TENSION Emily Kilkenny Roddy and Ryan O’Neill star in Bruise.
Real survivors of domestic and sexual violence had their stories featured at the world premiere of a headline short film at the recent Galway Film Fleadh, and the film will be screened again in Westport next month.
Directed by award-winning Irish filmmaker Mo O’Connell and produced by On The Western Front Studios, a production company based in Westport, ‘Bruise’ deals with domestic violence, uniquely portraying survivors’ stories, with women from the Mayo Women’s Refuge and Mayo Rape Crisis Centre acting in the film.
Through drama, dance and movement, and music specially composed by award-winning composer Natasa Paulberg, the film depicts a couple who are seemingly perfect on the outside, but behind closed doors, the situation is fraught and dangerous.
Heather (played by Emily Kilkenny Roddy) is trapped in an abusive relationship, but when she manages to escape her violent husband John (Ryan O’Neill), she finds herself vulnerable to the many threats that wait just beyond her front door. Ultimately, it is a story about finding your voice, reclaiming your body and finding hope in the midst of brutality.
Commenting on the decision to use dance as expression, scriptwriter Chris Watt said: “I wrote ‘Bruise’ to contribute to what I see as an important conversation. It’s about a woman regaining control: over her body, over her voice, a journey from brutality to rebirth, and as such, it always felt like it needed to be told in an unusual, unorthodox way, to tell a story about speaking up and reaching out, but to approach it symbolically, through movement and gesture, free of dialogue, and to allow the audience to simply consider the subject matter.”
The Mayo Women’s Refuge contributed anonymised real life stories from women who have experienced domestic abuse, coercive control and sexual assault, and these stories were used to develop the lead characters. Those affected also took roles as extras in the film.
On the Western Front Studios is run by cinematographer/producer team Emer and Brian Durcan. Producer Emer is just finishing her MA at NUIG and wanted to sink her teeth into a project that was important to the community. The driving force behind ‘Bruise’, she worked closely with Safe Ireland, The Mayo Women’s Support Services and Adapt Kerry to incorporate survivors’ stories into the characterisation of Heather and John. This collaboration with services was vital to the film, and really sets it apart, enhancing authenticity and increasing the potency of its message.
Emer describes director Mo O’Connell as a ‘force to be reckoned with’, lauding her influence on set. “While she [O’Connell] was directing the female extras, she changed the whole atmosphere of the shoot and indeed the film by saying ‘tonight we scream for all those who can’t’, referring to all the women who are still living in abusive situations. At that moment we all knew we were here to do something special, something important.”
Nicci Carroll, who works in the Mayo Rape Crisis Center, was one of the extras in the film. “I know that I screamed for all the survivors who have come through the doors of the Mayo Rape Crisis Centre in the last 28 years and louder for all those who have not,” she said. “We see the bruises and we see the unseen bruises on all survivors.”
On June 28, the Government announced a zero-tolerance strategy to tackle domestic and gender-based violence, committing to establishing of a statutory agency for domestic-, sexual- and gender-based violence by January 1, 2024.
The plan also includes updating primary and secondary school curriculum to include consent, coercive control, domestic violence and safe use of the internet. In addition, the maximum sentence for assault causing harm will be doubled from five to ten years.
One can only hope that such State-level efforts will bear fruit, and that the voices of those affected – so poignantly incorporated into ‘Bruise’ – will be continue to heard.
‘Bruise’ will be screened in August (date TBC) in Westport Town Hall Theatre, which been a great support to the project. Follow On the Western Front Studios on Instagram and Facebook for further updates.