Irish language children’s animated film Sol shines a light on grief says Myra Zepf

An Irish kids animation about grief makes history in premiering across seven TV platforms in Ireland and Britain this winter solstice. Jenny Lee chats to award-winning writer Myra Zepf, who translated the film into the Irish language and who also voices the character of Sol’s mother

Sol is made by Co Down animation studio Paper Owl Films
Sol is made by Co Down animation studio Paper Owl Films

"LOVE never goes away. It’s the light that’s always with you. It will keep the darkness away."

This is the message that eight-year-old Sol is given as he journeys through grief, in a new children’s animation. The 28-minute film, Sol, made by Holywood animation studio Paper Owl Films, celebrates the special bond between grandparents and grandchildren and the void that is left when they pass away.

Sent on an urgent quest to find the light that has gone out in the world, Sol’s adventurous journey enables him to realise his love for his grandmother is greater than the pain of his loss.

Sol premieres across seven channels in Britain and Ireland on the longest night of the year, the winter solstice, Monday December 21. It aims to bring light and comfort to families as the darkest year in modern times draws to a close.

Created and directed by Paper Owl Film’s Gráinne McGuinness, Sol was written by Sara Daddy, with the Irish language version translated by Myra Zepf.

“As soon as I read it, I was smitten and agreed instantly and wholeheartedly to be part of the team,” says the former Northern Ireland Children’s Writing Fellow, who also takes on the role of Sol’s mother in one of her first voice-acting jobs.

“I had been reading the script aloud at the kitchen table over and over for rhythm and pacing, so when I saw the casting call I thought I might as well give it a go since I knew it so well.”

Emmy award-winning Irish actor Fionnula Flanagan voices Sol’s grandmother, while Sol is voiced by 12-year-old Letterkenny boy Zana Akkoç.

The film also features beautiful visuals and atmospheric Celtic music, including the vocals of Clannad’s Moya Brennan.

“It has been remarkable to see all the elements come together – the text, the visuals, the voices and the soundtrack. The final film is something really special – beautiful to watch and full of heart-melting human truth,” adds Myra.

Sol explores the different aspects of grief (shock, yearning, disorientation and resolution) through the eyes of a child. And as a mother and a children's author, Myra believes very strongly in the power of stories to help us unpack and make sense of the tough stuff life throws at us.

“Children often mask their fears and grief. Watching a film like communicates clearly that it is alright, and natural, for them to be struggling with their feelings.

“?What speaks to me in the film is the sense that we can train ourselves to look for light, even in the darkness. Sol's grief doesn't get smoothed away by a sugary ending. He learns to honour the joy and the sorrow and to be true to both,” adds the Co Down mum-of-three.

The animation received funding from NI Screen’s Irish Language Broadcast Fund and Screen Fund and, as an Irish language novelist, Myra is delighted to see the film will be broadcast in the Celtic languages of Irish, Welsh and Scottish Gaelic.

“The simultaneous broadcast feels like such a significant moment. It's a beautiful addition to the canon of Irish language family films but equally I'm delighted that it will be watched and loved by audiences that reach far beyond those languages.”

Distributed by Aardman, after being broadcast in Britain and Ireland it will be taken to the international market.

Earlier this year Myra’s young adult fiction book Nóinín was named KMPG Children's Book Ireland Book of the Year. She admits 2020 has been a rollercoaster of emotions for her.

?“It has been an absolute white-knuckle ride for me, with dizzying highs and lows. I got married, won three awards and published two books. But the behind-the-scenes reality has been painfully tough for me and for people I love.”

Looking forward, she is developing her Rita picture book series for television, writing a new young adult verse novel and working on a cross-art-form collaboration with Belfast dancer Clara Kerr and photographer Jo Guthrie.

:: Sol will be broadcast on Monday December 21 live at 6.30pm on S4C, TG4 and BBC ALBA and at 7.30pm on CiTV. It will also be available on demand at iTV Hub, All 4 and My5.