CAIRO – 19 March 2018: The 7th edition of D-CAF screened the Irish film “Sanctuary”, directed by Len Collin. The film was screened as part of the “Arts for All” initiative and the Disability Program launched by the festival.
The film centers on two characters, Larry and Sophie, who are in love. However, Larry and Sophie both have intellectual disabilities and face the challenge of the fact that Irish Law prevents them from being intimate with each other outside of marriage. “Sanctuary” genuinely shows the meaning of heartbreak through this portrayal of two people who are trying to be together in a world that is doing everything to keep them apart.
A scene from Sanctuary - IMDB
The movie was played by a group of professional actors, all of whom have some form of intellectual disability. The impressive aspect of the film is not only in the brilliant performance of the talented actors involved, but in the message the film delivers, one that radically changes how each one of us view people with disabilities.
A scene from “Sanctuary” - IMDB
This film confronts common misconceptions around people with disabilities. It asks us to consider why we forget that people with intellectual disabilities also have the same needs as us? Why do we deny them their desire for very human emotions like love? Or the physical desire for intimacy? “Sanctuary” seeks to remind us of the humanity that people with disabilities have always had.
The message the film seeks to deliver is strong given that the actors themselves have intellectual disabilities and were able to talk about themselves and their rights. The film brilliantly conveys to us in an amusing way how people with different forms of intellectual disabilities think, feel and need. They want to have love and intimate relationships, to marry, work, be independent and have their own family. In the film, Larry, Sophie and the rest of the cast show that this is what they want.
As recounted by Collin, the film was tailored to discuss and shed light on this particular law in the Irish constitution. “Section 5 criminal law act 1993 forbids two people with an intellectual disability to have a sexual relationship unless they are married; that obviously was made to protect people with disabilities,” Collin explained.
A scene from Sanctuary - IMDB
This law was issued in 1993 after the rape of a girl with a disability. It was a significant case that dominated the papers, thus resulting in the formulation of this law. Colin continued, “We are all against rape, but this is [not about rape] but simply a matter of consent. If two people with a disability are willing, nobody has the right to prevent them.”
This desire is clear in many brilliant scenes, such as when Larry asks their social worker, named Tom, to reserve a room in a hotel so that he could sit alone with Sophie and express his love to her. Later, Tom is surprised that Larry also wants to have sex with Sophie, given that it is forbidden by Irish Law. Larry asks Tom a simple, yet to-the-point question that really summarizes the film’s message and the challenges faced by people with intellectual disabilities: “You have already had a sexual relationship with the one you love, why am I not allowed to do so like you?”
“Sanctuary” was tailored to break stereotypes pertaining to people with intellectual disabilities and to show us that people with any kind of intellectual disability are complete people.
A Scene from Sanctuary - IMDB
Collin did a great job dealing with them as professional actors, just normal people with different abilities. “Sanctuary” is romantic a comedy with social commentary. It is important to remember that these are professional actors, not just people defined by their disability. This is a very absorbing movie, one that manages to make us interact with the film and its message, and simply enjoy watching it. It is the sort of film where you will find yourself involved with the characters, their stories, their drama, their love affairs and their relationships with each other.
Collin told Egypt Today that the story was first presented in a play. After doing the play, he then he decided to present it as a film, since he felt that this story would be better introduced as a movie. “The end of the play was somehow a happy one, while the end of the film was a realistic one... in cinema you must, to some extent, respect the audience’s mind with logic and a true ending instead of a fairy tale one. This is how cinema is different from theatre,” he said.
Collin explained that the play and the movie were both executed with the same cast. “The play was written specifically for those disabled actors, and the story was generated by them also,” he explained. Collin already knew the actors four years ago, as he was providing them with acting classes.
Collin recounted that during the shooting of the film, he discovered that their performance was a little bit theatrical because they performed the story as a play first. “I discovered that acting in the movie was much easier and suitable for them, because in the movie, if they committed any mistakes or forgot the conversation, we can stop shooting at any time and repeat it again, but on stage there is no room for any mistakes.”
Collin said that the atmosphere on set was full of happiness and funny situations. There was a special system in place to take care of the actors with intellectual disabilities in particular.
A scene from Sanctuary - IMDB
Collin elaborated that they had one of the funniest moments when one of the actors’ phone was missing in a scene. If an actor was to say that one of his props was missing, then they would stop shooting. It’s not unusual to have missing props, but the actor was a little bit shy, so he didn’t speak up to say that his cell phone was missing. Collin recalled, “He just pretended to have the phone in his hand while shooting the scene. The funny thing is that we didn’t notice that until after the movie was screened, but very few people noticed that.”
Collin added that the film was specifically written for each actor involved, and that it was written true to their character. Collin said that the movie has been received around the world by people with Down syndrome and intellectual disabilities in an astounding way. “The best comment I received about the film was from an Australian lady with Down syndrome who simply said, ‘It is about us’.”
Collin recounted that “Sanctuary” took everyone by surprise. He explained that when he first started working with people who have Down syndrome, he didn’t realize that there are degrees of Down syndrome. For example, Karen, who performed the role of Larry in the film, was more verbal than other actors, whose speech abilities were not as good. However, while they may have more difficulty in being understood, they also have other talents.
He explained that the film will have a stronger impact than the play, as it will be aired on Irish national television very soon. The power of film is its ability to access a larger audience through national television.“The film is more effective than the play,” said Collin. By changing the end of the play for the film, along with the wider reach of the film, “Sanctuary” became instrumental in changing the law.
“The good news is that, because of the film, the law was changed in February 2017, so now people like Larry and Sophie can be together, which is really fantastic,” Collin said. The amendment of the law was approved by the Irish parliament due to the movie’s message of emphasizing consent. That means that if Larry and Sophie want to be together, and they understand the consequences of intimacy, then no one has the right to prevent them. “I didn’t expect that the film will change the law, at least not that quickly, but this is the power of cinema,” Collin stated enthusiastically.
Collin explained that he and the team were passionate about the movie not only due to tackling complex issues around sexuality and disabilities, but because they all love acting and cinema as well. “They are professional actors first; then their disability comes second. Karen, for example, is one of the best actors I have ever worked with,” he said.
“I tried to make their performances more acceptable and credible to the audience. What helped me a lot was that the role of each one of them was written very similar to their real character,” Collin explained. He wanted them to be natural, so that if the audience would meet any of them in real life, they would find that they talk and react similarly to how they are in the movie.
“I wanted to extract from them that kind of honesty,” Collin said. He added, “I had a strong desire to get them on screen. That is the joy of the film for me, which is seeing them on screen, and I am really proud of what they achieved.”
“Their disability didn’t by any means affect their performance, because each one of them has his own talents that are different from the other; some read quicker than the others, some speak more fluently; they differ from each other exactly as we do. Do we all run the same speed, speak like each other? No. They are exactly like us,” Collin explained.
He continued to state that they see themselves as actors and that they love the idea of being movie stars. “The movie was shot in ten weeks. They were so proud of themselves and used to go to the shooting location daily to see their scenes, along with some of their family members,” he added.
“It took four years to make this movie. Nothing in it is accidental; everything executed in the movie was made based on academic techniques; presenting an amusing social romantic movie was the best way to deliver the film’s true message,” he said.
Collin stated that cinema must employ more actors with disabilities across the board, because the more we see people with disabilities on screen, the more we will better understand their life and needs. A lot of ignorance and fear regarding people with disabilities comes from a not knowing, or understanding. Collin muses, “Dealing with disabled actors was much less difficult than other actors, because they don’t have egos and they are not fiercely competing with each other like other actors.”