20th May 2017. By Anne Doyle: The film “Sanctuary” is winning prestigious awards and vastly becoming the most critically acclaimed movie of the year, after it boasts an all-star cast of down syndrome actors while highlighting the world they live in from their own perspective. O’Donnell says “As head of the production of Zanzibar Films it’s important to make the right choices for the company as well as having the responsibility to deliver excellent film to a large audience, I thought it was time that I started to push some boundaries” She goes on to say I knew Producer Edwina Forkin would do a tremendous job but we had trouble convincing people to jump on board with us until we secured the right partnerships, it was a difficult pitch but we were persistent and believed in our vision and that payed off. I had a clear vision for this film and I was so glad that Len Collins agreed to direct. I knew there was something very special about the script and that this film had to be made.

Sanctuary is beginning to scoop up awards at every festival. It already won ‘Best Feature Film’ at Galway Film Fleadh, ‘The Michael Dwyer Discovery Award’ at The Dublin International Film Festival and ‘Best Director’ at Newport Beach Film Festival’ Shari O’Donnell with Irish Film Board Representative Clodagh Bowyer at Newport Beach Film Festival were the film Sanctuary won ‘Best Director’

Disability issues
One of the things that initially concerned the makers of Sanctuary was that people might assume that it was a “worthy” film, rather than an entertaining one.

“It’s a great funny script but it’s not always going to attract people when you talk about disability,” said Collins. “That’s our issue that we have to deal with, really.”

“As far as I am aware, it is the first film to use actors with intellectual disabilities in this way,” he added.

It’s an ensemble cast and they are playing versions of themselves in many respects. It’s us entering their world as opposed to [how] films before took a character with intellectual disability and put them into our world.

He name-checks films like Forrest Gump and Rainman, which notably also did not star actors with an intellectual disability. The idea of non-disabled actors playing people with intellectual or physical disabilities is something that garners much discussion, particularly in the disabled community.

Diversity and film

Diversity and film

The need for diversity includes racial and gender diversity. Collins reflected back to his early days as an actor, when he got to know a certain Idris Elba. Elba had been “finding it very difficult to get work” and finding it hard to get roles for Afro Caribbean actors, said Collins.
“In England at the time there were very few [Afro Caribbean] actors who could get work and very few parts written for them,” he said. But today, while the issue of diversity is far from settled in the film world, Elba is one of the UK’s biggest stars.

O’Donnell’s career is set to sustain acclaim after her recent departure of Zanzibar Films where she served as Head of Production for almost a decade. She is now founder and CEO of her own production company in Ireland, Nantosuelta Entertainment. According to NBC 2 News “Hollywood filmmakers are getting in line to utilize the tax incentives that Nantosuelta Entertainment is offering upfront. This type of incentive is a rare find for filmmakers.”