Len Collin, Director of ‘Sanctuary’

Gemma Creagh talks to Len Collin about Sanctuary, which introduces us to Larry and Sophie, two people with intellectual disabilities, who long to be together in a world that does everything to keep them apart.

Sanctuary is currently in the  following cinemas and will tour regionally nationwide

Eye Galway;

IMC Dun Laoghaire;

IMC Galway;

Irish Film Institute;

Light House;

Movies @ Dundrum








Irish Film Review: Sanctuary

DIR: Len Collin • WRI: Christian O’Reilly • PRO: Edwina Forkin • DOP: Russell Gleeson • ED: Julian Ulrichs • DES: Sonja Mohlich, Eleanor Wood • MUS: Joseph Conlan • CAST: Kieran Coppinger, Charlene Kelly, Robert Doherty, Michael Hayes, Emer Macken, Paul Connolly, Frank Butcher, Patrick Becker, Jennifer Cox, Valerie Egan

Len Collin’s Sanctuary is one of the most ambitious, innovative and deeply moving Irish films of recent times. Featuring a cast composed mostly of intellectually disabled actors, Sanctuary explored with compassion, understanding and at times considerable humour challenges faced by intellectually disabled individuals in Ireland today, particularly when they fall in love. The achievement of this film is all the more impressive when one considers how rarely intellectually disabled actors have featured prominently in fiction film, with rare exceptions including Jaco Van Dormael’s Le huitième jour (The Eighth Day, 1996) and Marcelo Galvão’s Colegas (Buddies, 2012).

Screenwriter Christian O’Reilly (whose previous credits include the story for disability themed feature Inside I’m Dancing (2004)) adapted Sanctuary from his play of the same name produced by Blue Teapot Theatre Company between 2012 and 2014. Director Collin and his collaborators (in particular Petal Pilley, CEO & Creative Director of Blue Teapot) wisely maintained the same cast from the original stage production who have clearly established a strong and convincing rapport. At the centre of the narrative are Larry (Kieran Coppinger) and Sophie (Charlene Kelly) who want to spend unsupervised time together in order to develop their relationship. However, as intellectually disabled individuals they are legally forbidden from developing a sexual relationship unless they are married leading them to bribe their care worker Tom (Robert Doherty) just so they can book a hotel room for several hours. Tom arranges a room for the couple during an outing to the cinema of the intellectually disabled group to which they belong. While Tom brings Larry and Sophie to the hotel, their friends leave the cinema unaccompanied to explore Galway city in scenes that reveal each character’s need to find their own sense of independence and personal expression outside the controlled confines of their day-to-day life.

Sanctuary cleverly and unobtrusively brings the viewer through the complexities faced by intellectually disabled people wishing to start a relationship – the relevant law [repealed in May of this year] is mentioned once in the narrative but its introduction is neither forced nor disruptive to the developing diegesis but rather a necessary part of understanding the rationale for the actions of the film’s lead characters. Furthermore, the film does not treat its subjects as objects of either pity or deserving of our sympathy; these are independent and remarkable individuals who offer fascinating perspectives on the world around them. The scenes in which the group members escape from the cinema to explore the city, its shops, markets, and pubs are particularly impressive in this respect. Each character engages with his/her surroundings in what may be considered unusual ways (as when one character puts a chain on a security guard and hugs him) but they simultaneously alert us to aspects of the world we inhabit but may have become blind to through over-familiarity.

This is an auspicious debut feature as a director from Len Collin, a graduate of the MA in Production and Direction at the Huston School of Film & Digital Media, NUI Galway, and an experienced screenwriter for television in England, including writing credits with “EastEnders”,”Casualty” and “The Bill”. Films such as Sanctuary have a crucial role to play in our culture today; they open a dialogue and hopefully prompt debate of issues that should be of serious concern in any healthy society. To do so with the humour and compassion evident in Sanctuary is an achievement that will be appreciated by audiences across Ireland, and I expect, internationally.

Seán Crosson

87 minutes

Sanctuary is released 7th July 2017


This is an edited version of Seán Crosson’s original review published after the film’s premiere at the Galway Film Fleadh in July 2016.


‘Sanctuary’ in cinemas on Friday 7th July 2017

Set in the world of people with intellectual disabilities, the multi award-winning Sanctuary opens in cinemas across Ireland on Friday 7th July.  Garnering universal acclaim from critics and audiences alike, Sanctuary  is a touching and funny love story about Larry and Sophie, two people who long to be together in a world that does everything to keep them apart.


Larry has Down syndrome, Sophie has severe epilepsy.  The two are attracted to each other and, through a care worker Tom, they sneak away to a hotel room during a supervised trip to the cinema.  What do they do once they are there?  How do they express a love that dare not speak its name?  Are they aware that in Ireland they are about to break the law?


While these questions are posed the rest of their colleagues seek out their own challenges: an impromptu shopping trip, pints in the pub and a surreptitious cuddle in front of a movie screen.  These mini triumphs offset the dramatic challenges that take place in a Galway hotel room between two lovers who refuse to be defined by their disabilities.

Directed by Len Collin

Starring Kieran Coppinger, Charlene Kelly, Patrick Becker, Valerie Egan, Robert Doherty, Jennifer Cox, Paul Connolly, Frank Butcher, Emer Macken, Michael Hayes, Karen Murphy

Screenplay by Christian O’Reilly

Produced by Edwina Forkin, Zanzibar Films

In association with Blue Teapot Theatre Company

Cert: 15a

Running Time: 90 mins

Release date: 7 July 2017


Sanctuary opens at the following cinemas and will tour regionally nationwide:

7th July

Eye Galway; IMC Dun Laoghaire; IMC Galway; Irish Film Institute; Light House; Movies @ Dundrum

21st July

Gate Cork

8th August

Birr Theatre and Arts Centre





ADIFF 2017 Irish Film Review: Sanctuary


Stephen Porzio checks out Len Collins’ debut feature, which screened at this year’ s Audi Dublin International Film Festival.

There is a tendency within society to treat adults with intellectual disabilities as if they are children. It’s not the result of hate or disrespect. In fact, it’s quite the opposite – because they require special care and are innocent to many of the responsibilities of a “normal life”, society equates them to kids. However, it’s important to remember that people with special needs often crave the same things most ordinary adults do – intimacy, love and sex – experiences that are often out of reach for them.

Len Collins’ debut feature Sanctuary builds his drama around these needs. Larry (Kieran Coppinger) and Sophie (Charlene Kelly) are two disabled people in love. However, because of Irish law, they cannot consummate their relationship unless they are married. Craving intimacy and time alone, the two exploit the feckless nature of their care worker Tom (Robert Doherty), bribing him into renting the two lovers a hotel room for an afternoon tryst. The trio sneak away during their special needs group’s regular cinema outing. As Tom neglects the others in his care to accompany Larry and Sophie, the rest of the gang leave the theatre – embarking on their own adventures throughout Galway City.

Written and based on a play by Christian O’Reilly (who had a hand in the similarly disability themed Inside I’m Dancing), the film is undeniably audacious and brave in terms of its subject matter. Not only is it rather amazing to see a cast comprising mostly of intellectually disabled actors, but to witness them communicating their experience with such elegance and grace is an incredible feat. Selecting the same performers from the stage run of Sanctuary was a master stroke decision by O’Reilly and Collins. The performances feel so natural, suggesting the writer and director crafted a positive atmosphere – enabling their actors, who must have already spent a huge portion of time with their characters, to play their parts with an authenticity unparalleled with many films of a similar ilk.

The movie, rather admirably isn’t black and white about the issues it raises. Although, Sanctuary’s plot centres on people denied the basic right of any “normal” person – the right to express love physically, the narrative does wrestle with the complications of this premise. Tom points out that the law was created to actually protect those with an intellectual disability from being exploited, a consequence of the many sexual abuse cases in Ireland’s recent past. Also, a substantial portion of the drama rests on Tom’s inability to use a condom, having never been taught sex-education growing up, a necessity for teens in most secondary schools. Sanctuary, right up until its dark ending, refuses to be morally simple in its questioning of how society perceives and treats those who are different and require considerate care in Ireland.

The film is also quite timely in certain respects, highlighting how in recession-era Ireland, special need care programmes were the first victims of funding cuts. An early scene sees Tom’s group being told they are now unemployed, having previously been given small menial work. When a member asks if they are being punished for doing a poor job, Tom replies: “no one wants to pay you properly and if they do you’ll lose your benefits. Some bright civil servant got a pay raise for that one” –  a line painfully relevant to anyone with disabled family members entangled in government red-tape.

Yet, despite its bold and weighty themes, Sanctuary does have tonal problems. For instance, the scenes of Larry and Sophie in their hotel room are beautifully delicate, capturing deftly the happiness, the sadness and the nervousness of the characters’ relationship. It’s as if the two have wanted this time alone for so long, that they never believed it could happen. Now that it has, they are petrified of wasting it. These moments jar with the escapades of the other members of their cinema trip, which feel like they are from a much lesser, more accessible mainstream comedy.

Although these vignettes are intermittently funny, a lot of the “jokes” derive from the wacky actions of the protagonists, something which feels a little wrong given that people with special needs often can’t control the way they act. Plus, a comic scene where a character, in an effort to find Tom, karate chops the doors of toilet cubicles – leaving the people using them startled – just doesn’t flow with Sophie’s harrowing tale of the sexual abuse she suffered in the past just a few minutes later.

That said, these transgressions are forgivable because the movie’s comedy may enable Sanctuary to reach a larger demographic. Thus, enabling it to get a wider release in Ireland, perhaps on the level of A Date for Mad Mary – something which it deserves. Not only does it look like a proper film – I was surprised to learn it was based on a play, a credit to Collin’s direction – but it focuses on the trials and tribulations of people often under presented or misrepresented in cinema, let alone Irish cinema.


Sanctuary screened on Saturday, 18th February 2017 at the Light House Cinema as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival.









Award-Winning Irish Film Sanctuary Goes On Tour

one of the most ambitious, innovative and deeply moving Irish films of recent times” Film Ireland
 “Sanctuary is an utter joy of a movie” Galway Advertiser

The Audi Dublin International Film Festival brings one of the most original, freshest and funniest Irish romantic comedies of recent years, Len Collin’s Sanctuary to the Light House Cinema as part of the main festival and, in collaboration with access>CINEMA, to three regional venues, on a special tour which has been supported by the Arts Council Touring and Dissemination of Work Scheme.

Len Collin’s Sanctuary is a big screen adaptation of a hit play from Blue Teapot Theatre Company, Performing Arts School & Outreach programme for people with intellectual disabilities at the forefront of arts & disability in Ireland. The film premiered at the Galway Film Fleadh in 2016 where it won the Best First Irish Feature Award.

Larry and Sophie are in love. They bribe the feckless Tom to book them into a hotel for an afternoon tryst and look forward to getting to know each other, like countless couples before them. But Larry and Sophie aren’t any couple; they both have intellectual disabilities and Tom is their care worker. By attempting to be intimate, they aren’t just breaking the rules – they’re breaking the law.

Commenting on the shifting legal situation Inclusion Ireland Campaigns & Policy Lead Sarah Lennon said “Sanctuary brings light to the uncertain legal landscape for people with intellectual disabilities who wish to have intimate relationships. The timing of the Festival Tour with ADIFF and access>CINEMA will coincide with a law reform in the guise of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill 2015 which is expected in the next week and will create improved legal certainty about who can and cannot have intimate, sexual relationships. There remains a lot to do and it is important that artists like Len Collin and Blue Teapot continue their advocacy.”     

Audi Dublin International Film Festival Screening
Sat 18th February | 20:30 | Light House Cinema
Smithfield Square, Dublin 7
Booking / information: 01 687 7974

Tour Schedule
Mon 20th February | 20:00 | Pavilion Theatre
Marine Road, Dun Laoghaire, Co. Dublin
Booking / information: 01 231 2929

Tue 21st February | 20:00 |Droichead Arts Centre
Stockwell Street, Drogheda, Co. Louth
Booking / information: 041 98 33946

Wed 22nd February | 20:00 |Riverbank Arts Centre
Main Street, Newbridge, Co. Kildare
Booking / information: 045 448327


Film at Tread Softly


Sligo’s Festival in Celebration of the Yeats Family

27th July – 8th August


The third Tread Softly festival, celebrating the link between Sligo and the Yeats family, will take place this year 27thJuly – 8th August. The many dimensions of this family of famous artists will be brought to life over two weeks of theatre, exhibitions, cinema, music, literary events, talks and tours, alongside a programme of children’s events.

This year’s festival will screen two films as part of the programme.

Living in a Coded Land by Pat Collins will be screened 8pm Wednesday 6th & Thursday 7th August at The Model. Making extensive use of archive material, the poetic film essay seeks to explore the more elusive layers of meaning that make up this country, exploring unexpected links between events and locations, history and contemporary life. It revolves around the notion of a sense of place and stories associated with place, reflecting on the subterranean traces of the past in the present. Tickets: €7 Duration: 80 mins Harvest Films directed by Pat Collins.

Sanctuary, written by Malcolm Hamilton, will be screened 1.45pm Tuesday 29th July at The Factory Performance Space.  Originally produced for the stage in 2001 by Blue Raincoat Theatre Company, the work was described by The Irish Times as “A beautiful lament for childhood. An elegy for the past.” As it opens, a woman stands isolated and barefoot at the edge of the sea. When she speaks it is of suburban seaside memories, family holidays, parents at peace. This film version features Sandra O Malley and Phoebe Henry Seitz and is directed by Niall Henry.

The Tread Softly festival runs alongside the 55th annual Yeats International Summer School, Ireland’s longest running summer school, which will be opened this year by Alan Gilsenan at the Hawk’s Well on 27th July. The Summer School continues until 8th August.

Tread Softy… is an initiative of Blue Raincoat Theatre Company, Hawk’s Well Theatre, The Model, Yeats International Summer School and Sligo Live, supported by Fáilte Ireland and produced by Sligo Yeats Partnership.

For full information and programme details:  Log onto www.treadsoftly.ie or contact Sligo Tourist Office O’Connell Street Sligo on Tel: 071 91 61201 

Ticket Booking: The Hawk’s Well, Temple Street, Sligo Tel: 071 9161526 www.hawkswell.com


Galway Film Fleadh 2012 Cinema Review: Sanctuary

DIR: Norah McGettigan  • WRI: Norah McGettigan, Gabriel Vargas • PRO: Andrew Freedman, Katarzyna Slesicka  • Marius Matzow Gulbrandsen • ED: Mariusz Kus • Cast: Jan Frycz, Anne-Marie Duff, Agnieszka Zulewska

The Irish-Polish co-production debut Sanctuary by Norah McGettigan tells a story of grief, heartache, love and self discovery.

Sanctuary is no safe haven; it’s an emotional journey about a very successful Warsaw plastic surgeon that isn’t so successful at balancing his home life. Over the years a hole in his relationship with his wife grows deeper. Although they live in the same house it has long been a home that they shared together. One day Jan (Jan Frycz) returns home from a business trip to find his wife dead in the back garden. His daughter Nadia (Agnieszka Zulewska) returns to the house and for the first time in years she is present in the same room as her father who she resents deeply for letting her mother down. The sentiment between the pair is of loss, awkwardness and hurt and it’s beautifully portrayed. Jan struggles with his grief and is unable to deal with the energy between his daughter and himself so he escapes with the excuse of a conference abroad seeking refuge in his hotel there. There he meets a beautiful woman Marie (Anne-Marie Duff) who reminds him of his late wife and the happier times they shared together.

The acting from Jan Frycz is fantastic! He manages to show an old heavy soul with complex characteristics throughout. His voice has a beautiful strong, deep, velvety tone to it. Agnieszka Żulewska’s first foray into feature film was good, she played the disappointed, grieving daughter well and it’ll be interesting to see how she develops throughout her acting career. Anne-Marie Duff played the adorable love interest in a quirky, fun way which was a great choice as you might have found it hard to relate/like her character giving that Jan’s wife had just passed away. But she manages to get you on side early on in the film and you find yourself rooting for the pair to get together. Norah McGettigan’s film flows nicely and has true to life moments which pull on your heart strings a little. It’s sweet, yet heartbreaking, an odd combination but a wonderful mix.


Lynn Larkin