We civilians of the Western world are truly privileged people, and it's hard to gather a sense of perspective and truly acknowledge the everyday luxuries that we take for granted. Someone who is currently exploring this topic is Irish filmmaker Megan K. Fox, whose recent short film Girl is a profound antithesis of this subject matter.
Girl is an experimental film about homelessness and a young woman's search for feeling; a special feeling. She spends her days on the streets watching the civilians go by hoping that someone will spare a few pounds. After receiving enough, the young girl takes off to what you assume to be a supermarket or a shelter, but instead takes a long-awaited trip to the launderette.
“I have always been drawn to stories about homeless characters and those living on the fringes of society,” says director Fox. “I had wanted to make a short film about homelessness for a long time and I really want to make an impact on how these characters are represented onscreen.”
Dublin-born Fox had spent time volunteering in local homeless shelters as a teenager and it had a profound effect on her. Subsequently, she moved to London to pursue a career in filmmaking and eventually received an MA in Film Directing. “I've always loved to write and I knew that this was the medium through which I wanted to tell my stories and share my voice,” she says. “Since graduating from my MA in 2015, I have continued to make short films and music videos, and I'm now developing my first feature film with the support of Corona Pictures.”
Girl is shot using a handheld camera, with naturalistic light and sound and in a vertical format; a fundamental intention of the director. “[I] found out about a challenge to make a vertical film and it all clicked; I thought that this would be a really poetic format to experiment with for this kind of story,” claims Fox. “We shot the film in vertical format to make audiences consider the space that marginalised characters occupy in our society as well as on our screens.”
The girl is played by young actress Natalia Kostrzewa who spawns a dirty face, unclean clothes and unwashed hair to accentuate Fox's naturalistic approach. “There was a very tangible sense of camaraderie and passion for the subject matter,” she says, “which, I think, shows in the finished product.”
As well as paying homage to a British realist setting, the film emphasises the alienation and feeling of being alone through a subtle yet profound voiceover. “I can't wait for that feeling,” the protagonist says “like I'm human again.” The feeling that she is describing is something the majority will forever overlook and often take for granted: a clean jumper. What this film accentuates so beautifully is that a clean piece of clothing truly is a blissful feeling.
Girl was shot in just one day; a somewhat momentary lapse through no fault of Fox's. “I had contracted the Norovirus the weekend of the shoot, and we had to cancel the first day of shooting after about two hours because I could hardly stand up!” She adds, “we ended up shooting the whole film in one day and were racing not to lose the light, but luckily a tiny but mighty crew helped me get through it and I don't think the film suffered too badly because of it.”
Moreover, the young filmmaker was faced with another challenge during production; one that Fox faced on a more personal level. “I wanted to make sure I was portraying the character honestly and with respect. I did a lot of research and got in contact with some homeless organisations to vet the script before we shot to ensure I could meet the challenge of accurately portraying a homeless female character.”
Girl screened at various film festivals including the 2016 Underwire Film Festival, Chicago Irish Film Festival and Feminist Film Festival Dublin, where it picked up the gong for Best Short Film. In addition, the film was the recipient of the Shooting People's Film of the Month award as well as the Most Inspirational Project at the Think Big Award.
Fox is no stranger to the festival scene after her previous short films Battle (2016) and Slow Down (2015) screened around the UK. “Every project is inherently different and has a life of its own,” she states, “but I really enjoyed shooting Girl (in spite of the Norovirus!) because it was a real labour of love.”
Girl is truly a film to be seen as it tackles a topic that is continuously stigmatised across the UK. “Whether it's in assumptions that those living on the streets are abusing to drugs/alcohol,” says Fox, “or that they are in that position through some fault of their own, I hope viewers will come away from watching Girl with a heightened sense of empathy for homeless people.”
The filmmaker concludes: “Everyone is capable of becoming homeless through a short series of unfortunate events, and I wanted to make a film that would highlight the dignity in this character in the hopes that viewers might question their own prejudices about homeless individuals.”