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Positive Discrimination


Written and Directed by Charlo Johnson

Starring Róisín O’Donovan, Liam Burke, Niall Dempsey & Maghnús Foy

Review by Chris Olson


With a film title as politically evocative as “Positive Discrimination”, few viewers would enter into Charlo Johnson’s short movie without a little suspicion that there might be a not-so-hidden message about equality. However, this story, much like the title, proves that all is not what it originally appears, and that our perception of what is put in front of us can drastically change in a heartbeat.

Liam Burke plays Joe, an elderly Irishman who hobbles along the busy streets, being helped by a community that seems to deem him worthy of charity. Passers-by help him cross the road, or pick up his shopping when he drops it, without questioning the quality of his character.

Does age absolve of us of our pasts? Does a diminished bodily healthy diminish our sins? Furthermore, should we even care about one’s past when deciding to engage in an act of kindness? These are the quandaries that Johnson’s short film throws into the ring.


Alongside Burke, is Róisín O’Donovan who plays Tanya - a part-time prostitute and student, soon to be evicted from her flat. Her situation engenders little sympathy from a society bent on criticising the “youth” with their “Twitter”. Tanya represents a complex mix of youthful vulnerability and formidable survival chops, acknowledging her situation with the rapidity that comes with the modern generation.

As we are shown glimpses of Joe’s history of violence (performed commendably by Maghnús Foy), the viewer is dangled by their feet as Charlo Johnson’s film renders them helpless. Our own prejudices are the feast which the players chow down on, Burke and O’Donovan seemingly gleeful in their onscreen personas, knowing that audiences are making systematic judgements which will be their own downfalls. Graceful performances coalescing amongst the dramatic flair of this unique and brilliant story.

The use of smooth editing mixed with sharp closes ups, and a score that flexes when needed, is perfectly complementary to the tone of the film. At times the story seems mundane, Joe and Tanya chatting in his living room eating Value Digestives. But the pace quickly elevates, using fast cuts and speedy editing, giving the audience a nauseous feeling that all is not what it seems in this dark tale of misconception, deceit and survival.

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