Photo: Toma McCullim

Carmel Winters, filmmaker and playwright

Name and position: Carmel Winters, filmmaker and playwright

Age: 48

Lives: Ballydehob

Family: My recently married wife Toma, her lovely children and grandchildren from her previous relationship, and the entire Winters clan.  

Pets: We have Lucky, a mischievous little Jack Russelly-type dog, and up until recently a gorgeous farm dog called Brutus, named before he came to us - ironically I think, because he was more of a Beauty than a Brutus.  Both dogs are in our film ‘Float like a Butterfly’, which is out now. I have a pain in my heart watching Brutus on screen now because he ran into a car only weeks ago and was killed. I comfort myself with the notion that he is back with his first anam cara, a lovely local farmer called Willie Cadogan who died early in Brutus’ life. I think Brutus always missed him!

Favourite thing about Cork: Oh the people definitely. Cork is like a jewel box and Corkonians are the gems. I love our curiosity and interest in people, and all the new communities forming.

Least favourite thing about Cork: The fecking Lee wall and the amount of trees that are getting chopped down. What’s that song? ‘Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone’?

One thing you’d change about Cork: Wouldn’t it be great if Cork city and council got together to end homelessness? The main thing it would take is the will to do it. It costs a lot more to keep people on the street - or in Direct Provision - than it does to create proper safe homes. We would all be the better for it and Cork could lead the way for the rest of the country!

When you were small, what did you want to be as a grown-up?

Do you remember when you broke off the bigger side of the chicken wishbone and got to make a wish? I remember fervently wishing that I was a queen! Not a princess, mind - I must have liked the idea of being the boss of things. If I was queen now though, I’d abolish the monarchy. Hard to believe in equality when some people are deemed to be born ‘royal’.

Tell us about your career progression to your role today:

I did a lot of workshops and volunteer work early on with various communities and helplines.

I was always making drama as a rehearsal for real life and giving life to stories that I knew really mattered to people and would empower them.

That’s not so different from what I am doing now with my plays and films. Although with ‘Float like a Butterfly’, of course I am talking to a bigger, more international audience.

What is the most enjoyable aspect of what you do?

It is the best feeling in the world when audiences leap to their feet after a screening and queue up afterwards to hug you and thank you and tell you their stories.

You know you’ve touched their hearts and that’s always the goal for me.

What motivates you?

From when I was small I think I had a great yen to mend relationships between people. Social injustice makes me both sad and angry. I try to use that energy to inspire a love of equality and inclusion. Lately, I am absolutely convinced that we need to let ourselves feel as much joy and hope as we can. We are bombarded with information that provokes anxiety. We have such a short time on this planet. It doesn’t make sense to do anything else but love each other well and share what we’ve got.

What advice would you give your 15 year old self?

Oh what a big question! I think I would have benefitted from having a mentor. But then again I had ten older brothers and sisters, and some extraordinary role models in my mother and her friends. They were and are (some have died) so good to each other. I remember one of them, Ita O’Callaghan, who didn’t have any children of her own, taking me under her wing, and she died when I was around 15 - I’m not sure. I missed her more than I even knew. I think the advice I would give myself is to show my love and appreciation for the older women in my life at every opportunity.

If you weren’t in the job you have, what would you be doing?

I would definitely dedicate myself to radically changing the education system. We have some wonderful teachers in the Irish education system but they are struggling to overcome a system that rewards so few of its young people. Being ‘academic’ is only one of a number of ways of expressing your capacity and intelligence.

What is your greatest life or career achievement to-date?

‘Float like a Butterfly’ opening the Cork International Film Festival in November meant the world to me. I will never ever forget the waves of love, support and goodwill that I felt from the audience in the Everyman. It was beautiful. And then when the film won the Audience award… ah here, I love you Cork.

Who has had the biggest influence on you in your life?

My mother Elaine definitely. I feel so lucky to have been born to such an exceptional, inspiring mother. She’s an extremely intelligent and compassionate woman. I remember hopping into her bed either late at night or in the morning and having the ‘big chats’ about life. She doesn’t have a judgemental bone in her body. Instead she has this profound ability to empathise with anyone from any walk of life.

How do you switch off?

I switch off (to stress) by switching on to nature. I am absolutely madly in love with this planet and its creatures. A perfect day for me would include traipsing across a headland with a camera, searching rock pools with a gang of curious kids, and us all sitting around a camp fire that night under the stars cooking our supper.

What is your favourite Cork memory?

I have so many favourite memories - the most recent was Easter Saturday. We had a bonfire to remember my lovely friend Adele Plant who died in the prime of her life, almost two years ago. It would have been her birthday and she was a great woman for inviting everyone and anyone to gather around the flames, so we did the same. My step-grandchild Oscar, five, and this lovely six year old girl fostered by my friend were watching the sparks rise off the fire as the logs were thrown on. The squeals of delight from them! It was just magic. My friend Adele would have been proud.


What is your favourite place in Cork?

The graveyard in Aughadown near Skibbereen is just heavenly. It’s perched on the river Ilen and people have been buried there since the 1000s. I have spotted choughs, nesting egrets, seals, foxes, otters and much more there. It’s heavenly!

Do you have a favourite quote or motto?

‘Whatever the question, love is the answer’.

When are you at your happiest?

I am at my happiest at some point during most days. Sometimes it’s as simple as having had a good coffee, ha! Let me see something beautiful - in a person, a creature, the landscape, a work of art, and I’m delighted.

Any regrets?

I was working on my last film ‘Snap’ when I got a call from my sister to say that my father was dying and hadn’t long left, perhaps 20 minutes. I was in Dublin, six and a half hours away. So I went into a strangely calm, almost meditative state, called the studio where I was working on the film, let them know that I wouldn’t be in, and went about driving home.

I took my time to begin with as I assumed there was no chance I would get home in time and I was braced to get the news whilst driving. I didn’t want to get into a panic where I wasn’t capable of driving. I got as far as the midway cafe on the motorway between Dublin and Cork and stopped for a coffee. I think I thought the news might come then and I’d be steadier to receive it. I even had a pavlova. The news didn’t come. I started driving again. As I got closer to Cork I couldn’t believe it - he was still alive, there was a chance I could be there. I started rushing. There were roadworks in Mallow, delays with a diversion. I was getting desperate then. I was so close...I drove on. Got there and he had died about 20 minutes before. I am gutted reliving it. That fecking pavlova. Why did I stop for that?

What is your hidden talent?

I have an extraordinary sense of smell. Once on an island in the middle of nowhere, I was driving along and smelt McDonald’s. Toma my partner was like ‘Aha! For once your sense of smell fails you, there’s not even a McDonalds on the island!’ We drove on and about two miles down the road we passed a massive paper McDonald’s bag someone had thrown from a car window.

Anything else you’d like to share with us?

The bliss of having a fox take a long look at you.