By Esther McCarthy
Some of West Cork’s most striking landmarks will feature in a new movie to make its world premiere at the prestigious Toronto International Film Festival tonight.
Filmed on location in Co Cork and backed by Screen Ireland (formerly the Irish Film Board), Float Like a Butterfly tells the story of a young Traveller girl who dreams of becoming a boxer like her hero, Muhammad Ali.
It is one of six Irish films to screen at the acclaimed festival, which is widely regarded as kick-starting awards season.
The drama is directed by top Cork filmmaker Carmel Winters, who delighted in the chance to shoot in some of her favourite places.
“I live in West Cork and am out every day walking my dogs,” she said as she prepared for the premiere.
“My partner, production designer Toma McCullim, even managed to convince me to turn the road under the Twelve Arch Bridge into a bustling ’70s fair day. We had the kind of creative collaboration from the local community other film sets could only dream of.
“The crew behind Fastnet Film Festival in Schull really got behind us and opened doors and hearts. It was this immense wave of local talent and goodwill that carried the biggest scenes in the film.
“My experience of shooting in my home county was so special, I want to make a television series here next. That way we can build on the foundations already laid to create a sustainable creative hub all year round.”
Set in 1972, the year Muhammad Ali came to Ireland, Float Like a Butterfly tells the story of Frances, whose father has recently been released from jail, who dreams of becoming a boxer and making her hero Ali proud.
“But the man that gets out of jail after seven hard years isn’t the same man who went in. He has lost faith in himself — and in her. The film is about Frances’ struggle to be seen and recognised by him again. And, ultimately, to choose her own destiny — despite him.”
The filmmaker adds that she turned to some of her own childhood memories while developing the feature film. “The ancient nomadic way of life kept alive by Irish Travellers until recent times is so rich and vivid — perfect for a large screen story.
“I remember going off to Traveller camps playing with the children while my mother did the wheeling and dealing with the Traveller men. It was a very familiar landscape to me — the caravans, the large families of children (I have six brothers and five sisters myself), horses, dogs, the sense of family as tribe. It’s a way of life I resonate with and love.
“It’s a truly great honour to premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. It’s one of the most prestigious festivals in the world and the competition to get in is very tough.
“I hope everyone that came together to make this film feels very proud.”
Winters’ film is one of six Irish projects selected for TIFF this year.
They include Rosie, Roddy Doyle’s drama about the homelessness crisis starring Cork actress Sarah Greene in the title role.