a much longer and meatier piece… (I’ll leave you with that).

Leticia Agudo
We Make Films

Read the first part of Leticia Agudo’s adventures in how to get a short film made using crowdfunding.


City Wild – Adventures in Crowdfunding Documentary


Leticia Agudo reveals her adventures in how to get a short film made using crowdfunding.

It all started with a fascination with the Phoenix Park and a nosy curiosity – not a useless trait for documentary filmmaking: who lives in those quaint lodges inside the park? What must it be like to have it as your back garden; to have the deer and the Sunday picnic makers for neighbours; to have wilderness in the middle of the city?

And so we started: to research, to ask, to build the stories in our heads. We had it, the idea, simple and rounded: a film about the Phoenix Park’s most unusual inhabitants: the keepers.

Hang on, ‘this would be great for that funding award’; and onto the application writing, which gets faster and easier the more you do it. And not a P.F.O. letter or even a P.F.O. meeting this time, but a place in a tight shortlist. Mmmm… and the hopes go up, and the plans, and the relief of thinking “maybe we won’t have to struggle to fund this one.’

But no… it just wasn’t … what was it? Never mind.

Sometimes a ‘no’ spurs you up ten times more than a ‘yes’, particularly when you know you’ve got something good –and if you get a kick out of proving someone wrong. We had the permission, promising contributors and … it’s the Phoenix Park, it was right there!

We wanted to go a step bigger than before, in production, finishing and distribution, and we needed the extra funds for it, and so we started to look into the new financing buzz word: crowdfunding (don’t correct me spell checker, it has become one word, keep up, will you!). Research was fundamental. Co-director and fellow Whackala founder, Paul McGrath, started looking into it last autumn, reading about the ones that put a blurred picture up and a convoluted description and ask for 50 grand and get 0, and the ones that seem to attract all the attention with a cute and quirky pitch.

We thought, ‘we’ll build a following and a buzz about the film before we launch the funding campaign, and, as soon as we do, all those fans in Facebook will contribute’ –this is us dreaming, you’ve got to understand, we can’t help getting an idea and seeing how it’ll become an unquestionable success. ‘No expectations,’ someone advised me once. How the hell do you make yourself not expect?

We weren’t all together wrong, people seemed to like the idea; it is a unique and fascinating park, at the end of the day. Next step was a good write-up, attractive perks – it’s not charity, it’s not charity! – an international outlook – not just because of family, friends and colleagues from everywhere else, but because the documentaries I love are those that can be about the most local subject, made relevant to the whole world – and, fundamentally, we needed a good pitch video. We were exhausted from building the website, the Facebook page, photos, campaign write-ups, coming up with attractive names for the perks… let’s just get in front of the camera and sell it with our natural charm!

One call cold morning Paul, Andrey Andonov, our camera operator, and I filmed ourselves trying to just talk engagingly about it and we ended up going on about the park, the rangers, ‘experimenting with our bodies’ – you’ll have to wait for the extras to know what that one’s about – and everything else. We had a laugh but we weren’t selling the idea or the campaign, so it was back to the drawing board for a script and structure of how to tell it engagingly using our skills: talking –that’s mine- images, characters and animation. You can see the result here:

City Wild behind the scenes by Andrey Andonov

Picture: Andrey Andonov

So now we’ve just passed the middle point of our campaign and we’ve raised almost half of our $7000 target, firstly, as all crowdfunding advice tells you, from our direct contacts: family, friends, colleagues, contacts in whom we left a memorable impression, or whom we know where they live…

Some moving surprises have happened, like one of our film’s ‘stars’, retired ranger and park resident Brendan Costello, becoming so engaged with the project that not only did he contribute himself, he’s campaigning and collecting through everyone he knows; like friends and colleagues who have responsibilities and aren’t swimmin’ in it, giving generously and gladly; contacts that we met once, giving blindly and without asking for a perk in return.

So what do you do when most of the people you knew you could count on have contributed? You have your most difficult task: to get out to the general public in this busy, noisy online age where millions of people try to get your attention each hour for everything from a cup cake making party to a change-the-world enterprise.

Most crowdfunding platforms will have their ‘featured’, ‘popular’, projects of the day or week selection, but in the large international ones, like IndieGoGo or Kickstarter, the competition is staggering; and, by leaving the nest, you’re not being nurtured as an Irish project but as one more in a pool of many, so the press aren’t just going to pick up on it. You have to attract their attention.

Highlights so far: meeting some new fantastic people and a project that could just be something special; being moved by people’s generosity and willingness to help. Low points: having to ask people for money!

So let’s get back to work. If I’ve met you and I have your email, you’ll be hearing from me.

Leticia Agudo
We Make Films


Irish Short Wins at Hot Docs

Leticia Agudo, Paul McGrath and Aoibheann O’Sullivan, the filmmakers behind the short documentary Forty Foot have returned from the Hot Docs film festival in Toronto with two prizes. The film, made in 5 days as part of the International Documentary Challenge, won ‘Best Film’ – the top award – and was also awarded ‘Best Use of Historical Genre’.

In March 2009, 142 filmmakers from 15 different countries entered the Hot Docs International Documentary Challenge, where participants made a short non-fiction film in only 5 days. They were assigned a theme and a choice of two genres on the morning of the 1st day. In the end, only 116 completed the challenge and 13 were chosen as finalists. Their films premiered at the prestigious Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival, the largest documentary festival and market in North America.

The Irish team was given support from Culture Ireland to attend the event and the group of three from Dublin was awarded the Best Film title, and will also receive a cash prize.

For more information about the film you can visit