Two local actresses are among the cast of a critically-acclaimed film - 'The Other Side of Sleep' - which will be released in cinemas in just over two weeks' time.
Former Athlone Community College student Vicky Joyce and Athlone IT staff member Betty Brennan play key roles in director Rebecca Daly's suspense drama.
The movie was screened at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival last May and it's now set for a release in Irish cinemas. It will be shown at the Birr Arts Centre and in a number of other locations across the country from March 16.
Speaking to the Westmeath Independent this week, the director said she cast Vicky and Betty for their parts because they had the "natural authenticity" she was looking for in a film set in the Irish Midlands.
The story involves Arlene (Antonia Campbell-Hughes), a sleepwalker who wakes up beside the body of a murder victim in the woods. Vicky Joyce plays the role of Donna, the victim's grieving sister, while Betty Brennan plays Ita, the victim's mother.
Both auditioned for their roles at an open casting event in St Kieran's Community Centre, Athlone, in January 2010. Neither had appeared in a film before.
Betty, an Assumption Road resident who works in AIT's examinations office, had previously acted on stage in productions at Athlone Little Theatre and the Passionfruit Theatre.
She is on the committee of St Kieran's Community Centre and, when the auditions were approaching, a colleague there, Mona Joyce, strongly encouraged her to go along.
"It was mentioned at a meeting. Mona said it would be a disgrace if one of our committee didn't audition for this film, and she looked at me!" laughed Betty.
The initial audition consisted of a conversation with the director on camera. "They wanted to see how you looked and sounded on film. They wanted to know how your emotions would come across on camera so they'd bring up an emotional topic and watch how you responded to it," she recalled.
Following a second meeting at her home, she was told she had been chosen as one of the cast. Her husband, Paul Brennan, also made an appearance in the film as one of the extras, a detective.
'The Other Side of Sleep' was shot in county Offaly and the filming process was "extremely interesting," Betty said.
"It's so different to theatre work, which is all about rehearsing, rehearsing, rehearsing in a set space. With the film you could be sitting around reading a magazine and watching the process for five or six hours and then your scene might take half an hour.
"I remember when I went in for make-up they wiped all my make-up off because I was a grieving mother so they didn't feel it was appropriate for me to have the make-up on. It was fascinating to watch the process behind the scenes and you were treated really well."
She said the level of emotional engagement required from a film actress was so intense that she wouldn't want to do it full-time, but she would love to appear in another film at some stage if the opportunity arose.
Betty and her husband saw the film at a screening in Galway last year. "I thought it was very well done. If you've ever lost somebody there's a surreal feeling when the world moves on but you don't. I think the film captures that very well."
Director Rebecca Daly said she was very impressed with the performances of both local actresses.
"Vicky has this really quiet confidence about her. She was immediately intriguing and really stood out on that day of open casting in Athlone.
"She has that natural acting ability where she is 'being' the character rather than 'acting'. That's exactly what I was looking for. She is also a talented singer and I think there's a connection between that and her acting."
She stated that Betty was able to connect with her emotions on screen in a meaningful way. "Betty only has a few scenes but they are very pivotal and emotional scenes and she was brilliant in them.
"When people saw Vicky and Betty's performances they were really surprised to find out they didn't have extensive acting experience going into this."
Rebecca has Midlands connections of her own, as her parents, Sue Nally and Fergus Daly, were originally from Ballymahon.
'The Other Side of Sleep' is her debut feature film. In addition to the well-received screening in Cannes last year, she has been attending showings of the film in numerous other locations around the globe.
"We've had screenings in places like Toronto and India, but I'm now really looking forward to seeing how the film is received by audiences here in Ireland," she said.
* 'The Other Side of Sleep' will be shown at Birr Arts Centre and in other locations nationwide from March 16. There will be gala preview of the film at the Irish Film Institute in Dublin on March 15, followed by a public interview with the director.