The multi-award winning and talented actor, director, producer and writer Teresa Lavina shares her passion for filmmaking, experiences as a female filmmaker, the emotional subject matter of her documentary and the difficulties with shooting during a pandemic. Lavina’s documentary ‘Untold Secrets’ will be the closing film at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.
Tell us a bit about your background. How did you get into film?
I started training as a Stanislavski actor in Bilbao Spain in 1992 when I was a teen and In 1997, I moved to Ireland to continue my training. I started in the Focus Theatre in Dublin with Deirdre O’Connell and then for three years trained full time in Bull Alley. In London and Dublin, I was taught by former Meisner student and acting coach Scott Williams who created his own technique ‘Acting with Passion’. I specialised in this technique and went on to become a coach myself.
I was always very passionate about the industry. I’ve worked as an actor, director, producer and writer. I started my career in RTE’s ‘Don’t feed the Gondolas’ with Ferdia McAnna, I produced and directed several plays, worked as a TV producer and co-presenter with Liam O’Maonlai in the pilot TV series ‘Blend’. I created the TV series ‘Outside Inside’ which RTE broadcasted as ‘MONO’. I worked with Ken McCue (Former Dublin Cultural Planner) for over 20 years producing different projects including the creation of Ethnovision (Ethnic Television) and helping in the early stages of SARI (Sports Against Racism in Ireland). Both projects were part of the National Plan Against Racism in Ireland.
I then wanted to focus solely on film. After moving to Galway, I studied Film and Documentary in Galway Community College where I was awarded Student of the Year. I then progressed to study the Level 8 course: Film and Documentary in GMIT where I acquired a First Class Honours. I am currently the director of Nova Productions and I teach filmmaking to International students. In the past 6 years, I have written seven screen plays, directed and produced the documentaries ‘Still’ (which featured in the Galway’s Film Fleadh 2017 as part of the Little Cinema Showcase), ‘Darkest Corners of Ireland’ and ‘Bad Fruit’, a short film that was a prequel to ‘Untold Secrets’. ‘Bad Fruit’ won several awards including Best Documentary and Best Directing at LA Independent Shorts Awards and Best Documentary at Dublin Underground Cinema Awards. I have directed and produced over 10 short films and one feature film; ‘The Audition’.
My team was funded by ‘Galway 2020 Small Towns Big Ideas’ project as co-creator of the newest Irish Film Festival, ‘Shot by the Sea’. I am director and co-producer of the TV series ‘One for the Road’ which is in development. Currently, I am producing and directing the feature film ‘Worlds Apart’ funded by Screen Ireland and the short web series ‘If Walls Could Talk’ which is funded by Creative Ireland and Galway County Arts Office.
What prompted you to want to tell the story of the Tuam Mother & Baby Home?
Similar events happened in Spain about a decade ago and a very close friend of mine and her family were affected by it. When the story broke in Ireland I was very drawn to it. I approached Catherine Corless and she put me in touch with PJ Haverty who put me in touch with other survivors from Tuam.
I feel very deeply about the way women were treated in the past (and not that long ago). I think this film has given me the opportunity to voice some of those stories so that we don’t make the same mistakes again.
Were there any difficulties or challenges in getting this film made. If so, what?
There were many difficulties especially during COVID. I was quite delayed getting interviews and acquiring paperwork from Tusla was extremely difficult and very stressful. Sadly, Anne my main contributor, an amazing person, passed away in February. I was also threatened at one point because of the subject matter.
It was hard not having a crew as the project was self-funded and I volunteered my time and money to bring it to completion. My husband Gavin Lennon helped with the production side of it and I was blessed with two French Erasmus students Betty and Lucas who have helped me enormously throughout this project.
I imagine this is difficult content to film. How did you switch off from this project?
I don’t think I have switched off from it yet to be honest but I am looking forward to seeing the outcome of the documentary and how it will impact audiences both at home and abroad.
How did the Pandemic affect the making of this film?
It delayed the production, especially in 2020. A lot of the contributors are elderly and some of them are very fragile so I couldn’t be pushy with interviews and in fact some of them just did not happen in the end. One of your interviews had to take place over zoom as we couldn’t travel but we got there in the end.
What is your experience of being a woman working in film? What are the negatives and what are the positives?
I have been very lucky. I have been given so many opportunities here in Ireland, especially as a non-national. As a working woman, it was hard during the years I was raising my children as a very young mum and there were times when I had to park things to the side. I always wanted to be in the position that I am in now and I am very lucky and grateful that I have a very supportive family that always encourage me to keep going.
Tell us about your reaction on being chosen to close the Galway Film Fleadh.
It was amazing news and I am very grateful that the Galway Film Fleadh has given this amazing opportunity to the film. I am absolutely pleased with all the time and help Will Fitzgerald has offered from start when he gave the film the go ahead. When Will rang to tell me the film was closing the festival I was actually speechless.
What do you want people to take away from this film?
I would really like the audience to watch this film through the eyes of the survivors. They really trusted me. They opened up and shared their past, fears and exceptional life experiences with me. This film is hard and honest and I would like people to take away the survivors honest testimonies and reflect how society was and still is.
What’s next for you. Have you any other projects in the pipeline?
We are currently in the final stages of developing the script ‘Worlds Apart’ which I am directing for Michael Collins. The project has been funded by Screen Ireland and I am blessed with a dream team in terms of both cast and crew.
Untold Secrets shares the story and experiences of the survivors of the Tuam Mother and Baby Home paying particular attention to the survivor Anne Silke. Teresa Lavina visits Tuam and hears the experiences, fears and exceptional lives of Anne Silke, Pj Haverty and Catherine Corless. This thought-provoking and emotional documentary sheds a harsh and honest light on the scandal and examines how society was and still is. To learn more visit Untold Secrets | Galway Film Fleadh (eventive.org)