The International Film Festival Rotterdam welcomed new and emerging filmmakers around the world to bring independent cinema closer to viewers. This year, one of the films that managed to deeply touch audiences is Deborah Haywood’s debut Pin Cushion, a story about motherhood, bullying and social acceptance.
A young teenage girl desperately trying to make new friends with the most popular girls in school, and a single mother with physical disabilities trying her best to protect her from the scary world of grown-ups, at the same time coping with her own problems. Pin Cushion is a familiar coming-of-age tale, yet with mesmerising storytelling techniques and original approaches to these social issues that we tend to neglect in our everyday life. Plus, it was photographed by Australian Nicola Daley.
We chatted with writer/director Deborah Haywood on the ground in Rotterdam.
Can you tell us a bit about your journey before you reached Pin Cushion?
I had my daughter when I was 17 and I went to university quite late, at 23. As I have no qualifications, I had to take this course before I can get in, and there is a module called ‘Creative Writing’. I took that because it sounds fun. Then I got addicted to it. It felt like my real nourishment. It made me feel so alive. That’s where I started my degree in ‘Creative Writing and Literature’. I really wanted to be a writer, I tried to write novels in my spare time and I suddenly realised that I am an awful writer. I can’t be bothered to write all the descriptions and details. I just like the ideas, stories and the dialogue.
Then I changed my direction towards film and TV. I started again with short-film scripts and some competitions. I then got the chance to be the director of my own script. It scared me thinking about going on the film set at first, as I really had no experience in leading and directing people. But I took a risk anyway, as you know, life’s short.
On the other hand, I heard about how there weren’t many female directors, and I thought to myself, if I did not take this chance, I wouldn’t be able to set an example for people after me, even though there were fears.
Can you elaborate more on the name of the film?
Where I am from, ‘pin cushion’ is a term associated with girls who have a bad reputation in schools, like going out with lots of boys. So, part of its meaning is for Iona, our main character who was going through a complex stage of her life. Another meaning is that it implies someone who suffered a lot of pain, like being pricked and stabbed like a pin cushion. In our case, it’s both Iona and her mother Lyn, who suffered from bullying caused by the society around them. You are trapped inside, and you feel all these pains inside of you.
Like many film directors throughout history, you have chosen to make a coming-of-age film as your debut. Can you comment?
I went through bullying when I was in school which made me want to explore and talk about it. I wrote Pin Cushion based on my personality. And I actually don’t regard it as a coming-of-age film, I love to see it as a love story between a mother and a daughter. It has coming-of-age tropes in it. But for me, when you have a traumatic teenage period, you get stuck there and it stays there forever. But it also means that at that age, every day is a new adventure, a new emotion and it’s a time of life when our brain is not fully formed yet. We do act impulsively without thinking of consequences. We take risks. It’s when you’re not fully a person but you have a slight idea who you are and what you want to be. It’s the most exciting time of your life.
The film opens with a sweet fairy tale look and suddenly takes a very dark turn towards the end. Can you talk about this interesting juxtaposition?
I am naturally attracted to colours. I wanted to create a fairy tale aesthetic because I think it helps to push up the brutal side of the story to extreme level. Fairy tale books always have bright, saturated colours with sweet faces, but then we also have a girl getting poisoned with an apple, or trapped in a tower, or put to sleep for many years. Those are quite brutal elements dressed up in beautiful colours. On the other hand, if we made this film in a more social realist style or docu-drama, it would have been too heart-aching and not as enjoyable.
As a film with a strong social message, what do you expect about its future possibility of wider distribution?
If you have been through bullying in your life, it is such a lonely experience. I am hoping I can bring this film to as many people as possible, so victims of bullying may find themselves in my story, and it can help them feel better. I also hope to be able to bring Pin Cushion to Australia someday in the future.