TIFF 2016 – Brain on Fire – Press Conference – Full Transcript


Full Transcript from the Press Conference for BRAIN ON FIRE.

Q: For the people who haven’t seen the film tell us about what happened with you.

Susannah Cahalan: Sure. This was when I was 24 years old, I’d just started working for The New York Post, just graduated from college and everything was very new and exciting. Then things quickly fell apart; I started behaving in ways many recognized not as myself, I felt out of control and from there it escalated very quickly. I got hallucinations and paranoia.

Q: Talk to us about writing your book, reporting on your own life.

Susannah Cahalan: The disease itself affects the brain in a way that it makes memories impossible. So most of that time is lost to me. So I use skills journalists portray and I can use hose skills to uncover a lot of that time with other people’s recollections. So it was an experience of a journalistic enterprise.

Q: Doctor Najjar, when did you come into the picture?

Dr. Souhel Najjar: My agents in LA sent me the book. I read the book and it was interesting that it was going on screen. It was scary but also very exhilarating. I just kind of sat back and said, “You know what, it’s very rare you get to make a film that can probably save a life.” I think by putting this film out there and talking about the disease will save someone’s life for sure. That’s what made me get into this.

Q: Chloe, what do you think of the story?

Chloë Grace Moretz: It’s the work of a lifetime to be honest; you get to kind of break a lot of stereotypes that surround people with illnesses. I think Susanna is someone who is such a character of strength, someone who can overcome anything. So when I read the book and the script, I spoke to Susanna and it just felt pertinent to me that this movie was made for a multitude of reasons. Above all, it’s a story about labelling and mislabelling and misunderstanding.

Q: Dr. Najar, can you speak about how you think the medical establishment has been portrayed on screen and then a little bit about your role?

Dr. Souhel Najjar: Let me tell you that I’m one of those physicians that don’t make interpretations of what they see. Even though there’s tremendous gaps between multiple disciplines, specifically psychiatry and neurology. We don’t treat the patient as a whole, we treat them as symptoms and disease; we forget that we are more than just symptoms. Nothing can replace just sitting with the patient and speaking to them as a human being. Me and my colleagues try to listen to the patient so we do not miss important diagnostic clues. I think that’s what led me to diagnose Susanna. To face this establishment and to change it is very difficult and a huge challenge.

Q: Gerard, you do a great job showing the relationship between Dr. Najjar and Susanna. How did that come out?

Gerard Barrett: Just the conversation with Susanna and reading the book and speaking to Dr. Najjar, who clearly has a different way of dealing with patients. I think that’s what I’ve been able to highlight. I think if we ever find ourselves in such a situation we’d want someone like him to take it up, you know what I mean? Pills are not the answer to everything, I like their pills but… For me making this film was about being honest, respecting Susanna, her story, respecting the illness and the people around Susanna. Respecting the people around the world who have gone through this and are currently going through this. I didn’t want to highjack the film and reinvent the film cinematically. I just wanted to tell the story and be honest.

Q: Question to both Susanna and Chloe. There are many actors who meet the people they are portraying to get an insight into their life. However, it was different with you two as Susanna barely remembers anything from that dark period. What was the experience like collaborating?

Susannah Cahalan: When we first met on facetime I was absolutely taken aback by the level of questions Chloe had.

Chloë Grace Moretz: I really wanted to find out who Susanna was prior to the disease and a lot of the questions I asked she told me that there were a lot of pieces of the puzzle she had gathered about herself. It’s funny for her to watch the movie to kind of get the idea that her world had gotten kind of lonely and some of the realistic pictures of that time she has visually is the movie!

Susannah Cahalan: The way the disease works is that it affects the hippocampus of the brain and that is the long-term storage of the memory, so it’s not there, it’s never going to come back.

Chloë Grace Moretz: This movie does speak more about labelling and how it is so easy to look at a young woman who’s working as a journalist in The New York Post and say, “Ah, you have a glass of wine every night, go out on weekends like most New Yorkers do.” Socially as a young woman this is something we’re used to. The New York Post is behind her and they didn’t fire her. They said something is wrong with Susanna, she’s not herself anymore and that is something we really want to highlight. It’s not as easy as it looks and you can’t point a finger without looking really deeply into the person and the whole story.

Q: How do you react when you are misunderstood and labelled?

Chloë Grace Moretz: I think anyone can understood what it means to be misunderstood and labelled. I think every person’s story is true to themselves. My labelling’s, my misunderstandings they’re just as real and just as serious as anyone else’s. Yeah it’s hard to have to pick apart everything you say, that’s why this movie can hopefully contribute to stop this judging and labelling.

Q: Can you talk about the ways you decided to make her breakdowns not just visual but also real?

Gerard Barrett: Yeah that was one of the biggest challenges to not hijacking the film from a selfish, creative point of view. There’s scope there for the doctor to come in and say, “Let’s go into the brain, let’s go behind the eyes.” I think for me this story is just too important, the disease is to important and everything around them is too important. I relied on sound design and the actors to create the real way because it’s just too important.


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