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Shooting Hannah Cohen

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The continuing diary of an accidental mother - week 33

In a grey stone church in Dublin, I watched myself from a time since past; as a seven year old, Jewish girl wanting to belong. The place was full of people, though none were praying and nothing was quite what it seemed to be. There was a flurry of activity. A line of little 'brides' knelt before a priest and then belatedly my young self appeared in a hotch-potch of strange clothes and was chivvied up the flagstone floor by an old crone.

I had stepped into a twilight zone. My present reality was of a heavily pregnant woman and not this young girl. This strange state of being was a fallacy, a dream dreamt originating in a West London apartment.

Eight months ago I stretched and teased an emotional memory to its extreme. It began as a feeling, scribbled out as prose, 300 words capturing an instant of childhood consciousness; a mere moment when a bubble of innocence burst and a step toward adulthood was reluctantly taken.

It is early summer and the shy Irish sun shines. Hannah Cohen sits on a front garden wall. Bored, she flicks rose petals on the pavement when she suddenly sees her best friend Roisin on the way to church. Dressed in Holy Communion finery Rosin looks gorgeous, like a real princess.

If only Hannah could have her own holy communion. If only that were possible but of course it is, because when one is six and three quarters everything is possible and so begins our film.

I wonder if one ever actually leaves one's country of birth? Almost 20 years on and still I keep a constant backward glance, a toe wedged in the door. Months back, I sent the Irish film director, Shimmy Marcus a script in progress. He promptly emailed it back pointing out the gaping holes within. Undeterred, I set to rethinking, fixing and cementing.

At the time, I was single. My ex, the Glam Rocker was on tour... having put our brief summer romance behind him. Yet it happened he left prematurely. It happened most accidentally. Despite all manner of man-made obstacles as I worked on this foetal script, inside there was a renegade cluster of cells dividing and subdividing.

Over the next three months, two stories developed in tandem. Scripts sent to Shimmy returned to my inbox with notes, questions and red crosses until finally the story began to breathe. There was an upcoming funding competition. We took a chance, rolled the dice and we hit the jackpot, winning the Pears Foundation Award.

As for the other production, it too survived and we, the Glam Rocker and I recognized an opportunity in this twist of fate handed to us.

Eight months later, I was the mother of two green-lit productions.

On the home front, my belly was huge. The film was shooting in Dublin and I, on the way to Heathrow. The Glam Rocker had been touring in the States and Australia for the past month, finally we were to be reunited.

The Glam Rocker was waiting for me by the Air Lingus check-in desk. Swiftly we moved toward one another. With each step time dissolved so that once his arms encircled me (no small feat), it was only moments since we last touched. And time continued to reverse all the way across the Irish Chanel to the mid 1970s to where we found ourselves, in my realised imagination.

It was a pretty church. We entered round the back having spotted some film types. We passed through a make shift wardrobe department and then into the nave. On the technical side, there were crew, cast, extra's, a vast amount of equipment, tracks, monitors, booms, mikes, lights, camera...

And - action.

Hannah approaches the alter to join her friends who look at her wide-eyed. 'What are you doing here?' one mouths as she kneels down alongside them.

This scene was played out in short bursts of controlled takes. I looked at the star of the film, transfixed. In truth I was never this girl. By the time the script ripened there was scarce any personal residue left. Our star was the radiant six year old, Lucy Sky Dunne. She had taken the story from me and lived it, whilst I, the writer loitered in the background.

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Then the priest approached her. Mind, this was not just any priest... as the ad goes, this was the M&S of all priests. Jim Sheridan, Irish director of films such as My Left Foot, In the name of the Father and The Field was playing the priest in our film. Yes that Jim Sheridan. If Ireland were a monarchy; he would be Irish royalty, he would be king.

Confession of awe.

Dear Lord,

I am not sure why this has happened but for some reason this project seems to have struck a universal chord and the support for it has been phenomenal. Despite the funding award, we are operating on a shoe string. Despite the shoe string, the production levels are incredibly high.
We have been blessed by a stellar cast and crew - (I give thanks) there is magic in the air.
Amen
Slainte and Lechaim
To the good health of one and all.

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Of course Dublin is small and I recognized the wonderful Marion O'Dwyer who acted in one of my BBC Radio 4 plays and then Gareth Keogh with whom I acted a zillion years ago.... and then I noticed my blue 70s nylon housecoat - a present from my teenage son. I had sent it to the director as an example of what the Mother could wear and indeed, she was wearing it.

She was Elaine Cassidy award-winning actress in such films as Felicia's Journey, Disco Pigs. You'd recognize her from the recent BBC Drama, The Paradise.

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Dublin had changed so much since I left. Then again, since I left, Dublin had hardly changed. Our next location was the home I grew up in. A 70s dreamscape, it was now the home of others but lucky for us remained untouched. The cast and crew loved it. The kitchen in particular was in its original wood paneled, marble counter topped glory.

This was a glimpse of a rarely seen middle class Dublin. The road is lined with blossom trees, the Dublin mountains loom in the background, the houses, large hacienda styled, lie anchored between generous front and rear gardens.

Hanging out in the now neglected and overgrown back garden, I noticed the bird song, loud and varied was more lyrical than the London tweeters. Time marches at a different pace here, the air is fresher, the light translucent, the sky surrounding immense. I floated as a ghost around the house, now full of unknown people revealing traces of my childhood to the Glam Rocker, especially the secret attics behind the wardrobes. Hidden alcoves installed by my father, God forbid there was ever an Irish anti-Semitic uprising.

A few days later a 'wrap' was called. On our last night I sat with Shimmy in a hotel bar, sipping a whiskey and coke. Due to my condition I could not manage very much and it occurred to me that these days my glass was half full. It was then Shimmy mentioned the Golden Globe nominated composer, Brian Byrne, had agreed to score the film. I nearly choked on the news. Yes that Brian Byrne who has since been awarded two World Soundtrack Awards. Correction my glass wasn't half full at all - it was over flowing.

One production down... one pending.

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