Brooklyn Film Festival runs May 31 – June 9, 2019 in various venues in Bushwick, Downtown Brooklyn, Dumbo, Greenpoint, and Williamsburg. Curious to learn about the creative process behind the making of some of the feature films included in the festival, #DirectedbyWomen invited women directors with feature films screening at the festival to respond to this question…
“Could you please tell us about a moment during the making of your film when you could feel your vision coming together or when you overcame a challenge in a satisfying way?”
Here’s what they had to say about their filmmaking processes.
Above the Shadows
directed by Claudia Myers
I remember very specifically when we were filming in the Greenpoint cemetery, a scene late in the movie between Olivia Thirlby and Jim Gaffigan. I always thought of Above the Shadows as a magic realist fairy tale and this was a moment that needed to capture that storybook sensibility.
My DP Eric Robbins and I wanted the setting sun to illuminate the scene in a way that would silhouette Olivia and give the scene an aura of magic. It was a sunny day and we waited for the exact right time to shoot. We had a roughly 5-minute window and it was one of those rare moments where everything fell into place. The actors were terrific, the setting was beautiful, and the light was perfect. I remember looking at Eric and saying to him, “This is exactly what we envisioned.”
Above the Shadows – WORLD PREMIERE – May 31 & June 2
A supernatural tale follows a young woman (Olivia Thirlby) who has faded from the world to the point of becoming invisible. After more than a decade existing in the shadows, Holly meets the one man who can see her, Shayne Blackwell (Alan Ritchson), a disgraced MMA fighter. Holly discovers that it was one of her tabloid photographs that caused his downfall, and that she must restore him to his former glory if she wants to regain a foothold in the world around her. With Shayne, Holly awakens to love but also to the possibility that she may remain invisible forever.
Alaska is a Drag
directed by Shaz Bennett
Making Alaska is a Drag was hard for many reasons, but it was also incredible. I made my feature film to explore gender. Why/what makes masculine/feminine more or less powerful. I grew up in place that was stunningly gorgeous on the outside but can also be isolating and violent for anyone who stands out in a crowd. I liked the idea of a character who lives and thrives in the collisions of male/female — gay/straight — fantasy/gritty. At its core Alaska is a Drag is about survival and found family. It’s a drag origin story and the power that comes from all of the above.
My whole life is self taught. My first job in film was at 14 years old taking tickets at the Sundance Film Festival. I took copious notes from every Q&A I saw and when I saw a film I loved that resonated with my soul. I asked the filmmaker what were your influences and then went out and found and watched all the films and broke them down — shot by shot — what worked and how it felt to me. I was a film nerd who later became a film programmer and ultimately filmmaker.
Alaska is a Drag – June 8 & 9, 2019
This is a fish out of water story — literally. Everyone who slices fish all day daydreams – his are just glamtastic. He’s had to learn to fight to survive. And his boss who is also an amateur boxer takes note. When a new kid offers to be his sparring partner – he and his twin are forced to confront the real reason they’re stuck in fish guts.
Shaz Bennett plans to attend Brooklyn Film Festival. Follow Alaska is a Drag on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter,and the film’s website., and Shaz Bennett on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and her website.
an anthology feature of short films by 6 directors
directed by A. Sayeeda Moreno
Beginnings and endings during production are always powerful. But I always seem to remember the last shot, scene, moment captured on set.
It settles in, that it’s all worth it. The fatigue, the beautiful performances, the choreographed crew, all of it. So graceful. A room full of talent. The collective creative force. My vision.
toy/tag/ break – Tyra finds truth and heartache when she abandons her brother Matteo deep in Bushwick so that she can join her graffiti idol, Cesar and paint some walls for the first time. But what is unveiled is beyond expectations and Tyra finds her true mentor in an unexpected source.
No Matter What
directed by Chloe Sarbib
It so happened that the last scene of No Matter What was also the last scene shot for Bushwick Beats. We had 2 days to shoot a multi-location, 14-page script with VFX, so that final rooftop scene was really down to the wire. Everyone was excited to wrap after shooting 6 different vibrant worlds in about two weeks, and we were at the end of our second 12-hour day. And I wanted to capture a flashback, the only appearance of an important character, entirely in one take, which is risky, because it means you have nothing to cut to if it doesn’t work. After shooting it about 6 times, it started to feel crazy, like we might never get it. We were running out of time. But it was really important to me to feel like we were inside the protagonist’s memory — a seamless experience of being transported by a particular place and feeling. And the whole team rallied around making it happen. Everything — Gaul and Bill’s work, the production design, the combination of practical and visual effects, Nadia and Keenan’s performances, and, most of all, the whole cast and crew’s willingness to push through one last night shoot moment with me — made it come together as magically as I had hoped. And we got it. I don’t want to give too much away, but when I watch that scene, I’m so grateful and glad that everyone rallied and lent their amazing talents to that shoot, and to the film as a whole.
No Matter What – After the love of her life dies, Geri feels like all the magic has gone out of the world. But on the day of his funeral, he tries to change her mind.
directed by Anu Valia
I remember when we were filming at the Bushwick School for Social Justice, there was a scene with a group of kids fighting during their gym class. For the first time, the kids really started improvising & playing with each other. It was a small scene–one very small fight that gets broken up pretty quickly. But they delivered such subtle, beautiful performances, and I just felt “if the whole film were like this I’d be happy”. In some ways I wish it was…
Wolves – a fly-on-the-wall look at a day in a Bushwick high school.
Bushwick Beats – June 1 & 8, 2019
Six chapters, six directors, six unique short films, all under the backdrop of Bushwick, Brooklyn, each a different look into the theme of unconditional love
A Delicate Balance
directed by Christine Chevarie-Lessard
I had spent months – years, observing the students, teachers at the most recognized professional ballet school in Quebec province, Canada. I knew how the auditions, the exams, the preparation for the shows were going to happen. But! At the same time I didn’t know the kids that were going to be in the movie since they were new to school when the filming started. It’s like I had set up a frame without knowing what exactly was going to happen in it. And in a way, it was exactly what I wanted to know: how their very own personalities would meet the rigorous frame of classical dance. When Camille, Shô, Emma and Lola entered the frame, they stretched it with their personality, their humour, their humanity. And I was a privileged witness of the way they learned about life and about themselves in the challenging world they entered.
A Delicate Balance – US Premiere – June 1 & 2, 2019
Filmed from the point of view of its young subjects, A Delicate Balance takes an introspective look at the lives of four dancers on the cusp of adolescence—that critical time in one’s life when childhood fantasies begin to collide with the realities of being an adult. A tender and captivating documentary in which students of the École supérieure de ballet du Québec candidly tell their stories and share their hopes and dreams.
directed by Sarah Pirozek
A lot of filmmaking obstacles are due to switched locations. I wanted to open my movie #LIKE with a scene which would resonate the theme of the film without being too on the nose. We had a few locations cancel on us, and at the 11th hour, after we had shot much of the film, we found the perfect location: a football field through one of the PA’s. I asked if we could shoot the cheerleading team and practice, and the coach, who had been a classmate of the key PA, agreed. So with no lighting, no rehearsal and zero choreography we pulled off a stunning opening to the film. What I really love about this is that it was purely visual storytelling. I shot it the same way I would have shot one of my documentary pieces, observing and choosing moments, and allowing it to unfold through late afternoon to the evening and by allowing my actors to play, to remain in character in a quiet way, and let them breathe in the scene, on long lenses, with the untrained local kids. I think it accomplished exactly what the film needed to do. It set the tone and showed the world of the lead. This is what I love about filmmaking; it was truly a collaboration, from regular kids, the crew, cast and editor, ultimately helping me shape the nuanced opening moments. Unplanned is sometimes better than planned. Let the universe guide you, as long as you keep to your schedule! 😉
#LIKE – NY PREMIERE – June 1 & 3, 2019
Woodstock teen, Rosie is mourning the anniversary of her younger sister Amelia’s death, when she discovers the mysterious man who sexploited her sister, bullying her to commit suicide, is back on-line trolling for new victims. After the authorities refuse to get involved she discovers a darker side she never knew she had as she takes justice into her own hands.
Luisita Photo Studio /
Foto Estudio Luisita
Sol Miraglia and Hugo Manso
As a filmmaker and a photographer what attracts me the most are those things that are hidden, those things left behind. In 2009 I met Luisita and I discovered at her house over 25.000 film negatives kept in boxes inside wardrobes and under the furniture.
Nowadays, one of the main conflicts of cinema and photography is the irreversible loss of archives. Luisa owns a priceless photographic patrimony of the 60´s and 70´s theatrical show business of Buenos Aires. Working with her original negatives I found a unique corpus of an amazing artist. I truly believe Luisa´s story and these negatives are part of the social memory of an epoch.
In these ten years of friendship with Luisita and her sisters, I have faced the rejection of many men from the art world, who were not slow to detract from this work.
Despite this, I feel the enormous responsibility of making her story known.
Luisita Photo Studio / Foto Estudio Luisita – June 6 & 7, 2019
Located in a flat in the famous Corrientes Avenue in Buenos Aires, for more than 30 years “”Luisita Photo Studio”” portrayed hundreds of celebrities of the Argentinian show business.
Starting in the 60’s, Luisita -the shy and sensitive woman behind the camera- found the way to position herself in a field of art dominated by men. Together with her two inseparable sisters, they performed a great labor of craft work that -although shadowed by technology- today has a new meaning.
More than 25,000 unpublished photos from the Argentinian pop culture open up in front of our eyes, and, together with them, the Escarria sisters spirit that remains intact.
directed by Saskia Rifkin
Red hair is a recurring element throughout MAD? a film about the subtle, overt, and even violent repression of women as they age. From the moment Miriam Kohn, the unconventional elderly protagonist, is admitted to the geriatric mental facility in which the film revolves, she is pressured to shower, clean up her act—change her hair. “Have you considered coloring your hair? Nurse Lee does a wonderful job,” Simone says to Miriam shortly after she arrives in the hospital.
Simone, masterfully portrayed by Catherine Curtin, was scripted as having red hair, but because Cathy was filming Stranger Things at the same time as we were filming MAD, dyeing her hair was out of the question. Wigs are tricky and time was tight on our production. (I wasn’t able to see the wig until Catherine’s first day on set.) I should say I am a wig detective when I watch films. I tried to be positive, but I just wasn’t happy with Cathy’s wig.
As someone who has worked in independent film my entire career, I understand that creative choices come from constraints. Cathy and I sat down to discuss the hair issue and its significance for her character. We decided to lean into the wiggyness of the wig. Simone would appear in not just one but several different wigs, highlighting her artificial efforts at creating a façade of normalcy. When Simon leans over and says to Miriam, “Look, no roots,” pulling at her very obvious wig, the blurring of reality and fantasy that runs throughout the film is not lost on the audience.
Hair—a powerful physical symbol of psychological control and conformity, the theme of my film—wound up getting a much bigger role in MAD than anticipated because once it presented itself as a problem, and we were forced to explore it more closely, we discovered rich and unruly material. The very best kind.
MAD? – World Premiere – June 7 & 8, 2019
Elderly, iconoclastic artist Miriam Kohen is admitted to a geriatric mental health facility against her will. She immediately understands that this is no ordinary hospital. Over the course of 28 bizarre days, Miriam experiences myriad strange occurrences as she battles against doctors, patients, the system in an effort to retain her civil rights. Is she crazy or are they?
directed by Mary Sue Connolly
As a documentary filmmaker you never know what you’re going to find. The story was so loose at the beginning and I didn’t know where it would lead me. I was investigating a criminal doctor who had been in federal prison for over-prescribing opioids. I had a hard time tracking down any of his victims, but when I made contact with a man who had lost both his mother and his sister to overdoses (after being over-prescribed by the doctor), it was a game changer. It was the missing piece. He agreed to talk about it on camera and I drove to his house for the interview. His story revealed more tragedy then you could imagine.
From that point forward, I knew this story of incredible injustice needed to get told.
Overdosed – East Coast Premiere – June 4 & 5, 2019
Overdosed, an 80-minute documentary film, is set in the small town of Petersburg, West Virginia, a rural community tragically impacted by the opioid epidemic sweeping the United States. Overdosed is very raw in it’s style, shot by the film-maker alone to ascertain intimacy and trust with her subjects. Overdosed shares the stories of various community members, with particular focus on the experiences of former drug dealer, Bre McUlty, who also served as co-producer on this project. Growing up in a home torn apart by drugs and forced to survive by any means necessary, her story offers hope that recovery is possible.
Right to Harm
directed by Annie Speicher and Matt Wechsler
Tonopah, Arizona. We were waiting at a gas station. It was about a year into filming and we still hadn’t found that pivotal character – a parent whose children were suffering because of a factory farm across the street from their home. I had been in sporadic contact with Sonia Lopez. Her son Jason was suffering chronic infections and asthma. But we weren’t sure she was going to show up.
When her white mini-van pulled into the gas station, I breathed a small sigh of relief. She drove us to her house. In a matter of minutes, the scene was set – an abandoned double wide sitting across the street from 4 million egg-laying chickens. I had prepared for this moment and knew the questions to ask. But the reality of Sonia’s situation needed no polish, no fancy filmmaking. Just the camera and someone who was willing to listen. I am grateful that Sonia trusted us with her story and I am glad we were there to capture it. The moments we were able to film with her are the most natural depictions of how factory farming can infect a family and poison a community.
Right to Harm – NY Premiere – June 4 & 5, 2019
Through the riveting stories of five rural communities, Right to Harm exposes the devastating public health impact factory farming has on many disadvantaged citizens across the United States. Filmed across the country, the documentary chronicles the failures of state agencies to regulate industrial animal agriculture. Known formally as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations – or CAFOs – these facilities produce millions of gallons of untreated waste that destroys the quality of life for nearby neighbors.
Right to Harm is an enlightening exploration that questions whether citizens are entitled to clean air and water, while examining the political issues that stand in the way of nationwide reform.
directed by Andrea Cordoba
As a Mexican woman living in the United States, I keenly understand the challenges and rewards of the immigrant experience in difficult political climates. I had been filming with the New Sanctuary Movement for a year and was already a trusted ally when Amanda decided to take sanctuary. The film is an intimate verite story that follows Amanda’s unfolding journey from the moment she packs her bags and leaves her home in Long Island in order to move into the Upper Manhattan church. The situation with Amanda is difficult, fraught with anxiety and danger, but I was able to establish a strong relationship with her and her children as well as with the leaders of the protest movement. This sensitive approach allowed me to create true intimacy and to tell a story about one woman’s struggle while also filling in the broader context of the contentious issue of immigration in the age of Trump. It was very important for the me to set myself apart from the mainstream media which Amanda can find overwhelming and invasive. I sought to work collaboratively with Amanda, and to explore the cathartic processes possible within Documentary storytelling. By gifting Amanda a journal and gently encouraging her to describe her experiences in her own words and in her own time, I aim to centralize Amanda’s voice, as opposed to being a filmmaker who speaks for her subject.
I also spent a lot of time with the Morales family without my camera. The relationship I was able to develop with Amanda and her family allowed me to approach a widely discussed topic of immigration and deportation in a way which cultivates empathy, by allowing a viewer to understand how an attack on a single individual can be an attack on a community at large. Amanda is a caring mother, taxpaying worker and a valued member of her community, and her story is one shared by individuals in each of our own communities. As the first person to take sanctuary against deportation in NY under Trump, her story is historic but her plight is universal.
Sanctuary – World Premiere – June 8 & 9 2019
Amanda Morales walked into a church in New York City not knowing when she would step outside again. The Guatemalan mother of three U.S.-born children is the first immigrant since President Trump took office to claim sanctuary in New York, publicly resisting her deportation within a space that ICE recognizes as protected. Sanctuary gains rare and intimate access to Amanda and her family as they fight to remain together and adapt to daily life inside a church.
directed by Mariah Wilson
One of our biggest challenges on Silent Forests was filming the forest elephants themselves. It may sound strange, since they are such large animals, but the forests of the Congo Basin are so dense that they are able to hide incredibly well amongst the trees. They are only really visible in the clearings, where they go to drink water. But our first two shoots were in Southeast Cameroon, where the forest elephant population has been exceptionally hard hit. In general, the estimates are that the number of forest elephants across all of Central Africa has dropped over 60% in the last decade…. but in Southeast Cameroon it might be closer to 75% gone. We saw signs of elephants on those first two shoots… their footprints, their dung… but we did not actually see a single elephant while we were filming in Cameroon. The ones that are still alive are understandably wary about coming out in the clearings.
The forest clearings are a feature of the forest landscape that the elephants contribute to… it’s usually an area with a water source, where elephants help dig up the trees and roots around the water source so they can access it more easily. The point we make in the film is that they are the architects of the clearings, and (in many ways) gardeners of the forest, too. And here they are, scared to enter their own homes, because of what humans had been doing to them. It broke my heart. The situation was very discouraging, both from a conservation perspective – and a production perspective. I knew we didn’t have a film if we couldn’t get any footage of forest elephants!
For our third and final shoot, which was in Congo-Brazzaville, we were filming with an elephant biologist who studies the forest elephants at particular clearings. He claimed to still have regular sightings, in spite of poaching incidents increasing in the area. This was our best – and last – chance of filming the elephants. So my cinematographer Zebediah Smith and I strategized. We decided to bring an infrared camera nighttime set-up to maximize our hours of filming, and our chances of capturing footage of forest elephants.
Our elephant biologist, Clement Inkamba-Nkulu, has 30-foot tall platforms set up at his clearings for observation. That way he can have a good view to observe behavior, while also being safe from any more aggressive elephants who might charge him or his assistants. So we staged our cameras on a platform and waited.. and waited.. and waited. Afternoon gave way to dusk gave way to nighttime. Fireflies twinkled in the twilight, the forest came alive with an insect chorus. We switched over to the infrared camera, and curled up in our sleeping bags to go to sleep.
We all awoke hours later to the sound of splashing in the water. It was pitch black darkness, we couldn’t see a thing – but something big was out there. Very quietly, so as not to disturb whatever it was, Zebediah turned on the infrared light, powered up the camera, and looked through the viewfinder. I held my breath. A moment later, I felt him excitedly tapping on my forearm. And I knew – we got them. We had finally captured footage of forest elephants!!
We spent the next several nights out on the clearing, and ended up with some amazing material. Whole families of elephants, ranging from young to adult… drinking water, socializing, flapping their ears happily. We even got some footage of a baby nursing from its mother. And in fact, the nighttime elephant scene is now one of the most powerful in the entire film.
Clement told us that the nearby poaching has had an effect on elephant behavior. They are more scared to come out to the clearings in full daylight, so they sneak out under the cover of darkness. Perhaps they feel safer that way. It’s sad that they have to do it at all. It goes without saying that the difficulties we had filming the elephants in Cameroon and Congo-Brazzaville speak to the effect poaching has had on their population across Central Africa. Current estimates have them at just 40,000 – down from over 200,000 at the turn of the century. At the current rates of slaughter, they won’t be with us very much longer. I just hope we can turn things around before it’s too late.
Silent Forests – NY Premiere – June 3 & 4, 2019
Silent Forests is an intimate, character-driven portrait of conservationists and activists who are struggling to stop forest elephant poaching in Africa’s Congo Basin region. After a study revealed that more than half the Central African forest elephant population has been lost to poaching in the last decade, there has been a concerted effort to save those that remain.
Una Great Movie
directed by Jennifer Sharp
The entire journey of making Una Great Movie, was an exercise in achieving the impossible.
I wrote a scene that was suppose to take place in a U.S. airport knowing that would be too expensive. When it came time to shoot, we were in Mexico and I’d planned to pretend the Cancun airport was a U.S. airport. We still couldn’t afford it. We were shooting on a very small island that had a rarely used airstrip, but there was always this small plane covered by a cloth just sitting there. I decided to place the actors with that small plane in the distance behind them, and pretend it was a small country airstrip in Florida. As we were shooting, I thought to myself that this is the most ridiculous thing I’ve done. It looked nothing like an airport, it was forced, it was stupid, my crew was working 16 hour days and their time would be better spent resting. It was horrible. Right at that moment, a small airplane appears in the sky and lands on the strip directly behind where we were shooting (planes don’t land there every day). We were able to shoot the scene with an actual airplane right behind them, and the pilot even let the actors enter the plane (for the scene) and he drove off with them inside. When an airplane lands right in your scene, exactly when you need one, you know you’re doing something right!
Una Great Movie – WORLD PREMIERE – June 7 & 8, 2019
A beautiful movie about a black American woman traveling to Mexico, slowly becomes a romantic comedy with an all-white cast. A quirky cerebral look into commercialism and greed, juxtaposed with a heartwarming movie that challenges stereotypes. Una Great Movie uses comedy to reflect on relevant contemporary issues. It is fun and humorous with a unique storytelling style that incorporates a professional cast mixed with local Mexican non-actors.
Jennifer Sharp plans to attend Brooklyn Film Festival. Follow Una Great Movie on the film’s website.
Brooklyn Film Festival
May 31 – June 9, 2019
Inviting the world to fall madly in love with films #DirectedbyWomen.