you are not my mother kate dolan carolyn bracken
Carolyn Bracken in You Are Not My Mother courtesy of Magnet Releasing

You Are Not My Mother director Kate Dolan remembers her grandmother warning her about the mischievous fairies of Ireland when she was a little girl.

“There definitely is a culture in Ireland where, when I was a kid, the stories are told to you as if they’re fully real,” she says.

“I was in my granny’s back garden once, and I remember she had a ring of mushrooms at the back of the garden. That, traditionally, is a fairy ring,” Dolan told MovieMaker. “I remember me and my cousin were picking them out of the ground. We were very young. And [my grandmother] came in, and she’s like, ‘You can’t do that,’ very seriously. She was like, ‘You can’t do that. You can’t. That’s a fairy ring, and if you do that, they’ll come to take you away.'”

That Irish folklore bled into Kate Dolan’s feature directorial debut, You Are Not My Mother, which tells the story of Char (Hazel Doupe), a teenage girl who begins to suspect that a supernatural force could be behind a series of disturbing changes in her mother’s (Carolyn Bracken) personality.

Throughout the film, which also stars Ingrid Craigie as Char’s superstitious grandmother, legends of the Fae — another word for mythical beings most commonly known as fairies — are woven in, including changelings. In Irish folklore, changelings are understood to be childlike, supernatural beings who have been left behind in place of the human child that the Fae have stolen.

Changelings, and how one gets rid of them, are fairly common knowledge in Ireland, Dolan says — but for people from the U.S. and other countries, the opening scene in which Craigie’s character places baby Char inside a ring of fire can seem quite sinister.

Dolan says it wasn’t meant to be that way.

Also Read: Jared Leto Method Acted as ‘a Fully Disabled Person’ on Morbius Set, Director Says

“Any depictions of changelings in Irish folklore, it’s always they’re expelled by fire. So that opening scene was just setting up that real tone,” Dolan says. “In the U.S., people were like, ‘She’s like killing a baby in the first scene!'” Dolan laughed.

She also points out that the Fae are not all bad.

“It’s a very Western idea, that ‘you are bad, and I am good’… whereas Irish folklore has a real gray area,” she says. “The Fae, they’re not always there to hurt you or do anything bad. They’re existing in their own worlds… they’re like the id of the personality. They’re just out to serve themselves, and they love dancing and eating and they operate in a very self-serving kind of way in that perspective.”

Because of the lack of written history around centuries-old Irish folktales, Kate Dolan tapped into other supernatural legends to supplement the story. For example, the ball of twigs and ivy that Char’s grandmother gives her for protection is actually an amalgamation of Wicca and Irish folk remedies.

“It’s kind of hard to pin down a lot of stuff in Irish folk culture, because back then, a lot of Irish people were illiterate, so they didn’t have data to keep written records of stuff. But in Irish folk history, there were these people in reality called fairy doctors. So in your community, they were kind of like herbalists and almost like a witch,” she said. “If your family had a fairy malady or a problem, they would pull them in, give you herbal remedies and stuff like that… so then I blend into Wicca as well, and witchcraft and paganism.”

In Wicca, Ivy is traditionally seen as “a very protective” plant, Dolan adds. “There’s this idea of a witch’s ball, so you create a ball that has these herbs inside it to protect you, depending on what kind of combinations you put inside.”

You Are Not My Mother is now playing in theaters.

Main Image: Carolyn Bracken in You Are Not My Mother directed by Kate Dolan, courtesy of Magnet Releasing