Monday 21 January 2019

'Cancer diagnosis was like a grenade going off' - reveals Oscar nominated director and mum-of-two

Nora Twomey underwent chemotherapy, surgery and radiation treatment while working on 'The Breadwinner'
Nora Twomey underwent chemotherapy, surgery and radiation treatment while working on 'The Breadwinner'
Kirsty Blake Knox

Kirsty Blake Knox

A breast cancer diagnosis hit filmmaker Nora Twomey "like a grenade" in 2016.

The mother-of-two learned she had cancer as she came to the end of four years of development and production on the Oscar-nominated animation 'The Breadwinner'.

Based on Deborah Ellis' 2000 book, the movie tells the story of Parvana, a young girl living under the Taliban regime, who disguises herself as a boy in order to provide for her family. Twomey instantly fell in love with the character of Parvana.

Determined to see the project through, she underwent chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation treatment while working on the film. She finished treatment two months before the final mix of the film was completed.

"Nothing can prepare you for the chaos of a cancer diagnosis," she says.

"I'm a mum to two, and it was like a grenade had been thrown into our world.

"When the oncologist told me, I took out my diary and asked 'What we were looking at?'"

The oncologist told her to put the diary away, and that cancer wasn't something you could neatly schedule.

After her diagnosis, Twomey had to spend some time in isolation to decrease the risk of infection.

"I couldn't see my boys. My husband brought in my laptop, and that gave me some sense of order. I could look at scenes being drawn, and Skype the teams and that brought an order to it.

"I was working with an excellent team, and they took meetings whether or not I had hair or was missing eyebrows."

The Cork native said a cancer diagnosis means "you will never have the same sense of security that you once had".

'The Breadwinner' marks the third Oscar nomination for globally renowned animation studio Cartoon Saloon. Twomey founded the company 19 years ago, along with Paul Young and Tomm Moore.

Having co-directed 'Song of the Sea', this was her first time directing solo. In the run-up to the awards season, the film - which is released in Ireland on May 25 - has been shown to a variety of audiences.

"It is strange after you have spent four years behind a computer screen in places that look almost identical, and now you're on the other side and watching audiences watch it," Twomey said.

The film gained international headlines before it had finished production when Hollywood star Angelina Jolie came on board as an executive producer.

"She looked at the screenplay and and asked to meet me," Twomey said. "I flew to LA pretending I needed to be there anyway, and she is a fantastic filmmaker. She understands the language of film and speaking to her felt very natural. It's a subject matter that is close to her heart, she has established a girl's school just outside of Kabul."

Irish Independent

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