Allie O'Rourke chats to Female First
Allie O'Rourke chats to Female First

It was a shocking incident that left a lasting scar on transgender comedian Allie O’Rourke, but now it is about to be turned into a film that can change a few perceptions.

After becoming joint winners of this year's Virgin Media Discovers Short Film Competition in association with Screen Ireland, Allie and her co-writer and fellow trans comedian Becky Cheatle are embarking on a project that will see them produce their first film.

Giving it the devious title of Punch Line, it will look at the transphobic attack that took place in a Dublin skatepark three years ago, with a comedic element laced into a story that contains thought-provoking topics. 

Trans stories are rarely told by those living a trans life and as Allie told Female First, the pain she felt after the unprovoked attack three years ago needed to be channeled in a direction that allowed a healing process to begin.

"You need to find a way to turn the hate that is spawned from an incident like the assault I suffered into something else otherwise you will go insane," began Allie, who has been handed a €30,000 budget to make the move by Virgin Media, with award-winning director and screenwriter Lenny Abrahamson (Normal People) among those on the judging panel.

"The story of this film dates back to the assault I suffered in a state park and while the characters in this film are fictional, we look at how a person can process that kind of incident and get on with their life.

"We also need to make this film entertaining because if it is just a tragic sob story, there would be no point in making this.

"This is something horrible that happened and we are trying to turn it into something fun and light, which is an interesting challenge when you consider what a difficult moment this way in my life."

The Virgin Media Discovers Short Film Competition set out with a mission to give a chance for stories to be told that may not normally be aired and with Rehan Ali making a film about his experiences growing up as a refugee in Tipperary, Punch Line will also offer a diverse subject area that will provoke discussion.

"When lockdown happened and I couldn't do stand-up anymore, I started screenwriting and this Virgin Media film competition has given me a platform to put this story out there," added Allie, who won the competition that saw hundreds of applicants submit entries.

"As a stand-up comedian, you don't need permission to do your jokes in a club, but you do need someone to give you a chance to make a film, so we are grateful to Virgin Media and Film Ireland for allowing us to do this.

"The brief of the competition was to tell stories that don't normally get told. They have lived up to that brief and now we have to make a film that justifies the backing Virgin Media has given us.

"When I was growing up, I didn't see a lot of trans people on TV and when I did, they were either murder victims or murderers. 

"What this film will hopefully show is that trans people can make good films and we are also keen for a trans story to be told by people who experience this life every day. 

"Trans people are more visible than they have ever been and that suggests we have made some progress, but we have also become convenient bogey men for the far right, especially in America and the UK.

"In reality, we are just people who want to live our lives and yet we look at TV in America and they still see trans people as a threat to everything they hold dear to themselves. 

"One advantage of Ireland is we are a small country and you can't hide away from people and big issues. If you know someone, it is hard to have a prejudice against them or people like that and we have seen that with the big referendums we have had in recent years."

Allie's writing partner Becky Cheatle is relishing the chance to work on her first film, as she hopes being given a chance to work on this project is evidence that doors are opening to more diverse filmmaking projects.

"So many people applied for this competition and it was amazing to get through to the final 10, but we are delighted to get so far and we are assembling a great team together to make this film," Becky told Female First.

"There was a sense that Virgin Media were keen to explore more diverse stories and that is encouraging, as these kinds of stories may not have been told in the past.

"It is strange to be making a film about a transphobic attack on a friend of mine, but what is nice about Allie's story is the character is a victim of an attack and yet they are not a victim. They find a way to come through this, they are not looking for pity and it is a story of strength in many ways.

"It is a horrible incident, but we are trying to make a film that will have some comedy elements to it and will make people laugh, so hopefully it is well so hopefully the reception to this film is positive.

"There is a lot of stuff about trans people in the media right now and a lot of stuff is spoken about us, but is not being told by people speaking from our perspective, so we have a chance to change that thanks to the chance Virgin Media have given us."

Virgin Media Discovers was launched in 2019 in association with the Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival to discover and support fresh and fearless filmmakers. This year we made the competition even bigger by also partnering with Fís Eireann/Screen Ireland, offering filmmakers support to develop scripts and bring them to screen.

Words by Kevin Palmer for Female First. You can follow Kevin on Twitter @RealKevinPalmer.

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