Shooting Hannah Cohen

In a grey stone granite church in Dublin, I watched myself as a seven-year-old, Jewish girl, just wanting to belong. The church was full of people, though none were praying. Nothing was quite what it seemed. A line of little girls dressed as brides knelt before a priest and then belatedly my young self-appeared in a hotch-potch of strange clothes and was chivvied up the flagstone floor by an old crone.

Momentarily I had stepped into a twilight zone. My actual reality was of a heavily pregnant woman, loitering self consciously, not the little Jewish girl before me. This strange state of being was a fallacy, a dream dreamt in a West London, Maida Vale apartment eight months ago.

Eight months ago I stretched and teased an emotional memory to its extreme. It began as a feeling, scribbled out as prose, 300 words capturing an instant of childhood consciousness; a mere moment when a bubble of innocence burst and a step toward adulthood was reluctantly taken.

It is early summer and the shy Irish sun shines. Hannah Cohen sits on a front garden wall. Bored, she flicks rose petals on the pavement when suddenly she sees her best friend Roisin dressed in Holy Communion finery. Rosin looks gorgeous, like a real princess. 

If only Hannah could have her own holy communion. If only that were possible …but of course when one is 6 and three-quarters everything is possible and so began our film.

I wonder if one ever truly leaves one’s country of birth. Almost twenty years on and still I keep a constant backward glance, a toe wedged in the door.  Last October I sent Irish film director, Shimmy Marcus a script I was working on. He promptly emailed it back pointing out the gaping holes within. Undeterred, I set to rethinking, fixing and cementing. Ironically, as I worked on this foetal script, there was a renegade cluster of cells dividing and subdividing inside me, a most accidental inner production.

Over the next 3 months, two stories developed in tandem. Scripts sent to Shimmy returned to my inbox with notes, questions and red crosses until finally, the story began to breathe. Still, I had yet to persuade him to direct it. There was an upcoming funding competition, ‘Would he consider directing if I were to enter the script?

He replied, ‘… funding as every filmmaker knows is a huge gamble’. Nevertheless, we took a chance, rolled the dice and entered.

As for the other production, it too survived and eight months later… I was the mother of two green-lit productions.

June 2012.

On the home front, my belly was huge. The film was shooting in Dublin and I, on the way to Heathrow. In my sensitive /fragile condition I had had to prove I was capable of movement. The hurdles to overcome entailed 3 visits to the doctor just to secure letters of transit. During the flight, I was half expecting to swell beyond recognition or worse, blow-up. I didn’t expand, instead upon ascent time took to trickery. See it began to reverse, all the way across the Irish Chanel to touch down in the mid-1970’s to where I then found myself, in my realised imagination.

It was a pretty church. I entered the back having spotted some film types. I passed through a makeshift wardrobe department and then the main part of the church. On the technical side, there was crew, cast, extra’s, a vast amount of equipment, tracks, monitors, booms, mikes, lights, camera…

And Action.

Hannah approaches the altar to join her friends who look at her wide-eyed. ‘What are you doing here?’ one mouths as she kneels down alongside them.

This present scene was played out in short bursts of controlled takes. I looked at the star of the film. I was never this Dublin Jewish girl. By the time the script ripened there was scarce any personal residue left. Our star was the radiant six-year-old Lucy Dunne. She had taken the story from me and lived it, whilst I, the writer loomed in the background.  The priest approached her. Mind, this was not just any priest… as the ad goes, this was the M&S of all priests.

Jim Sheridan, six times Oscar-nominated director of films such as My Left Foot, In the name of the Father and The Field was playing the priest in our film. If Ireland were a monarchy; he would be Irish royalty, he would be king.

Confession of awe

Dear Lord…

I am not sure why but this project seems to have struck a universal chord and the support for it has been phenomenal. Despite the funding award, we are operating on a shoestring. Despite the shoestring, the production levels are incredibly high.

We have been blessed by a stellar cast and crew – (I give thanks) there is magic in the air.


Slainte and Lechaim

To the good health of one and all.

Wowed to meet Jim, we chatted briefly in front of the monitor watching out-takes. Of course, Dublin is small and I recognized the wonderful Marion O’Dwyer who acted in one of my BBC Radio 4 plays and then Gareth Keogh with whom I acted a zillion years ago…. and then I noticed my blue ’70’s nylon housecoat  – a present from my son bought from a charity shop years back. I had sent it to the director as an example of what the Mother could wear and indeed, she was wearing it.

‘She’ was Elaine Cassidy award-winning actress and leading lady in the American CBS TV series Harper’s Island, Felicia’s Journey, Disco Pigs and most recently signed on for the new BBC Drama, The Paradise.

Dublin had changed so much since I left. Since I left, Dublin had hardly changed. Our next location was the home I grew up in. I suggested it, as I had mentally set the story there.  A 70’s dreamscape, the cast and crew loved it. The kitchen, in particular, had not changed – remaining in its original wood panelled, marble counter topped glory.

This was middle-class Dublin suburbia, wide blossom tree-lined roads, the Dublin mountains in the background, the houses, large hacienda styled and anchored between the generous front and rear gardens.

Hanging out in the now neglected and overgrown back garden, I noticed the birdsong, loud and varied, much more lyrical than the tweeters of W9. This place was less conscious of time, the air fresher, the light translucent, the sky surrounding immense. I floated as a ghost around the house, now full of unknown people revealing glimpses of my childhood to my partner who had joined me on the trip, especially the secret attics behind the wardrobes. Hidden alcoves installed by my father, God forbid there was ever an Irish anti-Semitic uprising.

A few days later a  ‘wrap’ was called. On our last night, I sat with Shimmy in a hotel bar, sipping a whiskey and coke. Due to my condition, I could not manage very much and it occurred to me that these days my glass was always half full.

Too soon over and before I knew it I was back in W9 ensconced in reality.

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