8 August 2022 The Irish Film & Television Network
'Pavee Lackeen' Released In Irish Cinemas
11 Nov 2005 :
Winnie Maughan

Perry Ogden’s IFTA winning low budget feature film ‘Pavee Lackeen’ (Traveller Girl) is released across Ireland this weekend. Set on a dilapidated travellers halting site in Dublin, the film follows ten year old Winnie and her family and the struggles they face in their daily lives. IFTN talks to the film’s first time writer/director.

Perry Ogden is a well known photographer having worked with Vogue, The Face, Ralph Lauren, Chloe and Calvin Klein . In 1997 he published a book entitled ‘Pony Kids’, an acclaimed collection of photographs of Dublin’s inner city urban cowboys. Following the success of ‘Pony Kids’, Perry continued to work as a photographer but also began toying with the idea of making his book into a film. When Hollywood came knocking, he took the bait and sold the rights to a major studio, but decided to use that money to make his own low budget movie which became ‘Pavee Lackeen’, his multi award winning film that has most recently picked up the Best Irish Film Award at the 2005 IFTA’s.

With ten year old traveller girl Winnie Maughan playing herself in the lead role alongside her mother Rosie and sister Rose in support, ‘Pavee Lackeen’ blurs the boundaries between fiction and documentary. The film boasts improvised scenes, minimal dramatisation and is described as an honest portrayal of the Maughan’s traveller life, predominantly centred around their battle with the authorities, the council and each other to find a new home for their family.

‘Pavee Lackeen’ seems to have been very successful at high profile international festivals recently, has that helped in the build up to the release?

Yeah it helps a lot. I think being selected for festival’s like Venice or Toronto really gives the film that something extra. So far the critics have reviewed it well and we’ve gotten some very good reviews.

So after you made Pony Kids, Hollywood producers were interested in a big screen adaptation, can you tell us about that?

 A few different production companies approached me about buying the film rights to the book which I thought was a slightly unusual idea but, having spoken to a few of them, I thought it would be interesting to see what somebody comes up with. Touchstone took it initially and then I thought ‘would I like to do this film?’ I thought about digging deeper into the lives of these kids which meant tracking them all down after the event. Then I thought ‘no I don’t want to do this, maybe I should just let go and see what happens…if they do make it, then maybe I would get a chunk of money and I could make my own little low budget film…’”

And is that project still in the works now?

Yeah, I’ve made my film and they haven’t made theirs yet.

What had they suggested to do with the project?

They got a screenwriter and they came over here [ Ireland] at some stage and heavily researched it. They went back and ended up with a screenplay where the main characters are my daughter and I as photographers, and the other character were a pony kid with his father. It was contrasting the two.

What made you decide to go ahead with it yourself? Did you have an ambition to be a filmmaker?

I had the desire to make films, yes. I had a desire for some time and I’d tried before and it hadn’t quite worked out so I left it for a while. I guess with the interest from Hollywood it just sparked that interest again and it acted as a catalyst for me to try it out, I thought ‘if I don’t do this now, I’ll never do it and maybe in 5/10 years time I’ll resent or regret that’.

You wrote the film with Mark Venner…what was the relationship there?

I’d known Mark for some years, I’d known he’d written stuff before and he was more of a writer than I was. More than anything I just felt he had a sensibility I could relate to. In some ways when we started working we spent

Winnie & Perry at the 2005 IFTA's

a lot of time looking at films together and sharing films ‘have you seen this? Have you seen that?’ Sharing films that really meant something to us.

You say a lot of the film was improvised. How did that work, did you just set up scenes and see how it went or did you follow the script?

To a degree…we’d spent two/three years researching and writing, coming up with different scripts but it generally always centerd around a young kid at risk. We did research in the courts and it highlighted that there were these kids coming in who were ten/eleven years old who hadn’t committed any crimes, but they were at risk, and nobody knew what to do with them. There was nowhere to put them and invariably they were just sent out onto the street again. These could be kids who were found barefoot on the streets and the Guards would pull them in for their own safety.

So we became fascinated by this and it became the core of our piece. We made a ten minute movie with a young homeless boy which started the process rolling…when we went out to shoot again we had him on board but then it felt contrived after our first period of shooting, it was too dramatic and we had always been trying to drain the story, certainly of drama and narrative, as much as possible. We wanted to come up with something that was more unusual and less conforming to the traditional three act drama.

You mentioned a short film, is that the project you brought to the Irish Film Board? How did you feel when they initially said no to the project?

I was surprised by the Film Board because I felt there was a lack of engagement as to what we were trying to, how we’d gone about doing what we’d done and where we felt we were going. I was always going to be somebody who worked in an improvised manner because I’d been working as a photographer for twenty years and there’s always a certain amount of planning [in photography], to have everything ready, but then you are free to improvise. They weren’t necessarily to know that and maybe the Board that was in place at the time, which was a very different board to the one that gave money for the completion funding, maybe it was a bit old school back then.

 So in the end you funded the production yourself?

It’s probably cost me 200,000 euros out of my own money. When I set out to make it I thought it would cost 40,000 euros and that was fine for me, as time ticked by it went on and on and on but I was very fortunate that I got certain commercial jobs in the States that paid incredible money and I was able to just pour that into the film. Had I known in the very beginning quite how much it would have cost me I probably wouldn’t have embarked on the project, but there you go…(smiles)

Comparing this project to your photography work, did you find it an enjoyable experience?

Yeah, I think all film is incredible, it’s just finding the time and the money to do it that’s difficult.

 Did your experience as a photographer affect how you made this film?

Film and photography are similar and yet so different. One of the reasons I wanted to make film was to add sound to pictures, to explore a bit more and delve a bit deeper into stories and people. I guess experience working with people and crews helped a lot…I’ve been on a photo shoot with 55 people on a crew and 100,000 euros per day and I was used to working with the people. I guess I was keen to shoot it myself because it was going to be hard to give up the framing and the lighting. I also felt that I wanted to create and intimacy between the camera and the actors so if it was me directing and filming then it had that intimacy, there wasn’t going to be too many distractions.

Winnie & Rosie Maughan

You spent a lot of time with the Maughan family over the two years, did you try to maintain some semblance of that observational distance in the way a documentary filmmaker would?

Not really because everything was set up. There was maybe a couple of scenes that were verité or something happened beyond what

was meant to happen. We were always looking for that and wanting that to happen, to have something real come out of it. Most scenes were written in some form, however brief, and sometimes it would be a case of saying ‘well, you’re going to come back from the pawn shop with the money for your Mum from the ring, what would be the first thing you would say?’, sort of talk it through with them. It’s so important that it was real and that they were being not acting.

Do you think audiences watching the film are asking themselves, Is this a drama or documentary?

I don’t think that’s a bad question to be asking yourself and most people will be able to answer it by the end. Obviously the film is based on life and some aspects of their real life story have been put into the film but, at the same time, if you’d gone off to make a documentary about the family it would have been a very, very different film. There are parts of the family that we haven’t included, characters in the family we haven’t included, and also we had to respect that there were certain things that we might have sugguested that the Mum didn’t want to be in the film. Things to do with their lives and other things that we might have suggested the kids to do, you know, like they didn’t want any begging in the film, so we had to respect that.

Do you think that you will always have a connection with the Maughan’s?

I think so, yeah. We went and did a video of Winnie’s sister Mary Kate who got married on her sixteenth birthday over in England. We went over and I took two of my assistants and we went and did a wedding video for them… which I was told I got ‘all upside down’ and we did wedding photographs as well.

Did the family and crew get paid for their work or was it deferrals?

Yeah, everybody got paid. I mean it wasn’t a huge amount because it was low budget so it was the minimum that we could pay everybody. Essentially all the crew were pretty much on the same wage, except one or two who had agents so we had to push it up a bit.

Did you ever consider the amount of money that has been spent on the movie and the family still don’t have a home and are still living in a trailer on the side of the road, could that money have bought them a home?

No I didn’t, because that amount of money was never really meant to be spent on the film, it was the way it ended up and I can see why it’s easy to say that. To be honest, when I first met them I wasn’t aware that they were looking for a house, I wasn’t in the business of buying homes for people, I was in the business of making a film. Even at that time I wasn’t 100% sure how much they wanted a house but now, having gotten to known them really well, I know they do really, really want a house

Do you think that they will benefit from the films success?

I hope so, it’s hard to know with these things. You go in to do something and you don’t know how it’s going to turn out, so far it’s turned out well in terms of a film, it’s going to be shown in cinemas which not all films that get made do and it’s having a good festival run. Hopefully it will highlight the kind of poverty in which they live and the fact that people are living here in the middle of Dublin with no running water and no toilets and it’s just insane. Hopefully people will look at that and ask questions of themselves…

 What would you say to the general public in Ireland?

I would just tell people to go and see it, if only for the performance of Winnie, you know because she’s a magical being. She’s a magical girl and just I think it’s sad and funny and tragic and it’s a range of emotions that we all feel in our lives. I would essentially say ‘go and see it’. If you’re not interested in the Traveller aspect, if that turns you off, go and see it for Winnie’s performance and the Mum, I think the Mum is brilliant too.

‘Pavee Lackeen’ is released across Ireland from the 11th of November 2005 through Eclipse Pictures.

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