Katherine Canty on “January Hymn,” her all-female led production
By Candice Walsh
Katherine Canty is one of our international filmmakers (from Ireland) being showcased in this year’s Festival. Her film, January Hymn, is her first funded project, and is an all-female led production. Her enthusiasm and exuberance on social media piqued my curiosity, and led to an interview with her from across the pond.
INTERVIEWER: I would love to know more about you and your background as a filmmaker.
KATHERINE: So I started making films when I was living in France a few years ago. I just started making little DIY shorts. Filming was all about figuring out the language, and everything was so shaky. I had studied French and that’s why I was living in France. But at some point I decided, “I’m not going to stay here for my whole life; I think it’s time to go back to university.” One day I just had enough of work, and I said, “No more of this!” I Googled “Manchester filmmaking,” and I thought, I’ll do that. So I did a Masters in Filmmaking, in Manchester.
I: [laughs] Nice. And that’s how you got into directing?
K: I kind of got to know myself as a director, and I thought, “Okay yeah, I can do this.” Once I graduated I started working on the script for January Hymn. The whole thing was really funny because I had moved back to Ireland and I didn’t really know anything about funding. I’d never dealt with funding so I just kind of went looking for producers. I found my producer Tanja and I said, “Look, I’ve got this script. I don’t know anything about funding; shall we try and do something?” She agreed, and we were kinda like, “Let’s see what happens.” And I got the funding! Which was quite funny because I came straight out of arts school and got this coveted kind of funding. But I knew nothing about it. I was like yeah we’re gonna make a film, and people in the industry were like, “You got signatures?!” And I was like, “Yeah!” And then we made the film. That’s the really simple version of it. [laughs]
I: [laughs] That’s great to hear, that people are willing to give new filmmakers a chance. So is this your first time directing?
K: It’s my first funded project.
I: Congrats! Tell us a little about January Hymn.
K: January Hymn is about my experience with grief. Simply put, it’s a personal expression of the strangeness of grief. My father died seven years ago this January. It’s my poetic relationship to home, and the realization that as time passes, home will change. My dad isn’t there physically anymore, but it’s still something that is within me. There’s no conclusion to grief. I think C.S. Lewis said that it’s a spiral, so it changes shape. But it never goes away. There’s no conclusion in the film. But I don’t think it’s a particularly mournful film.
I: You get a real sense of Clara’s aloneness. She’s so isolated in the film, even if she’s sitting across the table from someone else.
K: Yeah, it’s just this kind of disorientation -- the inaccessibility of it. Until it happens to you, you have this idea that you cry a lot, that you cry all the time. There’s this idea of something coming out of you, and feeling some release. But if you can’t, if you don’t grieve that way… I get the feeling that a lot of people don’t. Even now, my relationship to my father is still evolving, and still developing, even though it’s obviously not still present in the physical way.
I: I noticed in the film that there’s not much sound, or music. There are a lot of long silences, and the conversation is very pointed. You have to pay attention to it. Was that a tactic you really tried to apply, where you’re showing and not telling?
K: Yeah, absolutely, because grief is such an intangible thing that I myself could not express in my own words. I’m always very aware of the limitations of words. So certainly there is the question of showing rather than telling, but also in a sense, not showing at all. This is all getting very confusing. [laughs] But I suppose because of the nature of it, it’s hard to even explain.
I: I guess a lot of it is leaving it up to the viewer to take what they want from it.
K: Yeah I think so. Just let it sort of sit with them, I hope.
I: And this might be an obvious question, but did you purposely choose to have an all female led production?
K: Yes, and I’m very glad you flagged that question with me. Yes, absolutely. Because when I was in arts school, my MA class was very small and we were all women. It was fantastic. But then when I left art school and went to London, I did some production work and it was terrible. I hated it, and it was very much the boys club. I was very alienated by that, and I was like, you know, there’s a lot of talk around women in film. But are we actually looking at what our options might be? Because very often people who don’t agree with the ideology of selecting an all-women crew come back with the argument that you have to pick the best person. You do, but are you looking at all of the people for the job? So I think it was just my attempt to contribute something.
I: What was that experience like?
K: When I left arts school I didn’t want to identify as a female filmmaker. Chantal Akerman didn’t want her work shown in film festivals that focused on queer cinema, because she didn’t want to ghettoize it. I kind of had that idea when I left art school, but seeing the positive response from the film community, I now very much identify as a female filmmaker and I don’t hesitate to use that title.
I: A big part of our Festival focuses on upcoming filmmakers. As a filmmaker, do you have any kind of advice or encouragement for filmmakers who are just getting started?
I would say don’t be apologetic. Hustle, and get your work out there. Tell everybody about it! Do everything possible, whether it’s sending it to festivals, or writing directly to festival directors. You’re making their job easier -- they want to hear about your work. Push whatever it is that makes your film unique. I keep pushing the all-female led thing, and hashtagging the hell out of it. Push your work and don’t be apologetic. I’ve noticed women are especially apologetic. Don’t be sorry -- keep going. You’ve got a right and a responsibility to.
I: I love that. Don’t be apologetic.
K: Absolutely. Because if people are like, “Who’s this person pushing their work? Who do they think they are?” And then they go to Google your name maybe they’ll get interested. Just keep going.
I: Your enthusiastic social media presence is actually one of the reasons why I wanted to interview you. [laughs] Is there anything else you want to add?
K: I’d like to just take the opportunity to say thanks to Niamh, our lead actress. Thank you to Ally, to Aisling, Gina, Johnny, Joe, Paddy, my entire cast. They were all fantastic. Thank you to Tanja, to Kate, our D.O.P. Thanks guys! And thank you to the St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival. I’m really touched you saw something in the film.
January Hymn will be screening on Sunday, October 22, in the Evening Shorts session starting at 7pm. Tickets can be purchased at the LSPU Hall.