TIFF 2021 Women Directors: Meet Kate Dolan – “You Are Not My Mother”
Kate Dolan is an Irish writer and director. She wrote and directed “Little Doll,” a short film that premiered at the Berlinale in 2016. Dolan’s next short film, “Catcalls,” won the Best Short Film at the Young Director Awards Ireland in 2018. “You Are Not My Mother” marks her feature directorial debut.
“You Are Not My Mother” will premiere at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival on September 12. The fest is taking place September 9-18.
W&H: Describe the film for us in your own words.
KD: “You Are Not My Mother” is a modern retelling of dark Irish folklore. It is a coming-of-age story that captures a moment in time when you are forced to grow up too fast and deal with the past traumas in your family.
W&H: What drew you to this story?
KD: The inspiration for writing the script came from personal experiences I had growing up, and also from Irish folk history. In 1895 a woman named Bridget Cleary was burned alive by her husband when he thought she was a changeling.
There are many other stories like this, normally where the women come to a tragic end. I wanted to flip some of those tales on their heads and write a story with three generations of nuanced women.
W&H: What do you want people to think about after they watch the film?
KD: It is obviously a horror movie first and foremost, and I want audiences to be entertained and thrilled by the film. But I do hope it touches people on a personal level too by the end of the film.
W&H: What was the biggest challenge in making the film?
KD: Where do I start? Ha! Firstly, we were funded through a Screen Ireland scheme called POV. That meant our budget was capped at 400k. So that threw up challenges. There were definitely compromises we had to make because we just didn’t have the money.
We also shot during our second wave lockdown in Ireland, so we had a lot of locations pull out close to our shoot date. We also had to take into account all the COVID protocols while shooting, which could complicate things at times. We did quickly adapt though, and the cast and crew did a really amazing job to make it all happen.
W&H: How did you get your film funded? Share some insights into how you got the film made.
KD: As I mentioned previously, I applied to a new scheme Screen Ireland had set up, which was to finance the debut features for emerging female writers and directors. It came at the right time as I had just been at festivals with my short film “Catcalls” and I had an idea which I felt could be made with the 400k budget.
We weren’t allowed to source funds outside of that, so it was tight – but the cast and crew rates were capped to make sure more of the funding went to the screen.
Then when COVID came along, we got some additional funding to cover the cost of testing cast and crew, and PPE kits, etc.
W&H: What inspired you to become a filmmaker?
KD: I used to stay up late and watch movies with my mother when I was growing up. I saw a lot of films I was probably too young for at the time, but I think it sparked a real love of cinema in me.
W&H: What’s the best and worst advice you’ve received?
KD: Best advice has probably been to trust your gut. I used to go against those feelings when I thought someone older or more experienced knew better, but I think that gut feeling is always trying to tell you something’s not right.
The worst advice was probably something stupid like shout at a crewmember on your first day on set to assert your dominance as a director.
W&H: What advice do you have for other women directors?
KD: There are a lot of people with bad opinions out there and social media discourse can really bring you down at times. Just try to focus on the work. Focus on making the best film you can and stay true to yourself and your vision. Block out all the noise.
W&H: Name your favorite woman-directed film and why.
KD: “American Psycho” by Mary Harron. Still as relevant today as it was when it was made.
W&H: How are you adjusting to life during the COVID-19 pandemic? Are you keeping creative, and if so, how?
KD: My working life didn’t change that much with COVID if I’m honest. I used to work from home and write. I also had a lot of meetings over Skype so when that became the norm for everyone else, I already had my setup.
I do think the hardest thing was how monotonous life became. To write and to be creative you need to experience new people, places, and things. COVID put a stop to that, so there was a lot less daily inspiration. Luckily in Ireland, we have a really high uptake of the vaccine, so hopefully things will start returning to normal.
W&H: The film industry has a long history of underrepresenting people of color onscreen and behind the scenes and reinforcing — and creating — negative stereotypes. What actions do you think need to be taken to make it more inclusive?
KD: I think as a director and writer you just have to make decisions that will make your projects more inclusive. You have to actively bring that to the forefront of your mind while decision-making. Use whatever power you have in your own role to make space for people who might not get a seat at the table otherwise.