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Cathy Brady • Director of Wildfire

"My intention was not to make a political film"


- We sat down with two-time IFTA winner Cathy Brady to find out more about her feature debut, Wildfire

Cathy Brady • Director of Wildfire
(© Barry McCall)

NFTS graduate Cathy Brady is a two-time IFTA-winning director, having emerged victorious with her short films Small Change and Morning. She has also directed a number of television productions. Wildfire [+see also:
film review
interview: Cathy Brady
film profile
, starring late actress Nika McGuigan and Nora-Jane Noone, is her debut film, and at the 2020 BFI London Film Festival, it earned her the IWC Schaffhausen Filmmaker Bursary Award, in association with the BFI.

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Cineuropa: How did you develop Wildfire?
Cathy Brady: Firstly, I cast the film before there was even a story idea, which I know is unusual. Previously, I'd worked with the two actors [Nika McGuigan and Nora-Jane Noone], separately. And it was my experience of working with them, seeing their ability to be incredibly fierce and vulnerable – which is such an unusual combination – that made me think about what would happen if I put them together in a movie. When it happened, it was like watching Yin and Yang. I sort of sat back, and we spent a few months gathering stories and figuring out what we wanted to make together. And really, at the heart of it, we wanted to tell a story with two fierce women who are able to be incredibly courageous during a really challenging time.

Was the kick-off point for Wildfire what happened with The Troubles, or something else?
We saw a documentary [BBC 1's Madness in the Fast Lane], and if I were to go into that documentary in more detail, I might give away one of the big set pieces from Wildfire. Suffice it to say that there was a real event that happened to two sisters who had shared psychosis, which had us wondering what would make two sisters act in the way they did. It was quite an existential thing to watch. For us, it was a journey of trying to understand and unpack that event, which involved a process of speaking to psychiatrists, psychologists and people who had actually experienced psychosis.

That event in the documentary happened in Manchester. How did transplanting that seed to the Northern Irish border change the tale and make this story unique?
We started to build the story inspired by what happened to these two sisters alongside our own fiction. I'm from the borderland, and I grew up as The Troubles were ending. I would have been about 11 when the Good Friday Agreement was drawn up. So, I kind of experienced a certain amount of The Troubles, followed by the peace that we had, and that seemed like an essential thing to include.

How did Brexit make its way into the story?
We started making the film over five years ago, when Brexit wasn't even on the horizon; we had heard no talk about it. As time went on, we realised that the setting of the Northern Irish border was becoming more prominent and urgent in relation to Brexit, as it remains today. So that's something we hadn't planned. But my intention was not to make a political film; we were always interested in the characters first and foremost.

How did the sudden death of lead actress Nika McGuigan from cancer affect the film?
I didn't realise just how much this film was about grief until I was in the middle of post-production when she passed away, and I really experienced at first hand what an incredibly close loss is. That definitely informed me, but in story terms, I guess it didn't change things that much in terms of how we put it together, technically.

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