TEENAGE hormones and pregnancy hormones collide in an unexpected way in a new feature film set in Derry, starring Bronagh Gallagher and produced by her sister Louise.
A Bump Along the Way tells the story of fun-loving, 44-year-old single mum Pamela (Gallagher) who becomes pregnant following a one night-stand, much to the shame of her sensible, vegan teenage daughter Allegra (Lola Petticrew).
As Pamela deals with the reality of becoming a mum for a second time, Allegra tries to navigate her teenage life and make sense of her family, friendships and romance with a mix of confidence, naivety and anxiety.
The film, which goes on general release on October 11, has already received international critical acclaim at the Toronto Film Festival, as well as winning Best Irish First Feature at the Galway Film Festival.
Written by Derry woman Tess McGowan, produced by Louise Gallagher and directed by Shelly Love, A Bump Along The Way is a Northern Ireland Screen film made through the New Talent Focus Scheme which enables writers, directors and producers to make their first feature film.
For Love, the only Derry "outsider" in the production (born to parents from Northern Ireland, but brought up in the Scottish highlands), it's a storyline she closely identified with.
"When I read the script, I instantly felt a connection to the story as I could relate to Pamela the protagonist in so many ways. Like Pamela, I am a single parent and, having given birth to my baby in my 40s, we are both geriatric mums,” says Love, who became a mother at 43.
Having recently moved from London to Bangor, to be closer to family, Love's first networking meeting was with Louise Gallagher, who had just come on board as the producer for A Bump Along The Way.
"I first met Louise for an informal hello and brought my baby along. She had seen my show reel and responded really positively to my work and when she started telling me about this storyline of an older, single mum, the timing was serendipitous.
"As a female film-maker, I am driven to tell female stories and with such a captivating mother-and-daughter relationship at the heart of the story, I felt compelled to direct the film," said Love, who has devised, written and directed numerous music videos, commercials and short films.
Both characters in the film, Pamela and Allegra, are victims of bullying and suffer from a lack of self-esteem; they have to find the courage to stand up for themselves and transform into fuller, grown-up versions of themselves. And while the script contains classic Derry humour, as a director, Love was keen not to let the comedy element overpower the serious messages contained within the film.
"I was charmed by the humour in the script and excited by the opportunity to direct funny but emotive performances. However, it was really important to me that the comedy elements of the film sing out from a meaningful place and that the performances be relateable and never overplayed," she tells me.
Key to making this happen, was Love's decision to cast Bronagh Gallagher in the role of pregnant Pamela.
"Born and raised in Derry, Bronagh’s roots in the place give her character an authenticity that would be hard to match," she says of the well-known actor and singer.
"She brought sincerity and depth to her role and delivered a believable nuanced performance rich in understatement. Whilst her natural playful nature and Derry cheek brought the injection of comedy necessary to play Pamela," adds Love, who was also full of praise for young actress Lola Pettigrew.
The 23-year-old, who appeared alongside Christopher Eccleston in last year's BBC One drama series Come Home, picked up the Bingham Ray New Talent Award at the Galway Film Festival for her portrayal of Allegra.
"Lola is very talented and will go a long way," Love says. "She was an obvious choice to play Allegra. Playing a part younger than her actual age, Lola was able to navigate the many coloured emotional states of the neurotic teen Allegra."
Working to a very tight budget and shooting in just 18 days, Love encountered many obstacles. However, that of location was solved by the film's director of photography Mark McCauley, whose childhood home, which had just been put on the market, was used as the set for Pamela and Allegra's home.
"There was lots of freedom with the space, giving us a blank canvas in which to build the kitchen – which, for many, is the heart of the home, where all the awkward conversations are played out."
However, the biggest challenge for Love as a director came from being a single parent.
"As any mother knows, those early years are difficult – with breastfeeding and sleepless nights. Add to that the pressure of working full time and unsociable hours, it was emotionally and physically draining," says Love, who found support from the organisation Raising Films and the Film and Televisions Family Support Fund, a pilot fund to provide a helping hand to families juggling a professional career with caring responsibilities on a limited budget.
While that funding covered childcare costs during the shoot, Love is grateful to NI Screen for providing the financial support needed to cover the remaining childcare costs from script development through to delivery of the film.
"Directing my first feature film marks a pivotal moment in my career. These moments don't come very often and I cannot emphasise enough the value of knowing that my wee boy was safe, happy and being cared for by people I could trust," she says.
"I hope that the positive steps made NI Screen, which enabled me as a single mum to direct my first feature, go some way to levelling the playing ground for other women and carers in the industry," adds Love, who is currently working on developing her own feature as both writer and director.
And is there a message she hopes audiences take away from A Bump Along the Way?
"As well as the obvious comment on bullying, it's good to remind people not to involve themselves in matters that are a woman's own. Every woman's story is very different and their reasons behind having children, or not to, or when, are very varied and very personal and it's for society not to judge."
:: A Bump Along the Way is in cinemas from October 11.