IRISH FILM London this week hosted a screening of Wolf, a co-production of Ireland and Poland from director Nathalie Biancheri.
A full auditorium gathered at Riverside Studios in Hammersmith for the screening, which was followed by a Q&A with Biancheri and George MacKay and Eileen Walsh.
Filmed in Dublin, the story follows a boy named Jacob who suffers from species dysphoria and believes he is a wolf. When he is committed to a mental asylum he meets and befriends other patients who all believe themselves to be animals, Jacob forms a bond with an enigmatic patient known as 'Wildcat', played by Lily-Rose Depp, with Paddy Considine, Fionn O'Shea, Lola Petticrew and Senan Jennings rounding out the cast.
Speaking after the screening, director Nathalie Biancheri said the original plan was to make a documentary about species dysphoria.
"I found it extremely fascinating, but as I started investigating it and interviewing people with it, I realised I didn't want to make a film about species dysphoria today in the present world, but rather the unfolding of this condition which touches so any identity issues," she said.
"That includes being your true self, but then there area people who find comfort in their animal persona. I thought that would be an interesting realm to dig into and the different facets of identity."
Biancheri co-produced the film with Irish woman Jessie Fisk, with filming for it originally scheduled for April 2020.
"We were financed by Screen Ireland quite quickly and we were all ready to go, and everybody was talking about 'this virus' and the first case had just been found in Ireland," Nathalie said. "We ended up being shut down and we didn't know when or if we were ever going to shoot. The whole world stopped."
However, she said those months where the pandemic did not allow for filming were crucial for the film and lead actor MacKay to delve into his role.
"During the pandemic, another lucky thing happened with Focus Features deliberating and jumping on board to purchase the film.
"The budget was quite small and everyone did it because they wanted to get on board, so it is more of an arthouse film but then it has a Universal logo at the start. Some people were going into it wondering where the werewolves were, so don't be deceived by the logo!"
Speaking about the preparation required in getting into his role, MacKay similarly said the lockdown allowed him to get into the physicality for the role.
"We had a week in Dublin to workshop the wolf and concentrate on him, and before we even got to the physical stuff we had to look at other things," he said. "If this man is wild, how does that work and how does it manifest itself?
"We then played around with the crawl and it wouldn't have been what it was if it wasn't for Covid. We had three months to practice and that put the physicality in my body which was important for the character."
He also had to delve into the human aspects of Jacob, he said.
"Nat and I went back and forth about Jacob and working out a backstory for him. He's such a silent character, and we had the Wolf worked out, so it was important to figure out why he wanted to be like that.
"Having him rooted in that experience of being a wolf was the most important thing, and then the beautiful complexity of him is that he's in a human body, so what's his human side and what's his family like? When we came to rehearse Nat used to nearly interview me about the character, and it gave us a mutual understanding of the man part of him that was really essential."
The film has been played at the Toronto Film Festival, Manchester Film Festival and the Dublin International Film Festival, with Gerry Maguire from Irish Film London saying he was delighted to screen the film on Monday night.
"We're the only organisation in the UK that champions and supports Irish films and amplifies the releases of new Irish film for audiences in London," he said.
"An organisation like IFL exists because we can prove to funders that what we do is important and that people get something out of it," he said, thanking the audience for turning out in support.
Wolf is released in select cinemas in the UK from 18 March.