Sarah-Jane Drummey's film 134 tells the story of an Irish couple struggling with their child, Jack's, gender identity.
Why do a ‘young Jack’ and ‘current Jack’ appear side by side in the film?
Jack has been telling her parents 'I’m a girl' since she was three years old. What they choose to do with this information has defined who she is today.
By placing a younger Jack alongside Jack on the day of the competition, I wanted to show that little has changed between now and then.
How would you describe the relationship between Jack and her mum?
Jack is a competitive Irish dancer, and it takes huge emotional and financial support to steer your child towards world champion status.
These dancers are extraordinary athletes; they practice every day and their passion for Irish dancing is all-consuming.
Not only has Jack’s mother nurtured her child’s incredible talent for dancing, she has listened to Jack. She loves Jack. So much so, she’s willing to sacrifice her marriage in order for Jack to fully be who she needs to be.
Jack’s mum exclusively uses the pronoun ‘she’ when referring to Jack throughout the film. Was it important to include this?
It’s a staggering act of love. Jack’s mother believed she gave birth to a baby boy.
In changing her use of the pronoun, saying 'she' instead of 'he', she is saying 'I hear you, I understand what you’re telling me, and I am with you on this journey.'
How would you describe Jack’s dad attitude to his child’s gender identity?
In his mind, Jack is his son, so he has a very difficult time with the fact that Jack identifies as a girl.
Whether or not he can resolve his anger and put aside the expectations he has for his child, is what drives the film to the end.
It’s not the dancing competition Jack is desperate to win, but the love and acceptance of both her parents.
I want the film to celebrate our capacity to empathise, and ability to look out, rather than looking in.
Were there any challenges in telling Jack’s story against backdrop of a traditional part of Irish culture?
It was probably the greatest challenge I faced going into production.
I didn’t want to portray the world of Irish dancing in a negative light. I was part of that world myself for years and loved competing.
It all rested in the hands of Jimmy Smith, a renowned Irish dancing teacher, based in Tralee, County Kerry where I grew up.
Jimmy’s school, Rinceoirí Na Ríochta, has shaped World Champion Irish dancers for decades. It was Jimmy's capacity for empathy that made this film possible.
Would you like to receive more articles like this? Sign up for our monthly newsletter.
He fully understood the importance of the story I wanted to tell. Thanks to his open mind and heart, I had the privilege of working with his incredible dancers and their amazing parents who played extras in the film.
Jimmy played the competition judge. If you watch the film closely, the judge makes the call to allow Jack to dance. That was all improvised.
Jimmy said it's what he would do in real life, so this film is a testament to the progressive nature of Irish society now and how far we have come.
Bill Cornally, the incredible actor who plays Jack, lives in Dublin and is a world champion himself. There was a real sense of pride on set that day, for the world of Irish dancing and for the story we were telling.
#FiveFilmsForFreedom, the world’s widest-reaching digital celebration of LGBTIQ+ themed film returns from 18 to 29 March 2020.