Naomi Watts and It star Sophia Lillis will star in director Claire McCarthy’s next feature Burning Season. Watts, who recently starred in McCarthy’s Ophelia, will also executive produce. HanWay Films, who is working with Watts on The Wolf Hour, will introduce the project to buyers at the Cannes Film Festival.

Adapted for the screen by emerging writer-producer Jenny Halper and based on Laura Van Den Berg’s short story What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us, the film pits a mother-daughter relationship drama against the landscape of Madagascar, an island prone to forest fires where nearly all the species are indigenous – and many are endangered.

The film was developed by writer-producer Jenny Halper (The Kindergarten Teacher) and Emmy award-nominated producer Kate Sharp (The Hallow) through Sharp’s newly launched company Daughter Films. The script was featured on the 2016 Black List and the 2015 Athena List. Primatologist and professor of Anthropology Dr. Patricia Wright has served as a science advisor along with Duke University’s Tara Clarke. Sharp and Halper will also produce the film which is due to go into production later this year in South Africa and Madagascar. Burning Season will be among the first English-language features shot on location in the latter.

In the movie, Watts will play primatologist June Engle who returns to a drought-stricken region of Madagascar in search of endangered species. Dragged along for the adventure are teenage daughter Celia (Lillis) and a handsome local researcher, Kiady. A complex emotional game of cat and mouse ensues between the three with devastating forest fires on their way.

HanWay Films MD Gabrielle Stewart commented, “It is a joy for me to be working with this formidable team of women. Ever since Claire McCarthy took me on an amazing journey to India in her first feature The Waiting City, I have been wanting to work with her, and I can’t think of anyone better to take us on an adventure to Madagascar along with Naomi Watts. Burning Season feels fresh and original; both a sensitive coming of age story whilst engaging us in the complexities of wildlife conservation versus the survival of very poor rural communities.”

Watts also noted, “This is a beautiful and timely story that raises important questions. My character June is a formidable and fascinating woman – an extremely accomplished scientist who pushes her young daughter to take a hard look at the tougher aspects of living in the world today.”

Watts is represented by CAA, Untitled Entertainment, Steve Warren at Hansen, Jacobson, Teller, Hoberman, Newman, Warren, Richman, Rush & Kaller and Slate PR. McCarthy is represented by CAA, RGM, and Eric Feig, Lillis by Abrams Artists, Untitled Entertainment, Ryan Levine at Jackoway Tyerman Wertheimer Austen Mandelbaum Morris & Klein and Portrait PR.