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Award-winning Irish film starring cast who have intellectual disabilities hopes to go global

Sanctuary was initially a theatre production – now it has made its way to the big screen.

Source: Vimeo

Source: Vimeo

AN IRISH FILM starring nine young actors who have intellectual disabilities is hoping to go global and be shown at international film festivals.

Sanctuary, directed by Len Collins, is an adaptation of the theatre play of the same name by Christian O’Reilly about a group of young people with intellectual disabilities who go on a day trip to Galway. Two of the gang are a couple, and plan some alone time in a local hotel.

The main cast members are Kieran Coppinger, Charlene Kelly, Michael Hayes, Emer Macken, Paul Connolly, Frank Butcher, Patrick Becker, Jennifer Cox and Valerie Egan.

The film was premiered at the Galway Film Fleadh earlier this month, where it won the Best Irish First Feature award.

Collins said that they are in talks with a number of distributors, which they hope will lead to Sanctuary being shown at festivals. Earlier this week, he put out an appeal on the film’s Facebook page asking people to like the page and spread the word about the film.

They have been building up a solid fanbase on Facebook, and are hoping that as the likes rack up, the international interest will also grow.

Disability issues

One of the things that initially concerned the makers of Sanctuary was that people might assume that it was a “worthy” film, rather than an entertaining one.

“It’s a great funny script but it’s not always going to attract people when you talk about disability,” said Collins. “That’s our issue that we have to deal with, really.”

“As far as I am aware, it is the first film to use actors with intellectual disabilities in this way,” he added.

It’s an ensemble cast and they are playing versions of themselves in many respects. It’s us entering their world as opposed to [how] films before took a character with intellectual disability and put them into our world.

He name-checks films like Forrest Gump and Rainman, which notably also did not star actors with an intellectual disability. The idea of non-disabled actors playing people with intellectual or physical disabilities is something that garners much discussion, particularly in the disabled community.

“While we may marvel at the performance of Daniel Day Lewis in My Left Foot or Eddie Redmayne in Theory of Everything, you do think to yourself how would that work if it was someone with a disability who did play that role? Why not, is the question,” said Collins.

“Obviously it depends on the script and the production anyway but it’s something I would like to see an end to that kind of thing essentially because when you watch Sanctuary, you are watching very, very different performances. Someone like Kieran Coppinger, he is just a joy to work with as an actor. He gives you all he can give you and never complains. On set it was just a wonderful atmosphere.”


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