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Jan Dunn interview about Gypo from

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PostPosted: Fri Oct 27, 2006 12:22 am    Post subject: Jan Dunn interview about Gypo from Reply with quote

Jan Dunn

19 October 2006 (see

Gypo is proof that mega bucks don’t necessarily make the best movies. Shot on a miniscule budget, there’s plenty of food for thought in Jan Dunn’s intelligent feature length debut.

Never depressing, it challenges hypocrisy, ignorance and, scariest of all, the bigot lurking underneath political correctness. Its weighty subjects meld together with an inventively light touch and climaxes in a future filled with hope.

Told from three perspectives, the cast includes Pauline McLynn (Mrs Doyle from Father Ted), Paul McGann, Rula Lenska playing a Romany asylum seeker, with a breakthrough performance from Chloe Sirene.

Rachael Scott spoke to Jan Dunn about her inspired cast, powerful film and lesbian cinema.

Gypo closed the London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival this year. What kind of reception did you receive?

It was amazing. Just being selected as the closing gala was wonderful but the fact that it was also packed was pretty stunning. We won the Best First Feature at the Frameline Film Festival and I think that must have helped with the word of mouth because Frameline’s kind of the gay Oscars, so it really put us on the queer film festival map.

We’d already achieved the kudos of the wider UK film industry with being screened at the Edinburgh International Film Festival in competition and nominated for the Michael Powell Best British Film Award and then winning a British Independent Film Award. So the closing gala of the LLGFF was the icing on the cake.

It was also in London, so almost the entire cast showed up on the stage and I think the audience loved that. Pauline McLynn had them eating out of her hand and proudly wore the T-shirt all night over her ‘gala smart’ gear!

How has all the praise made you feel?

It would be great even in itself, but it is just so startling for us because we made this tiny film as a calling card and hadn’t thought beyond an industry screening. But from the first showing we got a sales agent and Lionsgate came on board as UK distributors – I mean, this isn’t exactly a tiny arty distributor – it’s Lionsgate Films. We’re still pinching ourselves.

We’re very proud filmmakers, but I know that the cast are very proud of it too. They won a jury award from the Turin Lesbian and Gay Film Festival and also a jury award for The New York Lesbian and Gay Festival.

How did the story originate?

When I met the producer, Elaine Wickham, on a Screen South new talent initiative and we decided to pool our money and just go out and make something as a calling card. The only parameters she gave me was that I had to set it in Kent because that was where she lived and we liked the idea of a forty-something leading lady.

At that time, the asylum seeking issues were very prevalent in Thanet – where we shot the film. I spent 24 hours researching contemporary stories in the area and pitched about seven different ideas to Elaine. She loved two of them, so I began writing the script. Eight weeks later we were shooting Gypo.

Gypo is your first full-length feature and women take centre stage. Has this been the case in your earlier work?

Yes, I think more subconsciously than intentionally. I suppose I have a female voice in whatever I do. Our latest film, Ruby Blue, which we are currently in post-production with, is about a man played by Bob Hoskins. I think it is like nothing we’ve seen him do before. I have to say it was because of Gypo that this new film has had a chance to get made. It’s interesting how this one has a male lead in it, but I still think it’s from a female sensibility.

Films with a gay male lead are now totally acceptable, so why do you think there are so few that centre on lesbian relationships?

I have no idea; are there so few? I can think of many off the top of my head but they are usually aimed at a lesbian audience instead of just being made as great stories and they seem to always focus on the coming out aspect rather than being integrated into a plot or just simply characters as part of a whole. I see films with female leads and often assume the leading women are lesbian anyway. Aliens comes to mind immediately. Rock on Ripley!

Did you find it difficult to get funding for a film loaded with so many ‘issues’?

We had no funding. Does that answer the question? It didn’t stop us making it.

Do you think it’s harder for female filmmakers to get ahead in the movie industry?

No, but I think it’s harder for working class poor people, male or female, to get ahead in any industry

What advice would you give to women who want to work as directors and producers?

Don’t produce or direct anything until you are absolutely ready to and know what you are doing. There is a reason why Sam Mendes won an Oscar for his first feature (American Beauty) and why Stephen Daldry won a BAFTA for his first film (Billy Elliot) – and neither of them were spring chickens. Jane Campion was well into her thirties when she made her first feature – two films before she made The Piano!

Your casting throughout the film was inspired. Most people think of Pauline McLynn as a comedy actress, so what made you choose her to play a downtrodden wife and mother?

That’s easy to answer. It was Elaine who suggested Pauline as I had worked with her on one of my shorts and we thought she might be mad enough to say yes to these two rookies.

She’s known for comedy, but I also knew she had spent many years in classical theatre in Ireland. We worked our dates around her as she is so busy, but she was game for it. I totally respect and love her. She is phenomenal as Helen and for the UK audience, they know when there are the few moments in the film when it is OK to laugh. She brought humanity. Even if life is really hard, there is still room to have a laugh. I very much hope to work with her again, if she’ll have me.

Similarly Paul McGann isn’t the first person you’d think of to play such a small-minded character…?

Actually he was the first person I thought of and he never believes me. I wrote the part with him in mind because he’s such a great actor and we don’t see enough of him on the big screen. His character’s name is even Paul because he was in my head. I never actually thought I’d get Mr. Paul McGann, but he loved the part and said he didn’t want to play him with any sympathy. So he got it straight away from the page. I told him I didn’t want to see any hint of a smile, other than a condescending one, until the end of his story when a huge genuine smile of relief needed to appear on his face, so the audience thinks there might be hope for him. He is utterly brilliant as Paul. So believable.

Or Rula Lenska to play an asylum seeker…?

Again, my first choice. Who’d have thought I’d be making my first feature film with my first choice dream leads? I was a teenager in the days of Rock Follies and she’s iconic! We met her for lunch and told her that she’d have to wear no make up and her hair wouldn’t be done up and as it was a dogme film, there would be no hair and make-up department anyhow.

At that point she leapt on me and said, ‘I’ll do it’. I think she loved the idea of getting away from the whole glamour thing. She’s actually quite a mucking in type of actor. Not a bit like the diva persona she has, she’s also great fun.

Considering we made the film as a calling card, it felt quite surreal presenting Gypo in competition at The Warsaw Film Festival with Rula Lenska on stage with me introducing the film in Polish. Elaine (producer) spent the night drinking top-notch vodka in a very traditional Polish bar after the screening.

Why is Helen so drawn to Tasha and her mother?

I think she’s lonely and when Tasha comes down and just chats to her in the kitchen it’s just a natural and sweet friendship growing. Then she takes pity on them when she meets them in the street and bonds. I can’t give too much away. The irony with Helen is that she’s second generation Irish, which I wanted to use to highlight her husband’s hypocrisy in his racism.

What rules do you need to follow to be dogme certified? And why did you decide to shoot Gypo that way?

There are ten rules of chastity which you could check out at that range from the film having to be shot hand held, all on location, only natural light and some other technical ones, but my favourite is that the director shall not be credited.

This is really about taking a step back from your own individual taste as a person and presenting the story in all its light and shade as it is. For us it was actually a creative decision from the beginning before I had even finished the script. I wanted to write a drama of social realism with real people presented and acted very earthily. It seemed a good idea. We took it so seriously we went to Copenhagen (the home of dogme) to have a meeting. It was still within the first ten years and they had a dogme advisor, which has all finished now.

It was only once we were there that we found out it would be the first ever official dogme from the UK. Others had referred to their films as dogme, but it merely referred to a handheld camera and what they meant was it was dogme style, but they hadn’t actually stuck to these rigid rules. Nor are dogme films necessarily low budget, but the stripping down of all illusion kind of lends itself to low budget filmmaking.

Did you do much research into asylum seekers living in Kent?

Yes I did and we had help on board in the form of the Kent Refugee Group and Rula Lenska and Chloe Sirene who played the two Czech Refugees spent time together and separately with Romany Czech families. There was a woman called Doinique at the Kent group who was actually a Romany Czech herself and helped Chloe with her accent – which is actually quite brilliant considering she grew up in North London.

Can you tell me more about Ruby Blue?

It’s about an elderly man who has just lost his wife and lives in a neighbourhood where nobody really knows each other anymore. A little girl moves in next door and re-ignites his interest in his neglected racing pigeon and he falls in love with a mysterious French woman who moves in over the road, played by Josiane Balasko who some might remember from a French film, Gazon Maudit?

I wrote the part for Josiane – I didn’t know her, but she loved it and said yes. I then found out she is absolutely iconic in France and a household name. I wrote a dark film again, but it became very clear from the beginning that the chemistry between Bob and Josiane was so fantastic that we decided to elevate the subplot into the main story.

Would you both be interested in making a lesbian rom-com?

I don’t think I’d be interested in making any kind of rom-com.

And here's a review of Gypo that appeared at (see


Gypo closed the 2006 London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival. It tells the story of a working class family that falls apart when the teenage daughter befriends a Czech refugee girl. It’s a cracking little drama that’s remarkably clever

Helen (Pauline McLynn) is a good-natured sort and a drudge. She cooks and cleans for her miserable husband Paul (Paul McGann) and plays permanent babysitter to the child their teenage daughter Kelly (Tamzin Dunstone) would rather forget she gave birth to.

When Kelly brings home an asylum seeker she met at hairdressing college, Tasha (Chloe Sirene), Helen empathises with the young girl’s plight. Being Irish she remembers how it felt to live as an immigrant in a hostile country. Paul, on the other hand, is a living breathing Daily Mail editorial. He greets Tasha with racist insults and over dinner airs his bigoted views on asylum seekers stealing British people’s jobs.

As Helen becomes increasingly attached to Tasha her marriage hits rock bottom and Paul walks out.

Told from three different perspectives, Gypo is cleverly edited to reveal just the right amount of information at the right time before the full story becomes clear. Our insight into each character grows as the story unfolds and even Paul arouses minor sympathies when his side is shown.

All the recognisable faces in Gypo play against type. Pauline McLynn is best known as the eccentric housekeeper, Mrs Doyle, in Father Ted. She’s virtually unrecognisable here and convinces as a dramatic actress in a sombre role. You also don’t expect to see the pretty boy from Withnail & I (Paul McGann) practically audition for the top job at the BNP, and as for Rula Lenska, as Tasha’s mother Irina, there’s no hint of the “crazy Polish countess” we saw in Celebrity Big Brother. Irina is running for her life and finances are so strained she’s more likely to be eating cat food than advertising it.

Gypo wears its political heart on its sleeve, but director and writer Jan Dunn ascribes to a solid manifesto. Many of the characters are stereotypical, but Dunn’s ignorant bigots are a true representation of a growing tide of thought in this country. The words ‘Gypo’ and ‘pikey’ are one of the few remaining derogatory terms to have slipped through the net of political correctness. It’s as acceptable as ‘paki’ was in the 1980s and hopefully this film will do something to educate those who use it.

As the first British movie to be shot in the Dogme style there no special effects, superficiality or artificial sound or lighting. This purist type of filmmaking leaves the audience, and its creators, able to concentrate solely on the story. Originated by Lars von Trier in 1995 during a centennial celebration of movie making, Dogme films tell it like it is and Gypo is no exception.

By: Rachael Scott
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Down East

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PostPosted: Sun Oct 29, 2006 7:29 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks for the article, Estelle.
I always like to hear what the filmmakers have to say about the process, unless they're just talking about special effects, and in this case, happily, she doesn't have to do that thanks to Dogme rules.
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PostPosted: Sun Oct 29, 2006 10:09 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Down East wrote:
Thanks for the article, Estelle.
I always like to hear what the filmmakers have to say about the process, unless they're just talking about special effects, and in this case, happily, she doesn't have to do that thanks to Dogme rules.

Yes, I like reading about the process, too. It's interesting that she thought the viewer would think there was some hope for the Paul character when he breaks out into a broad grin at the end of his story. Now I felt teeny bits of sympathy for him when he was describing how he felt trapped by his situation at home and work while havng a drink with his friend in the bar:

And when he contemplated committing suicide:

However, his grinning after he drops his wife off at the pier made me think what a bastard! It seemed that his base nature was reasserting itself at that point.


Last edited by emay on Sun Oct 29, 2006 9:17 pm; edited 1 time in total
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PostPosted: Sun Oct 29, 2006 8:04 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Oh gosh, just seeing that gruff and scruffy pic of him again, makes me go wobbly to see him in a down and out dockside, or seafaring flick--as a skipper, aboard his schooner or venturing out on a tramp steamer, a salty mariner.

Thud! And Woof, too!

Saw the old 1933 "King Kong" on TCM last night and though I like the newer one too, in the old one, the girl falls for the first mate---and he's a real salty, down and out mariner who doesn't like having women aboard, but then he falls in love with her--because she's so cute, that Fay Wray. I think that part of the story (the love angle between the mate and the girl makes all the difference. In the new flick she falls for the script writer (Adrian Brody) who, though I sure like Brody, is a screenwriter after all, and screenwriters sit around all day writing, they aren't physically up to saving damsels and going up against giant gorillas. Ya know? A seaman has better odds. I dont know why they changed that bit. Though they also did have the steamer mariner in the new movie version kind of fall in love with the girl too, but she winds up with Brody, the writer.

I really need to rewatch this movie.
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