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This Irish film about an 8-year-old atheist girl is winning lots of awards

The short film is going to be shown on TG4 tonight.

Video / YouTube

RÚBAÍ IS A little girl who knows her mind – so much so that she’s decided she’s an atheist.

Her First Holy Communion is fast approaching, but the eight-year-old refuses to take part. Rúbaí is the star of the titular short film – written by Antoin Beag Ó Colla, produced by Gemma O’Shaughnessy for Magamedia Teo, and directed by Louise Ní Fhiannachta – which has won a rake of awards over the past two years.

Those who haven’t seen the film yet can catch it when it airs on TG4 at 8.15pm tonight.

A discussion for modern Ireland

Ní Fhiannachta said that in the film, Rúbaí (who is played by Indreabhán native, Doireann Ní Fhoighil) “faces emotional blackmail, religious and philosophical debate and out-and-out intolerance in today’s supposedly diverse and modern Ireland”.

Ní Fhoighil was just seven years old when the short was filmed in Spiddal, Co Galway, in February 2013, and has gone on to land a role on TG4′s long-running soap Ros na Rún.

Rúbaí recently won the jury prize for Best Short in its category at the Babel Film Festival in Sardinia, which is a festival for films in minority languages. Among its many other accolades are the Cleveland International Film Festival’s Programmer’s Choice Award and the Children’s Jury Award at this year’s Alé Kino in Poland.

It was also selected to screen at the prestigious Tribeca Film Festival in 2014.

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The subject matter of the film is very timely, acknowledged Ní Fhiannachta, given the current debate around religion in schools.

She was given the first draft of the script by the writer Antoin Beag Ó Colla, and “fell in love with Rúbaí – she just spoke to me on so many levels”.

“I didn’t want to make a controversial film, I wanted to make a film about a little independent thinker, who would really send a message out and challenge our traditions in society,” said the director. Rúbaí was funded by the Bord Scannán na hÉireann/Irish Film Board’s Gearrscannáin scheme.

The search for Rúbaí

They auditioned 43 young girls before they found the perfect Rúbaí.

“They were all great actresses, but the youngest of them and the smallest of them was little Doireann, who just blew me away”, said Ní Fhiannachta.

She has lots of fantastic traits. She is one of the most intelligent actresses I’ve ever worked with. One thing that really struck me, even though she has the adorability factor, was watching her act – she doesn’t have to do much but you see there’s a lot going on upstairs. The cogs are turning.

“The question always on everyone’s lips is ‘where did you get this little girl?’,” she added. Of Rúbaí’s story, she added:

“The story is universal and I suppose on a national level Rúbaí is a new voice in modern Ireland who challenges our traditions.”

“There’s a huge change happening in Ireland at the moment, especially with the arts,” she added, name-checking the “array of new voices” like Waking the Feminists and Repeal the Eighth.

Irish pride

That an Irish-language short has struck such a chord abroad is a real sense of pride to all involved in making Rúbaí.

“For me, being an Irish speaker there is another level, another layer of pride that goes with that, because you do see your film up there being screened with short films in every language,” said the director.

And being in New York, being in Tribeca and being anonymous in the audience and watching a short not only that you’ve made, but in your own mother tongue, is a tremendous sense of pride. It all goes back to identity.

The 12-minute long short also stars Brídín Nic Dhonncha, Dara Devaney and Donncha Crowley. Ní Fhiannachta has just wrapped post-production on TG4′s new six-part comedy-musical drama series, Eipic – written by Mike O’Leary and produced by Ciara Nic Chormaic for Magamedia - to be broadcast in the spring.

Rúbaí screens on TG4 tonight at 8.15pm.

Read: ‘Our Father’ ad banned – because it might offend non-Christians and atheists>

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