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Sanctuary – Film Review

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A of friendly piece of advice to a film director seeking to get his film financed and distributed; “Who wants to see a film about retards having sex?”. How many attitudinal barriers exist in that sentence?

Language. Here’s another one. According to Director, Len Collin, at a Q and A, given at the Arthouse Cinema, subsequent to the showing of Sanctuary 2017 (best Irish Film of 2017), Mencap refused the opportunity to showcase the film at a Gala event, because the filmmakers used the term intellectual disabilities not learning disabilities.

This pleases me as the genesis of the movie lies in the Blue Teapot Theatre Company, “a multi-award winning Theatre Company, Performing Arts School & Outreach programme for people with intellectual disabilities at the forefront of arts & disability in Ireland”

According to Len, the film started as a play, written by the Teapot cast and changed very little for the purposes of film. The theatre crew, 9 people with learning disabilities survived to tell the tale on camera. What a film they made.

Beginning within the family, Larry, the male lead, descries his mother’ cooking, resists her attempts to cover magazine shots of lingerie but otherwise shows capacity to lead an independent life. As much as Larry resents is mom’s controlling aspects it is as nothing to the control Sophie, female lead, and others have to put up with in the nursing home. Larry and Sophie’s, common ground with the remaining cast is a day centre where all but Larry congregate for ‘real’ work in sheltered employment. The self respect giving pittance they earn is to be stoppped because of changes to the benefits system. Work will be replaced by inane activities nobody has asked for. Sound familiar? So far so under the thumb.

The service users leave and take a minibus to the cinema. They are to be taken to see a rubbish film no one wants to see. Larry and Sophie, make their excuses and leave with hapless care giver, Tom, who’s agreed to pay for a hotel room so Larry and Sophie can talk. Larry wants more than that doesn’t he. Tom is aghast as there is a law in place saying people like Larry and Sophie cannot have sex. Oh the nature of organisational barriers and the silliness of law makers who think they can stop the abuse of our people by preventing us from fucking.

Whilst this is going on the rest of the cast decide to play. In doing so they find grounds for new relationships based on mutual respect, fun and friendship. The outstanding level of control now is that which we put upon ourselves, from lessons taught by society, families and care givers. Are we able to break out of strait jackets we chose to wear? How difficult is our independence journey? Where will all the rom in an hotel room and com on the streets of Galway end? Happily, sadly or thoughtfully.

The end is a major change from theatre to film but the first coda is; the film top-tailed a campaign to repeal the misguided sex laws. The campaign won. The film helped.

My other coda is this; whilst waiting to speak to the director, who incidentally on top of not getting Daniel Day Lewis to crip up had read and understood Colin Barnes Film Manifesto, I took the opportunity to listen in to a yoga teacher / therapist – whichever you prefer, who said; “it is not Downs actor, it is actor with Downs”. Len Collin, other than on this one time had of course consistently referred to his cast as actors. That is who they are. That is who we are. Get behind the film. It’s in a lot of places but did not get the general release it deserved. More control. No doubt, from people who don’t want to think about “retards having sex”.

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Ailbhe Slevin
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Ailbhe Slevin

Great review for a great film. Just to note, both the play and the screenplay were written by Christian O’Reilly, who workshopped the material with the actors at Blue Teapot.