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Ethan McDowell 
Originally published during British Shorts Berlin 2020

úbtha is a short film inspired by true events and follows the story of a teenager dealing with his sexuality whilst having to grow up in early 90s Northern Ireland. As physical and mental abuse become a daily struggle, Fintan retreats into a world of anger and silence. With no solution on the horizon, he yearns to escape from the small town he’s been trapped in all his life, bringing nothing but his younger brother. As he comes closer to planning his journey to freedom, one night he is shown the reality of acceptance and love.

Hi Ethan, thanks for talking to TNC, how is your 2020 going?

Aye 2020 is going really well so far, and heading to Berlin this month has been a great start, so no complaints here!

Congratulations on having lúbtha selected to British Shorts, what does it mean to you to be part of such a great showcase for British Films?

It’s all very overwhelming if I’m being honest with you. I would have never thought that my very first short film would have been selected to be shown alongside some fantastic pieces of work, and with it being British Shorts, I feel like this is an insight into the best of what Britain and Ireland are producing at the moment, so having my work included in this showcase is just crazy.

lúbtha has had a great festival run, have you been surprised by the reaction the films been getting?

I don’t even think the word surprised covers it. As previously mentioned, this is my first short film and I’ve recently just come out of University in June 2019, so for lúbtha to have gotten the reaction it has — it’s mad. But it’s showing me that people are interested in what I write about in regard to LGBTQ+ topics and the history of Northern Ireland.

What are the biggest challenges that face an independent filmmaker?

Oooh this is a good one. I think getting to where to you want to be is one of the biggest challenges. I write, direct and do some producing, and that’s what I want to do. However, you can’t just drop yourself into those roles these days because the industry is so tough. You have to start at the bottom and make your way up, and in this climate, how far can you really climb the ladder into the role you really want to do? Of course, working on your own projects allows you to work in the role you’re passionate about, but then you are faced with other challenges, most notably funding for a project. But I believe that if you’re really passionate about what you want to do, you’ll get there — putting in all that free hard work will pay off!


Can you tell me a little bit about lúbtha, how did this film come about?

I think I began working on this short before I knew I was working on this short if that makes any sense? As a gay teen/man growing up in the North of Ireland, I always knew I was different, not feeling this way because of myself, but majority of the time because of the people around me. I also grew up in a border town called Strabane, one of the most notorious towns during The Troubles, so that’s a period in time that I have a huge fascination with, even though I was born at the end of that civil war. When I sat down to start writing, I wanted to share a story that people could relate to even though it may not be set in the current day, and I also wanted to share an insight into how I felt as a gay teen growing up in a small town. I think it was also important to highlight that lúbtha is set in the 90s, but the views haven’t really changed although it’s 2020.

lúbtha is inspired by true events, did you have any apprehensions about making a film that draws from a personal side?

YES YES YES. During the writing and even when we were shooting in Ireland, I kept thinking to myself, do I really want to do this? It’s difficult to think that people might watch this short film and then be trying to figure out what I experienced during my time at school, but it had to be done. I pushed all that anxiety to the back of my head and told myself that this is what other queer teens need to see. They need to see a raw and real experience that they can relate to, and maybe help them with what they’re going through.

What would you say has been the biggest lessons you've taken from making lúbtha?

As this was the first time shooting a short film, I’d say my biggest lesson was about time. How little you have of it, and how you need to utilise it to get the best out of your actors and team. Moving forward I’ve given myself more time for pre-production to ensure that I’ve thought about every single issue that could happen on set and how I can prevent that, and then during a shoot, making sure I have time to talk with the cast and block so that we’re not going in blind and just shooting whatever to speed things up. Give yourself time!

What was the most challenging aspect of making lúbtha?

Without a doubt, the size of our crew. We had very little money to make this film, and because I’m now based in London and the short had to be shot in Ireland, we needed to fly everyone over to Ireland, but we didn’t have the money to fly a full crew over, so we ended up with a crew of 5. And with a smaller crew it took so much longer to setup, and we would have everyone doing two jobs at once, it was just really crazy, and I would not suggest to anyone to do what we did. EVER.

"Moving forward I’ve given myself more time for pre-production to ensure that I’ve thought about every single issue that could happen on set..."

Have you always had a passion for filmmaking?

Nope, I wouldn’t say always. In all honesty, I wanted to be an actor when I was younger, however I hadn’t a clue what that even involved, it just seemed like a cool thing to do when I was young. It wasn’t until I was about 17 that I started to get interested in filmmaking as I had worked with the BFI Film Academy and they had shown me that working in film was something that I could actually do.

What has been the best piece of advice you've been given?

I don’t want to sound really cliché, but, do what you love because you’ll never feel like you’re working.

What are you currently working on?

I am writing two new shorts that have different themes to what I’ve done before, and developing a feature based on lúbtha. Very exciting times!

And finally, what message do you want your audiences to take away from lúbtha?

Let’s tell more queer stories!

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