Behind-the-scenes tragedy led to women forming a special bond 

The Bright Side is a surprisingly humorous take on breast cancer that grew out of a difficult period for both the director and the writer involved. It shows at Cork International Film Festival 
Behind-the-scenes tragedy led to women forming a special bond 

Gemma-Leah Devereux in The Bright Side. 

Sometimes, when you try to run away from the worst, you find something that stops you in your tracks and reels you back into life. For Ruth Meehan, it was picking up her old friend Anne Gildea’s book while waiting to board a flight to India.

For the character the two created together after, it’s breast cancer. “When we meet Kate she’s kind of lost the will to live and through a cancer diagnosis, of all things, meets four women who make it really hard for her to want to die,” explains Meehan, director and co-writer of The Bright Side.

The film, which premieres virtually next week at Cork Film Festival, was influenced by the personal experiences of the two women. Gildea as a cancer survivor and Meehan as someone who lost her sister and best friend to the disease.

”It’s a very familiar story for a lot of women,” Meehan says. “While the characters are fictional, they stand for very real women from different walks of life going through the same thing.”

 The character of Kate, a stand-up comedian played by Gemma-Leah Devereux, is especially close to the hearts of the writers.

“Kate’s character was carved out of our own experiences, so I like to think that there’s an emotional truth there,” Meehan says. “We all tend to lean on humour in times of crisis and while it’s an incredible support, sometimes it’s a crutch that we need to put down.

“Kate’s tendency to make light of everything doesn’t work for her in this circumstance and we watch as her defences crumble so that she can start living.”

 In 2015, the winter after Meehan lost her sister Alacoque to cancer, she let her own defences crumble and found herself sitting on a beach sending Gildea an email.

“It was New Year's Eve and I was running away to India and I picked up Anne’s book in the airport,” Meehan explains.

“I was struck by how funny, irreverent, and honest her portrayal of what she had been through was. I just thought, ‘Wow, what an amazing character’.” The pair hadn’t seen each other in years but had been classmates at DCU.  “My sister had very dark humour and I thought it was something she would totally love and I felt her on my shoulder going ‘Oh, come on’,” Meehan says.

 “So I emailed saying, ‘I just read your book, I’m here alone, my sister died. I know you’ve been through a hell of a time, would you be interested in working with us?’ and that was that.” 

Ruth Meehan, director of The Bright Side. 
Ruth Meehan, director of The Bright Side. 

One might think that anyone who had gone through what Anne had might run from writing a film like this, but she jumped at the idea.

“In our experience, coming up so close and personal to death can have very surprising and illuminating effects you mightn’t expect,” says Meehan.  “We spend our entire lives either running from it, or in Kate’s case fantasising about it, but she finds her way back through these other women.”

 The Bright Side unashamedly deals with a woman's world, written by three female writers, but Meehan hopes that everyone will connect to it somehow.

“It’s a film of surrender and at the moment, when everything is so uncertain, the capacity to just go with life even when it’s not behaving is important,” Meehan says.

The Dublin-based director says that she thinks the film could be more resonant now, for an audience living with Covid, than what she had previously imagined.  “On the one hand everyone wants escapism but on the other people want something that speaks to them,” she says.

“I’m really hoping it will start conversations. Whether it’s isolation, friendship, the experience of cancer or just existential hell. But, more importantly, the power of fun and laughter and watching somebody going through the worst of the worst and coming out with a better connection to life.” 

The makers of The Bright Side hadn’t envisioned it would be premiered online when shooting last year, but they’re embracing the timing of the release.

“I could be more strategic and release it at a different time but I feel like the film needs to be let loose and that it will find its audience,” Meehan says.

“We all want to be in a cinema but I feel like we’re heading into a dark winter and a dark time and this is a film about a character who finds their way out of darkness. We all need that right now.” 

  • The Bright Side premieres online at the Cork International Film Festival on November 9. Tickets are available at www.corkfilmfest.org
  • The Irish Examiner is media partner of the Cork International Film Festival

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