Natalie Cubides-Brady • Director of Beyond the North Winds: A Post Nuclear Reverie
"Fictions can illuminate what’s real, just as documentary can capture human fictions”
by Laurence Boyce
- British filmmaker Natalie Cubides-Brady talked to us about her short film Beyond the North Winds: A Post Nuclear Reverie, screened as part of EFP’s Future Frames at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival
Beyond the North Winds: A Post Nuclear Reverie is an ethereal examination of reality, folklore and the environment which follows in the footsteps of Walter Glass, a man who mysteriously disappeared while investigating a nuclear reactor. Set in the wilds of Scotland, the short film blurs the lines between reality and fiction as it creates a tale both magical and sinister
The film is directed by Natalie Cubides-Brady, who recently graduated from the UKs National Film and Television School, and screened as part of EFP’s Future Frames at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival. We asked Cubides-Brady to help us uncover some of the mysteries of the film.
Cineuropa: Tell us where the idea for Beyond the North Winds: A Post Nuclear Reverie came from.
Natalie Cubides-Brady: The idea stemmed from two concerns. Firstly, I knew I wanted to make a film that tried to consider the Anthropocene and the types of environmental scars that the 20th and 21st centuries will leave behind. Secondly, I wanted to experiment with creating a fictional narrative within a documentary context. So when I came across an article about the decommissioning of a nuclear reactor in Scotland and saw a photograph of where it was set, my imagination was captured. It had all these sci-fi qualities, a 1950s vision of the future, on an isolated spot on the most northerly point of the British mainland.
What surprised you when you were researching the film?
When I went up to Caithness, I was surprised to find out about the density of Neolithic ruins in that part of Scotland. And the place has a very unique, quite spectral atmosphere that lingers with you. This was something that I was keen to capture in the film.
What kind of influences do you have on your work?
In the background, some usual suspects, the directors that made me fall in love with cinema: Chris Marker, Antonioni, Herzog, Wenders, 1920s City Symphonies.
Beyond that, I’ve got a love of the institutional documentary making of the 60s and 70s, particularly Fred Wiseman. I also find psychedelia and its influence in film fascinating; Nicolas Roeg in particular.
And in connection with landscape, I’m hugely influenced by artists like Christo & Jean Claude, Tacita Dean, Rachel Whiteread, Nancy Holt and Robert Smithson.
In terms of more contemporary filmmakers, I’m very excited by the work of Patricio Guzman, the Sensory Ethnography Lab, Michael Haneke, Clio Barnard, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Jia Zhangke – I could go on!
What intrigues you about the shifting plains between fiction and documentary that your film displays?
I suppose I’m interested in how combining fictional and documentary conventions creates the space to explore subjective and poetic aspects of reality. It strikes me that fictions can illuminate what’s real, just as documentary can capture human fictions. I also think that the ambiguity that the space between fiction and documentary creates is, in a way, an honest response to the world today; we often find ourselves in situations where we’re not quite clear what’s real and what’s false. This ambiguity involves emotional coordinates that are ubiquitous in many areas of life.
How did you craft the film? Did you scout locations that you had in mind or where you more free and looking for things that intrigued you?
The film grew out of the research trip to Caithness and was very much shaped by the people and places I encountered on that trip. I started to invent the story while I was trying to make sense of what I found there, and then kept changing it as I got to know the area better.
In this way, the film developed out of learning about Caithness, rather than Caithness just being chosen as an example of some existing ideas. People from Caithness who have seen the film, talk about it capturing a sense of time that is unique to the place, and that makes me feel proud of what we’ve managed to achieve.
How did you go about getting the people to appear in the film? Did you approach them as a documentary maker or did you let them know this would be a more mysterious tale that touched on folklore and history?
I told people from the beginning that I was making a documentary with a fictional element and I briefly outlined the Walter Glass narrative as a way of summarising what I was trying to do. But I’m not sure anyone had a clue what I was up to – mostly they were just extremely generous with their time and very kind and open to me.
What will your next film be?
I want to continue to explore this space between fiction and documentary, and I’m currently developing an idea around a legal case from the 1940s involving psychics, MI6 and communication with the dead.
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