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Too much too young

Writer/director Eva Birthistle and actress Hazel Doupe told David Hennessy about Kathleen is Here, the new film that looks at social media and the struggles faced by young people coming out of the care system.

Kathleen is Here, the debut feature film from acclaimed Irish actress Eva Birthistle will have its world premiere at London’s Raindance Film Festival next week.

The film focuses on Kathleen who is played by well known actress Hazel Doupe.

Kathleen is 18 years old and fresh out of care when she returns to her home town.

She’s ‘lucky’ in that she has an house that has been left to her by her late mother but she has nothing in the way of support or connections.

Although she is still a child, she is expected to be an adult.

Other themes that come up are the detrimental impact of social media.

The supporting cast includes Clare Dunne and Peter Coonan.

Writer/ director Eva Birthistle told The Irish World: “I started writing a version of this story, but it was very different, ten years ago.

“It was more dealing with loss of a mother and coming to terms with the loss of that.

“At some point the idea changed and merged into this notion of what would it be like for a girl who has very little living in this world looking at reality shows and Instagram and people who have a huge amount, and the contrast of their lives.

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“I was interested in how a young girl might sort of live vicariously through one of those lives.

“I was really struck by the Kardashians at the time and the sort of crazy life that they lead in a very public way and how a girl who is the complete antithesis of that, how they would try and emulate that.

“Then through the research I just happened to come across a video of an American teenager who was in foster care and she was putting herself out there in some ways like the Kardashians, revealing all to the world.

“But her reality was not like a Kardashian and her reality was very, was very difficult.

“She was going from foster home to foster home but she had this need and this sort of want to let people know and let people in in a very vulnerable way, in a very exposing way.

“I found that fascinating, but also I was scared for her.

“Then I really went down a warren with what happens when kids come out of care, that very precarious time where they’re out of the system and they’re trying to fit back into reality and how they go about that with a little support but certainly not enough support.

“And that opened up this whole story of this girl Kathleen coming out of care.”

Actress Hazel Doupe adds: “I just remember the feeling I got from the script.

“It was a very lonely and emotional and beautiful person that I felt like I needed to take care of and take under my wing almost.

“I kind of saw this character that really needed to be taken good care of and I knew that I wanted to play her.

“When I was a bit younger, it was more I wanted to get my teeth into this very interesting part and then becoming an adult, I really love her and I really wanted to give her the kindest and what I think is the most truthful outlook for her even if that is a sad one or scary one.”

Eva’s research brought her into contact with Martin Heaney and Des Boyle from UNITY TRAINING about  their work with care leavers and their Holistic Education Programme, called HEAL.

Eva says: “There’s a group in Derry called HEAL which are a holistic based group that help people sort of on the margins of society or kids that are coming out of care, people who have a lot of struggles in their life that don’t have the normal support network that most people do, which is usually a family.

“I met with a group of young adults who were coming out of care: Just sitting and listening to their storys of how they ended up in care.

“What most of them don’t have is a home and Kathleen is ‘lucky’ in that sense that she has a home, but obviously it’s not enough, but most of these young adults don’t have a home.

“One of the big challenges they’re faced with is that the next place that they go into- Because of the housing shortage and because of the lack of funding- They’re going into highly unsuitable housing so they’re going into sort of halfway houses that are usually filled with a lot of older people, predominantly men, a lot of them with addiction issues.

“They’re in these very vulnerable positions where there’s nobody looking, looking after them because they’re an adult and they’re out of the system, but they find themselves in awfully scary predicaments or else they’re moved out of the city that they grew up in and spent their whole life in so they’re even more cut off and have even less of a support network than they might’ve done.

“It was really sort of sobering and eye-opening listening to what those challenges are and how they try to overcome them.

“A lot of them go on to further education and go on to jobs and have relationships and there are success storys, but sadly the majority of them don’t and they end up turning to alcohol or drugs or promiscuity or they’re out in the streets and a lot of them become homeless.

“Connection is the big factor.

“If we don’t have connection with another, you’re sort of fighting a losing battle.
“It’s fraught with so many difficulties with mental health.

“Loneliness is just brutal and I think people resort to making wrong decisions based on the fact that they’re just alone and are pretty desperate.

“I think that was just really important sort of to examine that in the film as well because Kathleen obviously makes these morally dubious choices, but it was really important not to demonise her.”

Hazel adds: “Just because you turn 18 doesn’t mean you become an adult on that day.

“It’s crazy that the support just stops being there in the same way that it was before that day and I’m sure it’s a day that a lot of people fear who are in foster care.

“With Kathleen it’s troubled waters for her.

“Kathleen is such an amazing character.

“She was written so softly by Eva and I wanted to play her because it didn’t feel like it was a disservice or a trope or anything like that.

“She has a past that is not completely healthy but I think with the right help she might have not made the mistakes she made.

“She’s got such huge capacity for love.

“It’s what she needed from the social care system that she never got, they weren’t equipped to give her.

“It feels like a Greek tragedy almost to play Kathleen.

“Kathleen had nobody and I know people who had very strained relationships with their parents or grandparents and when they pass, it’s been very difficult for them even though they didn’t have a great relationship. It’s very difficult to reconcile that, to reconcile the relationship that they didn’t have and will never have now.

“She has to go back to this house that her mam lived in throughout her life with all her best and worst memories are and she has no one. It’s just echoes off the wall.”

Hazel Doupe has long been a rising star with titles like Float like a Butterfly, You Are Not My Mother and TV’s Smother to her name.

Eva says of her: “The part requires somebody who has an emotional intelligence and maturity to be able to dig deep and really explore all those very sort of tricky aspects of Kathleen’s life.

“I was looking for somebody who also had sort of, you know, a combination of feeling very young and fragile and vulnerable, but also had a sort of an edgy kind of streetwise side to their personality and persona.

“So I was trying to find somebody who had all those factors, but also Hazel has this ability to say a huge amount without saying anything at all.

“In the short film I think she speaks once and for the rest of the 10 minutes, she’s just doing it all with those incredible eyes.”

Eva mentions that the film was a short in the first instance.

It was her well known friend Andrew Scott the actor who encouraged her to make it. He will also chair the Q and A at next week’s screening.

“I was talking about different bursaries and he was just like, ‘Just stop. Just make it. Ask for the money, ask friends, ask family, whoever you think can spare a few bob. I’ll kick it off’.

“And he threw some money into the pot and he went, ‘You’re on your way now, make it’.

“And that’s what I did.”

Eva has acted for famed directors and took influence from Ken Loach and his way of working.

“What I was really struck by on his film sets is that how happy everybody is how he creates this atmosphere, and it really does come from the top, and he treats everybody with such respect, and everybody’s treated so fairly, and everybody gets their say, and is heard, and listened to.

“It’s very productive and creative, but people are just having a lovely time because they’re being treated well.

“It sounds so simple but actually, I’ve been on many sets where that isn’t the case and there’s ego, and there’s somebody at the top who’s not very happy in what they’re doing and it has a knock-on effect.

“So I was determined that no matter what, I would make sure, I’ll do my best to make sure that people were happy coming into work every day, and I think they were, I’d like to think they were.”

Kathleen is Here has its world premiere at Curzon Soho at 6pm on Tuesday 25 June as part of Raindance Film Festival, the film will be followed by Q and A moderated by Andrew Scott.  

For tickets and more information, click here.

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