Behind the scenes of Float Like A Butterfly in Co Cork

Carmel Winters on the set of Float Like A Butterfly.

Many of the locations in ‘Float Like A Butterfly’ were chosen when director Carmel Winters was out walking with her wife in West Cork, writes Esther McCarthy.

WEST Cork sparkles on screen in Carmel Winters’ film Float Like a Butterfly, the tale of a plucky young traveller who dreams of becoming a boxer in 1970s Ireland.

Featuring an impressive performance from young Irish actress Hazel Doupe, the film tells the story of Frances, whose father has recently been released from prison, and who dreams of boxing just like her hero, Muhammad Ali. The film won the Audience Award at Cork Film Festival and picked up the Discovery prize at the prestigious Toronto Film Festival.

Now fans of the region will be able to indulge in some location spotting when the movie is released in cinemas tomorrow. For the Kanturk-born filmmaker, it’s a tale of empowerment, and a love letter to the place she has made her home.

Winters says many of the locations were decided upon while she was out walking the dogs near Ballydehob and other areas, with her wife, artist Toma McCullim, who is also the film’s production designer.

Shooting On The White Sands Of Ballyrisode Beach

When Winters was considering which location to choose, the striking beach west of Schull seemed like a natural place for the Travellers’ camp.

Locations for the filming of Float Like A Butterfly included Ballyrisode Beach.
Locations for the filming of Float Like A Butterfly included Ballyrisode Beach.

“When I discussed it with the production designer as a location for the traveller camp people were surprised. But there was access to fresh water. People in the local community said that it used to be popular.

“I think that was our happiest location. We felt so at home there. Lalor Roddy used to hop into the tent for a sleep! Hilda Fay and Noelle O’Regan were always having tea around the fire. All the props were being used. The griddle bread used to be cooked on the pan before filming began. People loved the flavour of the smoke through it.

“We were living what we were filming in many ways. We were fierce sad when we were leaving it. It was our first location and we spent a lot of time in it, we were very sad to leave it go. We thought we’d be tired being outside so much but after a while it became a new normality. There was a lovely sharing between Travellers and settled people. There was a common cultural memory I was trying to tap into.”

Locations for the filming of Float Like A Butterfly
Locations for the filming of Float Like A Butterfly

Shopkeeping In Goleen And Getting The Movie Cat To Play Ball

An old shop in Goleen, originally a hardware store, was transformed into a grocer’s for some of the film’s key scenes.

A local cat, Bodhi, was employed along with several locals and placed on the counter. But Bodhi had a mind of it’s own regardless of the filming schedule — until filmmakers came up with home-cured ham to keep Bodhi happy.

Pauline Cotter at the grocers in Goleen
Pauline Cotter at the grocers in Goleen

“The cat would go flying out whatever window or door there was,” laughs Carmel. “There were cracks in the counter and we put food into the cracks. The hens were happy out, they loved the filmmaking process. If you ever have to work with animals on a film, make it hens.”

Pauline Cotter of Schull’s Fastnet Film Festival features in the scene. “She has a huge personality and I thought it was the perfect scene for her. She’s a natural actress. I wrote the part for her. The shop was used as a bicycle shop for the film The Runway. It was originally a hardware shop but it was decades since it was open.”

A Sense Of Time And Place: Aughadown Graveyard

For Winters, putting one of her favourite places on screen felt personal and special. And Aughadown, bathed in natural light, looks stunning in the film. “It’s a gorgeous little gem, just so heavenly. You couldn’t imagine a more beautiful place to rest,” she says.

“I would go there all the time for walks. I’ve dreamt up so many projects there. It’s a very peaceful place. I love it so much and it’s different in every light. There’s an ancient well just up the road from it. The gardener takes such beautiful care of it. Everything is beautifully tended with a real appreciation of wildlife.”

She Moved Through The Fair

One of the production’s most challenging — and rewarding — creations was the setting of a fair on the road alongside Twelve Arch Bridge at Ballydehob. Winters initially wondered if it was feasible, but they went for it—and the result is one of the most colourful scenes in the film.

“We thought we couldn’t quite make it work. But Toma, the production designer, found a way to dress it and make it work. She really had the courage to let people express their creativity.

Toma, a highly regarded artist, worked as production designer on this film for the first time, after some gentle persuasion from Carmel.

“To me it was clear that she’d really bring people together,” said the director.

She was already doing the job unknown to herself but when I asked about making it official she was inclined to run for the hills. The fear is normal but in the end the want to do it was that bit greater.

That day was so vivid and so convincing that when I called cut, people kept selling and trading their horses. A lot of the time the line between fiction and reality was disappearing. It was the past coming to life again.

To make these and other scenes even more evocative, Winters turned to her family’s horse-training roots. Her brother Michael Winters is a well-known trainer, while her nephew Finny Maguire (son of the great Adrian) is a jockey. His mum Sabrina, also a trainer, is Carmel’s sister.

Locations for the filming of Float Like A Butterfly
Locations for the filming of Float Like A Butterfly

“My nephew Finny Maguire is in the film and he wouldn’t have acted before. He learnt so much from Hazel and Dara Devaney. The horse he’s on would have been his father’s horse. The weather was bad but it cleared and I asked my sister, Sabrina, who is a horse trainer: ‘How quick can you get down with a horsebox?’ We got a window of opportunity and it really was a big ask of everyone but we said we’d go for it.”

The Ultimate Collaboration

Winters says that the support she got from the community she has made her home made the experience of filming all the more special. The main filming base was between Schull and Goleen, while Ballydehob was the main community. People also travelled to work on the project from areas like Dunmanway and Macroom.

Locations for the filming of Float Like A Butterfly
Locations for the filming of Float Like A Butterfly

“The community was wonderful, you see there are so many creative people living here. If you bring together raw talent with experienced talent, very interesting things happen. I was trying to make an intelligent film from a naive girl’s perspective. What she has is the heart of a lion. That cross pollination between the outsider and the insider, I really believe in it. They make things possible on an energy level. In filmmaking we often talk about the art of it but less about the heart of it.”

Float Like a Butterfly opens tomorrow, including at the Gate in Cork

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