A ‘joyful’ short film about a young boy from west Belfast who wants to wear a dress to his Holy Communion is set to be part of a global LGBTQIA+ film campaign.
Just Johnny, the debut screenplay by the actor and writer Gerard McCarthy, has been selected for Five Films for Freedom , the world’s widest-reaching LGBTQIA+ digital campaign and will see the film screened for free to audiences across the world from 15-26 March.
Now in its ninth year, Five Films For Freedom is a partnership between the British Council and BFI Flare: London LGBTQIA+ Film Festival, with Just Johnny the first-ever film selected from Northern Ireland; joining films from Cyprus, Guyana, Nigeria and South Korea in the programme.
The short, which was directed by Terry Loane (Mickybo and Me/ The Last Rifleman) and produced by Shauna Shivers McAtamney, is the debut from Northern Ireland-based production company, Doyen Pictures. It stars Martin McCann, Roisin Gallagher and Tara Lynn O’Neill alongside newcomer Daniel Willis in the role of Johnny.
Filmed in north Belfast, it centres on Belfast parents Maria and Dermot, played by Gallagher and McCann, whose straightforward family life takes a sudden turn when their son, Johnny, announces that he wants to wear a dress for his Holy Communion. Both parents are keen to do what is best for Johnny, but their different opinions almost pull the happy family apart.
The film has already received global attention, including winning a Gryphon Award at the prestigious Giffoni International Film Festival in Italy and Audience Choice Awards at the Children’s Film Festival Seattle, with Producer Shauna Shivers McAtamney ‘overwhelmed’ with the reaction to the film so far.
She said: “Just Johnny has been on such a lovely journey, playing to audiences all over the world since 2021 and we're so proud of it – being the first Northern Ireland film selected for Five Films For Freedom has been the icing on the cake for us. The film has been championed by a lot of Family and LGBTQIA + film festivals across the US and Europe and we also got great feedback from Kinder Film Fest in Japan, where it was dubbed; their audiences really loved and embraced the film. The entire Just Johnny team has just been overwhelmed with the reaction.
“It’s a very joyful film which celebrates Northern Ireland. When we were developing the film in 2019, we really wanted to reflect the community and people from Northern Ireland with authenticity and really highlight the vibrancy and sense of community that we have here. We shot the film in March 2021, one of the first productions to film here after lockdown, which presented some challenges, but we were fortunate to have a talented cast and crew, whose professionalism and passion brought great energy to the set, making the experience so special and enjoyable.
“Gerard, our screenwriter, describes it a ‘love letter to parents everywhere’ and I think that sums it up perfectly as families across the world have connected beautifully with this Belfast story. It's also a celebration of children, their bravery, and their ability to look beyond labels and celebrate their friends for who they are.”
During BFI Flare, the Five Films for Freedom programme will be launched at a special event in Westminster on Tuesday, 21 March, before the films are presented as part of a BFI UK Shorts Programme on Saturday, 25 March.
Shauna said: “We’re really looking forward to participating in BFI Flare as this will be our London Premiere and we’re so delighted that our first screening will be for the Flare audience. The special event at Westminster is also an exciting opportunity and we can’t wait to meet the other filmmakers and celebrate their films, each of which is so different.
“It’s also amazing for us to come under the campaign’s banner of ‘love is a human right’ bringing universal, heartfelt human stories to audiences around the world. It just means so much for a story set in the north of Ireland to be chosen and given such a massive platform – Five Films for Freedom’s reach is incredible and their endeavour to make these powerful LGBTQIA+ films accessible to everyone is so important . That’s all you can want as a filmmaker really, to reach as many people as you can.”
Since 2015 and with the programmes live for less than 100 days, Five Films for Freedom films have been viewed 20 million times by people in over 200 countries and principalities, including all parts of the world where homosexuality is criminalised, and all countries where the death penalty is in place.
Jonathan Stewart, Director, British Council Northern Ireland, said: “Five Films for Freedom promotes rarely heard LGBTQIA+ stories from around the world, and makes them accessible to a global audience. We’re so delighted then to see Just Johnny as part of this year’s campaign. Northern Ireland has always had a great tradition for storytelling, and with our screen industry continuing to thrive on the international stage, we hope Just Johnny can inspire the next generation of filmmakers, actors and writers.
“People can follow this year’s campaign through the hashtag #FiveFilmsForFreedom and watch the other four films from across the world.”
Watch the Five Films for Freedom campaign trailer on YouTube: https://bit.ly/3INf1ka
Five Films For Freedom continues the British Council’s work building connections, understanding and trust between people in the UK and overseas through arts, education and English language teaching. This year the five selected titles have been translated and made available with subtitles/closed captioning in 23 languages.
All films will be available to view from 15- 26 March 2023 via the British Council Arts YouTube channel. To find out more visit: https://www.britishcouncil.org/arts/fivefilmsforfreedom
High resolution stills and images for the Five Films for Freedom 2023 campaign can be found here: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1snKW0qJ5TDRS27tgQwIHThpEPXY5C_vS
For media enquiries, please contact:
Claire McAuley, British Council: +44 (0)7542268752 E: Claire.McAuley@britishcouncil.org
About Just Johnny
Just Johnny, Terry Loane, 19 mins, 2021, UK - Northern Ireland
Maria and Dermot's straightforward family life takes a sudden turn when their son Johnny announces that he wants to wear a dress for his Holy Communion. Both parents are keen to do what is best for Johnny, but their different opinions almost pull the happy family apart.
Terry was born and bred in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and studied photography at Ulster University. He began designing for film in 1996 on the Oscar-nominated short Dance Lexie Dance, and in 1998 he wrote and directed his first short film comedy, CLUCK. His latest feature as director, The Last Rifleman, starring Pierce Brosnan and John Amos, is released this year. ‘Just Johnny’ was written by former Hollyoaks actor Gerard McCarthy who came out last summer as non-binary.
Supported by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and Northern Ireland Screen.
About Five Films for Freedom
Five Films for Freedom is a global, online short film programme in support of LGBTQIA+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual) rights, staged in partnership with BFI Flare: London LGBTQIA+ Film Festival. The 2023 edition runs from 15-26 March.
Every year we invite audiences everywhere to watch the five films online in solidarity with LGBTQIA+ communities in places where freedom and equal rights are limited, and to spread the word using the hashtag #FiveFilmsForFreedom.
Other films in Five Films for Freedom Campaign:
All I Know, Obinna Robert Onyeri, 16 mins, 2022, Nigeria/USA
Two friends meet for dinner, one goes to meet a stranger for a hook-up date while the other goes home. We follow a man’s search for his friend that puts him at risk of revealing life-altering secrets they both share.
Obinna is a Los Angeles based filmmaker, born in Lagos, Nigeria. He studied Film at the University of California, Los Angeles, receiving the Hollywood Foreign Press Association Directing Fellowship award and the George Burns and Gracie Allen Scholarship.
Buffer Zone, Savvas Stavrou, 16 mins, 2022, UK/Cyprus
Two young soldiers across enemy lines fall in love and find escape from their oppressive environments through music.
Savvas was born in Cyprus and studied Film at the University of Westminster, London. He works as a director across advertising, music video and short film, and he is developing his first feature. He is a Sundance Lab alumnus.
Butch Up! Yu-jin Lee, 12 mins, 2022, Korea
"Stop being miserable." After hearing her ex's last words to her, Mi-hae, a lead singer of an independent band, cannot get herself to sing the band's most popular song, Oppa's Girl.
Yu-Jin Lee studied film directing at the Korea National University of Arts. Her first short film, A Good Mother, was the most talked about queer film of the year in Korea.
Eating Papaw on the Seashore, Rae Wiltshire, Nickose Layne, 18 mins, 2022, Guyana
A coming-of-age film about Asim and Hasani, two queer Guyanese boys, navigating their feelings in a homophobic society.
Rae studied literature and linguistics at the University of Guyana. As a playwright, he won Best New Guyanese play at Guyana’s National Drama Festival in 2015, he recently won the Guyana Prize for Literature in Drama, 2022, for his play Don’t Ask Me Why. Nickose is a playwright, poet and actor. studied Theatre Arts at the University of the West Indies, Trinidad and Tobago.
About BFI Flare
BFI Flare: London LGBTQIA+ Film Festival is the UK’s longest running queer film event. It began in 1986 as Gay’s Own Pictures. By its 3rd edition it was tagged the London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival and since then has grown to become the largest LGBTQIA+ film event in the UK, and its most anticipated. The festival changed its name to BFI Flare in 2014 to reflect the increasing diversity of its films, filmmakers and audience. The festival is programmed by Grace Barber-Plentie, Jay Bernard, Michael Blyth, Zorian Clayton, Brian Robinson, Rhianna Ilube and Wema Mumma. Ulrich Schrauth is BFI Flare’s Expanded Programmer.
The 2022 edition of BFI Flare: London LGBTQIA+ Film Festival saw a successful return to BFI Southbank, with the programme presented in venue for the first time since 2019 and a selection of titles online via BFI Player. The programme screened with 56 feature premieres and 84 shorts screened from 42 countries. In a continued partnership between BFI Flare and British Council, the eighth edition of the global campaign Five Films For Freedom, a landmark initiative presenting 5 films for free to audiences globally, inviting everyone everywhere to show solidarity with LGBTQIA+ communities in countries where freedom and equal rights are limited. The 2022 digital campaign attracted over three million views from around the world. Since its launch in 2015, Five Films For Freedom films have been viewed by 20 million people online, in over 200 countries and principalities.
The 2023 edition runs from 15-26 March, presenting 28 World Premieres (across features and shorts) with 58 features and 90 shorts from 41 countries, and for the first time will present BFI Flare Expanded, a selection of four immersive art and virtual reality works from boundary-pushing LGBTQIA+ artists. bfi.org.uk/Flare
About the BFI
We are a cultural charity, a National Lottery distributor, and the UK’s lead organisation for film and the moving image.
Our mission is:
To support creativity and actively seek out the next generation of UK storytellers
To grow and care for the BFI National Archive, the world’s largest film and television archive
To offer the widest range of UK and international moving image culture through our programmes and festivals - delivered online and in venue
To use our knowledge to educate and deepen public appreciation and understanding
To work with Government and industry to ensure the continued growth of the UK’s screen industries
Founded in 1933, the BFI is a registered charity governed by Royal Charter.
The BFI Board of Governors is chaired by Tim Richards