Director's Statement

HEADESPACE is a piece that seeks to place the lived experience of a character with an intellectual disability front and centre of the narrative. In Tony, we meet a complex and multidimensional character; a man with a lot going on in his life. As we enter Tony’s world, we begin to understand that he is not the master of his own destiny. He is disempowered and disenfranchised in many aspects of his life by his current circumstances. People talk about him without him. Money orbits him without ever finding its way into his pocket, and he lives in a chaotic environment where he who shouts the loudest is heard the most. Even a simple short-term solution- such as acquiring a new pair of headphones- is anything but simple for Tony as we unpack the complex intersections of barriers he meets in his life.

As Tony’s frustration mounts, we understand his wish to take back some power by whatever means possible. There are no easy solutions to the problems Tony faces. However, in the character of Ruth, her subtle solidarity and the signs of a burgeoning friendship we can begin to imagine a pathway for Tony to a future in which he feels a little more seen and heard. There is an offer of wry and relatable humour in the ending, as we wonder alongside Tony- why is nothing ever easy?

HEADESPACE intends to amplify a narrative that often remains unseen and unheard; and offer a character study that defies the tendency for reductive, one-dimensional portrayals of people with intellectual disabilities that can be dominant in cultural representation. As the writer and director of the piece, I wanted to open up the doors to the ‘group home in the community’ for people with intellectual disabilities and ask us to consider the complexity of life within its walls. Furthermore, I wanted to create rich and authentic characters for learning disabled talent, and build upon my longstanding collaborations with artists and actors with intellectual disabilities to create a film where authentic, excellent performances to represent this world would be facilitated.

I have spent the past 10 years developing a collaborative relationship with performers and creatives with intellectual disabilities and working within these complex and at times, mind-boggling systems that support them. The dramatic tension between society’s ‘duty of care’ to those perceived as vulnerable and the basic human desire for autonomy is something that I have always been artistically drawn to exploring and amplifying. With Headspace, I wanted to lift the lid on ‘that house’ at the end of the suburban housing estate that you know is there but haven’t really considered and to open up the stories from within. In this sense, Headspace offers an authentic slice of life drama that doesn’t shy away from the challenges facing the characters, but also illuminates the gentle comedy that can often emerge in absurd or somewhat chaotic circumstances.

The piece is suitably serious in parts, with shades of light and wry humour throughout. The style in which Headspace is shot seeks to capture the mood of Tony’s ‘community house’- a situation that may seem absurd to an outside eye but is treated with the banality of the everyday to those who live within it. In this world you don’t get to choose your family, and you don’t really get to choose your friends either.

HEADESPACE is my narrative short debut, and what I hope to be the first of a future body of work that builds on my commitment to developing methodologies for working inclusively in film. I wrote the piece for my long-time collaborator Mark Smith (Tony), whose insight and consultation was invaluable to the development of the work. Mark’s generosity with his own lived experience heavily informs Headspace, and every situation that Tony finds himself in, is in fact authentically informed/ inspired by the lived realities that both Mark and my collaborators at Run of the Mill Arts have shared with me across the years; an enormous privilege that I hope to have honoured with this film. As filmmakers, we approached the creation of this work with a total openness to allowing our leading learning disabled ensemble cast bring their own insights and creativity to the work – towards achieving an authentic representation, naturalistic delivery and excellence in performance, and ultimately to learn from them how best to create an environment of accessibility and inclusion across the filmmaking process. I hope you enjoy the result.

Director's Biography

Aisling Byrne is an award-winning theatre maker with an emerging filmmaking practice. In 2020 she was awarded a bursary from the Arts Council of Ireland to develop her film work and in 2021 was one of 10 shortlisted finalists in the Virgin Media/ Screen Ireland Discovers annual short film competition. She is currently resident with Arcade Film, with a feature in development. Aisling is the founder and Artistic Director Run of the Mill, an award winning arts organisation at the forefront of inclusive arts practice in Ireland supporting learning disabled artists and performers.

She is Co-Artistic Director of documentary theatre company Talking Shop Ensemble alongside playwright and filmmaker Shaun Dunne. She has previously collaborated with Arcade Film to create short poetry films highlighting the work of Eavan Boland Outside History (St Patricks Festival/ RTE commission, 2021) and Quarantine (Culture Night commission, 2020). Vulnerable, a short poetry film she wrote and directed for The Abbey Theatre’s Dear Ireland 3, was selected for Kerry International Film Festival in 2021. Recent theatre credits include Making a Mark (Project Arts Centre, 2019) & Singing for Survival (Draiocht, 2019). In 2019 she was awarded the Artist in the Community Bursary Award by CREATE, in recognition of her collaborative practice with artists with intellectual disabilities.

2022 - HEADSPACE, Short
2021- VULNERABLE, Short


Cast & Crew

Directed by: Aisling Byrne

Written by: Aisling Byrne

Produced by: Killian Coyle

Cinematography: Kilian Waters

Editing: Dan Keane

Production Design: Jenny Owens

Costume Design: Niamh Hussey

Make-Up & Hair: Bairbre Ni Bhroin

Original Score: Stephen Rennicks

Sound: Edmond Moriarty, Saoirse Connolly

Cast: Ger Kelly, Mark Smith, Jackie O'Hagan, Lauren Larkin, Daniel Ryan, Simon Delaney, Clare Monnelly, Brian Busteed

Nominations and Awards

  • Short Film Candidates 2023