They say Ireland is the island of artists, and I do believe it’s true. But as I tenderly balanced a garbage bag above the video camera to ensure it didn’t get damaged from the good Irish rain, I started to wonder how films get made in Ireland.
I was working in Dublin as a production assistant on a feature documentary focusing on gender inequality in Hollywood and the film industry. The Irish-American director, Tom Donohue (Casting By, Thank You For Your Service), had scheduled a week in Dublin to capture interviews with the makers and shakers of #WakingTheFeminists, the legendary gender equality in the arts movement sparked in 2016.
2016 was an important, tumultuous year of remembrance for Ireland as history was reread and rewritten to include women for their integral role in the 1916 Rising. Previous celebrations of the struggle for Irish independence had conveniently written women out of the history of the event, blurring their contributions into the background. 2016 was going to be different, though, until it wasn’t.
The Abbey Theatre is Ireland’s national theatre, and a gem of the arts worldwide. It was founded by W.B. Yeats in 1904, and in 1925 became the first publicly subsidized public theatre. Ireland, from its foundation, has prioritized the arts; as well, the arts have prioritized Ireland. Seven of the main revolutionaries in the 1916 Rising were actors and staff at the Abbey Theatre, including Séan Connolly and Helena Moloney, actors who fought for the Irish Citizen Army.
The Abbey Theatre announced “Waking The Nation,” its program for the 2016 season, but within a few hours, artists around the country noticed something missing: women directors and playwrights. They were counting; it was less than ten per cent. Artists united to start the movement: #WakingTheFeminists would demand greater gender representation – on stage, behind the camera, in written works and in the public eye.
When I was asked if I’d be interested in a production assistant job on a film focusing on gender equality, my answer was an immediate yes. Working with a four-person crew on set meant that I could listen to these inspiring interviews. From Lian Bell, the stage designer and celebrated leader of the #WakingTheFeminists movement to Maeve Stone, the director who coined the very phrase, I was able to listen to their stories of bringing together the intricate, passionate community of Irish artists – women and men – and their reflections on what gender equality looked like one year later.
Working on this film helped me understand how art is integral to our politics, and how artists have a role to play in pushing forward equality of all types. Ireland surely is the island of artists, but especially artists whose works reflect and reject the status quo.