Writer and director Marian Quinn just won the Best First Film award at the Galway Film Festival. 32A, a tender meditation on the nature of friendship, is set in Dublin in the summer of 1979, and it tells the coming of age story of one teenage Irish girl in the testing years that lie between childhood and the adult she will become. Quinn speaks with CAHIR O'DOHERTY.
WHEN Marian Quinn was seven her family moved back to Ireland from the U.S., and suddenly she had to learn to find her way in a country that was at once familiar and strange. Adolescents have to do something very similar every day. As an American in Ireland and an Irishwoman in America, Quinn knows what it's like to be an outsider and an insider at the same time. Perhaps that's why she writes about the transformative moments in teenager's lives with so much sensitivity and insight.
32A, Quinn's debut feature film named after the famous Dublin bus route (and the bra sizes of the girls in question) just won the Best First Film award at the Galway Arts Festival, where it was seen by a host of distribution companies that will bring it to the public here and in Ireland. It's an auspicious start for the director and the reward for all the long years of planning.
"I started writing this film when I was still living in New York," Quinn told the Irish Voice. "But then I moved to Ireland and established my own production company (Janey Pictures, based in Leitrim). Being an actor has helped me as a director because I know what my own actors are going through. Many directors don't realize how vulnerable an actor can feel, with all eyes on you to perform."
The decision to write a coming of age film that was told from a young girl's perspective first came to Quinn when she suddenly realized she couldn't think of enough examples of them to count on one hand.
"It's funny. I've had people say to me there's been too many coming of age movies already, and I reply that I don't know many that are taken from the girl's perspective. At the Galway Film Festival a lot of people came up to me - both women and men - and told me it was great to see a girl up on the screen and to see the film from her point of view. It was interesting to note that the people who suggested it was a played out genre were men."
Another famous and spirited Irish writer inspired Quinn as she developed the screenplay. "When I was a teenager I read Edna O'Brien's Country Girls trilogy. And I remember deciding that it would be really interesting to follow her example and chronicle the experiences of women of my generation who grew up in the late 1970s and 1980s. I have stayed in contact with my old friends from school and we've all been through similar experiences - with relationships and so on - and so I decided to follow O'Brien's lead."
Quinn decided to make the heroine of her film just 13, standing on the cusp of both puberty and adolescence, when innocence has not yet hardened into cynicism or experience.
"I thought 13 might be interesting because it's still so innocent. You're not really a child still, but you're definitely not a young woman yet. We've seen so many films about teenage girls losing their virginity or becoming pregnant, and I just wanted to set the film in a time before that."
Apart from an awakening interest in romance, there are other issues that confront emerging teens, not the least of which is inevitable clashes with their parents as they begin to assert their new identity. In the film, Marian's brother Aidan Quinn, the noted actor, plays the father of Maeve, the young heroine of the film (played by talented newcomer Ailish McCarty). It's an unsympathetic role in some ways, as it's made clear how oblivious he is to the daily realities of his daughter's life.
"He's an Irish dad in his forties, he has a big family and he's slightly frustrated, he hasn't got to do all that might have liked to with his life," says Quinn. "One of the stoic Irishmen of that era that we all know so much about.
"I think at that time - the late 1970's - parents really didn't stay in touch with their kids the way parents would endeavor to nowadays. The kids in the film live in a typical Dublin suburb, their parents have their own lives, and so they all basically do their own thing oblivious to each other. It was par for the course for that time."
Laughs of recognition from the Irish audience at the film's premiere during the Galway Film Festival persuaded Quinn that she had captured some common experiences.
"It was great to able to unveil it for the first time in Galway. We had a fantastic screening and a really supportive audience. It just felt like people really got it. We were thrilled."
With the standing ovations in Galway still echoing, the film is currently being screened to distributors in London. Meanwhile, Quinn is not exactly content to bask in the glow of success. Already she is developing a follow up feature set in Donegal and the financing is coming together.
On the face of it, setting up an international film production company in Ireland's least populated county may seem eccentric to many. But Quinn has seen the advantages that have coaxed many other creative professionals to make the move away from Dublin.
"After years of New York living it was nice to go somewhere completely different. Believe it or not there are now two film companies in our local village!," she says.
"You see, property prices are significantly lower here and so there are a lot of painters, writers and architects living up here, so it's kind of great. I think people who just wouldn't have been able to afford Dublin now have seen the value of the move. Maybe Leitrim is the new Brooklyn!"
The cast of 32A reads like a who's who of established and emerging Irish acting talent. Well-known acting pros like Aidan Quinn and Orla Brady join Peter O'Toole's daughter Kate and Richard Harris' son Jared in the film, and newcomer McCarthy is impressive as the film's young heroine.
"The film is about the nature of friendship. Yes, she finds her first boyfriend, but it's losing her friends and winning them back that is the real concern," says Quinn.
"I am as interested in the bonds of friendship as the bonds of romantic love. I thought it would be an interesting theme to explore. A lot of the audience winced with recognition at the other things that happen to you when you're that age, too.
"The million embarrassments of that age, the awfulness of not knowing quite how to deal with new situations you're confronting. But I think this film is a fond look back though, because I did want to celebrate girls and the enduring power of friendship between them."