Several stars were born and pigs allowed to run amok in Juanita Wilson’s IFTA-nominated journey into the dark, rust bucket heart of America. Stuart Clark reports...
If you still can’t quite comprehend how Trump made it into the White House, you might want to peruse White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History Of Class In America, Louisiana State University professor Nancy Isenberg’s highly readable account of how the likes of The Donald have been exploiting the justifiable fears and frustrations of the downtrodden right back to colonial times.
One of its striking illustrations is of five barefoot and muddied 1940s kids sitting outside a wooden shack in the Ozark mountains, which is also the modern-day setting for Dublin writer and director Juanita Wilson’s tale of Nowheresville desperation, Tomato Red, which was up against A Date For Mad Mary, Love & Friendship, The Secret Scripture, The Young Offenders and The Siege Of Jadotville recently at the IFTAs.
The common denominator being, well, there isn’t really one apart from the fact that they’re beautifully scripted, resonate with audiences and were made by Irish people.
“It was really exciting to see so many first-time directors in the line-up,” Wilson enthuses. “It genuinely feels like a new wave of Irish film, although, personally, it was disappointing that Tomato Red only got two weeks in cinemas here. They come and go like lightening, which is just the way of things these days. You make a bit of your money back from the cinematic release, a bit from Netflix, a bit from TV, a bit from on demand. Financing is always the key factor for independent filmmakers like myself.” With her previous 2010 movie, As If I Am Not There, a Serbo-Croatian language adaptation of Slavenka Drukuli’s novel about crimes against women during the Bosnian War, no one can accuse the Dubliner of being calculatedly commercial.
“I’m just contrary,” she laughs. “I suppose I’m looking for stories that haven’t been told, especially if they’re about outsiders and underdogs. The kind of human everyday dramas that challenge us all and how people survive – or sometimes don’t survive - them is really interesting. This one is based on Daniel Woodrow’s novel, so it’s fiction but of the very truest kind, if that makes sense! He uses the voice of the central character, Sammy, to make observances about how skewed the whole world is. Like we do in Ireland, he uses humour as both a weapon and a defence.”
It took me a good hour to realise that the hard-drinking, hard-loving, hell, hard everything middle-aged matriarch of the piece, Bev, is Anna Friel.
“Had I not seen her audition, she’d have been the last person I’d have thought of for that role, but she was amazing,” Juanita nods.
Also seriously catching the eye is Julia Garner who plays Bev’s want-away daughter, Jamalee. Reminiscent of an early career Juliette Lewis, she’s the precise blend of doe-eyed innocent and vampish manipulator that the role calls for.
“Yeah, Julia’s fantastic. I cast her a good year before we started filming because, apart from being visually captivating, she also has this steeliness in her which is an unusual combination, and quite hard to find in such a young actress.”
There are some great set pieces like when Sammy, Jamalee and her brother, Nick, take retribution on an elitist country club by stealing some hogs and letting them run amok on its hitherto pristine golfing greens.
“It was an epic journey to get those pigs,” she smiles. “The first ones we cast were eaten by the time we started filming. We were given other options like rabbits and goats, but stuck to our guns and found the biggest, heaviest, fattest pigs in all of Canada, which is where we did a lot of the shooting.”
Juanita is in two minds as to whether the trailer park inhabitants of the fictional Venus Holler are the sort of people that secured Donald Trump’s move to Pennsylvania Avenue.
“It’s a rust bucket area so it probably did go Republican, but Sammy, Jamalee, Nick and Bev are such outsiders that they wouldn’t have voted for anybody,” she suggests. “Daniel’s primary mission is to give a voice to people in the Ozarks that he feels are completely overlooked. The book is based on a real murder that happened in his lifetime. What he’s saying is that we all have a ticking bomb inside us and that we’re all full of our own vulnerabilities and frailties.”