Director Ken Wardrop takes us behind the scenes of the award winning documentary that has become a talking point around Ireland…
New Irish documentary His & Hers uses interview footage from 70 women to create a hilarious and often poignant picture of the changing relationships between a woman and the men in her life. As we hear about fathers, husbands and sons, the film builds a charming life story from childhood to old age.
Linda O’Brien talked to director Ken Wardrop about the mothers, the midlands and first feature jitters.
Q: How did a documentary as original as ‘His & Hers’ come about?
A: Basically I was in the Catalyst scheme – a low budget film making scheme to encourage up and coming filmmakers to make their first feature film. I come from a short documentary background so it was only fitting that my first feature should be a documentary. So I looked to see if I could find an idea that could incorporate this style that I’d built and I thought, well maybe I could make lots of shorts into a feature. Searching from that I kind of came up with this idea that I could create a life from lots of different ladies of different ages and I used my mother as a kind of template. She lost my dad when she was in her sixties and it’s kind of a common thing where I filmed, lots of widows. So I said ok, I’ll try to create something that might be universal that if someone watches it they’ll see a life story.
Q: Was it difficult to craft one story from the lives of so many women?
A: Well in a weird way when I went out to cast it I was looking for women who were like my mum so I didn’t deviate too much from that. Now there is a real cross-section of women but they have something about them that was motherly but if you look across the film you have nurses, school teachers, accountants you know actually from all walks of life; even though when you might look at it, the houses might sort of blend but I think that’s the Midlands in a way. There are similarities obviously because of similar backgrounds.
Q: The Irish have always been fond of telling stories, but did you find it difficult to get your subjects to relax on camera?
A: I think for a start that’s my job. I feel that that’s something I have to be good at. That’s the thing I pride myself in trying to do. I’m never quite sure how it works but I kinda get there. I think it’s because I talk a lot myself and so by the time the camera is rolling they’re delighted to have the opportunity to talk! And I think it’s the case in my story that even though I sound like I’m from Dublin, I am a country boy at heart so I can connect on a personal level with these people because they’re my people – they’re our neighbours and in a way I kind of knew them. So there was a comfort there.
Q: What were you hoping to get out of these interviews?
A: My mission was that I was going to make a film that was actually positive – there are these gritty urban dramas you see all the time about these horrible stories with lots of gore and you have to have your bad guy. There is no bad guy here. But I think as a filmmaker you have to take risks. That was my risk; I was going to make a film that was real. Honesty was a big part of it and I wanted to feel it was fresh to have this average story. We all have these ordinary things.
Q: The editing process: was that difficult? Was there a lot of good stuff left on the cutting room floor?
A: Yes, so much good stuff. I think we did about 80 – 85 interviews. Actually weirdly enough I have this story when the girl turned 20 that she’d break up with her boyfriend and then she’d have a few years of different boys but that didn’t fit. So I lost a few characters with that but they all were worth meeting and they’ll be great on the DVD extras, where the story could work on its own. I edited it myself and it is a very tough process but the really great thing about it was we only had seven minutes per person because I was shooting on film and with so little money. If I had shot that on video I could have had two hours per person so you’re looking at 140 hours of dialogue to cut before you had seven minutes. So it wasn’t that complicated in some respects because I only recorded the best bits and I was very prepared.
Q: So have all the women seen it at this stage? Have they given their full approval?
A: Yeh, the very first screening we had was in Tullamore for our premier and that was the most nervous night ever. I was in a state and of course I went down beforehand to set it up and make it feel like a premier and of course I was sweating and in dirty clothes when they arrived and they were all dressed up! I felt really bad. But it was great and they loved it – there was a great reception.
Q: Obviously His & Hers is going to be of interest to women but would you like to see the men come out to see it too?
A: Well you know yourself that’s a hard ask for a film like this. I have to say, some of the most powerful responses have been from men. Some have been moved to tears and hugging me after screenings. I think certain age groups are going to react differently to this film because for example the younger man in his twenties relates to this film in a really fascinating way because they’re on the cusp – they’ve met girls who are talking about getting serious but you still have your mum in your life and your gran is alive so you see the three generations of women that are most important to you and who are actually having a huge impact on who you are and what you’re about. So for me that age group will be moved. And that’s unusual to see. It’s a story about women but they’re talking about their men so I hope guys go see it because I certainly know from screenings I’ve seen, men have not reacted like it’s a girly movie.
Q: The reviews from the festivals have been fantastic, including winning the audience award at JDIFF. You must be thrilled!
A: And we came very close to the Sundance audience award. Once people see it with an audience the response is amazing. Michael and Kate who did the cinematography on it (and did a fantastic job) were discussing that it’s like being at home and there’s a silly moment in a family and there’s a warmth to it. But that’s what family is about – it’s not about the big things it’s the small things. I think that’s what it’s like watching it – that thing in your tummy when you’re with your family.
Words – Linda O’Brien
His & Hers is now showing in Irish cinemas nationwide