Exclusive Interview with Eileen Byrne: “It changes the way you see yourself.”

Breast Cancer is a terrible life-threatening disease which not only affects the victim but the family and friends of the victim. For so many years, we have seen films which cover the subject of Breast Cancer but we rarely see films which specifically looks at the relationship a woman has with her body and sexuality and how that is affected by the diagnosis of Breast Cancer.  Touch Me is an intriguing film by Eileen Byrne that focuses categorically on that, providing us with incredible insight.  We spoke to Eileen about her film, asking her why it was so important for her to tell this story, how her festival run is going, how she came across the cast for her film and where her passion for film came from.

Hi Eileen, how are you doing?

Hi, I’m great 🙂

Congratulations on your latest short film Touch Me. Where did the idea for this film come from?

The idea was born when a very good friend of mine was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was her idea to write a short script about a dancer who has breast cancer. It then changed a lot during the course of development when I read a lot and learned more about the effects of this disease.

You wrote the story together with Elodie Malanda. How did the writing co-operation with her go?

Elodie and I worked on the dancer idea for a while. But at a certain point I realized I wanted the story to go into a different direction: By talking to her, doing research about breast cancer and reading autobiographies I realised how much this illness and its side effects – losing your breast and your hair, receiving hormones – affects not only the body of the woman but also her psyche: her self-awareness and her femininity and thus, in the end, her relationship to her partner. Elodie helped me to find a way to express these insecurities through the characters of Alice and Moritz.

Touch Me is a film about the emotional consequences of breast cancer, a topic that most of us had to deal with (from close by or from far away) so to bring that to the screen in the best way possible, the acting performances needed to be great, which is exactly the case thanks to Kristin Suckow and Max Bretschneider. How did you come across them?

 I had met Max during a film shoot which I was part of as a script supervisor. I loved to watch him on screen because his acting felt very true and honest to me. Kristin was recommended to me by a casting director and when I first met her I fell in love with her. I was even happier to hear that they already knew each other. Working with them was a real gift because we were able to dig deep from the start of rehearsals. To me, they were the perfect match to play this couple.

Where there any plans to make a full-length feature film of Touch Me in which their entire emotional journey together is being shown?

I have been thinking about it. I think it could be a strong base for a feature film. But then again the short was a really emotional journey for me as well so I might wait for a little with that.

What do you hope that people will take with them after seeing this film?

I guess I want people to get a glimpse of what it means to have an illness like breast cancer. Getting diagnosed with such a disease is horrible and most people have been or will be in contact with it or know people who have. It’s a huge and life-changing shock. But rarely do people actually talk about the side effects that stay with you even if you are healed. For breast cancer, this touches a woman’s relationship with her body and her sexuality. I hope that most women will be able to relate to Alice’s character because so much of our understanding of womanhood is engrained in our bodies and typical feminine parts like hair and breasts. It changes the way you see yourself. This is something that really struck me and I hope I can get it across to the audience. I guess it is probably more difficult for men to identify with this but I hope the film gives them an insight into the struggle. Moritz, the male character, on the other hand, can help them to identify with his struggle of trying to understand and comfort her while not being in her position and thus not fully understanding her struggle.

The film just got its premiere at the Palm Springs International ShortFest. How was that for you?

The film was already screened in other festivals before. But being part of the Shortfest was an immense honour and I was really glad I could fly to Palm Springs and participate in the festival. It was an amazing experience to meet filmmakers from around the world and see so many wonderful shorts. I don’t think I have ever seen a program with such a high quality of short films. The festival organizers and the many volunteers were so welcoming and the parties were amazing. My film was screened in a screening block on the topic of illness so there weren’t as many spectators as in other blocks, but I really can’t blame them for that, I would have gone into a lighter program as well – or to the pool 😉

Are there any other film festivals you’re taking this film to?

I will be at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival just after Palm Springs. The European Film Promotion (efp) picked ten young European filmmakers to be part of the Future Frames program of the festival. I feel really honoured to have been picked and am looking forward to the numerous meetings and workshops there.

You weren’t only director and writer but you also were also script supervisor for multiple films and you also were editor a few times. Where did the passion for film come from?

I’ve always had a passion for stories and story worlds. As a child, I used to dress up and write plays with my two longest friends in Luxembourg (one of them being Elodie Malanda, my co-author, the other being Vicky Krieps, who starred in The Phantom Thread). After high school, I went on to study performing arts and theatre. But I soon realized that the movie world attracted me on a much stronger level because it was there that I found the possibility to create the perfect illusion and absolute realism. While working as a 3rd AD trainee on big budget film productions I was impressed by all of the departments working together to make the story work. That’s when I decided to apply for film school and I’m really happy I got in and am now able to direct my own movies. I have worked a lot like a script supervisor in Germany and Luxembourg. It was the perfect opportunity to earn money and learn from other directors, as there is no other person that comes as close to the director on set as the script supervisor.

Do you have any advice for people out there who want to get their first movie released?

I think the form of a short film is a perfect way to practice for bigger and longer stories. Watching the shorts in Palm Springs made me realize again that the films with big budgets are not necessarily the ones that tell better stories. Being emotionally touched doesn’t depend on the perfect camera work or the best visual effects, it’s about slipping into another world and follow a character’s journey. It’s about empathy, the most human emotion next to love, I guess. The most difficult part of moviemaking is to find the courage and the strength to just do it, get people together and see the work through to the end. You don’t necessarily need to go to a film school to do that but it can help. I’m really happy I did because I learn a lot from other filmmakers and got to work a lot with actors,  which to me is the most important part of my work as a director.

One last question: Do you have other films coming up?

I am currently developing a few stories in very different stages. There’s a children’s movie that I am developing with producers in Germany and Luxembourg and a tragicomedy about the perks of being in your mid-thirties in our modern times which I am developing with screenwriter Evi Prince and the producers of Touch Me. There’s also an idea for a feature road movie that I want to shoot with Max Bretschneider and Kristin Suckow to follow up on the great work we did for Touch Me.

Film and Celebrity Reporter Liselotte Vanophem

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